Diana Gabaldon begins her Outlander series with Claire and her husband Frank on a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands right after World War II ends. Originally, in the book, they arrive at the time of Beltane, a Celtic fertility sabbat that occurs on May 1st. This was a bit of a problem for historical accuracy because World War II did not end in Europe until after Beltane. It’s definitely an interesting choice considering where the story goes after that, as well as the life cycle of the God and Goddess every year. It seemed very important to the start of the story that it take place on Beltane, which is the Sabbat that celebrates the God and the Goddess’ union, which in some mythologies created the universe.
When Claire goes back in time through the standing stones, she ends up uniting for the first time with her true love, Jamie Fraser. It’s almost reminiscent of how the Crone becomes the Maiden in a sense, if you think of the Goddess as “going back in time” in the cycle of the year, and uniting with the Young God as a Maiden in the spring. Of course, it’s a stretch, but it’s still fun to think about.
The Starz television series based on the first novel changed the time of year that Claire and Frank go to Scotland at Samhain (Halloween to any non-Pagan readers) instead of Beltane. This may have been done simply to correct the problem with the dates, but it’s an interesting choice to change from Beltane to Samhain. They are across from each other on the Wheel of the Year, and are arguably the two most important Sabbats that we celebrate. Samhain is actually considered by many to be the most important day of the Celtic Year, as it is the New Year. It signifies not only the end of the harvest and beginning of winter, but also change and death. It is when the God descends to the Underworld and the Goddess reigns supreme before she gives birth to the next God at Yule. This could describe Claire’s journey through the stones and back.
There isn’t too much commentary on the actual celebrations themselves. The little there is does include showing the actual ritual though. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the television series because it’s so beautiful, even if it’s not how I celebrate typically. While spying on the Druids performing their Beltane ritual at Craigh na Dun in the books, and Samhain in the television series, Frank correctly notes the lack of fire is odd for either celebration. Not much more is said about it, and it’s clearly just a plot device to get Claire back to the stones alone.
One interesting difference is the portrayal of the blood. Sacrifices would have been common at Samhain, and the blood on the porches may have aligned more with that idea. Sacrifices involving blood would not have been part of a Beltane celebration (at least it hasn’t been in any Beltane ritual I’ve participated in), which is why there is more of an explanation for it being to do with another old Scottish superstition as well in the books.
SPOILER ALERT: Claire going through the stones the first time starts the circle, and when she comes back to her own time period in Dragonfly in Amber (about two weeks before Beltane, no less), she is pregnant and later gives birth to her and Jamie’s daughter, Brianna. In Voyager, the third book, Claire moves back through the stones at Samhain, which seems to complete the circle. As far as I know, she never returns to the 20th century (but I haven’t finished the series yet). END SPOILERS.
It’s a full circle journey in the first two books, because Claire goes through the stones and back around Beltane, as she goes back through the stones on the eve of the Battle of Culloden, which took place mid-April, so about two weeks before Beltane. By changing it to Samhain in the television series, what they’ve done is have the circle completed a different way, as it completes when Claire goes back to the 18th century a second time to reunite with Jamie.