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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in May-games
A Sprinkling for the May Queen: Nine Songs That It Wouldn't Be Beltane Without

Lady be praised for Beltane: after Yule, the singing-est of holidays. Winter's finally over: the spring peepers are singing, the birds are singing, and so are we.

Forthwith, nine songs that it wouldn't be Beltane without. Really, we all should know them all.


Hal an Tow

If Beltane has an anthem, Hal an Tow is it. This English folk classic—Shakespeare even cites it—has a million different covers, but the hottest, sexiest, rocking-est of them all has got to be the Oyster Band version.

As for the title: yes, haul means “Sun” in Welsh, but there's no need to go looking that far. “Heel and toe”: it's a dance song.

So get up and dance, already.

Padstow Morning Song

Also known as Unite and Unite and The Merry Morning of May, this carol from the Cornish village of Padstow is yet another indispensable May folk classic, with some surprising depths: it's one of the few May songs to treat—inter alia—with war and death.

It's Beltane and we should all be out in the woods, making merry together. But some of our boys (and—these days—girls) are off fighting someone else's wars.

O where are those young men that now here should dance

(for Summer is a-come unto day)?

O some, they are in England, and some, they are in France,

in the merry morning of May. 

Ever since the beginning of Bush 2's ill-considered Endless War in the Middle East, here in Paganistan we've been singing:

O some are in Afghanistan, and some are in Iraq,

in the merry morning of May.

But doubt not the power of May. The Hobby Horse rises again, and our brave boys (and girls) will come back home, hale and whole.

And let us all say: so mote it be.

Sumer Is Icumen In

Forget the embarrassingly bad update version from Wicker Man: Sumer Is Icumen In is the oldest (circa 1350) song in English to which we have both words and tune, and limns the beauties of Spring incomparably. Really, there's no need for updates: the 700-year old Middle English still reads (and sings) refreshingly comprehensibly.

I'd never understood just what a he-goat farting had to do with Spring, until an uncle of mine who hunts explained it to me. After a winter diet of bark and dried grass, the deer gorge on fresh greens and they all get diarrhea: a sure sign of Spring.

Oh, those earthy ancestors.

Bird in the Bush

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    You wouldn't just happen to have a playlist of these songs up on YouTube would you?

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
American May Song

Called the “father of American music,” Pittsburgh-born songwriter Stephen Foster (1826-1864) wrote more than 200 popular songs, including such classics as Camptown Races, Way Down Upon the Swanee River, and Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.

Sharing both a name and a hometown with him, I grew up with Foster's music: I sang his songs at school, and on road-trips with my parents and grandparents. I learned to play the piano from a book of his music.

Much of Foster's repertoire sang of life in the Old South, which makes it an uncomfortable fit today. Much of it, frankly, makes for difficult listening. To his credit, one must at least acknowledge that, in his songs, Foster again and again sympathetically depicts the humanity, dignity and deep sorrow of the enslaved.

In The Merry, Merry Month of May we see Foster in age looking back nostalgically at his youth. It's not his best song, but it is, nonetheless, an American May song.

And you gotta love that “May/gay” thing.


The Merry, Merry Month of May

(published by Daughaday & Hammond, Philadelphia, 1862)


We roamed the fields and river-sides

when we were young and gay;

we chased the bees and plucked the flowers,

in the merry, merry month of May.


Oh yes, with ever-changing sport

we whiled the hours away;

the skies were bright, our hearts were light

in the merry, merry month of May.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Milk-White Pony: A May Game

Here's one of my favorite May-games: a kind of ritualized mock orgy. It's called “Milk-White Pony.”

(I got it from a local Wiccan priest who claims to have learned it at Boy Scout camp. To judge from the stories I've heard, I could well believe this.)

The dance takes place in a circle, with everyone singing and clapping. Here's the verse:


I saw N on his/her pony

riding on a milk-pony

I saw N on his/her pony

and this is what he/she told me


During the singing of the verse, N “rides” around the circle on an imaginary pony. At the end of the verse, the rider stops to face someone in the circle.

Then you sing the chorus:


Front, front, front

O baby

Back, back, back

O baby

Side, side, side

O baby

This is what he/she told me.


Both dancers thrust their pelvises at each other as they do this, front-to-front, back-to-back, or side-to-side as the lyrics call for.

Then N rejoins the circle, whoever he or she danced with hops into the middle, and the game continues.

No doubt the tune is out there somewhere—everything's on Youtube—but if so, I haven't been able to find it yet. I promise to keep looking. Meanwhile, consult your favorite ex-Scout.

Every coven should have one.

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