May Poem

On May Day, kern dollies were made and buried with the new seed. Today, as at the Spring Equinox, effigies of Death were drowned or torn to pieces. (In addition to killing off winter, this might have been especially cathartic for those who’d overindulged the night before.)

On May Day, my mother had a Maypole erected in the garden, even at our house in Bolivia, where it was early autumn. The Maypole is simply a remainder and reminder of tree worship.

A May King and Queen were chosen by our mothers from among the children who excelled in school. I never got the honor, though once or twice I got to be a princess (good enough for me, if there was a costume, preferably with a tiara). In many British and Irish May Day traditions, the May King and Queen begin as cinderfools, tending the May Eve fires. The next day, like Cinderella, they graduate to royalty.

Whistling, singing, cracking of whips, blowing of horns, bells—all kinds of noise ushered in the May Day (as it does most other holy days worldwide, when evil, disease and discomfort are being banished). In German villages two persons, one dressed in ivy as Summer, the other in straw or moss as Winter, staged a public combat. In Sweden, companies of mounted troops, one in furs, the other in fresh leaves and flowers, battled out the seasons. In Turkey, the “good spirit” of Spring took on the “bad spirit” of Winter. Les Rouges engage Les Noirs among the Basques of Southern France. Some places held dance contests. In any of these contests, Summer naturally won.

Jack o' the Green, by Nancy Robertson

Jack o’ the Green, by Nancy Robertson

This is the hour of the May King (Jack in the Green, Robin Hood, the Green Knight). He is the carved, foliate head that decorates Medieval churches (occasionally, the figure is female); his forefathers are Atis and Dionysus, Pan and Osiris, Dumuzi and Jesus. Creative power.