May Day is upon us again.
Yes, it is that wondrous time of year in the northern hemispheres where spring suddenly explodes into action after a prolonged period of inaction and celibacy. It's a time for love, and lovers frolicking through the fields and lanes, a time of dancing, feasting and dancing around the May Pole. In some cultures, the maidens would wear wreaths of leaves or flowers around their heads as they danced in a circle around the May Pole, while the men would wear green sashes about their waists.
May Day is an ancient pagan holiday that was a celebration of not just spring, but also fertility and sexuality. Ah, such a sight for a hopeless romantic like myself. Imagine it: lovers young and old dancing in the wild wood, dancing round a bonfire, celebrating life and love!
Every culture in European history has a May Day celebration, from Ancient Rome to the present day.
In ancient Rome, it was the Festival of Flora. Some scholars attribute the origins of the holidays to the ancient Druids. Others to the Germanic Tribes. There are several different opinions about it, and as a historian myself, I found conflicting data on the subject from different texts.
The Celts and Druids celebrated May Day with bonfires and with a dance around a pole. Pagan ceremonies in Europe also celebrated the day and the season with a Jack of the Green appearance. May 1st was celebrated as the beginning of summer, with June 21st being Midsummer, or Summer Solstice.
May Day celebrations were banished by the English Puritans during the mid 17th century, as it was considered too Pagan in practice and somewhat <gasp> sexual in nature. This didn't last too long, fortunately, as once the throne was restored to Charles II, the festivities in England were resumed.
When looking for lovers to celebrate this week, I wanted to find something connected to May Day. To my delight, I found a pair from "The Mists of Avalon", by Marion Zimmer Bradley. The book was made into a TV miniseries for TNT in 2001, with Julianna Margolies as Morgaine. In the summer of 2001, Mists of Avalon was the highest rated, most watched on cable, with 30 million viewers.
This story is a retelling of the King Arthur legend, from his half sister, Moraine's point of view. In the movie there is a very stirring, mystical scene with Morgaine at the Beltaine festivities (May Day). As a druid priestess in training, she has been chosen this year to be "The Virgin Huntress" at the Fertility Rite. This means she must go into the forest, and hunt for a man wearing a mask--a stag mask. This scene is so lovely and mystical. She represents her order, so it is a very high honor to be chosen as this years 'Huntress'. At the appointed time, Morgaine goes into the woods wearing a mask and cloak. The metaphor is stunning, she steps away from her friends and family, away from the bonfire and all that is familiar to her. She is stepping with uncertainty into the mists at night to seek her 'stag'. Talk about a new definition of a stag party, one that favors the lady!
Once Morgaine encounters her 'prey', a very virile, handsome man dressed only in a mask and a pair of pants, she is excited and afraid about what is to come next. As a young woman in love, Morgaine hopes the man in the mask is the man she loves, but in truth, the ceremony is set up to be anonymous so she will never know who this handsome masked lover is. At last she 'captures' the stag, and what follows is a very lusty, primal sexual interlude. This is a mating rite that as supposed to ensure a good harvest for the coming season. Morgaine goes on her way and the lovers never meet again. She does conceive a child through this union, who turns out to be Mordred, Arthur's son and nemesis.
Yes, its not the happily ever after we would wish for them. Still, it is a very lovely, intriguing image of an ancient pagan May Day celebration that I have never forgotten. Cheers to Marian Zimmer Bradley for giving us our two legendary lovers this week, via "The Mists of Avalon".
While Mists of Avalon is not a Romance story, it is still an Epic tale. Link below for the book for those interested in this classic story.
Happy May Day everyone; and Happy Hunting!
To find the book:
Or Rent the movie