May Day: Dance Away!

may day_womanMaggie McNeill, otherwise known as The Honest Courtesan, writes a daily post on her blog (oh if only I were as disciplined as she!).

McNeill is the mistress of logical argument, advocate for sex worker rights and a colourful commentator on all things carnal.

If it has to do with sex and love, McNeill has likely blogged about it.

Today she celebrates May Day with a post on its origins, which include the garlanding of goddesses with flowers (image above thanks to Polyvor).

I constantly glean tidbits of interesting trivia from McNeill’s blog and today couldn’t resist stealing, with her permission of course, part of her piece on May Day, upon which we should all engage wildly in one of my favourite activites: DANCING!

McNeill writes in part (see the full post here):

Like Christmas, May Day (discussed more fully in my column of one year ago today) is a fusion of many pagan traditions starting with the Roman Floralia, which I’ll describe day after tomorrow; it’s the original source of the practice of crowning statues of goddesses with flowers (which was later transferred to statues of the Blessed Mother) and possibly the May Queen traditions as well, though there were undoubtedly similar practices in Celtic countries where a virgin stood in for the Goddess in ceremonies.

Bonfires have been part of the celebration in northern countries since time immemorial, though as explained in yesterday’s column these had a different meaning in Germany than they did in Britain and Ireland (probably due to divergence of a common prehistoric tradition).  But as I mentioned last year, the proximity of Easter caused most of the Christian celebration to migrate to that holiday, leaving May Day a secular and largely heathen observance which has slowly faded away and was eventually pre-empted in the minds of most by the international labour holiday popularized by communist countries throughout the 20th century.

Incidentally, May is named for Maia, an Oscan nature goddess who was adopted as the Roman goddess of spring.  Her name is probably related to the Latin word maius (“greater” or “more”) from which our word “major” is derived, due to the fact that vegetation increases dramatically in the spring; she was thus unrelated to the Greek goddess of the same name, whose name means “midwife”.

Once the Roman pantheon became syncretized with the Greek (starting in the late 4th century BCE), the two Maias were of course combined; the association was even more solid because the Pleiades (which includes the star named for the Greek Maia) is located in Taurus, where in ancient times the sun appeared through most of May.

Since the Greek Maia was the mother of Hermes the Roman one became the mother of Mercury, and his festival (the Mercuralia) was held on the Ides of May (May 15th).  Coincidentally, the Germanic Odin (who as I mentioned yesterday was venerated on Beltane) was identified in the interpretatio Romana with Mercury due to his role as the creator of magic, thus providing another cord  with which to tie the whole mythological package together.

There. Hasn’t today just taken on a whole new meaning!?