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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1934 (SND Vol. I). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

BELTANE, BELTAN, Belton, Beltaine, Bel-tein, n. Also used attrib. [′bɛltĕn, ′bɛltɪn]

1. (1) The first or third day of May. The name is included in the ancient quarter-days of Scotland — viz. Hallowmas, Candlemas, Beltane (or Whitsunday) and Lammas. The 8th May also was called a Beltane day.Sc. 1721 J. Kelly Proverbs 376:
You have Skill of Man and Beast, you was born between the Beltans (the first and eighth of May).
Sc. 1862 A. Hislop Proverbs 8:
A gowk at Yule'll no be bright at Beltane. He that is a fool at Christmas will not be wise in May.
Sc. 23 Jan-5 Feb 1998 The List 13:
The Beltane Fire Festival Calton Hill, every 30 Apr. Edinburgh might have a Calvinist reputation, but come Beltane night, a growing group of performers get pagan on our asses, with wild costumes, body paints, anarchic dancing and enough fire to torch every pyromaniac in the land. Sizzlin'.
Sh. a.1733 Sh. Acts 33 in Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot. (1892) XXVI. 201:
That none fish with haddock lines within voes from Belton to Martinmas.
Ork. c.1912 J. Omond Orkney 80 Years Ago 10:
Beltane, the first day of May, was reckoned the first day of summer.
Bnff. 1876 J. Grant Burgh Schools of Sc. ii. xiv.:
The old quarterly terms for paying the school fees were Lammas, Hallowmas, Candlemas and Beltane.
Abd. 1926 L. Coutts Lyrics, etc. 34:
I'm washin my face in Beltan dew To keep it bonny for you.
Abd. 2000 Sheena Blackhall The Singing Bird 9:
Like mochs aroon a caunle-flame, the mirlin mem'ries heeze:
O April sunlicht drappin gowd on Cluny's scentit trees;
Blindrift's doonfa, saft Beltane's thaw, ower Tullich's rigs o green.
m.Sc. 1927 J. Buchan Witch Wood vi.:
There's anither Beltane on the aught day of May.
Lnl. 1832–1895 A. Hamilton in Poets and Poetry of Lnlshire (ed. Bisset 1896) 185:
Nae witch nor warlock noo is seen On Beltane's dewy morn.
wm.Sc. 1980 Anna Blair The Rowan on the Ridge 8:
"Leave it be till next Beltane's by. Then dependin' how you've done up to then I'll gie it serious thocht. But dinnae ask me again afore then Hugh."
Peb. 1711 Burgh Records (1910) 181:
The counsell alloues the thesaurer to provyde the officers with redd coats . . . against Beltan nixt.
Dmb. 1860 W. Watt Poems 107:
Then haste thee round, blithsome beltan, For thou art my bridal day!
Lnk. 1709 Minutes J.P.'s Lnk. (S.H.S. 1931) 65:
Altho by his tack he was to enter att Beltaine to the grass, the former tennant . . . told him that his tack lasted till the Whitesunday.
Dmf. 1822 A. Cunningham Trad. Tales II. 329:
Joe Tamson's bridal, seven and thirty years syne come beltan.

(2) A shearling tup. So called because shorn at Beltane.w.Dmf. 1925 W. A. Scott Vern. of Mid-Nithsdale in Trans. Dmf. and Gall. Antiq. Soc. 17:
A retired herd told me that when a boy he was sent over into Ken after some strayed shearlings. When he got to the house the old herd said to him, “Ye'll be come efter they Beltanes.”

2. A fire festival observed on the hill-tops generally on May 1 and 3 and June 21, more particularly, but not exclusively, in the Highlands. The Church identified the old pagan fire festival with the Christian feast of the “Invention of the Cross” on the 3rd May, and the term was further extended to the Midsummer fire festivals in some districts.Sc. 1750 H. G. Graham Soc. Life in 18th Cent. (1899) I. 191:
Beyond the Tay they had their Beltane fires — when on the first of May (Old Style) they lit the fire of turf, danced round the flames, and spilt a libation of caudle on the ground.
Sc. 1771 T. Pennant Tour in Scotland 1769 90:
On the 1st of May the herdsmen of every village hold their Bel-tein, a rural sacrifice. . . . they make a fire of wood, on which they dress a large caudle of eggs, butter, oatmeal and milk; and bring, besides the ingredients of the caudle, plenty of beer and whisky.
Peb. 1931 Beltane Festival in Scotsman (15 June):
The proceedings in connection with the Peebles March Riding and Beltane Festival were begun last night.
Arg. c.1870 (per Dmf.9):
I can remember as a boy watching these [Beltane] fires being lit near Oban.
Ayr. 1792 Stat. Acc.1 III. 105:
The custom still remains among the hinds and young people to kindle fires on the high grounds, in honour of Beltan.

Combs.: (1) Beltane cake, “a sort of cakes baked for the occasion [Beltane], and having small lumps in the form of nipples, raised all over the surface” (Per. 1794 Stat. Acc.1 V. 84).Sc. c.1814 J. Ramsay Scotland and Scotsmen (1888) II. 443:
The person who officiated as master of the feast produced a large cake baked with eggs and scalloped round the edge, called am bonnach beal-tine — i.e., the Beltane cake.

(2) Beltane carline. (See quot.)Sc. 1922 J. G. Frazer Golden Bough (Abr. ed. 1929) 619:
We may conjecture that the cake with knobs was formerly used for the purpose of determining who should be the “Beltane carline” or victim doomed to the flames.

(3) Beltein-Eve, eve of May Day.Abd. 1897 M. J. Pirie MS. Hist. of Cairnie Par. in Bnffsh. Jnl. (22 June) 6:
On eve of May Day it was customary to light large fires and burn furze bushes and heather. It was called Red-Even in this Parish, but in many places it is known as Beltein-Eve.

(4) Beltane fire. (See quot.)Sc. 1922 J. G. Frazer Golden Bough (Abr. ed. 1929) 617:
In the Central Highlands of Scotland bonfires, known as the Beltane fires, were formerly kindled with great ceremony on the first of May, and the traces of human sacrifices at them were particularly clear and unequivocal. The custom of lighting the bonfires lasted in various places far into the eighteenth century.

(5) Beltan Foy, Beltane feast.Sh. 1932 J. M. E. Saxby Sh. Trad. Lore 65:
That game [Jocky-be-laund, q.v.] was chiefly played at the time of the Beltan Foy.
[See Foy.]

(6) Beltane Ree, “a track of stormy weather which usually occurs about Whitsuntide” (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.; Sh.4 1934).Sh. 1932 J. M. E. Saxby Sh. Trad. Lore 178:
There were three “Rees” (wild tempests), Buggle Ree, Beltane Ree, and Simmer-mill Ree.
[See Ree.]

(7) Beltantide, early May.Knr. 1925 “H. Haliburton” Horace in Homespun 253:
An' pranks an' plays at Beltantide, An' mony frolics mair beside.

[O.Sc. beltan(e), belten, beiltyne. The first mention in D.O.S.T. is 1424. Gael. bealltuinn, May-day, Irish béalteine, E.Irish beltene, belltaine (MacBain). First element cogn. with O.E. bǣl and bale in Eng. balefire. On Beltane, among the Gaels, two needfires were lighted between which they drove their cattle for purification and luck. Hence the proverb “Eadar dà theine Bhealltuinn — Between two Beltane fires” (MacBain).]

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"Beltane ". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 22 May 2024 <>



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