Maypole History and Making ONn
By Cypress Knee
"The May Pole tradition" is a celebrated dance and ritual of
Indo-European Paganism that was later adapted by Christianity, and then
"holiday culture." In terms of "holiday culture", I mean the current
trend within our culture to take really traditional practices & rites
and commercialize them or turn them into a non-religious "fun" holiday
game or party favor. As there is nothing wrong with this evolution or
abstraction of tradition in itself, its very important to understand the
tradition and to respect its origins.
The May Pole Dance is a celebration of "May Day", "Walpurgisnacht",
"Beltane", which traditionally falls on April 30th or May 1st.
Originally known as "Beltane or Bealtaine" , which in Irish Gaelic means
"Fires of Bel" or "Bright Fires" it is the celebration of Summer's first
fires beginning to stir.
Traditionally it was celebrated by a band of tribespeople (men &
going out into the woods, gathering the May pole, vines, flowers,
wreaths, and greens - breaking in-between to celebrate Summers warmth
in the guise of body heat frolicking in the leaves. The Tree was
located (- one of which was very straight and relatively thin 2-4 inches
thick at its base), was apologized to, given homage, offering or
sacrifice, and a Beltane prayer was said before it. Then it was cut.
This fallen tree was trimmed then carried by the band back to the
village to be decorated.
The women were busy making the ribbons and dying the cloth with natural
dyes such as turmeric (bright yellow), blackberry (deep red/purple),
blueberry (purple/red), red cabbage leaves (blue), onion skin (orange),
coltsfoot (green), beet juice (red), just to name a few.
The women were also very busy making the wreath that would crown it -
covered with that season's bountiful and beautiful flowers. The men were
busy trimming the tree - removing all branches, and making it extremely
straight. They dug the shaft into which the tree would be planted.
May Day TODAY
May Day is celebrated all over Europe in our current age and consists
men and women, or boys & girls, grabbing ends of colored ribbons that
are attached to the top of a pole planted in the ground. Atop the pole
is a flowered wreath. Men or boys dance one direction (often clockwise)
and women or girls dance the other direction (often counter-clockwise).
They then alternate going over one person, under the next with their
ribbon to create a fine weave around the pole. As the ribbons tightly
weave around the pole, the flowered wreath slides down over the pole
until the dance is ended.
Up until recently, the May Pole dance was practiced heavily all over
world, especially in Indo-European rooted nations, especially the United
States until (1) fundamental churches discovered its true origins and
meaning, and (2) busy urban city-centers created a lifestyle that had no
time for such silly practices. The English celebrate May Day as the
"Morris Dancers" who are men who dress up and dance the may pole, or
place bells on their ankles to dance atop hills striking the earth with
their staves to wake it up & tell it to produce. It was attempted to be
stamped out by puritanical religions beginning in the 7th century by the
Church condemning participants as sinners. 17th century in France church
bells were rung to protect the city from flying witches during the month
of May. Today it stands as a tradition in the tug-of-war in religious
ethics & beliefs as is "Easter Egg hunts", "Christmas Trees", "Yule
Logs", and "Caroling" . Some recognize its Pagan origin, while others
see its fun traditions. Many schools and children dance the May every
May 1st - just because its a fun thing to do. Some even go to the extent
of electing a May King & Queen. The choice is yours - its a fun
tradition . Regardless of whether you keep its origin in its place or
incorporate it within or outside of you May Day Celebration. So, In case
you decide to add this tradition to your heritage, here's how to make
What you need:
For a small group (4-10) a 9' pole, medium group (12-20) a 18' pole,
large (22-50) a 27' tall pole. This could be a tree cut in the woods
(trim it of branches, leaving a stub on top to hold the wreath if
possible) or purchasing thick lumber bamboo the attach to each other, or
a round piece of post from a lumber company. For the 9' pole you want to
plant it at least a foot deep in the ground, the 18' pole, at least 1 *
' deep, and the the 27' at least 2' deep. You want strips of material
for the ribbon - you can go buy pre-colored ribbon from a craft store
the exact length of the pole before it is planted, or fabric in the yard
and cut up in 1 inch wide strips the exact length of the pole. Or if you
want to be semi-natural about it - take white cloth, muslin, or bed
sheets and tear them into strips of *" - 1 inch width at the length of
the unburied pole. Dye them with your own natural dyes. Tie or attach
these alternating colors at the top of the pole.
Place a wooden peg or find a broken branch towards the top point of the
pole. Take grape vine and wrap itself around itself to make a wreath
whose inner diameter is three times the width of the pole. Then stick
lots of foliage and flowers in the wreath. You can also make your own
wreaths to wear while dancing. Now plant the pole firmly into the
ground, now you are ready to do the dance.
A popular weaving & dancing chant is:
"We are the flow, we are the web,
we are the weavers, we are the web."
(Starhawk, I believe)