May Pole Connection
Every year, thousands of 21st century computer users visit the May Day
web articles I posted several years ago. Sophisticated people from cultures
around the world are drawn to this ambiguous festival.
Throughout recorded history, the May Pole has been connected with ideas
as diverse as fertility buffoonery to bloody, religious rituals. The
modern May Pole, festooned with ribbons and flowers seems like a quaint
party favor, but it has also served in legends of human sacrifice.
We recognize it as part of the calendar of the agriculture seasons of
European climate. It is surprising to learn that such poles have been
the center of religious traditions dating back to the ancient Greeks.
As we know from Jane Harrison's exhaustive study ''Themis" the
procession of the May Pole was included in both planting and harvest
festivals of the temperate Mediterranean climate.
One of the earliest known depictions of the May Pole is from pre-historic
Greece. A procession of people celebrating the cultivation of grapes
includes a flowering tree. Jane Harrison translates this as "May
Pole" from the Greek description.
Possibly the Dionysus of the Vine was the fore runner of the 'Robin
Hood' or 'King Arthur' figures in the licentious May celebration. The
May Pole probably had the same significance as the Tree of Life which
was sacred to the Great Goddess, Maia as well as the later Judea-Christian
gods. This ancient people practiced a similar ritual months later during
the harvest, Today this is echoed by the Christmas tree.
Why rituals are important to Homo sapiens is still a mystery. That this
icon of May Day has survived over thousands of years in unrelated cultures
may give us some clues as to how our mind works. Whether ritual is a
key to marking time, building community, or taking control over uncertain
forces of climate or fertility, certain rituals like May Pole festivals
have some intrinsic hold on the human spirit. For modern people who
are far removed from the agricultural cycle and nature itself, the concept
of May Day still beckons.