Every May Day was a brilliant celebration at the private grade school in New York City where I used to teach. Towards the end of April, the teachers erect a huge pole in the playground, and the children spend several days preparing their ribbons and practicing their dance moves.
Finally, on May 1, come the festivities, with around 200 children skipping, dancing and jumping around the maypole, after which everyone feasts on home-made cookies, cake, ice cream and lemonade.
Whether the children, the parents or even the teachers, realize it or not, those cute kids holding multi-colored ribbons and dancing around the maypole are actually celebrating the power of sex, or more specifically, the mighty power of the penis.
May Day (also known as Beltane) has long been marked with feasts and rituals in many European countries. Maypoles, symbolizing the phallus that gives the spark of life, was danced around, just as it is by American school children today. April 30 was believed to mark the emergence of the young god into nature. Stirred by the burgeoning of spring all around, he falls in love with the goddess and she becomes pregnant. May Day is a glorious celebration of fertility.
If the god and goddess can do it, why not everyone? Beginning in pre-Christian times in western Europe, young people would spend the entire night in the woods indulging their sexual pleasures, or† “A-Maying,” and then dance around the phallic Maypole the next morning. If you were married, you got to take off your wedding ring for that one night, and let loose! May morning was a magical time to collect wild water from flowing streams and springs and use it to bathe in naked for beauty, or to drink for health.
The Cerne Abbas Giant is a chalk drawing of a naked man wielding a club on a hillside in Cerne Abbas, a village in Dorset, in the southwest of England; it’s the biggest of its kind in the UK. His most famous and prominent feature is the erect phallus and testicles. He is 180 feet high and 167 feet wide. I have visited this impressive sight, although I didn’t measure the size of his genitals! Both the identity and date of the Giant remain a mystery, with theories ranging from a prehistoric fertility god to a 17th-century parody of Oliver Cromwell. What does this have to do with May Day? If you have trouble conceiving a child, the belief is that you should make love on the giantís phallus on May 1, to encourage conception.
During the Victorian era, the Giant’s impressive genitals were removed or rather, the Giant’s penis became discreetly veiled by the natural growth of shrubbery. Scholars believe that when the penis was subsequently re-excavated it was extended by some seven feet. They believe that the giant originally had a navel but it became incorporated into the phallus when the figure was recut.
May Day can also involve a May Queen, dressed virginally in white, and crowned with a chaplet of spring flowers during the festivities of the day, while the May King receives a wreath of green leaves. Beltane (an old Celtic term for ‘sun god’) thus celebrates a sacred marriage, and marks the exuberance, vitality and passion of the return of life to the earth.
How May Day became International Workers’ Day is another story, but if you’re looking to conceive a child, enjoy your sexuality, enjoy fruitfulness in your career or creative endeavor, or just plant a new garden, May 1 is the day to do it!
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Photo Credit: Garden Beth