Myths tell us that the tribe of Partholon landed in Eire on Beltaine and they left on Beltaine 300 yrs later. The Tuatha De Danaan arrived in Eire and the Sons of Mil also came to Eire on Beltaine. Obviously, myth holds this Fire festival to be an important time for new things and new changes.
Beltaine has been one of the most misunderstood and debated over of Fire festivals. Its balancing act with Samhain has been downplayed and the fertility aspects, which are really more a part of Spring Equinox, seemingly have been over played. Many sources of information hail Beltaine as a "60's version pagan love-in with everyone doing the great rite and whole towns having sex in the fields. " This maybe the version of paganism that some are searching for but the great rite was reserved for other things in ancient times. Part of this information is to dispel the "common myths" and the rest is to give a more balanced historical perspective of Beltaine.
beltaine occurs midway between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. Beltaine's balance point on the wheel is Samhain. Beltaine is the first festival in the light half of the year. As this is the balance to Samhain much gaeity and merry making is expected. Scrying and fortune telling for the coming months was also done. The branches of the Hawthorn are brightly covered in her bright white flowers and around Beltaine the Spring flower explosion seems to peak. In some ways it can be visualized as the reverse of Samhain. Just as Samhain is about death, Beltaine is about new life and birth. Beltaine is a birth time as many children are conceived at marriage time at Lughnassadh. It is the Fire festival between Spring Equinox and Summer solstice. The flowering of the hawthorn heralded its celebration. Even today hawthorn flowers are used to celebrate Beltaine and it's Christian counterpart May Day. Many flowers are in bloom and this is the time to plant barley, feed corn, beets, wheat, dry beans, and potatoes and in the US, peanuts and tobacco. Samhain is the last of the harvest and the taking in of the animals and Beltaine is the planting of the major crops and the release of the animals into the fields for grazing. Most of the animals have had their young and now are able to taken from shelter. Two Beltaine fires were raised at noon on this day and the animals and their young were driven between the two fires for blessings. People also passed between the fires for blessings.
Beltaine is the time for divorces as practiced in many Celtic lands. I would think that this would be a time of divorces because you have spent the long winter with someone and now have decided that you can't stand living with them one more minute. Many texts refer to this time as also a time for marriages, I am not so sure that historically that is the case, but it may be in some areas. Marriages were very popular with the Greeks and Romans during this time and so it may be a carry over from that.
Many texts give information that this was a great time of love making and the Great Rite. Historically there has been found no evidence of this being practiced with in the Celtic lands. The Great Rite or Great Ritual was one reserved for kings in bonding themselves to the land they were to reign over. If one recalls the myths about King Arthur, when the land was ill he became ill as well. This further shows the bindings between the king and the land as told within Arthurian Myth. Even in reading the writings of Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger or even Caesar there is no mention of this aspect of ritual and rite amoungst the Celtic peoples. So that brings great doubts to this writer as to whether that the Great Rite was even practiced on Beltaine or ever practiced by the Celtic peoples as a whole.