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The Maypole – Selvedge Magazine 

 

Argh! Again?

All right, folks. This shouldn't need to be said, but apparently it does. Think of it as a friendly reminder.

Remember, this is a Maypole we're dancing here. It's something that people do together. It's its own kind of magic, a powerful magic that you do with other people. You can't dance a Maypole by yourself.

What we are not doing is some all-by-your-lonesome-in-the-back-bedroom Silver Ravenwolf-y cord magic shite, OK? This is way bigger than that. You do not stop the dance to [voice goes all sing-songy] “tie off your spell with a magic knot” when you get to the end of your ribbon. You do not. When you get to the end of your ribbon, you let go and you get out of the effing way, OK?

Beltane, folks. This is sex, not a wank. Sex. We do it together. Remember?

[Aside, mutters under breath.]

Stopping the dance. Ye gawds. What do they teach them in witch school these days?

OK folks, let's take it from the top.  I've written us a new verse for Hal an Tow, just to help us remember.

One-two-three, and...

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What Tarot Gave Us at Beltaine

Beltaine and Samhain, for some of us, are what Christmas and Easter are for lax Christians. Even if you don’t go to every spiritual gathering throughout the year, there are certain holidays you really like to celebrate with your community.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Worst Maypole Dance I Ever Saw

To begin with, real Maypoles don't have streamers.

Oh, they may have ribbons: brightly-colored ones, along with the garlands of flowers and fresh greenery.

But “wrapping the Maypole,” now: that's a 19th century import from Bavaria—where the two highest points in any given town are usually the steeple and the Maypole—that educators loved because it was such a “pretty” custom. Ugh.

(In Bavaria, the streamer dance is performed as a show of skill. The point is not to wrap the maypole, but to wrap and then unwrap it. Now that shows prowess.)

Nope; when it comes to Maypoles, the real thing is a real, live tree, fresh-cut that morning and borne rejoicing from the woods (the original magic here is to bring home the vitality of the Wild) by the young folks of the village, who probably did a little early-morning rejoicing of their own in the woods. You lop off all the branches except the ones at the very top, deck it with the flowers and greenery that you gathered in the woods, and set it up as the centerpiece of the May Day merriment.

(In the Rites of May, the Maypole presides only over the Day festivities, the centerpiece of the Night revels being, of course, the Fire of Nine Woods.)

Real Maypole dances don't have anything to do with streamers. They're ring dances performed around the Maypole.

The worst Maypole dance that I ever saw—fortunately I was a musician that year and hence not criminally liable—was perpetrated by an enthusiastic crew with lots of Wiccan training under their cinctures, each one just brimming with magical Intent.

Unfortunately, they all had different Intents.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    And thank Goddess for greenhouses! How the ancestors would have loved them.
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Some years we have to make do with box and holly. Oh, well. In Scandinavia, the "May Stang" goes up at Midsummer's. All paganism i
  • JudithAnn
    JudithAnn says #
    Great piece on traditional Beltane. Now only if I lived in a place where flowers and greenery might be gathered on May first. At l

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Bavarian Beltane

The two tallest points in pretty much every Bavarian town are the steeple and the Maypole.

I suppose that tells you a lot about Bavaria.

Say what you will about phallic symbols (“Really, Daisy! We've been over this a hundred times!”), the Maypole is a tree. In the old days, the young folks would go off to the woods early on May morning to find the tallest, straightest-trunked fir that they could. They'd lop off all the branches except for the top ones, and ceremoniously bring it back to town.

There they'd deck the May Tree with flowers and greens, and raise it on the town commons, where it would become the focus for the day's activities. (The night's activities, of course, would have taken place around the the bonfire. Beltane is bipolar: the Fire and the Tree.)

These days, there probably isn't a single wooden May Tree to be found in all of Bavaria. Now Maypoles are permanent installations: tall metal poles, like flag-poles. Where my cousin lives, the Maypole stands year-round in front of the fire station.

Most of the Bavarian Maypoles that I saw were painted blue and white, in spiraling stripes like a barber's pole. (Blue and white are the “national” colors of Bavaria.) Instead of greens and flowers, the trunk is crossed with metal arms, from which hang the emblems of the various local guilds. (The emblem of the Baker's guild, for instance, is a pretzel. A hundred years ago, my emigre Bavarian great-grandfather was known in Pittsburgh as the Pretzel Man.)

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Eurynome and Holding the Centre of the Dance

Magic happens. I know that absolutely to be true. Magic shows up when you have been running around gathering all the elements needed to prepare your Maypole for a ritual that is going to be happening in 3 days – and you have nothing but Maypole on the brain – and the individual chosen to pull the Goddess card for the focus of this week’s meditation completely randomly chooses Eurynome. As above, so below. There is dance in the air and She showed up to meditate.

There are a few different Eurynomes (or versions of Her story) that show up in mythology. Homer mentions Her as a daughter of the Ocean who nursed Hephaestus, and Hesiod claims She was mother to the Graces.  The Eurynome we met on Wednesday (as presented in The Goddess Oracle by Amy Marashinsky, illustrated by Hrana Janto) is possibly an older iteration that reflects a primordial creation myth. Born out of Chaos and a Titan ruler in Her own right, this Eurynome danced until She created the wind, out of which She fashioned the snake, Orphion.  As she continued Her dance, Orphion was so enamored of Her movements that he was overtaken with lust. The union of Eurynome and Orphion produced the Universal Egg, out of which all the animals and plants of the world are hatched.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Maypole or Bonfire?

The Maypole and the Bonfire have long been the two ritual foci of Beltane celebration.

The logistical problem being that a ritual can't have two centers.

I remember running into this difficulty decades back while planning the community Beltane down at the old River Circle by the Mississippi. We wanted both a Maypole and a Bonfire, but (unless you want to burn the Maypole, which is wrong) they're mutually exclusive options and only one of them can be in the middle of the circle.

In the end we settled for a central bonfire with the Maypole off to the side of the circle. After the Maypole dance, as darkness drew in, people (of course) clustered around the Bonfire, leaving the poor Maypole deserted.

I.e. not really a satisfactory solution.

Historically speaking, the Maypole is a relative newcomer to the Beltane celebrations (there's no documentary evidence for it until the early modern period), while the Mayfire is clearly prehistoric (the name Beltane itself originally meant “bright fire”).

But the tension between Fire and Tree is more apparent than real. Our problem is trying to cram both hands into the same catskin glove.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Jön Upsal's Gardener
    Jön Upsal's Gardener says #
    Maddeningly, Ronald Hutton in Stations of the Sun (p. 233) doesn't give the title of the poem or the quote, only the author; Adda
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I'm intrigued, Jon: which poem is that? Clearly time to to brush up my Middle English. So: we find Maypoles in England. We find Ma
  • Jön Upsal's Gardener
    Jön Upsal's Gardener says #
    And just as an aside, written evidence for the Maypole goes back to the 14th century. As it's entirely unlikely it was invented co
  • Jön Upsal's Gardener
    Jön Upsal's Gardener says #
    Actually, we call that Sumarmál. :-) And you're entirely correct; modern society and its artificial cycles of weekday-weekend is
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    A bat needs two wings to fly. Bwa ha ha.

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs
The Sweetness of Beltaine

It's taken me a while to feel a deep connection to Beltaine, with it's intimate relation to the spring, the fire element and the astrological sign of Taurus, it is of no surprise that this festival was not one that felt native to me.

 

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