A week ago, as I ran along the towpath, I came across a burst of yellow primrose. And it brought me back to childhood, walking the fields at this time of year, keeping close to hedgerows as the cattle, newly released from winter sheds, were more temperamental than usual. There was a spot about half a mile from home where we’d collect primroses. The area was sheltered by an old orchard, someone’s garden from generations gone. The foundations of the property were well covered in decades of grass and moss. And from mid April to May it became a kingdom of lemon blossom waiting for small hands. We’d spend hours collecting from this trove of primroses until finally our fingers couldn’t meet round the stems. A final flourish of primrose leaves to complete the bouquet and it would be back home to a waiting jam-jar.
“Guard the house with a string of primroses on the first three days of May. The fairies are said not to be able to pass over or under this string”
The primrose has a long significance in Celtic culture. In May, garlands would be strewn over doors to ward off evil, a particular number of blossom brought into the house could equate to how many eggs your poor hen laid. Oh yeah, we’ll create a superstition out of anything! And there are many more traditions that would have taken place at Bealtaine.
One old Irish tradition, and maybe lingering somewhere still, are the Bealtaine ceremonial fires. These bonfires were lit at places of importance or worship. Cattle turned out into fields were often driven between two bonfires to purify the stock for the summer months. Incidentally (or not so), Too Close to Breathe features a Halloween or Samhain bonfire scene. It’s this scene that’s echoed on the book’s stunning cover art. And although in Too Close To Breathe the bonfire leads to darkness, most traditions surrounding bonfires in Ireland are seen as a celebration; the ancient Celtic calendar moving from dark to light, from Samhain to Bealtaine.
This post went somewhere I wasn’t expecting but I hope you enjoyed it anyway.
Thanks for reading and happy May!
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