Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

A Sprinkling for the May Queen: Nine Songs That It Wouldn't Be Beltane Without

Lady be praised for Beltane: after Yule, the singing-est of holidays. Winter's finally over: the spring peepers are singing, the birds are singing, and so are we.

Forthwith, nine songs that it wouldn't be Beltane without. Really, we all should know them all.


Hal an Tow

If Beltane has an anthem, Hal an Tow is it. This English folk classic—Shakespeare even cites it—has a million different covers, but the hottest, sexiest, rocking-est of them all has got to be the Oyster Band version.

As for the title: yes, haul means “Sun” in Welsh, but there's no need to go looking that far. “Heel and toe”: it's a dance song.

So get up and dance, already.

Padstow Morning Song

Also known as Unite and Unite and The Merry Morning of May, this carol from the Cornish village of Padstow is yet another indispensable May folk classic, with some surprising depths: it's one of the few May songs to treat—inter alia—with war and death.

It's Beltane and we should all be out in the woods, making merry together. But some of our boys (and—these days—girls) are off fighting someone else's wars.

O where are those young men that now here should dance

(for Summer is a-come unto day)?

O some, they are in England, and some, they are in France,

in the merry morning of May. 

Ever since the beginning of Bush 2's ill-considered Endless War in the Middle East, here in Paganistan we've been singing:

O some are in Afghanistan, and some are in Iraq,

in the merry morning of May.

But doubt not the power of May. The Hobby Horse rises again, and our brave boys (and girls) will come back home, hale and whole.

And let us all say: so mote it be.

Sumer Is Icumen In

Forget the embarrassingly bad update version from Wicker Man: Sumer Is Icumen In is the oldest (circa 1350) song in English to which we have both words and tune, and limns the beauties of Spring incomparably. Really, there's no need for updates: the 700-year old Middle English still reads (and sings) refreshingly comprehensibly.

I'd never understood just what a he-goat farting had to do with Spring, until an uncle of mine who hunts explained it to me. After a winter diet of bark and dried grass, the deer gorge on fresh greens and they all get diarrhea: a sure sign of Spring.

Oh, those earthy ancestors.

Bird in the Bush

Oh, those earthy ancestors. Another from the English folk tradition: not specifically about May, but hey, nothing says Beltane like sex in the woods. The bird in the bush: get it, nudge, nudge?

Here's a health to the bird in the bush,

here's a health to the bird in the bush.

And we'll drink up the Sun, we'll drink down the Moon:

let the neighbors say little or much.

Hail, Hail the First of May

This Hobby Horse carol is a modern May song out of the American Morris community—through the talented hand of folkie Jon Boden— but its hooves are planted firmly in British folk idiom.

Hail, hail the First of May-O,

for it is the first Summer's day-O;

cast your cares and fears away,

and drink to the Old Horse on the First of May.

Cup of Wonder

Jethro Tull's 1977 Cup of Wonder is probably the first New Pagan May carol, and it stills stands up well.

Ask the Green Man where he comes from;

ask the Cup that fills with red.

Ask the old grey standing stone

that shows the Sun his way to bed.


For the May Day is the great day,

sung along the old straight track;

and those who ancient lines did ley

will heed the song that calls them back.

Green Man

If Beltane has a patron god, it surely must be the Green Man, and here's XTC's 1999 hymn to Him: exotic, ecstatic, a party anthem if ever there was one.

See the Green Man blow his kiss from the church wall:

the unknowing church will amplify his call.

As for that weird farty oboe at the beginning and end: that's all in keeping with Beltane's, shall we say, earthier aspects.

See above under Sumer is Icumen In.

Stairway to Heaven

You know Beltane is coming up when you start hearing Led Zeppelin's 1971 classic Rock anthem on the radio.

Guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant wrote it for Arianrhod, they say:

If there's a bustle in the hedgerow, don't be alarmed, now:

it's just a sprinkling for the May Queen.

As for what the rest of it means, don't ask me; I haven't got a clue either.

Lusty Month of May

No, I don't particularly like musicals—everyone's fag-o-meter goes off at some point—but you've got to love Broadway Beltane, just for being there.

And you can't say that they don't get Beltane. Oh, they get it, all right.

It's May, it's May, the lusty month of May,

that time of year when everyone goes blissfully astray.

It's time to do a wretched thing or two,

and try to make each precious day

one you'll always rue!


Winter's finally over. Summer's sweet, but it doesn't last. So sing, dance, go forth and do a little of your own sprinkling for the May Queen.

And if—QED—the cowans next-door don't like it, f**k 'em!


Last modified on
Tagged in: May songs May-games
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Thursday, 30 April 2020

    You wouldn't just happen to have a playlist of these songs up on YouTube would you?

  • Please login first in order for you to submit comments

Additional information