Bealtaine marks the beginning of summer, the welcoming of the sun and also the reawakening of Eiriú, of mother earth. The combination of the celebration of the sun, the fire and the earth simultaneously tells us a lot about the understanding our ancestors and the ancient druids had in respect to the seasons, abundance and fertility of the land.
The fire, is symbolic of the sun, and a homage to the ancient Sun God. In the Irish mythology of the Tuath de Danann, Lugh is generally represented as the Sun God, and Dian Cecht as the God of Healing, however there is Celtic reference to a God, Belenus, who is said to be both.
Personally, my own opinion would be that, in the case of Bealtaine, the fire was used as a symbol for the Divine Masculine, which is generally symbolised by the Sun. It represented the fertilisation of the earth, the integration of light and warmth, and signified the prosperous months ahead for the land. The land represented the economy of most of the people throughout ancient times. The ancient druids ordered that the land fall into darkness on the eve of Bealtaine, thus by lighting the fire, they were inviting in and integrating the divine masculine back into the land. In ancient traditions, one must not be controlled by the authority of the sun or the fire, the Divine Masculine, but rather, one must learn to manage this energy, integrating authority and direction when required for the higher good. By ordering the extinguishing of all fires across the land, the ancient druids were doing just that.
Bealtaine also celebrates the reawakening of Eiriú, who rests under the Ail na Mireann, located at Uisneach. It is a time of fruition, a time when we begin to see the crops rise above ground, trees bear fruit and the land is filled with life, bringing a sense of abundance and security that communities will be well provided for in the colder months to come.
The lighting of the fires at Uisneach, are to mark the moment of reawakening of Eiriú. Two fires are lit, representing the two eyes of the Mother Earth opening, and also marks the coming together, in sacred union, of the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine. Traditionally livestock would be passed through the two fires for luck and protection, and great celebrations followed the lighting of the fires. The fire then continued to spread outwards, extending out to all of the communities and kingdoms of Ireland, until the land was filled with light, warmth, joy and great celebration.
Bealtaine also marks the strengthening of power of the Oak King, the representation of the light half of the year, as he prepares to step into his full power on the Summer Solstice. There is a constant battle between the Holly King, who represents the darker half of the year, and the Oak King, throughout the year, symbolic of the transitions of the seasons throughout the calendar year. It pays homage to the importance and sacredness of the trees in ancient times, and is reminiscent of the druid practices that were once held in high regard by the Nobel classes of Ireland.
These trees do hold sacred medicine for those who continue to use them medicinally or energetically. The holly is said to offer protect and aid to ward off evil spirits, and the oak is said to encourage strength, sovereignty and justice. Understandable why these two trees were elected to represent their corresponding times of year.