If youБve spent any length of time in the Pagan community at all, you know that there are some celebrations that stand out as being favorites. For many of us, but itБs followed very closely by. This festival of fire and fertility arrives every year on May Day (if youБre in the northern hemisphere) and is something that harkens back hundreds of years to early European customs. Most people have seen a Beltane Maypole danceБbut what are the origins of this custom? The most likely theory, according to historians, is that Maypole dancing originated in Germany and was taken to the British Isles by invading forces, where it expanded as
held every spring. ItБs also likely that the dancing as we know it todayБwith flower garlands and brightly colored ribbonsБis more connected to a nineteenth-century historical revival than it is to actual ancient customs. It is believed that the earliest Maypoles were actually living trees, rather than just being a cut pole, as we know them today. Oxford professor and anthropologist E. O. James discusses the Maypole and its connection to Roman traditions in his 1962 article,. James suggests that trees were stripped of their leaves and limbs, and then decorated with garlands of ivy, vines and flowers as part of the Roman spring celebration.
This may have been part of, which began on April 28. Other theories include that the trees, or poles, were wrapped in violets as homage to. б ThereБs not much documentation about the early years of this celebration, but by the middle ages, most villages in Britain had an annual Maypole celebration going on. In rural areas, the Maypole was typically erected on the village green, but a few places, including some urban neighborhoods in London, had a permanent Maypole that stayed up all year round. Because Beltane festivities usually kicked off the night beforeб , the Maypole celebration usually took place shortly after sunrise the next morning. This was when couples (and probably more than a few surprised triads) came staggering in from the fields, clothes in disarray and straw in their hair after a night ofб. During the seventeenth century, Puritanical leaders frowned upon the use of the Maypole in celebration Б after all, it was a giant phallic symbol in the middle of the village green. Over the next two hundred or so years, the custom of Maypole dancing around Britain seems to have waned, except in some of the more remote rural areas. By the late nineteenth century, middle and upper class English peopleб discovered an interest in their countryБs rural traditions.
Country living, and all that came with it, was espoused as being far more desirable than the squalor of city life, and an author named John Ruskin is largely responsible for the revival of the Maypole. Victorian Maypoles were erected as part of church May Day celebrations, and while there was still dancing, it was far more organized and structured than the wild abandon of the Maypole dances of centuries gone by. The Maypole custom traveled to America with British immigrants, and in a few places, it was seen as quite a scandalous return to the past. In Plymouth, a gentleman named Thomas Morton decided to erect a giant Maypole in his field, brewed a batch of hearty mead, and invited village lasses to come frolic about. Being that this was 1627, his neighbors were appropriately appalled. Miles Standish himself came along to break up the sinful festivities. that accompanied his Maypole revelry, which included the lines,б Drink and be merry, merry, merry, boys, Let all your delight be in Hymen s joys. Lo to Hymen now the day is come, about the merry Maypole take a room. Make green garlons, bring bottles out, and fill sweet Nectar, freely about. Uncover thy head, and fear no harm, for here s good liquor to keep it warm. Then drink and be merry, merry, merry, boys, Let all your delight be in Hymen s joys. for signing up.
Today, many modern Pagans celebrate Beltane with a Maypole dance as part of the festivities. With a little planning you can. If you donБt have the space for a full-fledged Maypole dance, donБt worry Б you can still celebrate the fertility symbolism of the Maypole by. Maypole dance, ceremonial performed around a tall pole garlanded with greenery or flowers and often hung with ribbons that are woven into complex patterns by the dancers. Such dances are survivals of ancient dances around a living tree as part of spring rites to ensure fertility. Typically performed on (May 1), they also occur at midsummer in Scandinavia and at other festivals elsewhere. They are widely distributed through EuropeБe. g. , БSellengerБs RoundБ in, the baile del cordцn of SpainБand also are found in India. Similar ribbon dances were performed in pre-Columbian and were later into ritual dances of Hispanic origin. Maypoles may also appear in other ritual dances, as in the Basque ezpata dantza, or. Swedish midsummer festival. Encyclopцdia Britannica, Inc. Traditional Maypole dance from England, with circle formation of dancers interweaving; detail from a 19th-century drawing. Culver Pictures, Inc.