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A Pagan Gathering for Australia and the world

Monday, October 31, 2011

Maypole Origins

Maypole Article and Photograph courtesy of D.G Mattichak Jnr



The Tradition of the Maypole and the May Day Dance

One of the great traditions of Beltane is the Maypole. It is the focus of May Day celebrations across Europe and especially Britain where traditionally the boys and girls of a village would dance around it holding the ends of long green and red ribbons, braiding them together in an intricate and beautiful pattern until they all met at its base. For hundreds of years the Maypole has been a symbol of resistance to oppressive rulers as successive monarchs have alternatively prohibited it and reinstated its place in May Day celebrations but it has a much longer history and its origins are in the unknown past.

The month of May is named for the Greek goddess Maia, the Roman Bona Dea, the Good Goddess whose fertility festivals were held in May and was a festival for women only. Roman women brought the statue of Bona Dea, also called Fauna, to an all night feast in her honor where there was music, wine and games. But even though the name of the Maypole comes from the Greek, the tradition of the pole itself is thought to have originated among the ancient Germanic peoples.

The Maypole is a tall wooden pole erected on May Day as the focal point of the celebrations and even though the tradition of the Maypole has survived the Christianization of Europe its original meaning is lost to us now. There is much speculation as to what it represents including the axis of the world (axis mundi), a remnant of Germanic tree worship, the Yggdrasil tree and most recently it has been seen to be a phallic symbol. The latest thinking is that they are merely a part of the general rejoicing at the return of summer’s bounty much as the May Day garlands are.

Although the tradition of the Maypole has continued in Europe, especially in the villages of Bavaria, often it has been moved to the Summer Solstice celebrations in June. Another common practice is for young German men to erect a Maibaum in the yard of their beloved, often decorating it with garlands of red flowers and writing their sweetheart’s name in it. In Scandanavia the practice has continued in an altered form called the midsummer pole or midsommarst√•ng.

But in the parts of Britain that are traditionally English the practice of erecting Maypoles has survived to become an essential part of English folk life. Villages compete for the honor of having the tallest Maypole and there are often thefts of the neighboring village’s pole and there are recorded instances where this led to violence. Over the centuries several monarchs and parliaments have prohibited the erection of Maypoles only to face defiance and eventual defeat and the tradition of erecting maypoles has always been reinstated.

Maypoles were often permanent fixtures in English villages and they prided themselves on the length of their poles. The tallest Maypole was at the Strand, near the current St Mary-le-Strand church which stood 130 feet tall until it was blown over in 1672. Even in the modern day there are many English villages that have a permanent Maypole as a fixture of their village.

The tradition of attaching ribbons to the Maypole and of the famous dance around it seem to originate in the 19th century when characters like John Ruskin were revitalizing the rural customs of Britain to encourage a sense of tradition and national unity. The simplest dance is done by pairs of boys and girls (or men and women) who stand alternately around the base of the pole, each holding the end of a green or red ribbon. They weave in and around each other, boys going one way and the girls going the other until the ribbons are woven together around the pole and the youthful merry-makers meet at the base. There are more complex dances, related to Morris dancing, for set numbers of practiced dancers called May Queen troupes, but gradually they have mostly been forgotten.

For a great archive of information and history of the Maypole go to http://www.barwickinelmethistoricalsociety.com/barwr10.html where there are dozens of articles and stories about Maypoles in Britain.


Blog note:
Thanks to Dave for a great article and being a valued member of the MFAPG!!


Celebrations of the 30th Gathering

Some people have emailed and requested information regarding the refrains that were used in our ritual this year. The full lyrics are from Beltane Fires by Christopher Bingham and are readily accessible during a search for the same. Photographs to accompany this post, are courtesy of Mel who gets snap happy at the best of times but Franklin remains a favourite place to photograph the amazing array of flora and fauna :))



Excerpts from Christopher Bingham's "Beltane Fires"

<Men chant moving anticlockwise>
Eo! The musky Piper playing
Eo! The One Who Calls the Dance
Eo! The howling earth is saying
Eo Evohe!





<Women chant moving clockwise>
Eo! The Maiden and the horned one
Eo! The call to spill the seed
Eo! The stirring of the Cauldron
Eo Evohe!






Some have also emailed who were curious about the spiraling chant used this year.  It is entitled "The Witch's Reel" or "Gelie Duncan's song"- a woman accused of Witchcraft in Scotland and one of the songs she and three other conterparts were accused of singing over four hundred years ago in Scotland. Allegedly all four women were executed. The entire reel is as follows:

"Cummer, go ye before, cummer, go ye
If ye willna go before, cummer, let me
Ring-a-ring-a-widdershins
Linkin’, lithely widdershins
Cummer, carlin, crone and queen
Roun’ go we

Cummer, go ye before, cummer, go ye
If ye willna go before, cummer, let me
Ring-a-ring-a-widdershins
Loupin, lightly widdershins
Kilted coats and fleein’ hair
Three times three

Cummer, go ye before, cummer, go ye
If ye willna go before, cummer, let me
Ring-a-ring-a-widdershins
Whirlin’, skirlin’ widdershins
De’il tak’ the hindmost
Wha’er she be"

Some of the more challenging linguistics of this reel were kindly translated by the Prestoungrange Arts Society:

cummer, carlin and crone = are all words for “witch”
ring-a-widdershins = go anti-clockwise in a circle (meant to be bad luck)
linkin’ lithely = join arm in arm
loupin’ = jumping
skirlin’ = screaming or howling
de’il = the devil

The Prestoungrange Arts Society is a fantastic website with all manner of interesting articles and information-a site well worth the effort to visit and peruse. 

Anne Ross-is a former research fellow in Archeology at the University of Southhampton, her books also provide an immeasurable amount of resources and information regarding Pagan-Celtic Britain. Well worth investing in :))



Sunday, October 30, 2011

Our 30th Birthday began.....


After 12 months of solid organising the Gathering was here and kicked off with the Marquee up as a hub for the Organisers and Friends of MFAPG. With such a bunch of artistic people it was fantastic to see everyone add their LED lights through the trees and around campsites and give the Mount a real feel of welcome and celebration. So many added amazing decorations to the Marquee, from lanterns and lights to Hawthorn, Ribbons, Obby Oss, skulls and Stangs.


The beginning decor :)
So great to see so many friends we've not seen for such a long time. And, how amazing to meet new friends and greet those who were around right at the very first one :)




Tan, Clivey & Chappy


Oi Dave flip me the bird while you chat with Caroline eh?


Crown amongst the hawthorn




Although it rained somewhat late Friday night, Saturday was a glorious Spring Day with gorgeous sunshine and the first hints of summer drifting across the crater. Meeting so many great people, including the wonderfully obliging ladies from the Coven of the Eternal Goddess being flung into roles they least expected, and young Corey a newcomer to the Gathering diligently attending to his new role as the Beltane Lord of the Dance. Lou our gorgeous and beautiful Maiden looked stunning in her majestic floral crown made by Mel. As people prepared for ritual thanks must go to  in particular to Tania for her outstanding costume creations that added an insight of Myth to the Sabbat ritual. Julie arranged a sound ritual from various sources-a number of people have asked for access to the material and we will place this up in another posting. The outfits were to be believed...Obby Oss, The Raven, The Nightmares, The Faceless Men, The Firebirds and Our Teaser complete with Bladder :)) To PM,  Des & Nick for the musical accompaniment both during the ritual and the Maypole.


Our Maiden


Our God





Our Teaser and Des


Teaser , well teasing :P






 The Nightmares, The Nightmares!!!



The Raven



Clivey & Raven-old mates :P

 Awwww whats the matter Josie Jo? Raven gotcha??

Faceless Men


What is your deepest nightmare?


The ritual was fantastic, with a large drum created by friends of Linda & Michels' to enable us to continue our balefire tradition.


Obby Oss!!


Another imposing Faceless Man




Obby lovingly designed and created by Tan.....

Sooo many great folk enjoying the sunshine, great food and company. With a very special Irish stew bubbling away in the Cauldron for feasting after the ritual, everyone was laughing and preparing for what looked like one of the largest and most inclusive rituals seen a couple of years. The normal camping folk unconnected with the Gathering or paganism looked on slightly concerned, slightly bemused. However all but a couple refused the Sabbat cake offerings. From the non-pagans came questions, laughter, inclusion and curiosity. Almost all, remarked how joyous and intriguing our Gathering was. One woman said her children enjoyed the care and the thoughtfulness extended to her children with the pinata bashing at the end-pics to follow!


Guitar Des


Where? Over there? Yeah......K...Mick and Tan talk over the details...


Doug & our beautiful Lynnie


Our gorgeous baker extraordinaire Miss Ska- Mel's new muse from whom all luxurious desserts shall cometh..



This Tanny always looks lovely!

 Linda doing (just) one of the many many things she does best!


Prepared and ready for ritual the procession left Gathering HQ calling out to all to come to the ritual in a  grand procession circling the crater. With Obby and Teaser leading and goading, followed by our Maiden and all other particpants. And what a circle!! We estimated approximately 80 people in the circle with another 40 standing around outside. Perfect weather and no rain who could have asked for more!! After the conclusion of the ritual, it was so heartwarming to see kids pagan and non pagan running around playing together and people from all backgrounds and beliefs chatting, laughing and coming together in the true spirit of humanity.




Michel doing one of the many many things he does best!!!


Mel & Des doing one of the many many things they do best!!!




Oh ho ho-whats this Dave did I capture you again??? Awwww

 Balefire remanants!













The elder and the new-gorgeous young man playing bodhran

Keep a look out! More photos to come!!