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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in May Day

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Bavarian Beltane

The two tallest points in pretty much every Bavarian town are the steeple and the Maypole.

I suppose that tells you a lot about Bavaria.

Say what you will about phallic symbols (“Really, Daisy! We've been over this a hundred times!”), the Maypole is a tree. In the old days, the young folks would go off to the woods early on May morning to find the tallest, straightest-trunked fir that they could. They'd lop off all the branches except for the top ones, and ceremoniously bring it back to town.

There they'd deck the May Tree with flowers and greens, and raise it on the town commons, where it would become the focus for the day's activities. (The night's activities, of course, would have taken place around the the bonfire. Beltane is bipolar: the Fire and the Tree.)

These days, there probably isn't a single wooden May Tree to be found in all of Bavaria. Now Maypoles are permanent installations: tall metal poles, like flag-poles. Where my cousin lives, the Maypole stands year-round in front of the fire station.

Most of the Bavarian Maypoles that I saw were painted blue and white, in spiraling stripes like a barber's pole. (Blue and white are the “national” colors of Bavaria.) Instead of greens and flowers, the trunk is crossed with metal arms, from which hang the emblems of the various local guilds. (The emblem of the Baker's guild, for instance, is a pretzel. A hundred years ago, my emigre Bavarian great-grandfather was known in Pittsburgh as the Pretzel Man.)

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Bringing Home the May

So, here's irreducible Beltane.

First, wear green.

Early, early, early on May morning, go out to the woods.

There collect what's wild and green and growing. That's called gathering May. If, in the process, you happen to make a little surreptitious love, so much the better. That's gathering May, too.

Bring home the May (and you really do have to sing as you do this).

Deck yourself, the door, the table, with the magical greenery that you've gathered.

Then to the feast, and all the joys of the Day.

The magic here is self-evident.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I'd never really thought about Berhta as the Anti-Santa before. Thanks Forest!
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Ivy, you've brought a smile to my face. My very best to you and Forest both, now that Berhta has finally beat a retreat and Beltan
  • Michele Brazelton
    Michele Brazelton says #
    I have no reason to think you will remember me but just today my son (who is 19 now!) Forest said "do you remember that guy who wa
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Here's the newest Berhta piece: http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-culture-blogs/paganistan/twin-cities-killer-targets-mall-santas.
  • Kimberley
    Kimberley says #
    I am new to this blogging thing. I have been studying Paganism for a long time but have to do it in silence as do many. I would

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
May Observance

In his introduction the early Scots poet Gavin Douglas prefaces The Palis of Honoure by setting the scene in May. Getting ready to perform the observances of the season he wanders through 'a garding of plesance' -- that is, an enclosed garden. It is a joy to behold:

With Sole depaint, as Paradys amyable
And blisfull bewes with blomed variance

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Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

I am the blossom, I am the beemay-2017-124
I am the branch, I am the squirrel
I am the acorn, I am the oak
I am the breath, I am the words
I am the space, I am the fullness
I am the song of the May.

Happy Beltane to all! We brought in the May by the wild, flooded creek and river. I have never seen the water so high and intense! We offered our flower blessings to the churning, deep water, and sang together as we faced the wildly swirling torrents of water, accompanied by its music, awe-inspired at how quickly a landscape can change after several days of heavy rain.

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Broom Lore for Walpurgisnacht and Other Holidays

Every year in late April, I thoroughly clean my back porch for the first time since the descent into winter. Over the winter and early spring, things tend to collect -- dust, dead bugs, spider webs, tree pollen from early spring. The latter (especially from the pines that surround my house) makes it futile to do this any earlier because all of my hard work -- sweeping, hosing it down, vacuuming, and mopping -- would be nulled a few days later by a thick film of yellow powder. But by mid-spring, everything seems to calm down enough to make the deep cleaning worthwhile, which ends up putting this ritual right before Walpurgisnacht and May Day, which I celebrate to honor my German and Scandinavian roots. I won't go into the history of Walpurgisnacht here because it's already covered on a wealth of websites and books; I'd rather focus on one household tool that has a significant place in the lore of this holiday (especially to me personally): the broom.

Brooms are often featured in many spring holidays. At Easter in Sweden and Finland, the festivities take on a more Halloween- or Carnivale-esque character than in other places, and little girls dress up as Easter witches, wearing kerchiefs on their heads and carrying small brooms in their hands. On Walpurgisnacht, a Wild Hunt of witches and specters rides across the night sky to hold their revels on the Brocken. It's common knowledge that the broom as a flying implement is a development of the magic worker's staff. For hundreds of years, it has served as a symbol of feminine power masked as a common, humble household tool.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Maypole or Bonfire?

The Maypole and the Bonfire have long been the two ritual foci of Beltane celebration.

The logistical problem being that a ritual can't have two centers.

I remember running into this difficulty decades back while planning the community Beltane down at the old River Circle by the Mississippi. We wanted both a Maypole and a Bonfire, but (unless you want to burn the Maypole, which is wrong) they're mutually exclusive options and only one of them can be in the middle of the circle.

In the end we settled for a central bonfire with the Maypole off to the side of the circle. After the Maypole dance, as darkness drew in, people (of course) clustered around the Bonfire, leaving the poor Maypole deserted.

I.e. not really a satisfactory solution.

Historically speaking, the Maypole is a relative newcomer to the Beltane celebrations (there's no documentary evidence for it until the early modern period), while the Mayfire is clearly prehistoric (the name Beltane itself originally meant “bright fire”).

But the tension between Fire and Tree is more apparent than real. Our problem is trying to cram both hands into the same catskin glove.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Jön Upsal's Gardener
    Jön Upsal's Gardener says #
    Maddeningly, Ronald Hutton in Stations of the Sun (p. 233) doesn't give the title of the poem or the quote, only the author; Adda
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I'm intrigued, Jon: which poem is that? Clearly time to to brush up my Middle English. So: we find Maypoles in England. We find Ma
  • Jön Upsal's Gardener
    Jön Upsal's Gardener says #
    And just as an aside, written evidence for the Maypole goes back to the 14th century. As it's entirely unlikely it was invented co
  • Jön Upsal's Gardener
    Jön Upsal's Gardener says #
    Actually, we call that Sumarmál. :-) And you're entirely correct; modern society and its artificial cycles of weekday-weekend is
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    A bat needs two wings to fly. Bwa ha ha.

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
My 2 Weddings, Part 3: May Day with Loki

May Day 2014 was the first ritual I attended after Loki started skinriding me almost every day. Because he could be present in my body at any time, I have to be sure that every ritual I go to is a Loki-friendly one put on by Loki-welcoming people. If Loki isn't welcome in main ritual space, and he's in here with me, then I can't enter main ritual space.

It would not make any sense for me to put a lot of time and effort into getting to a ritual if I can't be sure I'll be able to participate in it. Luckily, there was a ritual I could attend right in my local area. 

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