May Day, a celebration of Summer
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Oh how I love the lovely, lusty Month of May!
Beltane, when the first buds of new love spread across the land in fertile beginnings. Pagan
revelry celebrates the Great Union between Goddess and God and our existence is confirmed for
another year. We have reached the half-way point of the Wheel of the Year, where the veil is
thin and our ancestors watch happily as we sing and dance to show our appreciation for the Gift
Beltane, with its colorful Maypole Dance, is a favorite Pagan celebration, perhaps the most
popular along with Samhain, its opposite point on the eight-spoked Wheel of the Year. As Samhain
announces the onset of winter, Beltane heralds the onset of
summer. Though Samhain, through its secular celebration of Halloween seems to gain in
mass-market popularity with each passing year, Beltane ("May Day") seems to have lost a bit of
ground with the general public. That is sad, for it is a day of joy that should be shared. Earth has
come to life again, with buds that we saw just appearing on trees and shrubs at Spring Equinox
have turned to leaves and flowers. Even in places like Southern California where seasons are not
so clearly evident as further north, Nature seems renewed and refreshed. Summer is just
ahead. We can feel it and we are energized.
I remember May Day when I was a child. We always made May Baskets in school usually by folding
a sheet of colored paper in a cone shape and gluing a strip of colored paper on it for a handle. I
was a child when yards were yards and not "lawns" and wild flowers were everywhere. I would
gather a few different flowers and tuck them in the basket. Of course the first one always went
to Mom. If I made any more they would be hung on the neighbors front door. I would knock and
run away then so they would wonder who had done this for them.
I remember one year in grade school, all the 6th grade classes gathered in the school yard
around the flag pole (minus the flag) with the pole decorated with colorful streamers. The
teachers would take groups of boys and girls and have them dance around the May Pole and weave
the streamers into a colorful covering for the pole. Then the streamers would be unwound and a
new group would take their turn until all the children had participated in dancing around the May
The custom of the May Pole came to the Americas with early settlers from the British Isles and
Europe. It has been discouraged in many places due to Puritanical objections to the obvious sexual
symbolism of its Pagan origins. The Catholics
managed to call May Day their own as with so many other festivals and render it chaste in the
bargain by declaring it sacred to the Virgin Mary. (WHICH WOULD NOW BE THE 'YOUNG
Each year young Catholic girls hope they might be the special one chosen to crown the local
church's statue of the Virgin with a floral wreath as Mary the Queen of May.
May Queens were often chosen in Pagan celebrations as well, along with a May King. The Queen,
dressed in white, represented the Goddess as Maiden. The King was the young Bright Lord who
would chase and catch her, then to celebrate the sacred marriage that was a magical rite to
encourage the fertility of Earth in the season of growth.
In older times, "bringing in the May" was a time when young men and maidens, after following May
Eve festivities by spending all night together in the forest, would bring back spring flowers to
decorate their villages. They might also find a young tree to cut and bring to the village center
where it would be festooned with
ribbons for the Maypole Dance. The dance is a fertility rite in itself, for as the dancers weave
around the phallic pole, they weave their magick for fertility and abundance.
Ancient celebrations of May Day have been portrayed in stories from Arthurian legend, and in
fact are part of the Lerner and Lowe musical Camelot. Queen Gwenevere with her Ladies and
Knights, leads the singing of "Tra-la, it's May, the lusty month of May, that lovely month when
everyone goes blissfully astray..." Another charming folk tradition is the magick of the May Dew.
There's a Mother Goose rhyme that celebrates it:
The fair maid who, the first of May
Goes to the fields at break of day
And washes in dew from the Hawthorne tree
Will ever after handsome be.
The name Beltane, which means fire, likely derives from the Celtic God of light Bel (or Beli,
Belenus - the name varies with traditions). The Celts' celebration included the May Eve lighting of
Bel-fires on the hilltops. The fires were considered to be healing, protective and to contribute
toward fertility. It's said that the people jumped them - quickly and skyclad, so as not to catch
their clothes on fire. Cattle were ritually driven between the fires on their way to summer
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Last updated 4-25-15.