Friday, April 25, 2014

May Pole

May Day is related to the Celtic festival of Beltane and the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night.  The Roman festival celebrating Flora, Goddess of fertility and spring, was celebrated from April 28 through May 3.  In 1955, Pope Pius XII designated May 1 as a feast day of St. Joseph the Worker.  In 1958, President Eisenhower designated May 1 as both Law Day and Loyalty Day.  In many countries, May Day is also Labor Day. 
No matter what term you use, Beltane or May Day is here.  Most commonly it is held on May 1, or halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice.  May Day may be best known for its tradition of dancing the maypole dance and crowning of the Queen of the May.  Rituals were performed to protect the cattle, crops and people and to encourage growth.


The May Pole is probably the most easily recognized symbol of Beltane.  Long ribbons are wrapped around a tall pole in what is called a Morris Dance.  Traditionally, the ribbons are red and white and the dancers wear bells on their ankles as they weave the ribbons around the pole.  In some traditions, a wreath is placed at the top of the ribbons and it slowly descends as the ribbon is wrapped around the pole.

The May Pole itself is a symbol of the union of God and Goddess.  The red ribbons represent the fertility of the Goddess; the white represent the fertility of the God.  The pole represents the genitalia of the God.  The wreath represents the Goddess.  The female dancers can also wear a crown of flowers while the male dancers where a woven crown of branches. 

Unless you have access to a May Pole that has already been made for the purpose, you will need to make your own.  Find a tall pole and attach ribbons or strong streamers at the top of the pole.  Or use a tall straight tree with no lower limbs, but use respect towards the tree.  These ribbons will need to be the same number of ribbons as there are dancers.  The height of the pole can be left to your own judgment.  The height depends to a certain extent on the height of the dancers and the number of dancers.

One way to dance is to divide the dancers into two groups.  For example, you might have them count off one, two, one, two, one, two around the circle.  The one's can go clockwise and the two's go counterclockwise.  The dancers go alternately right and left of the dancers going in the opposite direction.

The dance can be done walking, but skipping is preferable.  The dance can be done with or without music.  The music used depends largely on personal preference but the most traditional music that could be used would be jigs or reels.

Another way to dance in its most simple form, the dancers simply stand in a circle around the maypole and, in time with the music, take 4 steps towards the maypole, 4 steps back and around the circle for a count of 8.  As they approach the maypole they can raise their arms and then lower them as they back away.

Either way develop a pattern.  Another pattern the dancers could keep in mind is over, under, over, under, over, under etc.  On the count of over, the dancer raises his ribbon slightly so the dancer coming in the opposite direction can duck under his ribbon.  On the count of under the dancer ducks under the ribbon of the dancer coming in the opposite direction.

By the time they are done, the May Pole is nearly invisible beneath a sheath of ribbons.  More dancing and a feast close out the night.   


For the Urban Pagans and those with limited space, try a mini pole.  A May Pole from a salvaged branch to serve as the focal point of a casual gathering.  Start with finding a straight stick.  Cut ribbons to length.  If your pole has a flat round top, attach your ribbons with a staple gun or small nails to the top of your post.  Arrange the colors of the ribbon in a symmetrical pattern and tack them equidistant around the branch.  Weave flowers around the decorative ribbon for a final spring floral look.  Dance around waving them around.


In and out, in and out,
Weave the ribbons tight;
‘Round the May Pole we will dance
To the left and to the right.

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