Bel·​tane | \ ˈbel-ˌtān How to pronounce Beltane (audio) , -tin \

Definition of Beltane

: the Celtic May Day festival

Beltane Has Scottish Gaelic Roots

To the ancient Celts, May Day was a critical time when the boundaries between the human and supernatural worlds were removed and people needed to take special measures to protect themselves against enchantments. The Beltane fire festival originated in a spring ritual in which cattle were herded between two huge bonfires to protect them from evil and disease. The earliest known mention of Beltane (formerly spelled beltene, belltaine, and beltine) is in an Old Irish dictionary commonly attributed to Cormac, a king and bishop who lived in Cashel, Ireland, toward the end of the first millennium. The Beltane spelling entered English in the 15th century by way of Scottish Gaelic.

First Known Use of Beltane

15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for Beltane

Middle English (Scots), May 1 or 2, from Scottish Gaelic bealltain

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about Beltane

Time Traveler for Beltane

Time Traveler

The first known use of Beltane was in the 15th century

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast about Beltane

Statistics for Beltane

Cite this Entry

“Beltane.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Jan. 2021.

Comments on Beltane

What made you want to look up Beltane? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Words of Snow and Ice Quiz

  • image1037863653
  • Which of the following refers to thin, bending ice, or to the act of running over such ice?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!