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May Flowers 2003
May Flowers
May Eve 2003

May Day

Celebrations of May Day occur right across the world. But the idea that all these festivals stem from one original prehistoric ‘pagan’ May festival is far-fetched:
Even if prehistoric nations had calendars which they could compare with each other, prehistoric and historic astronomers have had great difficulty keeping their calendars ‘on track’. At one point, the Roman calendar was 3 months out of step with the sun, so that their May festival of the flowers (Florealis) would actually have been celebrated in August for some decades. Archaeologists working from a bronze Celtic calendar have roughly matched up the Celtic festival of Beltane to the Roman Florealis … but whether these ever actually took place on the same day is anybody’s guess!
Although there is evidence that some Celtic festivals were celebrated across the whole of Northern Europe, there is some doubt as to whether there was such a thing as a ‘pan-Celtic’ calendar. Different tribes gave their festivals different names, and may have held them at different times. The festivals referred to here come from ancient Ireland, and the names I use are taken from the Irish Gaelic.

The ancient Celtic festival of Beltane appears to have been one of fertility, particularly of the fields and beasts. It was sacred to the god Belenos. All we know of Belenos is some statues and engravings, in some of which he is seen holding a disk. From this, many have extrapolated that he was a Sun god, but he could just as easily have been a warrior god with a shield or a Fertility god with an egg, or a combination of these (or something else altogether!).
To celebrate Beltane, pairs of fires were lit in fields, and herds of cattle were driven between the fires, apparently in order to ‘irradiate’ them with the life-giving powers of the element of fire. When the Romans invaded, the Celtic festival was superceded, and all the elements of the Celtic fire festival were apparently lost. The Roman Florealis took over: a raunchy festival of blossom and dance sacred to fruit growers and prostitutes.
The Angles and Saxons had a rough equivalent to Florealis called Walpurgis, which they happily merged with the Roman Florealis. As the centuries went by, the customary dances became circle dances, often danced around fruit trees. Eventually, under pressure from the Church (who didn’t like the apparent worship of trees) the trees were replaced with poles, and the dancers danced with ribbons, giving us our formalised modern ‘village’ maypole and floral festival. Thus, the origin of the maypole probably doesn’t belong far back in prehistory as a phallic fertility symbol. Maypoles were much more likely to have been adopted as a politically correct alternative to the worship of fruit trees, and the spirits that enliven them.

Southerly Direction Marker, May 2003

Directional Marker
“South”, May Eve 2003
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