From Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers

Jump to: navigation, search
An English pagan maypole dance to celebrate the fertility of the earth and the peak of springtime
An early 20th century postcard commemorating the Maypole dance, in which the pole is decked with forget-me-not flowers to symbolize faithful love
"A Garland for May Day, 1895" by the English illustrator and socialist Walter Crane (1845-1915).

Beltane, also known as Beltaine, May Day, and Gŵyl Calan Mai is a seasonal Pagan and Neo-Pagan festival which is celebrated as one of the eight holidays on the The Wheel of the Year.

In the Northern Hemisphere it is held on May 1 (alternatively from May 4 - May 10) when the Sun is at 15° Taurus.

In the Southern Hemisphere it is held on November 2 (alternatively from November 5 - November 10) when the Sun is at 15° Scorpio.

The word Beltane means Bel's fire (or bright, lucky fire) in reference to Belenus, the Celtic and Gaulish god of fire, the Sun, healing, and prophecy. It is the second fire festival in the yearly Celtic calendar, traditionally a time of fertility rituals as well as apotropaic rites to ward off dangers to fertility, Beltane is celebrated in some regions by lighting large bonfires and driving cattle between them while dancing around the fires, to ensure good health and fertility. In Sweden, the bonfires are lit on Walborg, the day before May Day, and, in many areas, also on May Day itself.

People enjoy May Day because the season is one of optimism, green growth, and the first flowers of Spring. A widespread Swedish custom is to take to the woods to picnic -- to "Maja." The English word May Day refers to the blooming of the hawthorn or May tree, and to go out for the purpose of collecting hawthorn flowers is called Maying. The term is commemorated in a famous English ballett or dance song by Thomas Morley, first published in 1595, which opens with the stanza:

Now is the month of Maying,
When merry lads are playing, fa la,
Each with his bonny lass
Upon the greeny grass, fa la.

While Maying, couples would go off into the woods and spend May Eve together, to "bring in the May." A child conceived on May Eve was called a "Merrybegot" or a magical child.

In many parts of Europe, May Day is marked by the erection of a tall May Pole decorated with greenery and May flowers, around which ceremonial dances are held. Often two teams of dancers circle the pole, one clockwise and the other counterclockwise. The dancers hold ribbons affixed to the top of the pole, and as they dance, the ribbons wind onto the pole in a neat braid. In some areas the form of the May Pole is solely male in design; in others, the May Pole visually represents the union of a male pole and an encircling female ring.

In Southern England, Neo-Pagan May parades are held for Jack-in-the-Green, a form of The Green Man. Some modern revivals of the Beltane holiday involve building large bonfires and baking a cake of toasted oatmeal which is used to pull lots on who will leap over the bonfire. Others may also incorporate the Germanic and Anglo-Saxon celebration of the May Pole with its strong focus on fertility rites. In some Wiccan celebrations, while bonfires are built, more emphasis is placed on dancing around the May Pole, and Beltane is seen as the time when the Goddess and the Young God come together and consummate their love for one another.

May 1st took on a new meaning in 1890, when it became associated with the labour movement in Great Britain and the United States. Socialists and trade unionists, well aware of its status as a rural holiday in pre-industrial Europe, designated it as a day to come out in support of the eight-hour work day, higher wages, time off for holidays, and better safety conditions in factory jobs, as workers declared, "I Won't Work on May 1st." In time, this addition to Beltane became known as International Workers' Day and, in some countries, Labour Day. In other countries, to disconnect the holiday from trade unionism and socialism, May Day was outlawed, while in the United States, Labour Day was displaced to the month of September.


This page is brought to you by the AIRR Tech Team:

See Also

Personal tools