Dee JFinney's blog

start date July 20, 2011

Today's date  May 1, 2012

page 208






May Day is related to the Celtic festival of Beltane and the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night[citation needed]. May Day falls exactly half a year from November 1, another cross-quarter day which is also associated with various northern European pagan and the year in the Northern hemisphere, and it has traditionally been an occasion for popular and often raucous celebrations.

As Europe became Christianized the pagan holidays lost their religious character and either changed into popular secular celebrations, as with May Day, or were merged with or replaced by new Christian holidays as with Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and [[All Saint's Day][citation needed]]. In the twentieth century, many neopagans began reconstructing the old traditions and celebrating May Day as a pagan religious festival again.



In Roman mythology, Flora was a goddess of flowers and the season of spring. While she was otherwise a relatively minor figure in Roman mythology, being one among several fertility goddesses, her association with the spring gave her particular importance at the coming of springtime. Her festival, the Floralia, was held between April 28 and May 3 and symbolized the renewal of the cycle of life, drinking, and flowers. The festival was first instituted in 240 B.C.E but on the advice of the Sibylline books she was given another temple in 238 B.C.E. Her Greek equivalent was Chloris, who was a nymph and not a goddess at all. Flora was married to Favonius, the wind god, and her companion was Hercules. Her name is derived from the Latin word "flos" which means "flower." In modern English, "Flora" also means the plants of a particular region or period.[1]

Flora achieved more prominence in the neo-pagan revival of Antiquity among Renaissance humanists than she had ever enjoyed in ancient Rome.

She is the main character of the ballet The Awakening of Flora.

the May Queen is a girl who must ride or walk at the front of a parade for May Day celebrations. She wears a white gown to symbolise purity and usually a tiara or crown. Her duty is to begin the May Day celebrations. She is generally crowned by flowers and makes a speech before the dancing begins. Certain age groups dance round a Maypole celebrating youth and the spring time.

Sir James George Frazer found in the figure of the May Queen, a relic of tree worship:[1]

According to popular British folklore, the tradition once had a sinister twist, in that the May Queen was put to death once the festivities were over. The veracity of this belief is difficult to establish, but while in truth it might just be an example of anti-pagan propaganda, frequent associations between May Day rituals, the occult and human sacrifice are still to be found in popular culture today. The Wicker Man, a cult horror film starring Christopher Lee, is a prominent example of these associations.

[edit] History

In the High Middle Ages in England the May Queen was also known as the "Summer Queen". George C. Homans points out: "The time from Hocktide, after Easter Week, to Lammas (August 1) was summer (estas)."[2]

In 1557, a London diarist called Henry Machyn wrote:

"The xxx day of May was a goly May-gam in Fanch-chyrchestrett with drumes and gunes and pykes, and ix wordes dyd ryd; and thay had speches evere man, and the morris dansse and the sauden, and an elevant with the castyll, and the sauden and yonge morens with targattes and darttes, and the lord and the lade of the Maye".

Translation: On the 30th day of May was a jolly May-game in Fenchurch Street (London) with drums and guns and pikes, The Nine Worthies did ride; and they all had speeches, and the morris dance and sultan and an elephant with a castle and the sultan and young moors with shields and arrows, and the lord and lady of the May".[3]

[edit] Maintaining the tradition
A recent May Queen of Brentham, England, Eleanor Teasdale, on her throne.

Many areas keep this tradition alive today. The oldest unbroken tradition is found in Hayfield, Derbyshire[4] based on a much older May Fair. Another notable event includes the one in the Brentham Garden Suburb, England which hosts it annually. It has the second oldest unbroken tradition although the May Queen of All London Festival at Hayes Common in Bromley is a close contender. A May Day festival is held on the village green at Aldborough, North Yorkshire on a site that dates back to Roman times and the settlement of Isurium Brigantum. A May queen is selected from a group of 13 upward girls by the young dancers. She returns the next year to crown the new May Queen and stays in the procession.

A May Day celebration held annually in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada has the distinction of being the longest running May Day celebration of its kind in the British Commonwealth.[citation needed] This May Day celebration began in 1870 and is one hundred and forty years of age. Archival film footage of New Westminster's May Day celebrations from 1932-1962 can be seen online at Quest for the Queens.

[edit] Cultural references to the May Queen

[edit] See also


The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times, with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, and the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries[citation needed]. It is also associated with the Gaelic Beltane. Many pagan celebrations were abandoned or Christianized during the process of conversion in Europe. A more secular version of May Day continues to be observed in Europe and America. In this form, May Day may be best known for its tradition of dancing the maypole dance and crowning of the Queen of the May. Various Neopagan groups celebrate reconstructed (to varying degrees) versions of these customs on May 1st.

The day was a traditional summer holiday in many pre-Christian European pagan cultures[citation needed]. While February 1 was the first day of Spring, May 1 was the first day of summer; hence, the summer solstice on June 25 (now June 21) was Midsummer[citation needed]. In the Roman Catholic tradition, May is observed as Mary's month, and in these circles May Day is usually a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this connection, in works of art, school skits, and so forth, Mary's head will often be adorned with flowers in a May crowning[citation needed]. Fading in popularity since the late 20th century is the giving of "May baskets," small baskets of sweets and/or flowers, usually left anonymously on neighbours' doorsteps.[2]

[edit] Europe

[edit] Great Britain

Roodmas was a Christ Dancing celebrations in North America

[edit] Histories of May Day



An historical look at this ancient fire festival, its traditions and some common misconceptions.

Beltane is one of the major sabbats in the Pagan/Wiccan year and is an ancient Celtic fire festival. It is the time to celebrate the union of the young Goddess and the Sun God, a time when the darkness of winter fully retreats and life returns to the earth. As with Samhain, Beltane is a time when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest and in long ago this was seen as a time of potential danger or mischief from troublemaking spirits. Thus, Beltane was a time to appease these spirits and to prepare for the harvest that would occur later in the year.

The ancient Celts were a pastoral people and Beltane was a time when the herds were brought out to summer grazing lands and pastures. It’s traditionally known that the Druids would light two fires for the livestock to be driven through for purification and also as a fertility rite. Since the people of the community greatly depended on the meat of the livestock, this fire ritual was performed as a way for the gods to bless the herd with continued fertility.

In our modern times, Beltane is often perceived as a time of overflowing sexuality, but in fact for the ancient Celts this was more of a practical, busy time filled with preparations for the maintaining of the herd and the sowing of crops. Marriages and intimate encounters were sure to take place during this time but the fertility aspect was more likely to apply toward the cattle and game animals. The ancient Celts were very dependent upon cattle and game as a food source and these animals would have been giving birth to their offspring around this time of year.

Although some say that the word Beltane means “Son of Bel”, in connection with the Sun God Belenus, there is actually some dispute over this. Belenus was not recognized in Ireland and Britain until their occupation by the Romans, who brought with them their gods and goddesses from the region of Gaul and historically it is unclear whether the festival of Beltane was even celebrated in Gaul. So, more than likely, it is believed that the word Beltane has the meaning of “new fire” or “bright fire”. This would make sense especially since the ancient Celts traditionally extinguished their hearth fires at the time of Beltane and then relit them from the embers of the sacred bonfires lit by the Druids.

The well-known Maypole was in fact of possible Germanic origin and wasn’t part of ancient Irish tradition. Instead they had the tradition of May bushes, which were small deciduous trees that symbolized the renewal of life. These trees were cut down and placed in front each person’s home in the days before Beltane. They were decorated with ribbons, flowers and egg shells and then on the evening of Beltane they were placed into the ritual bonfires.

Many modern traditions have merged with the rituals of the ancient Celts and to this day Beltane is celebrated as both a sacred and a joyously festive occasion that is laced with a rich and colorful history.




There are four great festivals of the Pagan Celtic year and the modern Witch's calendar, as well. The two greatest of these are Halloween (the beginning of winter) and May Day (the beginning of summer). Being opposite each other on the wheel of the year, they separate the year into halves. Halloween (also called Samhain) is the Celtic New Year and is generally considered the more important of the two, though May Day runs a close second. Indeed, in some areas -- notably Wales -- it is considered the great holiday.

May Day ushers in the fifth month of the modern calendar year, the month of May. This month is named in honor of the goddess Maia, originally a Greek mountain nymph, later identified as the most beautiful of the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades. By Zeus, she is also the mother of Hermes, god of magic. Maia's parents were Atlas and Pleione, a sea nymph.

The old Celtic name for May Day is Beltane (in its most popular Anglicized form), which is derived from the Irish Gaelic 'Bealtaine' or the Scottish Gaelic 'Bealtuinn', meaning 'Bel-fire', the fire of the Celtic god of light (Bel, Beli or Belinus). He, in turn, may be traced to the Middle Eastern god Baal.

Other names for May Day include: Cetsamhain ('opposite Samhain'), Walpurgisnacht (in Germany), and Roodmas (the medieval Church's name). This last came from Church Fathers who were hoping to shift the common people's allegiance from the Maypole (Pagan lingham - symbol of life) to the Holy Rood (the Cross - Roman instrument of death).

Incidentally, there is no historical justification for calling May 1st 'Lady Day'. For hundreds of years, that title has been proper to the Vernal Equinox (approx. March 21st), another holiday sacred to the Great Goddess. The nontraditional use of 'Lady Day' for May 1st is quite recent (since the early 1970's), and seems to be confined to America, where it has gained widespread acceptance among certain segments of the Craft population. This rather startling departure from tradition would seem to indicate an unfamiliarity with European calendar customs, as well as a lax attitude toward scholarship among too many Pagans. A simple glance at a dictionary ('Webster's 3rd' or O.E.D.), excyclopedia ('Benet's'), or standard mythology reference (Jobe's 'Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore & Symbols') would confirm the correct date for Lady Day as the Vernal Equinox.

By Celtic reckoning, the actual Beltane celebration begins on sundown of the preceding day, April 30, because the Celts always figured their days from sundown to sundown. And sundown was the proper time for Druids to kindle the great Bel-fires on the tops of the nearest beacon hill (such as Tara Hill, Co. Meath, in Ireland). These 'need-fires' had healing properties, and sky-clad Witches would jump through the flames to ensure protection.

Sgt. Howie (shocked): 'But they are naked!'
Lord Summerisle: 'Naturally. It's much too dangerous to jump through the fire with your clothes on!'

--from "The Wicker Man"

Frequently, cattle would be driven between two such bon-fires (oak wood was the favorite fuel for them) and, on the morrow, they would be taken to their summer pastures.

Other May Day customs include: walking the circuit of one's property ('beating the bounds'), repairing fences and boundary markers, processions of chimney-sweeps and milk maids, archery tournaments, morris dances, sword dances, feasting, music, drinking, and maidens bathing their faces in the dew of May morning to retain their youthful beauty.

In the words of Witchcraft writers Janet and Stewart Farrar, the Beltane celbration was principly a time of '...unashamed human sexuality and fertility.' Such associations include the obvious phallic symbolism of the Maypole and riding the hobby horse. Even a seemingly innocent children's nursery rhyme, 'Ride a cock horse to Banburry Cross...' retains such memories. And the next line ' see a fine Lady on a white horse' is a reference to the annual ride of 'Lady Godiva' though Coventry. Every year for nearly three centuries, a sky-clad village maiden (elected Queen of the May) enacted this Pagan rite, until the Puritans put an end to the custom.

The Puritans, in fact, reacted with pious horror to most of the May Day rites, even making Maypoles illegal in 1644. They especially attempted to suppress the 'greenwood marriages' of young men and women who spent the entire night in the forest, staying out to greet the May sunrise, and bringing back boughs of flowers and garlands to decorate the village the next morning. One angry Puritan wrote that men 'doe use commonly to runne into woodes in the night time, amongst maidens, to set bowes, in so muche, as I have hearde of tenne maidens whiche went to set May, and nine of them came home with childe.' And another Puritan complained that, of the girls who go into the woods, 'not the least one of them comes home again a virgin.'

Long after the Christian form of marriage (with its insistance on sexual monogamy) had replaced the older Pagan handfasting, the rules of strict fidelity were always relaxed for the May Eve rites. Names such as Robin Hood, Maid Marion, and Little John played an important part in May Day folklore, often used as titles for the dramatis personae of the celebrations. And modern surnames such as Robinson, Hodson, Johnson, and Godkin may attest to some distant May Eve spent in the woods.

These wildwood antics have inspired writers such as Kipling:

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!

And Lerner and Lowe:

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!

It is certainly no accident that Queen Guinevere's 'abduction' by Meliagrance occurs on May 1st when she and the court have gone a-Maying, or that the usually efficient Queen's Guard, on this occasion, rode unarmed.

Some of these customs seem virtually identical to the old Roman feast of flowers, the Floriala, three days of unrestrained sexuality which began at sundown April 28th and reached a crescendo on May 1st.

There are other, even older, associations with May 1st in Celtic mythology. According to the ancient Irish 'Book of Invasions', the first settler of Ireland, Partholan, arrived on May 1st; and it was on May 1st that the plague came which destroyed his people. Years later, the Tuatha De Danann were conquered by the Milesians on May Day. In Welsh myth, the perenial battle between Gwythur and Gwyn for the love of Creudylad took place each May Day; and it was on May Eve that Teirnyon lost his colts and found Pryderi. May Eve was also the occasion of a fearful scream that was heard each year throughout Wales, one of the three curses of the Coranians lifted by the skill of Lludd and Llevelys.

By the way, due to various calendrical changes down through the centuries, the traditional date of Beltane is not the same as its astrological date. This date, like all astronomically determined dates, may vary by a day or two depending on the year. However, it may be calculated easily enough by determining the date on which the sun is at 15 degrees Taurus (usually around May 5th). British Witches often refer to this date as Old Beltane, and folklorists call it Beltane O.S. ('Old Style'). Some Covens prefer to celebrate on the old date and, at the very least, it gives one options. If a Coven is operating on 'Pagan Standard Time' and misses May 1st altogether, it can still throw a viable Beltane bash as long as it's before May 5th. This may also be a consideration for Covens that need to organize activities around the week-end.

This date has long been considered a 'power point' of the Zodiac, and is symbolized by the Bull, one of the 'tetramorph' figures featured on the Tarot cards, the World and the Wheel of Fortune. (The other three symbols are the Lion, the Eagle, and the Spirit.) Astrologers know these four figures as the symbols of the four 'fixed' signs of the Zodiac (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius), and these naturally align with the four Great Sabbats of Witchcraft. Christians have adopted the same iconography to represent the four gospel-writers.

But for most, it is May 1st that is the great holiday of flowers, Maypoles, and greenwood frivolity. It is no wonder that, as recently as 1977, Ian Anderson could pen the following lyrics for the band Jethro Tull:

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.

Document Copyright © 1986, 1998 by Mike Nichols
This document can be re-published only as long as no information is lost or changed, credit is given to the author, and it is provided or used without cost to others. Other uses of this document must be approved in writing by Mike Nichols.





It is no coincidence that Arthur's queen, Guinevere, was out "a-Maying" when she was ambushed and kidnapped by an amorous knight. Tennyson might have been on to something when he made that Mordred in his Idylls of the King but Sir Thomas Malory says, in his sublime Morte d'Arthur, that it was Sir Meliagaunce.

A beautiful queen gathering may-blossom with her retinue of ten women is captured by a knight who has long lusted after her but been afraid to come near her, not because of her lawful husband but because of her champion Sir Lancelot. Now, Guinevere has knights in her train but not Lancelot.

song video:  guenevere and the soft goodbye



  • The Estoire del Saint Grail (The History of the Holy Grail), about Joseph of Arimathea and his son Josephus bringing the Grail to Britain.
  • The Estoire de Merlin (also called the Vulgate or Prose Merlin), about Merlin and the early history of Arthur.
    • To this section is added the Vulgate Suite du Merlin (Vulgate Merlin Continuation), adding more of Arthur's early adventures.
  • The Lancelot propre (Lancelot Proper), the longest section, making up half of the entire cycle. It concerns the adventures of Lancelot and the other Knights of the Round Table, and the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere.
  • The Queste del Saint Graal (Quest for the Holy Grail), about the Grail Quest and its completion by Galahad.
  • The Mort Artu (Death of Arthur), about the king's death at the hands of Mordred and the collapse of the kingdom.

The work was soon followed by the Post-Vulgate Cycle, a work based on the Vulgate but differing from it in many respects.