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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bealtaine or Beltane?

 I recently, publicly, made the choice not to use Anglicized versions of certain words, specifically holiday and deity names. There's several reasons for this decision but the core of it is that as an Irish Polytheist who is striving to speak the language it seems disingenuous to publicly use different forms of the words just because they are more familiar to most people.
  This sparks a bit of a debate in some places, partially because people feel that its a judgment on how they are saying the words - and I won't deny that I do struggle with accepting some of the alternate versions of deity names. Also samhain for some reason really irks me to hear mispronounced. But all that aside, it does raise the question of how we decide what is and isn't "correct". Even within Irish there is variation between different dialects, so that we can't find one precise way to say anything. There is always a range. And of course people argue that after a certain number of decades, or even centuries, being used by another language it really does become a word in that other language. Bealtaine is BYAL-tihn-eh or BYAL-chin-eh in Irish, but it entered English via Scots back in the 15th century. After so many centuries Bell-tayn is obviously a perfectly legitimate way to say it, particularly by non-Irish pagans. Samhain is SOW-en or SOW-in in Irish (Sah-vin in Scottish Gaidhlig) but it's been called Sam-hayn for decades among American pagans*. How long does it take before that is a legitimate approach?
   And then there are deity names. How much does it matter if we call Hekate (He-kah-tee) something totally different from the Greek? Like Heh-kate? Or He-kit? What about calling Macha (Mah-kuh, with the ch like in loch) Mah-chuh with a ch like in cha-cha-cha? what about the almost always mispronounced Welsh deities? Blodeuwedd? Llew Llaw GyffesWhen people have never heard these names said, only read them in books, and don't speak the languages they come from, how much does the mispronunciation matter?
  I'm not offering an answer here, just asking you all to think about the subject. I've come to my decision and intend to stand by it. But I think this is one of those little things that maybe isn't so little, that we all often ignore. Whatever you decide to do - to make sure you pronounce things correctly in the language they come from or that it doesn't matter as long as the intent is there - let it be a conscious decision. Let it be a choice, not a default.

*Honestly this would bother me a lot less if the people calling it Sam-hayn would focus on American traditions rather than emphasizing Samhain as an Irish or Celtic holiday. If you want to pronounce it Sam-hayn and focus on seances, the death of a cyclic God, and such more power to you. Just don't talk about the holidays long Celtic history....just like Beltane with a Maypole and marriages isn't Irish.

Copyright Morgan Daimler


  1. I agree with you, Morgan. It is important because it does distinguish between these various sects/religions. The Americans are sloppy about most things I am sad to say and if they have not really taken the step into polytheism, they do not "grok" that either as well. Anyway, I do enjoy reading about the neighbouring pantheon and their festivals. So, may I wish you and your family a blessed Bealtaine.

  2. I concur with you Morgan and further more I abhor what the US has done to the British English language.
    On the other hand the British have equally corrupted the spelling of other countries place names and names to their own liking for example Lloyd instead Llwyd.

  3. I've long struggled (and been inconsistent) regarding whether to go with the more familiar or the more authentic. I have to say Sam Hain is something I find downright offensive and insulting to the traditions.

  4. I've been trying to figure out at what point Blodeuwedd, an artificial woman made of flowers and brought to life, animated with an unknown spirit, started being referred to as a Goddess. She certainly isn't to me, or to other people I know who have been working with Celtic traditions for decades.

  5. My understanding is that the Scottish Gaelic/Gaidhlig holiday name Bealtainn, or Bealtuinn, pronounced 'bell-TINE,'is how modern paganism came by its pronunciation of Beltane, which differs only slightly. I think too it is important to distinguish, as you note, the observance of a modern pagan holiday versus the observance of a cultural holiday, which pronunciations can highlight. And of course it is not untoward to recognise that words clearly deriving from languages other than English were never intended to follow English grammatical rules.