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21 April 2006 @ 11:52 am
Maypole questions  
In researching Beltaine customs, I have found several places that state maypoles and some other Beltaine customs celebrated in Celtic countries are imports. Some traditions are supposed to be Saxon/Germanic and some Roman from Floralia, all imported from Britain. Can anyone clear this up once and for all?

Here is what I've read:

Maypoles are Germanic but have been celebrated for so long that they are now considered traditional.

Crowning a May Queen and May King/King and Queen of Mis-Rule/Green Man is Roman.

Dancing around the Maypole weaving ribbons is from Victorian England.
Kathryn of Nigheanan nan Cailleach: drum crone ©flaming cronescaitriona_nnc on April 21st, 2006 05:38 pm (UTC)
Right. Maypoles are not Celtic. They were imported into the urban areas, mostly by the English IIRC.

In some rural areas of Scotland and Ireland they were never incorporated. I guess some would see it as an old enough (urban) syncretism to be considered for modern practice. I personally don't. I think it's too recent, and doesn't demonstrably incorporate or build on anything inherently Celtic. So, I've never liked them. There's actually a cartoon out there of me chainsawing one ;-)

The May Bush is a more traditional thing, as is the driving of the pets between the tiki torches ;-)
Madrun: toonmadrun on April 21st, 2006 06:08 pm (UTC)
Re: maypoles
I am now going to spend the rest of the day imagining trying to drive my Great Dane, anole, tarantula and feral cat between two tiki torches. *grin*

Thank you. That's what I thought too, but Alexei Kondratiev uses them in The Apple Branch, and he tends to know his traditions, so I wanted to get some knowledgable third opinions.
Itinerant hacker adventuress: polite raventhewronghands on April 21st, 2006 09:52 pm (UTC)
Re: maypoles
Seconded what caitriona_nnc said -- it's in "Irish Folk Ways" by E. Estyn Evans if you want the textual reference.
Madrun: toonmadrun on April 22nd, 2006 03:40 am (UTC)
Re: maypoles
Thank you!
Fugitive soulheartssdesire on April 21st, 2006 07:27 pm (UTC)
Re: maypoles
What's the tradition of the may bush?
I know about the driving cattle (pets) between fires, but wasn't familiar with that one.
Kathryn of Nigheanan nan Cailleach: in the apple tree - smilingcaitriona_nnc on April 22nd, 2006 05:19 pm (UTC)
Re: maypoles
Marian McNeill goes into it in her volumes dealing with Beltaine and Local Festivals, IIRC. I think there may be something in Danaher as well.

Kym will cringe at me linking to her Beltaine article, which she is really wanting to revise, so here's the relevant bits:

"Instead the Irish had what may be a long practice of May Bushes, rather on a similar vein to the Norse Yule trees. The bush would however be a deciduous tree rather than an Evergreen ---symbolizing the renewal of life. These bushes would be kept outdoors, usually having been cut and moved to ones home, and neighbors would have fierce, often violent competitions with one another (rather similar to modern suburban Christmas house decorating wars). This may also have some linkage to those really, really tacky pastel "egg trees" you see at Easter."

"Consider decorating a May Bush for part of your celebrations. Although the old tradition is to cut the tree down, a more ecologically minded approach might be to decorate standing bushes with stuff that could be used as nesting material for birds. If the decorations are not environmentally safe, however, please remember to remove them."

(from http://cyberpict.net/sgathan/essays/beltaine.htm)
Exuexuyangi on April 22nd, 2006 04:08 am (UTC)
Re: maypoles
Actually, they used to crown the lord of mis-rule near the maypole (in some areas in England he is called Sir Maypole). They they would hoist him on their shoulders and carry him through the village.

Hence the phrase "Maypole sir up"

(Sorry, I couldn't resist)
Kathryn of Nigheanan nan Cailleach: drum crone ©flaming cronescaitriona_nnc on April 22nd, 2006 05:22 pm (UTC)
Re: maypoles
What about Robert Maypole-Thorpe and his photographs of, uh, Maypoles?

If not a Celtic tradition, at least a rather pagan one.

Kathryn of Nigheanan nan Cailleach: leaping crone copyright ©flaming cronescaitriona_nnc on April 21st, 2006 06:14 pm (UTC)
Queen of the May, approximately
I don't know as much about the history of crowning a May Queen and/or King, and how long it was incorporated. I know McNeill goes into it a lot in Local Festivals, so I'll have to do some research. Again, we may be talking more about urban areas, but off the top of my head it seems to me that that custom was more deeply adopted, and seen as more harmonious with Celtic traditions.

Personally, I think it resonates with some of the Spring Maiden ideas about Brighid, and doesn't detract from earlier, Celtic concepts. Actually, with all the sovereignty customs associated with various Celtic Spring rites and symbolism, this one *does* seem to me to be a syncretism that harmonized with an earlier concept so became integrated.

FWIW, I had a hilarious thing happen on Easter. I was asking my parents about the history of the Easter parade in the community where I grew up (rural, Northern Illinois, very Irish and Scottish, though not thoroughly so). Every year, a young girl was chosen to be the Easter Bunny, and ride in the parade, tossing candy to people. The year I was six or seven, I got to be the Easter Bunny(!). But when I asked my father about it the other day he said, "Oh yeah, the year you were the May Queen." *snerk* Yup, the "May Queen"... in a pink bunny suit.

So I guess that brings us back to earlier discussions about how seasonal festivals got moved around a bit and incorporated into nominally Christian celebrations. Or just more notes on how crazy my family is. (My father made the gigantic ears I wore.)
Madrun: toonmadrun on April 22nd, 2006 03:43 am (UTC)
Re: Queen of the May, approximately
There's a bunch of examples in Brian Day's Chronicle of Celtic Folk Customs from all over Wales, Man, Ireland and lowland Scotland. I don't mind syncretism-that-has-become-established, I just want to know.
macnacaillimacnacailli on April 21st, 2006 07:30 pm (UTC)
Crowning lovely young lady as May Queen is certainly Roman, and arrives late in Celtic lands via the English folk custom.

However, there are several 'May Queens' in Celtic traditions including the Cadi Haf in Welsh processions and the Beltain Carlene in Scottish bonfire customs. Both roles are performed exclusively by men wearing old women's clothing - thus transgessing both their age and gender for ritual purposes.
Madrun: toonmadrun on April 22nd, 2006 03:47 am (UTC)
I read about the Cadi Haf and the babog, the flower maiden doll, and the Gwiddon Orddu.

Do you personally feel that syncretism this old is part of Celtic tradition? Is it fully integrated? Do you use these sorts of images/functions/roles in Beltaine rituals?
macnacaillimacnacailli on April 22nd, 2006 01:46 pm (UTC)
Cadi Haf & Beltain Carlene
AFAIK, The Cadi Haf and Beltain Carlene are not syncretisms; they resemble nothing I know of in Anglo-Germanic or Latin sources, but point to very old indigenous traditions. I also don't think these men’s' roles have any relation to the babog - though I have not looked into these dolls beyond what I've seen in Kondratiev.

Personally, I would not use May dolls, or female may queens, or may poles in my own practice - though I find them all delightful in other contexts. I would use the Cadi Haf or Beltain Carlene as it speaks very strongly to me about the union of opposites, the transition of the season, and the liminal state of Bealtaine as the 'hinge of the year'.
…they also point to a role that is both men only, yet is all about transcending the limits of being simply male –and an interesting message for sexists of either gender and an important men’s mystery (though separate women’s mysteries with the same theme are surely out there).
elvengeekelvengeek on April 21st, 2006 09:04 pm (UTC)
may queens & maypoles

I know the maypole isn't Celtic, but I just can't have May Day without it. That's the thing- "May Day" vs. Bealtaine. I mean I don't think I'm doing anything traditional for Bealtaine this year, so it's basically going to May Day celebrations.
It's like I can't have Samhain without pumpkins, even though it's American. ok, I guess that's more for Halloween, which is really a different holiday.

Lots of local fairs & parades have queens & kings- and then there's prom queens! dairy princesses and such. I wonder if there's a connection. I'd suspect in the U.S. it'd be more of an English influence, but I could be wrong.
Madrun: toonmadrun on April 22nd, 2006 03:48 am (UTC)
Re: may queens & maypoles
Thank you for pointing out the difference between May Day and Beltaine!! Good point.
You see a boundary, I see a sidewalklysana on April 24th, 2006 05:12 am (UTC)
Re: may queens & maypoles
Well, the Irish started carving pumpkins when they got here and realized the turnips here were nowhere near as good for it, or so I'm led to understand. Much as how corned beef and cabbage used to be bacon and cabbage.
Thornbranynos on April 24th, 2006 07:46 am (UTC)
From memory Maypoles are imported, and the 'traditional' dancing was devised during the Victorian period as part of 'Ye Merrie Olde England'.
If there were any earlier customs they were discouraged, frowned apon and probably banned as "pagan" during our experiment with being a Republic (Commonwealth Oliver Cromwell etc).

I think Hutton covers it in some depth in "The Stations of the Sun"