“... the birth of Provençal song hovers about the Pagan rites of May Day.” ~Ezra Pound
There are something called “nature introductions” (exordium) in the genre of reverdie (“re-greening”) in Troubadour poetry/song linking spring and love. As one literary historian tells us: “The reverdie properly belongs to May-Day festivities,” like the poem/song “Calends of May.”
To read the GS's "Prologue to Beltane / May Day & The Symbolic Rose," click here
“On the first of May, gay the plumage of birds, Song the day, loud the cuckoos.”
(From a 6th-century Celtic Welsh poem, "The Calends of May")
May, and among the miles of leafing, blossoms storm out of the darkness — windflowers and moccasin flowers. The bees dive into them and I too, to gather their spiritual honey. Mute and meek, yet theirs is the deepest certainty that this existence too — this sense of well-being, the flourishing of the physical body — rides near the hub of the miracle that everything is a part of, is as good as a poem or a prayer, can also make luminous any dark place on earth.
Thematic Images for Beltane / May Day 2020 Essay-with-Soundtrack
"Beltane / May Day: A Holiday for Neo-Pagans & Workers"
Thematic Images for Beltane/May Day Characters & Themes
"Come up, come in with streamers! Come in with boughs of May!"
Beltane Fairie Otherworld
For the poem, "The Lord of Misrule," by Alfred Noyes, click here.
Thematic Images for Beltane/May Day Contemporary Festivals
The MayDay Parade in Minneapolis is the largest and longest-running parade in the country. It took place last year (2019) on Sunday May 5th (the "True Beltane" date). The annual parade, hosted by In the Heart of the Beast Theatre, draws large crowds and showcases large puppets and floats and entertainment by performers. Each year's parade/festival has a theme, ranging from Spring and environmental topics to social topics like peace and racial justice (blending the spring festival May Day with the socio-political May Day). The event also features a festival in Powderhorn Park and a Tree of Life Ceremony involving more than 300 performers.
For description and text of "Now is the Month of Maying" madrigal at Oxford, click here.
For performance of "Now is the Month of Maying" madgrigal (1595) by Thomas Morley, click here.
For text of "The Merry Month of May" (1599) by Thomas Dekker, click here
For a brief description of the May Queen and Tennyson's "The May Queen" poem, click here.
If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, / Don’t be alarmed now. / It’s just a spring-clean for the May Queen. --Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, "Stairway to Heaven"
Thematic Images for Beltane/May Day Neo-Pagan Fire Festivals
Beltane Fires Burn
The Beltane Fires of Love
Beltane is about rebirth after the cold and dark of winter and the sprouting season of early spring. Harsh climates throughout the Northern Hemisphere, compounded by lack of food, supplies, and medicine, provided long and challenging months. Surviving these winter conditions of hardship with one’s life intact was indeed something to celebrate (“Gotta get through January / Gotta get through February”)…. So at sundown on the eve of Beltane, bonfires were lit throughout the land to invoke protection for the crops and for the purification of farm animals for the coming year…. The purpose of these bonfires was purify and sanctify the community and their livestock in readiness for the new cycle…. These “need-fires” served to welcome in the summer and encourage the sun’s warmth and to walk between for purification…. The fires celebrated the return of life and fruitfulness to the earth and would protect, heal and purify anyone or anything that passed by. Those gathered on Beltane were encouraged to leap the flames in a dynamic gesture of the acceptance of the blessing of fertility, creativity, and good fortune…. But the fires of the Celtic sun-god Belenos ("The Shining One") also represented the fires of passionate desire that flared up though the ground and brought fertility to the land and the people. For young lovers this was a special time when they could feel the Beltane fire in the belly, and they would leap the flames for luck in finding a mate.
When love runs high And this time, give it to me easy And let me try with pleasured hands
To take you in the sun to (promised lands) To show you every one It's the time of the season for loving." ~Zombies,'Time of the Season'
“The Merrie, Merrie Month of May” has always been a merry month for lovers, when the swift current of the erotic impulse courses through leaf and vein, and so it was also called “The Lusty Month of May.” In the British Isles, young men and maidens would go “a-maying” on the eve of May Day (Beltane), spending all night in the greenwood to return at day-break, “Bringing in the May.” Thus, May Day was a special time for lovers and sexual union, and the maypole played a central part in this ritualized courtship and mating. The maypole, symbolic of male and female sexual energies, was profusely decorated with flowers. Youthful couples disappeared into the fields and forest—in their greenwood “bowers of bliss” (arbor cupiditatis)—to make love under the moon, returning to the village to dance around the maypole.
This all disturbed the sexually uptight Puritans to no end, as they saw these “bacchanals” as smacking of paganism. One morally outraged Puritan wrote that “men doe use commonly to runne into woodes in the night time, amongt 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.” Another Puritan complained that, of the girls who go into the woods, “not the least one of them comes home again a virgin.”
The month of May was come, when every lusty heart beginneth to blossom, and to bring forth fruit; for like as herbs and trees bring forth fruit and flourish in May, in likewise every lusty heart that is in any manner a lover, springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds. For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May. ~Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d'Arthur (1485)
Unite and unite and let us all unite For summer is i-cumen today And whither we are going, we all will unite In the merry morning of May. Arise up Mr. ..... I know you well afine, For summer is acome unto day, You have a shilling in your purse and I wish it were in mine, In the merry morning of May. All out of your beds, For summer is acome unto day, Your chamber shall be strewed with the white rose and the red In the merry morning of May. Where are the young men that here now should dance, For summer is acome unto day, Some they are in England some they are in France, In the merry morning of May. Where are the maidens that here now should sing, For summer is acome unto day, They are in the meadows the flowers gathering, In the merry morning of May.
Arise up Mr. .... with your sword by your side, For summer is acome unto day, Your steed is in the stable awaiting for to ride, In the merry morning of May. Arise up Miss ..... and strew all your flowers, For summer is acome unto day, It is but a while ago since we have strewn ours, In the merry morning of May...
~”Padstow May Day Song”
Is it true, the girl that I love,
That you do not desire birch, the strong growth of summer? Be not a nun in spring, Asceticism is not as good as a bush. As for the warrant of ring and habit, A green dress would ordain better. Come to the spreading birch, To the religion of the trees and birds. . . .
~Dafydd ap Gwilym (14th c. Welsh poet)
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!
~Kipling, “A Tree Song” (1905)
Tra la, it’s May, the lusty month of May That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray Tra la, it’s here, that shocking time of year When tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear It’s May, it’s May, that gorgeous holiday When every maiden prays that her lad will be a cad It’s mad, it’s gay, a libelous display Those dreary vows that everyone takes Everyone breaks Everyone makes divine mistakes The lusty month of May
~Lerner & Lowe, “The Lusty Month of May” (1960)
Thematic Images for Beltane/May Day Carnival & Carnivalesque
Click on image to access "Carnivalesque" special page
Thematic Images for International Workers May Day
The figure in these two pictures representing the International Workers' celebration for May Day 1895 is actually a representatiion for Flora, the Roman goddess of spring and flowers, whose festival was celebrated in Rome during late April and early May. Because of the stark similarity of customs, folklorists believe that the Roman Floralia festival is the prototype of the later European May Day festival. Hence, this is evidence for the GS's theory that the two separate May Day observances--the seasonal and the socio-political--stem from a common floral root.
As the last two images above especially show, the International Workers' May Day has always been associated with flowers (particularly the rose). Furthermore, this association of spring flowering and the day to commemorate the rights of workers is also evidenced in song. The phrase "Bread and Roses" originated from a 1911 speech given by women's suffragette Helen Todd, which contained the line "bread for all, and roses too." This inspired the poet, novelist and editor James Oppenheim to turn it into a song in honor of the women's suffrage movement. The song later became associated with the successful textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, between January and March 1912, now often referred to as the "Bread and Roses strike."
"As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead / Go crying through our singing their ancient song of Bread; Small art and love and beauty their trudging spirits knew / Yes, it is Bread we fight for—but we fight for Roses, too.”
Thus, for the GS, this song represents the twin themes of worker's rights and the right to the entire aesthetic realm, which is represented by the "symbolic rose," the flower sacred to Venus-Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, whose Roman festival took place during the month of May.
Thematic Images for May Day Dancing in the Streets
Anarchists Emma Goldman & Jack Frager
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