Beltane. A beautiful celebration, with or without a Maypole. Halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, it celebrates the union of male and female, the union of earth and sun, and the general idea that fertility is a good thing, not to mention a lot of rowdy fun (local customs permitting.) Today the sun and clouds were playing peekaboo in Novato, but it all worked just right, and the feeling of holding ribbons taut while they were being thrummed by a puckish breeze was perfect.
I’ve seen three Maypole celebrations, each very different. The basic idea is the same: dig a deep hole to represent the receptive female earth, prepare a tall wooden pole as the prospective mate, and organize a ceremony to bring them together. The Maypole has a crown firmly attached to its top, sprouting a lot of anchored ribbons. Once the Maypole has achieved firm union with its socket, each dancer takes a coiled ribbon, faces clockwise or counterclockwise by twos, and the two circles move in an over/under alternation that weaves the colored ribbons into a tight diamond-patterned sheath around the pole. Simple, yes?
No. You have no idea how many ways it can go crazy. The two circles have to keep moving at about the same speed, and if you think too hard you can forget whether the next crossing is Over for you or Over for the other person. Trance is recommended but not always achieved. And what if you KNOW you’re right and the oncoming person is wrong? Answer: get over it. Today’s Maypole wrap looked gorgeous, even though there were a lot of errors.
An earlier Beltane I remember was deeply erotic, and deeply sacred. The women accompanied the May Queen to the socket site, where she stripped naked and sat astride the pit. Her women praised her, petted her, brushed her hair, gave her back-scratches, and came one at a time to request a boon. (That year I asked that a friend be blessed with a baby. Nine months later there was a baby.) When the men came singing up the hill, carrying John Thomas, they had to stop at the beflowered Yoni Gate and flirt and praise until the women consented. Sweet idea.
Yet another Beltane was a very large ritual circle, done with three dances, the Maypole having had its streamers stretched the previous day. The Youth and the Maiden did a ritual courtship/pursuit, culminating in their embrace at the foot of the Maypole. As they fell, the Mother rose: a naked painted woman who was only a few days short of delivering her baby. Attendants walked at her side for support, and she slowly walked the whole circumference of the circle as we wept at her beauty. She returned to the base and the Crone arose, a fiery red-headed dancer with a copper sickle. The Maypole ribbons had been prepared with magician’s devices, and as she cut our threads of life, each exploded with a burst of curly ribbon. During this whole ritual, not one word was spoken.
In this time of greed and pillage, where many regard the earth as an ATM, it is healing to repeat ancient celebrations that affirm a different path.