History Witch: Uncovering Magical Antiquity

Want to know about real magic from history? This is the place. Here we explore primary texts and historical accounts from the past.

  • 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

May Observance

In his introduction the early Scots poet Gavin Douglas prefaces The Palis of Honoure by setting the scene in May. Getting ready to perform the observances of the season he wanders through 'a garding of plesance' -- that is, an enclosed garden. It is a joy to behold:

With Sole depaint, as Paradys amyable
And blisfull bewes with blomed variance

Painted by the warm rays of the Sun (Sol) it forms an amiable paradise, full of blissful bows with a variety of blooms. Nature in her guise as 'Dame Flora' has gone out of her way to make the garden burst with life and colours. Like jewels the flowers look:

Of ruby, topas, perle and emerant

but also the luxurious fragrance they offer:

dulce of odour, of flewour most fragrant

And it's not just the flowers offering a gift for the spring: all of 'Naturis tapestreis' unroll before the poet in that enchanted garden. The birds are out celebrating as well:

The birdes sat on twistes and on greis,
Melodiously makand thair kyndely gleis,
Quhois schill notis fordinned al the skyis.
Of reparcust ayr, the eccon cryis
Amang the branches of the blomed treis;
And on the laurers, silver droppis lyis.

The birds sat on twigs and on branches,
Melodiously making their kind's glee,
Whose shrill notes resounded across the skies,
For in the repercussing air the cries echo,
Among the branches of the blooming trees,
And on the laurels, silver drops lie.

No doubt, it is the season of renewal, 'Richt halsom was the sessoun of the yeir' as Douglas calls it, the right healthful season of the year (allergy sufferers may disagree). So moved is he by the natural splendour that the poet swears he hears a voice singing the praises of May and feels compelled to share the joy:

"O Nature Queen and O ye lusty May,"
Quod I tho, "Quhow lang sall I thus forvay,
Quhilk yow and Venus in this garth deservis?
Reconsell me out of this gret affray
That I maye synge yow laudis day be day."

'O Queen Nature and O you lusty May,'
I said though, 'How long shall I thus stray,
While I serve you and Venus in this garden?
Restore me out of this great upheaval,
So that I may sing you lauds day by day.'

Though it was in a 'sweven' (dream) that he 'met a ferly cace' (a wondrous thing) Douglas seems to take the profound effects of the May green to heart. We need that renewal, especially when it's delayed. The spring here in the northeast, long delayed by winter's tight grip, is finally blooming. It is possible to believe in May now. 


Image via British Library: May & June Calendar, Cotton MS Tiberius B V f.5r

Last modified on
K. A. Laity is an all-purpose writer, medievalist, journalist, Fulbrighter, social media maven for Broad Universe, and author of ROOK CHANT: COLLECTED WRITINGS ON WITCHCRAFT & PAGANISM, DREAM BOOK, UNQUIET DREAMS, OWL STRETCHING, CHASTITY FLAME, PELZMANTEL, UNIKIRJA, and many more stories, essays, plays and short humour. Find out more at www.kalaity.com and find her on Facebook or Twitter.


Additional information