You Call it May Day, We Call it Beltane

You Call it May Day, We Call it Beltane

Author: Peg Aloi

The season of spring has arrived! The rites of fertility have begun! This is a holiday with a colorful past, and strangely enough, one of the only major festivals on the pagan calendar which has never been Christianized. But as we shall see, it is a holiday with two distinct flavors of celebration throughout history…

But first, some nostalgic wanderings…

April 30th, 1972.

Somewhere, I must have learned about May Baskets. I think my favorite third grade teacher mentioned them briefly in Social Studies class (she often talked about holidays and their origins), and then I wanted to find out more about this wacky custom. I was a precocious reader as a kid so it may have been almost anywhere: the Encyclopedia Britannica, Woman’s Day magazine, maybe even Playboy. I don’t recall where, but I know once I learned about the custom of giving them to some one special, I was determined to make one and leave it in secret for my favorite third-grade teacher, Miss V.

I took a small box (about half the size of a shoebox) and glued lavender construction paper to it. I also fashioned a handle out of the same paper, gluing it to both sides. I cut out flower petals shapes in different colors and glued those on, too. Very tasteful, I thought. I cut some daffodils and lilacs from the yard, and put them inside. I had already asked my aunt if she could drive me over to her house, having cleverly looked up her address in the phone book earlier. (Now, these days we would call such behavior something less innocent than childlike admiration; we might call it, oh, stalking). As we drove up with the basket to my teacher’s house, at around 6 pm, I found myself thinking, gee, what if she sees me? I got out of the car, ran on tiptoe (as if that would make me less visible) and put it on her porch. As I turned, the front door opened.

As luck would have it, I was busted: by Miss V. herself! She saw me, then the basket, and figured it out. She smiled and thanked me and said it was very sweet of me. I was mortified that she found me out. But then the next day in school, she made me a card with flowers on it. The front said “Thank you” and the inside said “for delighting my day with a May Basket.” So I got to put that card on my desk like a little teacher’s pet. Of course, I did not think that at the time; at the time I was simply very proud. And realized if I had not gotten “busted” she might never know who brought the May Basket, and I’d have my secret, but only that. This way, maybe the other kids would think of making May Baskets for someone: a teacher, a parent or grandparent. Of course, all I knew was I made something cool and gave it to someone special.

May 1st, 1988

I’m in graduate school. Living in a cool two-bedroom apartment above a funeral home. I have just started really getting into the whole paganism thing. Not in a coven yet, but doing the beginner stuff: practicing a bit of spellcraft, making little altars in my room, going to meetings of the Pagan Students’ Organization, buying books by Margot and Starhawk and Janet and Stewart… So I know it’s Beltane. But not to the extent that I know how to really celebrate it as a true pagan. (Not to worry, within a year or two I would be dancing ’round maypoles, washing my face in the dew and “going a Maying” like a veteran!)

So I get up in the morning and dress in something kinda frilly and festive, not all that atypical for me but I wanted to feel like I was observing the season today. I leave my apartment to go to class, and what do I find on my doorknob but a garland of flowers! Shaped like a crown to be worn. Wow. I don’t even have a clue who it might be from (but I have my suspicions). I take it with me and carry it around to classes that day. I finally run into a male friend of mine who knows I ma into this pagan stuff. He apparently knows a thing or two about May Day folklore, and I eventually find out he left it as a sign he was interested in dating me. Which was rather sweet. This was a very shy young man who I cannot imagine actually asking me out on a date. But his leaving a relic of ancient paganism on my door, well, that was impressive. We did date for a while. He was a nice guy and very smart. At the time all I knew was, he made something cool and gave it to me, so he must have thought I was special.

Beltane: a Pre-Christian Fire Festival

“But they are… naked!”
“Well, naturally, it’s far too dangerous to jumo through the fire with your clothes on!”

–Lord Summerisle explaining Beltane to Sergeant Howie in the 1973 film “The Wicker Man”

According to an article entitled “The Merry Month of May” on about.com (link) “The first day of May is still celebrated as a pre-Christian magical rite in some parts of England. Local people dance around a maypole (an ancient fertility symbol), in what was once one of England’s most important festivals of the year.” May Day and Beltane obviously have much in common, as both celebrate new growth and fertility. Even when May Day celebrations were banned in the late 16th century for being immoral, the customs died hard and it wasn’t long before the festivities were once again widespread. But long before the May Day celebrations, with their maypole dancing, garlands and dances became popular, the ancient fire festival of Beltane took place for centuries.

It is not clear where or how the festival of Beltane first came about; Ronald Hutton in The Stations of the Sun mentions the first recorded instance of a bishop in Lincolnshire complaining about local priests who “demeaned themselves by joining games which they call the bringing-in of May” in 1240. May Games were recorded in Scotland in 1432. There is some speculation that Beltane and May Day is related to the ancient Roman festival of Floralia. According to the about.com article, this was “a six-day party in honor of Flora, the goddess of Spring and Flowers, the Floralia was a time of singing, dancing and feasting in the ancient capital.” Dressed in bright colors in imitation of spring flowers, citizens would decorate the entire city with fresh blooms. “Hares and goats, symbols of fertility, would be let loose in gardens as protectors of Flora, and great singing and stomping would be heard in order to wake up Spring.” Of course, dancing is a large part of May Day celebrations as well. Apparently, Flora was also the patron of prostitutes, and during this festival the Roman “working girls” participated enthusiastically, performing naked in theatres and taking part in gladiatorial events. The themes of fertility and sexuality are obviously still very much associated with Beltane and May Day amongst modern pagans… but let’s look more closely at the ancient history of Beltane in the British Isles.

First of all, the origin of the name “Beltane” is disputed. The holiday was also known as “Roodmass” in England and “Walpurgisnacht” in Germany. Alternately spelled Bealtaine, Beltaine, and any number of Gaelic derived-spellings, it is also the Irish word for the month of May, and is said to mean anything from “Bel-fire” Feast of the god Bel” to “bright fire.” Janet and Stewart Farrar, in Eight Sabbats for Witches offer an excellent tracing of the holiday’s Irish roots, and particularly the European fire-god Belenus whom they believe this festival is named for (a name possible traced back to Baal, the bible’s only pagan god, whose name simply means “Lord”). Ronald Hutton states that since the Celtic word “bel” means bright or fortunate, this is adequate to explain the translation as being “lucky fire” or “bright fire.”

For FIRE is what this festival is all about. It is one of the two great fire festivals of the wheel of the year (the other is Samhain). It also falls upon the cross-quarter days, which mark the astrological movement of the sun. In ancient times, the calendar days for these holidays would have been roughly seven to eleven days AFTER we now celebrate them (usually on the first of the month). The way to know for sure is to observe when the sun reaches 15 degrees of the zodiac sign. For Beltane, this is Taurus, the Bull (the sun reaches 15 degrees Taurus on May 5th this year). At Lammas, Leo; at Samhain, Scorpio, and at Imbolc, Aquarius.

Samhain and Beltane divide the year into two distinct halves of great importance to agrarian-based societies (as in western Europe, where our Celtic calendar of eight major seasonal festivals originates). In F. Marian McNeill’s book The Silver Bough, she states: “At Beltane, flocks and herds went to their summer pastures; as Hallowmass (Samhain) they returned to their winter quarters. Beltane may be regarded as a day of Supplication, when a blessing was invoked on hunter and herdsman, on cattle and crops.” Whereas Samhain was a “Day of Thanksgiving, for the safe return of the wanderers and the renewal of the food supply.”

Fire festivals in ancient times were seen as times of propitiation and purification. Propitiation, says McNeill, “means sacrifice; to propitiate the mysterious forces of nature and ensure fertility in field and fold and on the hearth.”

“You’ll simply never understand the true nature of sacrifice.”
–May Morrison to Sergeant Howie, “The Wicker Man”

Human sacrifice was still practiced in Gaul as late as the 1st century BC, and was later replaced by sacrifice of animals (most notably the Bull – another Taurus connection?), and later an offering of specially consecrated cakes or loaves, as in the sun-shaped loaf in “The Wicker Man.” “The life of the fields: John Barleycorn.” But of course, by the film’s end, more than bread was consumed by the flames.

(Never seen The Wicker Man? It’s a cult classic well-loved by pagans for its deliciously politically-incorrect sacrifice of a morally-uptight police sergeant when he visits and island renowned for keeping the “old ways.” The film’s events take place on the days leading up to Beltane.)

As for purification, fire has always been seen as its chief agent. Traditionally, all domestic fires in Irish, English and Scottish households were extinguished on Beltane Eve, after having been kept lit continuously all year. Just before dawn, villagers would process with their animals up the hillsides to the highest point where fires would be kindled and relit for people to see for miles around. It was also traditional to build these fires out of nine of the sacred woods from Druidic folklore, including oak, ash, thorn, rowan, apple, birch, alder, maple, elm, gorse, holly, hawthorn, and others.

The bonfires were lit so that a narrow passage existed between two fire, so that cattle and other livestock could be led between the fires, to purify them from disease or sterility for the coming year. Torches of dried sedge, gorse or heather were also lit and carried around remaining flocks or stables, to further purify the air.

Fire, Water…

Water, the other element of purification, also plays a strong role in Beltane custom. Spring was the traditional season of “well dressing” particularly in Ireland where wells were seen as holy places (even with the advent of Christianity, when many wells dedicated to pagan goddesses were re-dedicated to the Virgin Mary). But even more specific to Beltane, morning dew was seen as sacred and magical. To this day, young women all over the British Isles rise at dawn to wash their faces in dew (dew from oak and rowan trees is said to be particularly well-suited). It was and is believed doing so would enhance a woman’s beauty and health in the coming year, and if she uttered an appropriate charm while doing it, she might also meet her future husband in the coming year.

This poem was written by someone who observed young women engaging in this practice in King’s Park in Edinburgh:

“On May Day in a fairy ring,
We’ve seen them round St. Anton’s spring,
Frae (from) grass the caller dew-drops wring,
To weet their een (to wet their eyes)
And water clean as crystal spring
To synd them clean.”

Village elders also left libations and offerings of food to guard their flocks against any evil from the fairy folk, or from the ravages of storms, floods, or disease. Butter, eggs, milk and cheese were left in hollow stones, or poured into the ground. Alternately, ale or fresh-baked bread was offered, with the idea that a gift of the finest the household could provide was the most suitable offering.

In Aberdeenshire, McNeill tells of a custom of kindling fires on May 2nd, as it was believed “witches were abroad then.” Beltane, like Samhain, was the time when the veils between the worlds were thinnest, and like fairy folk, “witches” were thought to be fond of this time and to use it for magical rites. Keep in mind, in those days, the “witches” were the ones that country folk worked magic against, and those of us today who call ourselves “witches” are actually closer in spirit to those village wise women and cunningmen, who used folk magic and spells to protect their homes and families and flocks. The Aberdeenshire citizens believed witches would steal milk from cows, and ride stolen horses to their meetings. Fires were lit and villagers would hold hands and dance around them three times deosil (sunwise) – does this sound familiar? Except they would then yell out “Fire! Blaze and Burn the witches! Fire, Fire! Burn the witches!” Thanks goodness we have moved far beyond these, ahem, heathen customs!

Earth and Air…

Dancing was a common way to celebrate the season. The Maypole rites being an obvious example, but before this practice became widespread, dancing without benefit of a giant pole was also common. Dancing round the bonfires was seen as a way to partake of the purification of its flames. Women wanting to get pregnant would perform fertility dances at the fireside. Once the Beltane fires were relit on the hillsides, villagers would carry a flaming torch, the “need-fire, ” back to their homes and relight their hearthfires with it. On the way, it was customary to dance and sing the season in. Records of may dances and songs go back to well before the 16th century. The songs affirmed the purpose of the fire ceremonies: protection and purification. The protective power of the magical woods was thought to affect any who lit their households with their flames. The sight of the bright flames on the hills, and the line of people processing with torches in the dark, must have been an awesome sight to behold.

(This year in Ireland, a huge ritual will be held to re-kindle the ancient fires of Beltane. It was nearly cancelled due to foot and mouth disease, but now it looks like this ancient ritual of healing the land and its creatures will take place after all, and not a moment too soon.)

The most protective wood of all was rowan, and prior to the Beltane Eve bonfire lighting, branches of rowan were cut in huge amounts and used to decorate the homes of all. Branches tied with red thread (signifying the rowan berries, and a favorite color of fairies) were hung in doorways of homes, stables, barns and sheepfolds, and, as McNeill states, particularly “in the midden, which was a favourite of the black sisterhood.” (I think she meant witches.) In the Highlands of Scotland, girls tied sprigs of rowan in their hair or on their clothing just after washing in may dew. (Incidentally, in “The Wicker Man” the hapless Sergeant Howie is first sent for to investigate a missing girl, whom he believes intended for human sacrifice: her name is Rowan.)

Just as rowan branches were seen as protective, people also gathered armsful of tree branches in blossom to decorate their homes in honor of the arrival of spring. This custom was usually fulfilled the following day, on Beltane proper, after the midday sun brought the blossoms to the fullest size and fragrance. In later years, when May festivities spread to England, these branches were carried from door to door, offered with songs, in the expectation that gifts of sweets, money or food and drink would be offered. This in turn led to the “garlanding” customs popular in southern England, once the province of women but later an activity popular for young girls and sanctioned by local schools and parishes. No matter what the blossom, it was known as “gathering the May.” Hawthorn was most common, and so one of its folk names is “May.” (Rowan Morrison’s mother’s name is May, as well). “Going a Maying” innocently refers to the custom of young people gathering blossoming tree branches; but later became a common euphemism for what happened after the branches were gathered in the woods, and before they were brought home.

Once the fires were relit on Beltane Eve, and children put to bed, and the wee hours of Beltane morning arrived, the more adult festivities began. And that includes the traditional activities associated with fertility (remember Flora and her fondness for prostitutes? Kinda along those lines). Newly wed couples and new brides were expected to perform fertility rites around the bonfires, to take advantage of their potency and purification. Humans were much more closely connected with the rhythms of the earth in those days, to put it mildly, and no doubt the running of sap in trees, the blossoms and buds bursting forth, the scents of flowers and new growth and damp soil and rain, all stirred the senses and reawakened the body—these days we call it “spring fever, ” but in antiquity, indulging such urges was completely normal and expected.

Or, in the words of Lerner and Lowe, from the musical “Camelot”:

“It’s May! It’s May!
The lusty month of May!…
Those dreary vows that ev’ryone takes,
Ev’ryone breaks.
Ev’ryone makes divine mistakes!
The lusty month of May! ”

Naturally enough, unwed men and women would also partake of the spirit of these rites, and find themselves venturing off into the nearby fields or forest to perform their own fertility rites. Blessed by the gods on this sacred night, such unions were seen as wholly proper, even when not blessed by marriage; they were referred to as “greenwood marriages.” It is also true that betrothed couples would make love at Beltane, and if the union did not prove fruitful, i.e. no pregnancy resulted, they might dissolve the partnership before marriage without repercussion. In fact, the origin of the “year and a day” handfasting custom observed by modern pagans, in which they renew their vows after one year, dates back to this. If new marriages did not produce children within one year, couple often split and married others, with no penalty.

But why sex? If the point of these festivals was to preserve the land and the flocks, why not simply observe fertility in the birth of lambs, the growth of plants? Ah, but ancient peoples believed in sympathetic magic: that practice of a small, symbolic action representing a larger one. By making love in the fields, human beings believed they were helping make the earth more fertile, blessing it with their own activity of producing new life and abundance. And even if the ultimate goal of such unions was not pregnancy, it couldn’t hurt to help the magic along!

Which brings me to what is often considered a wholly sexual symbol, and main feature of ancient May Day and modern Beltane celebrations: the maypole.

Phallic Symbol? Or Tree Worship?

Beltane celebrations in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and parts of Britain later became intertwined with May Day rites derived from the Floralia (due to the Roman invasion of Britain, mostly). But more importantly, the different customs associated with May 1st became very diverse and widespread to such an extent that these practices were banned on a wide scale. Though complaints about “immoral” practices started early on (as in the 1240 reference from Hutton), the Protestant, well, protest against May rites came to a head in 1555, when May Day observances were banished by Parliament. This mainly had to do with the “Maying” rites, which uptight clergy believed were merely opportunities for fornication in the fields and defiling of young women (mistakenly believed to come away pregnant more often than not. Hutton notes that later demographic research showed no concomitant rise in pregnancy rates at this time of year; in fact, late summer was a much more common time for conception).

By 1565, the common practice of electing “an Abbott of Misrule” and other ritual roles, like Robin Hood, Maid Marian and others, was also banned by law. Such plays had become commonplace, as had Morris dancing, sword dances and other celebratory ways of “dancing in” spring. Margaret Murray, in “The God of the Witches” noted the similarity between Robin and his typical band of 12 men being modeled on a “Grandmaster and his coven.” Although it is just as clearly related to Jesus and his disciples. In any case, the traditional green costumes and elaborate dances, as well as Robin Hood’s association with Robin Goodfellow, or Puck, were also connected to fairy tradition and so seen as “heathen” by the clergy. Some have speculated that this tradition of using Robin and Marian as May Day “deities” actually has its origin in Diana and Herne: goddess of the hunt and forest creatures, and god of the wild hunt. Indeed, Herne is seen as one aspect of the Green man, and many May Day rites also featured The Green Man. Diana is also a predecessor of the Queen of the May, a role later usurped by Marian… but Diana’s virgin aspect makes her a likely model for such a role.

The maypole itself was banned in 1644. By 1660, when it became clear the monarchy would be restored, May Day rites were once again permitted and in fact spontaneously reappeared across the country. But by then the holiday had lost much of its earlier sexual significance; May Day had replaced Beltane, if you will. But it is also true that by this time, the dancing of the Maypole had become the central “ritual” of this holiday, not the bonfires. Only in remote parts of Ireland and Scotland did the fires apparently continue as the dominant feature.

It is not clear when the maypole first became part of the May festivities, or what its exact origin is. Our post-Freudian society naturally wishes to call it a “phallic symbol” and have done with it, and indeed this seems fitting. A wonderful scene in the oft-mentioned “The Wicker Man” finds the young male students dancing round the maypole, while the female students watch them from their classroom, in which they listen to a lecture about the rites and rituals of May Day (even their textbooks have a chapter on it!), and all the girls in unison know the answer to what the maypole represents: “phallic symbol.” The teacher, Miss Rose, says it is the penis, “revered in religions, such as ours, as the generative force in nature.”

But according to Ron Hutton, other explanations present themselves. Some authors, including Sir J.G. Frazer in The Golden Bough, refer to it as “the repository of a fertility-giving tree spirit.” Many years earlier, Thomas Hobbes suggested the maypole was meant to honor the Roman god of male potency, Priapus. Hutton himself suggests they are just as likely symbols of tree worship (particularly since the earliest maypoles were living trees, stripped of all leaves but for a tuft of greenery at the top). He also mentions the Northern European concept of the divine tree which connects the earth tot he world of the divine, and the maypole as a connection between them. Finally, he credits Mircea Eliade for his theory that it is “merely a way of rejoicing at the returning strength of vegetation.”

Modern Traditions

“For the May Day is the great day,
Sung along the old straight track.
And those who ancient lines did ley
Will heed this song that calls them back…
Pass the cup, and pass the Lady,
And pass the plate to all who hunger,
Pass the wit of ancient wisdom,
Pass the cup of crimson wonder.”

Jethro Tull, “Cup of Wonder, ” from the 1977 album Songs From the Wood

Modern pagans celebrate Beltane as a festival of reawakening spring, of fertility, of the renewal of the lifeforce, of creativity, or rebirth, of love and sexuality, or birth and regeneration. Janet and Stewart Farrar, whose work forms the basis for many Wiccan groups, offer a ritual for Beltane in their Eight Sabbats for Witches in which they feature the Oak King as a symbol of the death of the old season, and a “bel-fire” is rekindled to usher in the new season, along with lyrics from Rudyard Kipling’s famous song of tree worship in England, “Oak and Ash and Thorn.”

“Oh do not tell the priest our plight, for he would call it a sin,
But we’ve been out in the woods all night a-conjuring summer in;
And we bring good news by word of mouth, for women and cattle and corn,
For now is the sun come up from the South by Oak and Ash and Thorn.”

Some covens kindle their own bonfire, using nine of the sacred woods. Others celebrate the Great Rite, the sacred marriage of the god and goddess, in symbolic or actual fashion according to their tradition. Solitary practitioners often choose Beltane as a time to reaffirm their dedication to the path; and couples in a magical partnership might choose this auspicious time to work sex magick, to achieve a chosen goal.

Larger pagan gatherings feature maypole dancing; I have attended a number of these over the years and there really is nothing like a fifty-foot tall maypole with a hundred people dancing around it with ribbons!

May wine is a traditional drink of the season: to make your own, simply add dried or fresh meadowsweet to white wine. Let it steep for at least 24 hours. You can either leave the herb in the wine or strain it out. The herby, vanilla-like fragrance and taste are indescribable, and really say “Beltane!” I have also seen recipes for “May Cup” on the net. And this is a fine time to experiment with aphrodisiac brews, for example adding damiana to some white zinfandel.

Perhaps it is best to remember this as the time when Aphrodite, who rules the sign of Taurus, is coming into her own. She presides over the realms of love and sex and beauty, but also over the flowers and fruits which brig us such pleasure: delighting our senses with their colors and scents and tastes and juices. She fills blossoms with nectar, and her body is beneath us as we walk and dance upon the newly-yielding, softened earth, alive again after the dormancy of winter, full of new life. She is in the animals, the lambs born at Imbolc who frolic among spring meadow flowers, the other creatures who come into their mating seasons at this time. And she is in us, offering her discernment of beauty, blessing our eyes with new awareness of color and texture in nature. In our hearts which beat quicker with the warmth of the sun and the fires rekindled within us. In our minds, alive to possibility and creativity, awakened and reborn with new energy. And in our bodies, walking on hills and in meadows and forests, dancing around our own fires and in circles with like-minded loved ones, sharing laughter and song and love, enjoying and creating the feast, the celebration, the magical birthright that is life on Earth.

May your fires burn bright!

Peg Aloi

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Celebrating Other Spirituality 365 Days A Year – May Day

Beltane Comments & Graphics

May Day

“Nature is often hidden; sometimes overcome; seldom extinguished.”

–Sir Francis Bacon

 

Common in Europe and North America, May Day is celebrated by the crowning of the May Queen; dancing around the maypole; and mumming from house to house carrying blossoms and soliciting gifts of food. Most of the activities that take place on May Day symbolize Spring, relating human fertility to crop fertility and rebirth. In the past it was common for young people to pair up, often by lot, and then gather in the woods all May Eve night.

In English folklore, May Day, Bringing in the May, and Going-A-Maying refers to the practice of going out into the countryside to gather flowers and greenery, much of which was used to adorn the May Queen. Bringing in the May remained a staple tradition throughout most of the 16th century, before it was banned by the Protestant reform-fundamentalists who took moral outrage at the unchaperoned activities of the young people. May Day was banned along with other traditional customs in the Commonwealth period, but returned after the Restoration.

Today, many of the old customs still prevail, such as woodland weddings and the gathering of morning dew for skin renewal. Horse racing, parades, and dancing around the maypole have made a comeback as have garland parties and mumming.

 

A Midsummer’s Celebration

 by Mike Nichols

The young maid stole through the cottage door, And blushed as she sought the Plant of pow’r; — “Thou silver glow-worm, O lend me thy light, I must gather the mystic St. John’s wort tonight, The wonderful herb, whose leaf will decide If the coming year shall make me a bride.”

In addition to the four great festivals of the Pagan Celtic year, there are four lesser holidays as well: the two solstices, and the two equinoxes. In folklore, these are referred to as the four “quarter days” of the year, and modern Witches call them the four “Lesser Sabbats”, or the four “Low Holidays”. The summer solstice is one of them.

Technically, a solstice is an astronomical point and, due to the calendar creep of the leap-year cycle, the date may vary by a few days depending on the year. The summer solstice occurs when the sun reaches the Tropic of Cancer, and we experience the longest day and the shortest night of the year. Astrologers know this as the date on which the sun enters the sign of Cancer.

However, since most European peasants were not accomplished at reading an ephemeris or did not live close enough to Salisbury Plain to trot over to Stonehenge and sight down its main avenue, they celebrated the event on a fixed calendar date, June 24. The slight forward displacement of the traditional date is the result of multitudinous calendrical changes down through the ages. It is analogous to the winter solstice celebration, which is astronomically on or about December 21, but is celebrated on the traditional date of December 25, Yule, later adopted by the Christians.

Again, it must be remembered that the Celts reckoned their days from sundown to sundown, so the June 24 festivities actually begin on the previous sundown (our June 23). This was the date of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Which brings up another point: our modern calendars are quite misguided in suggesting that ‘summer begins’ on the solstice.  According to the old folk calendar, summer begins on May Day and ends on Lammas (August 1), with the summer solstice, midway between the two, marking midsummer. This makes more logical sense than suggesting that summer begins on the day when the sun’s power begins to wane and the days grow shorter.

Although our Pagan ancestors probably preferred June 24 (and indeed most European folk festivals today use this date), the sensibility of modern Witches seems to prefer the actual solstice point, beginning the celebration on its eve, or the sunset immediately preceding the solstice point. Again, it gives modern Pagans a range of dates to choose from with, hopefully, a weekend embedded in it.

Just as the Pagan Midwinter celebration of Yule was adopted by Christians as “Christmas” (December 25), so too the Pagan Midsummer celebration was adopted by them as the Feast of John the Baptist (June 24). Occurring 180 degrees apart on the wheel of the year, the Midwinter celebration commemorates the birth of Jesus, while the Midsummer celebration commemorates the birth of John, the prophet who was born six months before Jesus in order to announce his arrival.

Although modern Witches often refer to the holiday by the rather generic name of “Midsummer’s Eve”, it is more probable that our Pagan ancestors of a few hundred years ago actually used the Christian name for the holiday, “St. John’s Eve”. This is evident from the wealth of folklore that surrounds the summer solstice (i.e., that it is a night especially sacred to the faerie folk), but which is inevitably ascribed to “St. John’s Eve”, with no mention of the sun’s position. It could also be argued that a coven’s claim to antiquity might be judged by what name it gives the holidays. (Incidentally, the name ‘Litha’ for the holiday is a modern usage, possibly based on a Saxon word that means the opposite of Yule. Still, there is little historical justification for its use in this context.) But weren’t our Pagan ancestors offended by the use of the name of a Christian saint for a pre-Christian holiday?

Well, to begin with, their theological sensibilities may not have been as finely honed as our own. But secondly and more  mportantly, St. John himself was often seen as a rather Pagan figure.  He was, after all, called “the Oak King”. His connection to the wilderness (from whence “the voice cried out”) was often emphasized by the rustic nature of his shrines. Many statues show him as a horned figure (as is also the case with Moses).  Christian iconographers mumble embarrassed explanations about “horns of light”, while modern Pagans giggle and happily refer to such statues as “Pan the Baptist”. And to clench matters, many depictions of John actually show him with the lower torso of a satyr, cloven hooves and all! Obviously, this kind of John the Baptist is more properly a Jack in the Green! Also obvious is that behind the medieval conception of St. John lies a distant, shadowy Pagan Deity, perhaps the archetypal Wild Man of the wood, whose face stares down at us through the foliate masks that adorn so much church architecture. Thus, medieval Pagans may have had fewer problems adapting than we might suppose.

In England, it was the ancient custom on St. John’s Eve to light large bonfires after sundown, which served the double purpose of providing light to the revelers and warding off evil spirits.  This was known as “setting the watch”. People often jumped through the fires for good luck. In addition to these fires, the streets were lined with lanterns, and people carried cressets (pivoted lanterns atop poles) as they wandered from one bonfire to another. These wandering, garland-bedecked bands were called a “marching watch”. Often they were attended by morris dancers, and traditional players dressed as a unicorn, a dragon, and six hobbyhorse riders. Just as May Day was a time to renew the boundary of one’s own property, so Midsummer’s Eve was a time to ward the boundary of the city.

Customs surrounding St. John’s Eve are many and varied.  At the very least, most young folk plan to stay up throughout the whole of this shortest night. Certain courageous souls might spend the night keeping watch in the center of a circle of standing stones. To do so would certainly result in either death, madness, or (hopefully) the power of inspiration to become a great poet or bard. (This is, by the way, identical to certain incidents in the first branch of The Mabinogion.) This was also the night when the serpents of the island would roll themselves into a hissing, writhing ball in order to engender the “glain”, also called the “serpent’s egg”, “snake stone”, or “Druid’s egg”. Anyone in possession of this hard glass bubble would wield incredible magical powers. Even Merlyn himself (accompanied by his black dog) went in search of it, according to one ancient Welsh story.

Snakes were not the only creatures active on Midsummer’s Eve. According to British faery lore, this night was second only to Halloween for its importance to the Wee Folk, who especially enjoyed a ridling on such a fine summer’s night. In order to see them, you had only to gather fern seed at the stroke of midnight and rub it onto your eyelids. But be sure to carry a little bit of rue in your pocket, or you might well be “pixie-led”. Or, failing the rue, you might simply turn your jacket inside out, which should keep you from harm’s way. But if even this fails, you must seek out one of the “ley lines”, the old straight tracks, and stay upon it to your destination. This will keep you safe from any malevolent power, as will crossing a stream of “living” (running) water.

Other customs included decking the house (especially over the front door) with birch, fennel, St. John’s wort, orpin, and white lilies. Five plants were thought to have special magical properties on this night: rue, roses, St. John’s wort, vervain, and trefoil. Indeed, Midsummer’s Eve in Spain is called the “Night of the Verbena (Vervain)”. St. John’s wort was especially honored by young maidens who picked it in the hopes of divining a future lover.

And the glow-worm came With its silvery flame, And sparkled and shone Through the night of St. John, And soon has the young maid her love-knot tied.

There are also many mythical associations with the summer solstice, not the least of which concerns the seasonal life of the God of the sun. Inasmuch as I believe that I have recently discovered certain associations and correspondences not hitherto realized, I have elected to treat this subject in some depth in my ‘Death of Llew’ essay.  Suffice it to say here, that I disagree with the generally accepted idea that the Sun God meets his death at the summer solstice. I believe there is good reason to see the Sun God at his zenith—his peak of power—on this day, and that his death at the hands of his rival would not occur for another quarter of a year. Material drawn from the Welsh mythos seems to support this thesis. In Irish mythology, midsummer is the occasion of the first battle between the Fir Bolgs and the Tuatha De Danaan.

Altogether, Midsummer is a favorite holiday for many Witches in that it is so hospitable to outdoor celebrations.  The warm summer night seems to invite it. And if the celebrants are not, in fact, skyclad, then you may be fairly certain that the long ritual robes of winter have yielded place to short, tunic-style apparel. As with the longer gowns, tradition dictates that one should wear nothing underneath—the next best thing to skyclad, to be sure. (Incidentally, now you know the real answer to the old Scottish joke, “What is worn beneath the kilt?”)

The two chief icons of the holiday are the spear (symbol of the Sun God in his glory) and the summer cauldron (symbol of the Goddess in her bounty). The precise meaning of these two symbols, which I believe I have recently discovered, will be explored in the essay on the death of Llew. But it is interesting to note here that modern Witches often use these same symbols in their Midsummer rituals. And one occasionally hears the alternative consecration formula, “As the spear is to the male, so the cauldron is to the female.” With these mythic associations, it is no wonder that Midsummer is such a joyous and magical occasion!


Document Copyright © 1983 – 2009 by Mike Nichols. Text editing courtesy of Acorn Guild Press. Website redesign by Bengalhome Internet Services, © 2009

About the Celtic Month of The Hawthorne Tree

The Hawthorne Tree

FOLKLORE & PRACTICAL USES: HAWTHORN

by Muirghein ó Dhún Aonghasa (Linda Kerr)

Crataegus oxyacantha– English Hawthorn. Found in England and continental Europe.

The hawthorn is easily recognized by its branches, covered with long, sharp thorns. Its small, usually white flowers bloom in May, earning it the additional name of May or Mayblossom, although in the southern U.S. it usually blooms in April (the ship Mayflower was named after the hawthorn). Its generic name, Crataegus oxyacantha, is derived from the Greek work kratos, meaning hardness (of the wood), oxus , meaning sharp, and akantha , meaning thorn. The old German name for the tree, Hagedorn , means Hedgethorn; the word haw is also an old word for hedge (1).
The red fruit, or haw, which appears in late summer, resembles a miniature stony apple. The wood makes an excellent fuel, making the hottest wood fire known, and in the past was more desirable than oak for oven-heating (2).
To the ancient Greeks and Romans, the hawthorn was a symbol of hope and happiness, and was linked with marriage and babies. Hawthorn was dedicated to Hymen, god of marriages. The torches carried in the wedding procession were made of hawthorn. People would put a sprig of hawthorn in their corsages, while the bride carried an entire bough (3). This also helped to appease the goddess Cardea, who did not like weddings, especially in May. In England, May was considered a lucky month for engagements, though not for marriages.
Later, in Medieval Europe, it was thought to be an evil and unlucky tree, and foretold a death in the house if brought inside. The hawthorn was considered one of the witches’ favorite trees, and on Walpurgis (Beltane) night, witches turned themselves into hawthorns. “With a little superstitious imagination, the hawthorn’s writhing, thorny branches at night probably do look enough like a witch to have instilled fear in medieval folk (4).”
In Ireland lone hawthorns belong to fairies, who meet at and live inside them. Many dire things are predicted if a lone thorn were disturbed in any way, among them illness and death. The Irish believed the fairies spread their washing across the thorn to dry. Ireland also has sacred hawthorns at holy wells, on which rag offerings are left (5). According to Geoffrey Grigson, the haws are also called ‘hags, (6)’ and might be a connection with the old Irish Hag-Mother, whom it was said that the rags and clothes were meant for.
The most famous hawthorn of all is the Glastonbury Thorn. It is Crataegus monogyna var. praecox , putting out leaves and flowers in winter and again in May. According to the Glastonbury legend, the Crown of Thorns was made of hawthorn. Later, it was added that Joseph of Arimathea stuck his dry hawthorn stick into the hill, where it at once grew, and ever after bloomed on Christmas Day (7).
The hawthorn is associated with May Day more than any other plant. On most May Days the hawthorn was already in full bloom, before the British at last changed the calendar in 1752 and adopted the New Style. May Day now comes thirteen days earlier (8).
Hawthorn was gathered on May Day morning, interwoven, and placed on doors or windows. The interweaving was important, since the power of magical plants was always increased by weaving them into various shapes. The magic of the hawthorn had already been increased during the night by the dew, which the country people always considered a magic fluid, especially on May Day morn (9).
On May Day, fairies and witches were abroad, and just as excited as humans by the beginning of summer. Milk and butter were likely to be stolen or bewitched. In Ireland, the rowan was the surest protector against this, while in England and France, the protective plant was the hawthorn (10).
Sex and fertility were very much a part of the old May Day celebrations, and were symbolized by the hawthorn. The stale, sweet scent of the flowers makes them suggestive of sex. This same smell led to the belief that hawthorn flowers had preserved the stench of the plague. The flowers contain trimethylamine, which is an ingredient of the smell of putrefaction (11).
Today hawthorn may be the source of an important cardiac medicine. Scientific research has shown that hawthorn dilates blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely, lowering blood pressure. It also regulates heart action, acting directly on the heart muscle to help a damaged heart work more efficiently. It works slowly and seems to be toxic only in large doses, making it a relatively safe, mild tonic (12). When administered properly, hawthorn is good for a heart muscle weakened by age, for inflammation of the heart muscle, for arteriosclerosis, and nervous heart problems.
At home, the hawthorn flowers and berries can be decocted (boiled) and drunk for a sore throat. They are also helpful in kidney trouble, acting as a diuretic. The berries can be made into a tea, which is good for nervous conditions and insomnia (13).
An excellent liqueur can be made from the berries or flowers. This recipe using the flowers dates back to about 1775. May Blossom Liqueur: Try to gather the may blossom on a dry, calm day when there is no dust flying about. Pick as much as a preserving (quart) jar will hold. Fill it up with brandy or vodka. Close the jar and shake it 3 times a week for 3 months. Filter and if necessary add sugar to taste. The resulting liqueur is excellent in custards and sauces (14).Sources:

1 Grieve, Mrs. M. A Modern Herbal (2 volumes). 1931. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY, pg. 385
2 Ibid, pg. 385.
3 Lust, John. The Herb Book. 1973. Bantam Books, New York, NY.
4 Ibid.
5 Grigson, Geoffrey. The Englishman’s Flora. 1955. Phoenix House LTD, London, England, pg. 169.
6 Ibid, pg. 166.
7 Ibid, pg. 170.
8 Ibid, pg. 168.
9 Ibid, pg. 168.
10 Ibid, pg. 167.
11 Ibid, pg. 168.
12 Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Edited by Claire Kowalchik and William H. Hylton. 1987. Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA, pg. 275.
13 J. Lust.
14 van Doorn, Joyce. Making Your Own Liqeuers. 1980. Prism Press, San Leandro, CA, pg. 72.

________________

The Hawthorne 

LUNAR ENERGIES & ESOTERICA

As Dictated by Epona to Imré

Huath – Hawthorn – is the sixth lunar tree/month of the year. The Yin or female energies have subsided and the yang or male energies are on the up- swing. This is the perfect time of the year for people to begin to utilize and collect the Yang that is needed, because the energy is not yet strong enough to blow us out of the water, but is just strong enough to begin using. Women will find that the men around them have become irritable and testosterone-ridden – be warned, ladies, that this is the last chance that you are going to get, before the cycle of Yin returns, to establish the balance in the home.
This is also a good time to practice abstinence; for Hawthorn is the moon of purification and creative (as opposed to fertility-oriented) uses of sexual energies. We have found that women who indulge in the increase in their sexual appetites will feel the repercussions of their actions during the summer (around the Summer Solstice in particular) as “female problems.” Use this increased sexual energy to form a stronger bond with Nature. You will find it easier to contact spiritual guides, or ‘the Masters.’ Just as your energies are easily released at this time, so are Nature’s.
Folklore tells us that at this time of the year priests would go out into their church- yards and beat the surrounding stones in order to form a boundry and to keep evil spirits away. However, according to myths that originated in times when standing stones commonly created the physical boundaries around magickal circles, that the stones were struck so as to “wake them” or charge them (see Needles of Stone Revisted, Tom Graves). This would create the astral boundries. What does this mean? Well, it is now the time to begin understanding who you are and how you are developing. This will begin to happen as you go to Nature, yet, along with your pilgrimage comes the need to realize your basic physical limitations brought about by this incarnation. You must transcend them by imploding, or going within your being and discovering how unlimited you are within. Discover the mysteries of You. This is that time of year.

For further research, look up these points:

Vestal Virgins
Cardea (goddess)
Lady Godiva

(This is what we have come to know and understand. We would like to hear from those who have experienced it differently or would like to add to what we have. You never stop learning! – Epona, High Priestess of Faerie Faith)

How To Celebrate Beltane with a Maypole Dance

How To Celebrate Beltane with a Maypole Dance

 

The Maypole is one of the traditional symbols of Beltane, and let’s not kid ourselves about its purpose: it’s a giant phallus.

Because Beltane festivities usually kicked off the night before with a big bonfire, the Maypole celebration usually took place shortly after sunrise the next morning. This was when couples (and probably more than a few surprised triads) came staggering in from the fields, clothes in disarray and straw in their hair after a night of bonfire-inspired lustiness.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Varied

Here’s How:

  1. The pole was erected on the village green or common, or even a handy field — thrust into the ground either permanently or on a temporary basis — and brightly colored ribbons attached to it. Young people came and danced around the pole, each holding the end of a ribbon. As they wove in and out, men going one way and women the other, it created a sleeve of sorts — the enveloping womb of the earth — around the pole. By the time they were done, the Maypole was nearly invisible beneath a sheath of ribbons.
  2. To set up your own Maypole dance, here’s what you’ll need:
    • A pole anywhere from 15 to 20 feet long, preferably made of wood
    • Guests who like to have fun

    Dig a hole in advance, a few feet deep. You don’t want your friends to wait while you hunt for a shovel. The hole should be at least three feet deep, to keep the pole from flopping over during the ceremony.

  3. Ask each participant to bring their own ribbon — it should be about 20 feet long, by two to three inches wide. Once everyone arrives, attach the ribbons to one end of the pole (if you put a metal eyelet screw in the pole beforehand, it makes it a lot easier — you can just tie each ribbon to the eyelet). Have extra ribbons on hand, because inevitably someone will have forgotten theirs.
  4. Once the ribbons are attached, raise the pole until it is vertical, and slide it into the hole. Be sure to make lots of bawdy jokes here. Pack dirt in around the base of the pole so it won’t shift or fall during the dance.
  5. If you don’t have an equal number of male and female guests, don’t worry. Just have everyone count off by twos. People who are “1” will go in a clockwise direction, people who are “2” go counterclockwise. Hold your ribbons in the hand that is closest to the pole, your inside hand. As you move in the circle, pass people by on first the left, and then the right, then the left again. If you’re passing them on the outside, hold your ribbon up so they pass under it. You might want to do a practice round beforehand. Keep going until everyone runs out of ribbon, and then knot all the ribbons at the bottom.
  6. One thing that’s always welcome at a Maypole Dance is music. There are a number of CDs available, but there are some bands whose music have a May theme to them. Look for the phrase “Morris music” or traditional pipe and drum tunes. Of course, the best thing of all is to have live music, so if you have friends who are willing to share their skill and sit out the dance, ask them to provide some musical entertainment for you.

Tips:

  1. If you’re doing a kids’ Maypole, it’s probably easier just to have them all go in one direction with their ribbons. It doesn’t look quite as fancy when it’s done, but it’s still pretty.
  2. You may want to have a crown of flowers attached as well — put that at the top once all the ribbons are in place, but before you raise the pole.

What You Need

  • A pole
  • Lots of ribbon
  • Friends who like to have a good time

Beltane Activities and Correspondences

Beltane Activities and Correspondences

Guest Author – Leslie RavenwingHerbs – hawthorn, hoenysuckle, St John’s wort, wood ruff, all flowers.

Colors- Green, Yellow, Pink, Blue

Foods – Strawberries, Cherries, Fruits, Salads, Wine

Goddesses – Aphrodite, Asherah, Belili, Brigid, Danu, Freya, Flora, Gwenhwyvar, Hina, Ishtar, Maia, Mary, Oiwyn, Oshun, Ostara, Sappha, Tonantzin, Vesta

Gods – Beltene, Cernunnous, Cupid/Eros, Manawyddan and Pan

Activities and Rituals – fertilize, nurture and boost existing goals, games, activities of pleasure, leaping bonfires, making garlands, May Pole dance, planting seeds, walking one’s property, feasting

Stones/Gems – Emerald, malachite, amber, orange carnelian, sapphire, rose quartz

Other Names – Cetsamhain (opposite Samhain),May Day, Fairy Day,Sacred Thorn Day, Rood Day, Roodmas (the Christian term for Rood Day, Old Beltane, Beltaine, Beltain, Baltane, Walpurgis Night, Floriala (Roman feast of flowers from April 29 to May 1), Walpurgisnacht (Germanic-feast of St. Walpurga), Thrimilce (Anglo-saxon), Bloumaand (Old Dutch)

Incense Blend
3 parts frankincense
2 parts Sandalwood
1 part woodruff
1 part rose petals
a few drops jasmine oil
a few drops neroli oil

-Make paper baskets (use yarn as a handle) and place real or silk flowers in each basket. Hang them on door knobs of nieghbors and family members but don’t let them know you did it!

-If you have children, make necklaces out of diasies and place them around their necks for the day to bring protection to them.

-Begin planting for the season.

-Create a MayPole and dance around it with your family or friends.

-Make a dish of fruits, berries, nuts and leave in the wood for the animals and fae folk to enjoy

– This is a night for bonfires, torch-lit processions and the high revelry of witches, preferably in high places. It is prime time for the Great Rite, a night (like Samhain) when the Goddess descends into women. Cailleach Beara (Cally Berry, Brighid’s crone aspect) turns to stone this night and does not to return until Samhain. Beltane Eve also marks the setting of the Pleiades

May Wine Cup – Makes 6 – 8 Glasses

1 Bottle White Wine (sweet or dry depending on your taste)
12 Sprigs Sweet Woodruff
1/2 cup Strawberries Sliced
Edible flowers (to be sprinkled on the top after all ingredients have been mixed together)

Method : Soak the dried woodruff overnight in the wine. the following day mix the wine, strawberries and woodruff in a large bowl and let it sit in the fridge for an hour. Strain out woodruff, add the decorative flowers and serve cold.

May – About The Month & Events

May

Hare Moon

May is the fifth month of the year. Its astrological sign is Taurus, the bull (April 20 – May 21), a fixed earth sign ruled by Venus. The month is named for Ma’a, a Roman Goddess an Mother of the God Hermes. May is known as the Queen of Months. It is a month of lushness and beauty. The main holiday is May Day or Beltane. This Sabbat celebrates the sacred union of the Goddess and God. It is a celebration of growth and fertility. A traditional part of this holiday is the Maypole, usually a fir tree with the side branches removed – a symbol of fertility. Since growth is a theme of May, another central figure of the month is the Green Man, a male form covered with leaves and branches. He is an ancient nature spirit, who brings life to the fields and forests after the long winter. Flowers are popular during Beltane rites, which give May’s Full Moon its lovely name – the Flower Moon. Many flowers and trees that bloom this month are associated with magick. Lilacs were originally grown near the home to repel evil. Wild blue violets can be used in love magick. A streaming infusion made with dried dandelion root was used to contact spirits. The hawthorn tree is also associated with May folk magick. To make a wish come true, burn three hawthorn branches in a Beltane fire.

Events in May

  • May is National Brain Tumor Awareness Month.
  • April 29 to May 5 in Japan, which includes four different holidays, is called “Golden Week”. Many workers have up to 10 days off. There is also ‘May sickness’, where new students or workers start to be tired of their new routine. (In Japan the school year and fiscal year start on April 1.)
  • In the neopagan Wheel of the Year, May begins on Beltane in the northern hemisphere and Samhain in the southern hemisphere.
  • May 1 is the feast of St. Joseph the worker in the Roman Catholic calendar. In the Catholic Church the month of May is dedicated to and honors the Blessed Virgin Mary.
  • May 1 in the Irish calendar is Beltane (Bealtaine), the first day of Summer, and a public holiday is held on the first Monday in May.
  • May is the month of Music in New Zealand.
  • May 1 is May Day in many countries. This is also celebrated as Labor Day in many countries.
  • May 1 is May Day in the United Kingdom, however the public holiday is held on the first Monday in May.
  • The night before May 1 in Germany it is an old custom to plant a “Maypole” to honor someone. Often young men set up an adorned birch in front of their girlfriend’s house.
  • May 3 is when the Polish Constitution Day is celebrated in Poland.
  • May 3 is Japanese Constitution Day Japan
  • The first Saturday in May is the date of the annual Kentucky Derby, the most famous horse race in the United States.
  • May 4 is the day of Remembrance of the Dead in the Netherlands, commemorating all the casualties in military conflicts involving the Netherlands.
  • May 4 is Liberation Day in Denmark, celebrating the ending of the German occupation from April 9, 1940, to May 4, 1945.
  • May 5 is when Cinco de Mayo or the Batalla de Puebla is celebrated in Mexico. It is also celebrated widely in the United States.
  • May 5 is the Children’s Day in Japan and Korea
  • May 5 is Liberation Day in the Netherlands, celebrating the ending of the German occupation.
  • May 5 is Europe Day in Europe (uncommon usage, largely replaced by May 9).
  • May 8 is VE Day in Western Europe. In Eastern Europe it is celebrated on May 9.
  • May 9 is Europe Day in the European Union
  • May 10 is Golden Spike Day (1869 – Completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad – Promontory Summit, Utah)
  • May 10 is Mother’s Day in Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
  • May 12 is International Nurses Day.
  • May 12 is the day of the Finnish language in Finland.
  • May 12 is International Awareness Day for Chronic Immunological and Neurological Diseases (CIND). These diseases include Neurofibromatosis, Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS)/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Fibromyalgia, Gulf War Syndrome and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.
  • May 13 is when the Catholic Church honors the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima to the three children of Fatima, Portugal – May 13, 1917.
  • May 15 is the beginning of Tourette Syndrome awareness month. It ends on June 15th.
  • May 17 is Norwegian Constitution Day.
  • May 17 is Vesak full moon poya day(Buddhism’s Holiest Day, The day of birth, enlightenment (nirvāna), and passing away (Parinirvāna) of Gautama Buddha.
  • May 21 is when the Battle of Iquique (Combate Naval de Iquique) is celebrated in Chile, and it is a national holiday.
  • May 24 is when Eritrea celebrates its Independence Day (Independence from Ethiopia).
  • May 24 is when Molly Stevens was born in America.
  • May 24 is remembered and celebrated in Ecuador as the day of the Battle of Pichincha – May 24, 1823.
  • May 25 is the May Revolution (or Revolución de Mayo), a national holiday in Argentina.
  • May 25 is Towel Day, in tribute to Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
  • May 28 is Armenia’s first independence, from the Ottoman Empire;- May 28, 1918.
  • Under the French Ancien Régime, it was of habit to “plant a May” or a “tree of May” in the honor of somebody. The County of Nice saw girls and boys “turn the May” with the sound of fife and drum, i.e. to dance rounds of May around the tree of May planted on the place of the village.
  • The second Sunday in May is Mother’s Day in the United States.
  • Each year in May, the Eurovision Song Contest is held.
  • The Indianapolis 500 is held on the Sunday before Memorial Day.
  • Labor Day in Queensland, Australia, is celebrated on the first Monday in May.
  • In Canada, Victoria Day is celebrated on the last Monday on or before May 24.
  • The last Monday of May is Memorial Day in the United States, first celebrated on May 5, 1866, in Waterloo, New York.

Monthlong events in May

  • May is National Brain Tumor Awareness Month. (http://www.MilesForHope.org)
  • South Asian Heritage Month – celebration of Indian/South Asian peoples and peoples of Indian/South Asian descent worldwide
  • Asian Pacific American Heritage Month – celebration of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States.
  • Jewish American Heritage Month – celebration of Judaism in the United States.
  • Mental Health Awareness Month – raising awareness about mental illness in the United States.
  • National Military Appreciation Month – in the United States to recognize and honor the US Armed Forces.
  • Skin Cancer Awareness Month
  • May is traditionally devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Roman Catholic traditions. May crowning occurs in some locales at the beginning of the month.
  • In New Zealand, May is the New Zealand Music Month.
  • Older Americans Month in the United States, established by John F. Kennedy in 1963.
  • National Moving Month in the United States – recognizing America’s mobile roots and kicking off the busiest moving season of the year.
  • National Smile Month in the United Kingdom
  • Eurovision Song Contest.
  • May is National amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) Awareness Month in the United States.

Weeklong events in May

1st Week of May

  • New Zealand Sign Language Week happens once every year in May, Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand organises NZSL Week with over 500 events happening in New Zealand to help promote the language as well as raise awareness about New Zealand’s Deaf community.

2nd Week of May

  • Bike Week (Bicycle Week) is a yearly international event that advocates the importance of bicycling as a means of transportation. Bike Week takes place during the second week of May or June and is typically an entire week of city-wide cycling supplemented with events.

3rd Week in May

  • The League of American Bicyclists is promoting Bike-to-Work Week from May 16–20, 2011 and Bike-to-Work Day on Friday, May 20, 2011.

Last Week in May

  • ALIA celebrates Library and Information week in May. Events are organised by libraries around Australia to encourage people to use their local libraries. Children’s librarians hold a special event known as National Simultaneous Storytime, where public and school libraries read the same book, at 11 am EST, to children around Australia.

May moving events

  • Eastern Christianity celebrates Easter on a Sunday between April 4 and May 8.
  • On the full moon of May, Vesak is celebrated in many southeast Asian countries; it commemorates Siddhartha Gautama.
  • In Canada, Victoria Day is observed on the Monday on or before May 24. In Quebec, it is known as Patriots Day.

First or second Friday

  • In the United States, Military Spouse Day is observed on the Friday preceding Mother’s Day.

First Saturday

  • In Kentucky, United States, the Kentucky Derby

Second Sunday

  • Is Mother’s Day in Anguilla, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, Bermuda, Bonaire, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Croatia, Curaçao, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Latvia, Malta, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Suriname, Switzerland, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zimbabwe.

Second Saturday

  • World Fair Trade Day is celebrated.

Third Saturday

  • The Preakness Stakes is run, second jewel in the triple crown of horse racing.
  • Last Monday In the United States, Memorial Day, a public holiday, is on May 30, but observed on the last Monday in May.

Last Sunday

  • Is Mother’s Day in Algeria, Dominican Republic, France, Haiti, Mauritius, Morocco, Sweden, Tunisia.
  • Is Children’s Day in Hungary.

May symbols

  • May’s birthstone is the emerald which means love or success.
  • Its birth flower is the Lily of the Valley and the Crataegus monogyna.
  • The Zodiac signs for the month of May are Taurus and Gemini.

Legends and Lore of Beltane

Legends and Lore of Beltane

By Patti Wigington

In many cultures, there are different legends and lore surrounding Beltane. Here are a few of the stories about this magical spring celebration.

  • Like Samhain, the holiday of Beltane is a time when the veil between the worlds is thin. Some traditions believe that this is a good time to contact the spirits, or to interact with the Fae. Be careful, though — if you visit the Faerie Realm, don’t eat the food, our you’ll be trapped there, much like Thomas the Rhymer was!
  • Some Irish dairy farmers hang a garland of green boughs over their door at Beltane. This will bring them great milk production from their cows during the coming summer. Also, driving your cattle between two Beltane bonfires helps protect your livestock from disease.
  • The pious Puritans were outraged by the debauchery of Beltane celebrations. In fact, they made Maypoles illegal the mid 1600’s, and tried to put a halt to the “greenwood marriages” that frequently took place on May Eve. One pastor wrote that if “tenne maiden went to set (celebrate) May, nine of them came home gotten with childe.”
  • According to a legend in parts of Wales and England, women who are trying to conceive should go out on May Eve — the last night of April — and find a “birthing stone”, which is a large rock formation with a hole in the center. Walk through the hole, and you will conceive a child that night. If there is nothing like this near you, find a small stone with a hole in the center, and drive a branch of oak or other wood through the hole — place this charm under your bed to make you fertile.
  • If you go out at sunrise on Beltane, take a bowl or jar to gather morning dew. Use the dew to wash your face, and you’re guaranteed a perfect complexion. You can also use the dew in ritual as consecrated water, particularly in rituals related to the moon or the goddess Diana or her counterpart, Artemis.
  • In the Irish Book of Invasions, it was on Beltane that Patholan, the first settler, arrived on Ireland’s shores. May Day was also the date of the defeat of the Tuatha de Danaan by Amergin and the Milesians.
  • Babies conceived at Beltane are considered a gift from the gods. They were sometimes referred to as “merry-begots”, because the mothers were impregnated during Beltane’s merrymaking.
  • In Cornwall, it’s traditional to decorate your door on May Day with boughs of hawthorn and sycamore.
  • Eating a special oatcake called a bannock or a Beltane cake ensured Scottish farmers abundance of their crops for the year. The cakes were baked the night before, and roasted in embers on a stone.

Beltane History – Celebrating May Day

Beltane History – Celebrating May Day

By Patti Wigington

 

The Fires of Tara:

Beltane kicks off the merry month of May, and has a long history. This fire festival is celebrated on May 1 with bonfires, Maypoles, dancing, and lots of good old fashioned sexual energy. The Celts honored the fertility of the gods with gifts and offerings, sometimes including animal or human sacrifice. Cattle were driven through the smoke of the balefires, and blessed with health and fertility for the coming year. In Ireland, the fires of Tara were the first ones lit every year at Beltane, and all other fires were lit with a flame from Tara.

Roman Influences:

The Romans, always known for celebrating holidays in a big way, spent the first day of May paying tribute to their Lares, the gods of their household. They also celebrated the Floralia, or festival of flowers, which consisted of three days of unbridled sexual activity. Participants wore flowers in their hair (much like May Day celebrants later on), and there were plays, songs, and dances. At the end of the festivities, animals were set loose inside the Circus Maximus, and beans were scattered around to ensure fertility. The fire festival of Bona Dea was also celebrated on May 2nd.

A Pagan Martyr:

May 6 is the day of Eyvind Kelve in Norse celebrations. Eyvind Kelve was a pagan martyr who was tortured and drowned on the orders of King Olaf Tryggvason for refusing to give up his pagan beliefs. A week later, Norwegians celebrate the Festival of the Midnight Sun, which pays tribute to the Norse sun goddess. This festival marks the beginning of ten straight weeks without darkness.

The Greeks and Plynteria:

Also in May, the Greeks celebrated the Plynteria in honor of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and battle, and the patroness of the city of Athens (which was named after her). The Plynteria includes the ritual cleansing of Athena’s statue, along with feasting and prayers in the Parthenon. On the 24th, homage is paid to the Greek moon-goddess Artemis (goddess of the hunt and of wild animals). Artemis is a lunar goddess, equivalent to the Roman moon-goddess Diana – she is also identified with Luna, and Hecate.

The Green Man Emerges:

A number of pre-Christian figures are associated with the month of May, and subsequently Beltane. The entity known as the Green Man, strongly related to Cernunnos, is often found in the legends and lore of the British Isles, and is a masculine face covered in leaves and shrubbery. In some parts of England, a Green Man is carried through town in a wicker cage as the townsfolk welcome the beginning of summer. Impressions of the Green Man’s face can be found in the ornamentation of many of Europe’s older cathedrals, despite edicts from local bishops forbidding stonemasons from including such pagan imagery.

Jack-in-the-Green:

A related character is Jack-in-the-Green, a spirit of the greenwood. References to Jack appear in British literature back as far as the late sixteenth century. Sir James Frazer associates the figure with mummers and the celebration of the life force of trees. Jack-in-the-Green was seen even in the Victorian era, when he was associated with soot-faced chimney sweeps. At this time, Jack was framed in a structure of wicker and covered with leaves, and surrounded by Morris dancers. Some scholars suggest that Jack may have been a ancestor to the legend of Robin Hood.

Ancient Symbols, Modern Rites:

Today’s Pagans and Wiccans celebrate Beltane much like their ancestors did. A Beltane ritual usually involves lots of fertility symbols, including the obviously-phallic Maypole dance. The Maypole is a tall pole decorated with flowers and hanging ribbons, which are woven into intricate pattern by a group of dancers. Weaving in and out, the ribbons are eventually knotted together by the time the dancers reach the end.

In some Wiccan traditions, Beltane is a day in which the May Queen and the Queen of Winter battle one another for supremacy. In this rite, borrowed from practices on the Isle of Man, each queen has a band of supporters. On the morning of May 1, the two companies battle it out, ultimately trying to win victory for their queen. If the May Queen is captured by her enemies, she must be ransomed before her followers can get her back.

There are some who believe Beltane is a time for the faeries — the appearance of flowers around this time of year heralds the beginning of summer and shows us that the fae are hard at work. In early folklore, to enter the realm of faeries is a dangerous step — and yet the more helpful deeds of the fae should always be acknowledged and appreciated. If you believe in faeries, Beltane is a good time to leave out food and other treats for them in your garden or yard.

For many contemporary Pagans, Beltane is a time for planting and sowing of seeds — again, the fertility theme appears. The buds and flowers of early May bring to mind the endless cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth that we see in the earth. Certain trees are associated with May Day, such as the Ash, Oak and Hawthorn. In Norse legend, the god Odin hung from an Ash tree for nine days, and it later became known as the World Tree, Yggdrasil.

If you’ve been wanting to bring abundance and fertility of any sort into your life — whether you’re looking to concieve a child, enjoy fruitfulness in your career or creative endeavors, or just see your garden bloom — Beltane is the perfect time for magical workings related to any type of prosperity.

Beltane

 

Beltane

by Lila

 

Gather Round the Maypole Friends

Twist and Turn and Back Again

Dancing, Laughing, Joyful Glee

Now pair off lovers, Secretly

 

In Love’s embrace

The Goddess Grace

The May Queen and Consort Lay

Entangled Limbs on this Sweet Day

 

Gather Round the Maypole Friends

Twist and Turn and Back Again

The Lovers Rest in Quiet Heaps

In Fall the Bountiful Harvest Reaps

 

 

The ancient Celts called this holiday Beltane and began celebrating at sunset on April 30th. It marked the beginning of summer, the time to move with the flocks up to the summer pastures. Other names for May Day include: Cetsamhain (‘opposite Samhain’), Walpurgisnacht (in Germany), and Roodmas.

 

In Germany, April 30th is Walpurgisnacht, the night when it was believed that witches flew on their brooms to mountaintop gatherings where they danced all night around bonfires. Like Halloween, this is a night when witches, fairies and ghosts wander freely. The veil between the worlds is thin. The Queen of the Fairies rides out on a snow-white horse, looking for mortals to lure away to Fairyland for seven years. Folklore says that if you sit beneath a tree on this night, you will see Her or hear the sound of Her horse’s bells as She rides by. If you hide your face, She will pass you by but if you look at Her, She may choose you.

 

Many May Day customs involve flowers and green branches. Flowers are woven into wreaths to exchange as gifts between lovers or to hang on doors as decoration. Hawthorn is particularly auspicious since it begins blooming when the weather is warm enough for planting. Anyone who went out into the woods and found a branch of flowering hawthorn would bring it triumphantly into the village and announcing the start of planting season. However there were warnings about bringing hawthorn into the house, since it would invite the fairies in.

 

The Maypole is a symbol with many meanings. Often celebrated as and considered a phallic symbol, it also resembles the garlanded trees associated with moon goddesses. In the Phrygian rites of Attis, celebrated around the spring equinox, a fir tree was chopped down, wrapped in a shroud and placed in a tomb. Resurrected three days later, it was decorated and danced around. In some places, May Day ceremonies took place beneath a sacred tree, which was not uprooted. These trees represented the world-tree, the axis between heaven and earth. The Maypole dance is a round dance of alternating male and female dancers, weaving in and out, plaiting ribbons as they go. Maypole dances fulfilled social and sacred functions. They helped people flirt and mingle socially and they also raised energy.

 

Bring the May into your life by bringing home green branches, flowers and branches of flowering trees. Transform your house into a bower by making a wreath to hang on the door or to crown your version of the Goddess. This is a time for giving gifts. Gather flowers with special messages for friends and relatives. Make up your own explanation of the meaning of each flower and give it along with the bouquet. For friends at a distance, send pressed flowers or May Day cards or packets of flower seeds.

 

If you can, stay up all night, preferably outdoors. At least go for a walk in the night on April 30th and listen for the bells that herald the approach of the Fairy Queen. And you can run around, under cover of darkness, leaving May baskets of flowers on doorsteps. On the first of May, wear your most colourful clothes or dress all in green (the colour of the fairies). Consider wearing a flower in your hair.

 

Treat yourself like a Goddess. Take a long luxurious bath in scented water. Anoint yourself with oils. Crown yourself with flowers. Indulge yourself. Sip your May wine. Honor your sexual choices. In your journal, recall the times when sex was magical, when you felt alluring or you fell in love. Write about smoldering glances, the times your body caught fire, the sweetness of a first kiss or caress. If you have a partner, celebrate sex as a sacred activity. Make the time you spend together and the space you inhabit special. Light candles or strew the bed with rose petals. Notice how your lover represents the God or Goddess to you. This is the time to celebrate attraction and pleasure.