At Pan's Request by FireWind
Image Source: Hellas Multi Media
2150 BCE--The "Bell-Beaker" culture, named for the bell-shaped clay pottery they left behind, began to make an appearance in Ireland. The culture is known as one of a more technologically advanced people, who made and used metal and finely polished stone tools. Slowly the culture of these bronze-working settlers merged with that of the Neolithic Irish (Nemedians) and gave birth to the Irish Bronze Age. Ireland's population increased during the Bronze Age, which lends the first evidence of weapons intended for use on humans. Therefore, it makes sense that this would have been a period of political division and the establishment of a hierarchy.
2,000-1500 BCE--Wedge tombs (about 400) are considered to be built mainly during this period, and Bell-Beaker pottery is often associated with them. Similar tombs, also associated with Beaker finds, are common in the French region of Brittany, and the origin of the Irish series seems connected to this region. Wedge tombs are found scattered throughout northern Ireland, with large concentrations in the west, particularly around County Clare, northern Connaught, and County Cork. For the most part Wedge tombs have long, rectangular burial chambers usually roofed with large stones, and placed in a long, wedge-shaped mound.
Other monuments to be mentioned around the Beaker-using period is that of Stone Circles. Of the more than 200 stone circles almost 100 are concentrated in the southwestern counties of Cork and Kerry, many of them consisting of no more than five stones. Somewhat unexpected in the southwest of Ireland are four stone groupings known as "Four Posters", which find their closest counterpart in northern England and Scotland. Another great concentration of stone circles is found in central and southwestern Ulster in the north of Ireland, often consisting of more stones than found in the southwest of Ireland.
The climate which the Formorians found upon their arrival was
warmer and wetter than was the case on the inland, away from what was then the
Anglo-Irish peninsula. The warming which began about 10,000 years ago,
was accompanied by high rainfall and high humidity. The effects of these factors
were accentuated by the topography of the island. Because Ireland is bowl
shaped, that is, ringed with mountains on its perimeter and with a large,
low-lying interior plain, much of the drainage, as today, instead of flowing
more-or-less directly into the sea, flowed into the interior where, great areas
of the more low-lying parts of the Midlands were covered by shallow lakes.
The natural growth of the bogs was not the only force which limited or threatened the expansion of the Irish forests. Sometime between 7,500 and 7,000 years ago, a new influx of human beings occurred. Crossing the Irish Sea in boats and bringing their domestic animals with them, these Neolithic farmers were destined to have a much greater impact on the natural history of Ireland than the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who had preceded them. Much like subsistence farmers today in some undeveloped parts of the world, they prepared their fields by either cutting down trees with their stone axes or more often simply girdling the trees to kill them. This latter strategy had the effect of destroying the canopy of shade afforded by the tree and allowing enough sunlight to reach the forest floor to sustain crops. Working the soil with their stone implements, these farmers, like farmers in today's Amazon basin, worked their fields until the nutrients were exhausted, then they moved on and cleared other fields. Thus, the forests, under attack by the bogs and the farmers, began to contract on both high and low ground.
Another phenomenon also occurred which apparently had natural causes but was probably accelerated by the clearing of the forests. This was the development of blanket-bog on highlands and hillsides, principally in the wetter northern and western parts of the island. In these areas of the island where rainfall was high and the evaporation rate was low, even soil on high and sloping ground became permanently saturated. As nutrients leached away from the surface of the soil, spores of sphagnum moss once again found a congenial resting place, and the process of bog formation started. The clearing of these forests by farmers may well have accelerated the process in some places. Tree stumps have been found in the normal soil under some blanket bogs but not under others."8
There are a limited number of bogs which have existed for millennia that have the correct conditions for preservation of mammalian tissue. Most of these bogs occur in northern Europe, where approximately 700 ancient bodies have been discovered as of the year 2006. Geographically the principal locations where bog bodies have been discovered are Denmark, northern Germany, the Netherlands (at least 65), the United Kingdom and Ireland. Many of the bodies have been recovered in the routine extraction of peat for fuel and soil amendment uses. The oldest of these bodies dates to about 1600 BC, while the majority of specimens derive from the Iron Age to Roman era (about 800 BC to 400 AD). Over 80 bog bodies have been discovered in Ireland since 1750. Many of these bodies were never examined in detail and most were reburied without study or were badly damaged. The majority of the bodies date to late Medieval or modern times although some date to the Iron Age.
The oldest reference I found on the Internet was to Cladh Hallan on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland where four bodies were buried, though the text only reviewed two of them--a male who had died ca. 1600 BC, and a female who had died ca. 1300 BC. The bodies were preserved in bogs and then later buried around 1120 BC.9 It is significant as the only place in Great Britain where prehistoric mummies have been found.
Now we find bodies in Ireland: Clonycavan Man (392 - 201 BC)13 and Old Croghan Man (362 - 175 BC)14. Old Croghan Man has the distinction of being the tallest body ever discovered at 6' 6" tall. He was also man of high status, displayed by his manicured nails, untroubled by manual labor.
One of the most impressive Irish track ways was found in Corlea Bog in Co. Longford dates to the Iron Age at 148 BC.16
Back in Denmark, another body was found: Grauballe Man (290 BC)15, notable for being one of the best preserved bog bodies in the world.
In the Slovakia, France and Netherlands, more bodies were found during this time period: 7 bodies were found in Havránok, Slovakia (1st century BC)16; 12 headless corpses were found at Gournay-sur-Aronde (late Iron Age)16; Weerdinge Men (160 BC - 220 AD)17; and Yde Girl (54 BC - 128 AD)18.
Back in Ireland, we have Gallagh Man (47 BC)19. In England is the famous Lindow Man (2 BC - 119 AD)20 and at Woodhenge, there was found a three year old child.16 Finally settling in Ireland, we have Drumkeeragh Bog Woman (500 AD - 1500 AD)19 and Meenybradden Bog Woman (1570 AD)19 who both possibly died during the Middle Ages.
Murder by strangulation or clubbing seems to have come down to us from the ancients who would have wanted the sacrificial bodies to be unspoiled. Killing the victim before the sacrifice would have been more humane than simply burying or burning alive. As for the severing of the head, it was a commonly held belief during the Middle Ages that an incomplete body could not rise from the dead, and that a body buried in unconsecrated ground (as between high and low water mark—a peat bog for instance) could not ascend into heaven or cross over. What had these people done to warrant such cruel treatment? Were they members of an enemy culture, or were they considered to be damned?
It also reminds me of the murder of Hiram Abiff of Masonic legend. During the reenactment of Hiram Abiff’s murder, the postulant’s throat is cut at the southwest corner before the altar. After passing another altar at the northwest corner, three ruffians that legend says were Jews push and club the victim in the forehead. He is then ritually buried in front of the west altar. I believe that the Masonic organization, historically known for its preservation of ancient religions, has preserved Phoenician or Semitic rituals of murder and human sacrifice in symbolic form.
I would also like to point out that the Masonic Lodge uses code names to conceal the true identity of key figures of Masonic legend so Hiram Abiff’s true identity may not be known. Abiff is not to be confused with Hiram, King of Tyre; they are two different people. This is illustrated by the fact that the King of Tyre participates in the search for Abiff's body during the enactment of the Master's initiation. Biblical authors did this to conceal the true identity of Judas, a Yiddish word that means ‘traitor’. Yeshua was also a very common name, so we may also never know the true identity of the Messiah.
Hiram Abiff was the architect of the first Temple of King Solomon, a well known Jewish priest and magician. The temple was built on Mount Moriah where Abraham bound Isaac.
Solomon's Temple was completed in 957 BCE. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and reconstructed. The second temple stood from 516 BCE until 70 CE when it was destroyed by the Romans. The temple functioned as a religious focal point for worship and the sacrifices known as the korbanot in ancient Judaism. A Korban was usually an animal sacrifice, such as a sheep or a bull that underwent Jewish ritual slaughter, and was cooked and eaten by the offerer, with parts given to the priests and parts burned on the Temple altar. Korbanot could also consist of turtle-doves, grain, incense, fruit, and a variety of other offerings.23
Human sacrifice of the Bell-Beaker people loosely coincides with the building of wedge tombs and stone circles. Although the stone circles found in Ireland predate Solomon's Temple, marking sacred sites with stones was a common practice among ancient peoples. According to De Vaux, Syro-Phoenician, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian incorporated a courtyard surrounding the sacred residence of the god, marked with stones, a feature common throughout ancient Semitic religions. De Vaux found earlier evidence of this practice among the Hebrews surviving in the two stones that Joshua placed at Gilgal (Joshua 4:20) and the marking of Mount Sinai by Moses (Ex. 19:12), and in the forbidden zone surrounding the tent which was the predecessor of the Temple. According to De Vaux, contemporary Muslims' designation of certain areas, especially that surrounding Mecca, as inviolate haram represents a comparable practice.
Solomon's Temple was not a copy of any other ancient temple, nor of the Phoenician buildings, but embodied features derived from all of them. It was on the summit of a hill, like the altar of Ba'al on Mount Carmel and the sanctuaries of Mount Hermon, and like the Babylonian idea of the divine abode. It was surrounded by courts, like the Phoenician temples and the splendid temple of Der al-Bakri at Thebes. Its general form is reminiscent of Egyptian sanctuaries and closely matches that of other temples in the region. The two pillars, Jachin and Boaz had their parallel at Tyre, Byblos, Paphos, and Telloh. In Egypt the obelisks expressed the same idea. The Jewish Encyclopedia stated that "All these were phallic emblems, being survivals of the primitive Hamito-Semitic. Jachin and Boaz were really isolated columns and not a part of the ornamentation of the building. Their tops were crowned with ornamentation as if they were lamps and that they may have been used as fire-altars, that they may have contained cressets for burning the fat.22
Could it be that
the Bell-Beaker culture were Phoenicians? Is it even possible?
Stories tell us that two-thirds of the children born to the Race of Nemed were surrendered to the Fomors every Samhain (Summer's End). No archeological evidence has been found that supports such a mass human sacrifice. This leads me to believe that Christian missionaries were writing in reference to Diodorus' (1st Century BCE) account of child sacrifice. He relates that relatives were forbidden to weep and that when Agathocles defeated Carthage, the Carthaginian nobles believed they had displeased the gods by substituting low-born children for their own children. They attempted to make amends by sacrificing 200 children of the best families at once, and in their enthusiasm actually sacrificed 300 children.24
The reference to infanticide or human sacrifice to this race of giants is puzzling indeed. I believe that later races attributed these ghastly sacrifices to the Fomors, an imaginary race of malevolent giants, out of guilt for brutally killing their own people. According to the story, only the Nemedians did this and it was the Nemedians who built the great portal tombs, including Newgrange. However, human sacrifice did not begin until the invasion of the Bell-Beaker culture who brought bronze weapons. Therefore, the Race of Nemed may be a reference to the Bell-Beaker people in Irish mythology. As they inter-married, they would have become a single race. The most recent wedge tomb was built one hundred years after the oldest bog body was buried, and the sacrifices continued. It seems that human sacrifice was a common ritual practice among Celtic society across Europe that spread into Ireland with the Bell-Beaker culture.
Human sacrifice was a common practice among Semitic cultures until monotheism took hold. A well-known Biblical story relates how Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, Isaac but stopped short and opted for a ram instead. According to Josephus, Isaac is twenty-five years old at the time of the sacrifice; the Talmudic sages teach that Isaac is thirty-seven. In either case, Isaac is a fully grown man, strong enough to prevent the elderly Abraham from tying him up had he wanted to resist. He was therefore a willing sacrifice, but why? What was he being sacrificed for? This marks both the commonality of animal sacrifice and a turning point in the Jewish attitude toward sacrificing humans. Many Bible scholars have suggested this story's origin was a remembrance of an era when human sacrifice was abolished in favor of animal sacrifice.
Known as the Binding of Isaac, it is often interpreted as a test of Abraham's obedience or loyalty to God. Some have argued that the narration should be read in the context of ancient Near Eastern culture. In the time and era in which Abraham lived, he was surrounded by cultures where the sacrifice of animals to gods was the normal way of showing devotion and loyalty. Abraham lived among some cultures that sacrificed human beings to their gods - sometimes even their own children. A temple at Amman (1400-1250 B.C.) excavated and reported upon by J.B. Hennessey, shows possibility of animal and human sacrifice by fire. According to Rabbi J. H. Hertz (Chief Rabbi of the British Empire), child sacrifice was actually "rife among the Semitic peoples." Hertz interprets the Akedah as demonstrating to the Jews that human sacrifice is abhorrent. The submission of Abraham and his son is commemorated by Muslims on the days of Eid ul-Adha Sacrifice festival. During the festival, those in the pilgrimage and others who can afford it, sacrifice a ram, cow, sheep or a camel. Part of the sacrifice meat is eaten by the household and the remaining is distributed to the neighbor and the needy. The festival happens in the pilgrimage hajj season. The well-known site of Marwah may be identified with the biblical Moriah.25
Maimonides, a medieval Jewish scholar, drew on the early critiques of the need for sacrifice, taking the view that God always held sacrifice inferior to prayer and philosophical meditation. However, God understood that the Israelites were used to the animal sacrifices that the surrounding pagan tribes used as the primary way to commune with their gods. As such, in Maimonides' view, it was only natural that Israelites would believe that sacrifice would be a necessary part of the relationship between God and man. Maimonides concludes that God's decision to allow sacrifices was a concession to human psychological limitations. It would have been too much to have expected the Israelites to leap from pagan worship to prayer and meditation in one step.23
The Talmud provides extensive details not only on how to perform sacrifices but how to adjudicate difficult cases, such what to do if a mistake was made and whether improperly performing one of the required ritual elements invalidates it or not. The Talmud explains how to roast the Passover offering, how to dash blood from different kinds of sacrifices upon the altar, how to prepare the incense, the regulatory code for the system of taxation that financed the priesthood and public sacrifices, and numerous other details. In addition, numerous details of the daily religious practice of an ordinary Jew were connected to keeping memory of the rhythm of the life of the Temple and its sacrifices. This makes me wonder if Druids, with their keeping of the laws, etc, weren't the Celtic equivalent of Jewish priests or Rabbis. Perhaps the Druids were descended from them.
Baal, the Fire God
Jeremiah 32:35, refers to the Israelite practice of child sacrifice to the deity Molech.
Moloch, Molech, Molekh, or Molek, (translated directly into king) is either the name of a god or the name of a particular kind of sacrifice associated historically with cultures throughout the Middle East, including but not limited to the the Jewish, Egyptian, Canaanite, Phoenician and related cultures in North Africa and the Levant. The laws given to Moses by God expressly forbade the Jews to do what was done in Egypt or in Canaan. “You shall not give any of your children to devote them by fire to Moloch, and so profane the name of your God” (Lev. 18:21).
Moloch went by many names including, but not limited to Ba'al, Moloch, Chemosh, Apis Bull, Golden Calf, Amun-Ra, Chemosh as well as many other names and was widely worshipped in the Middle East and wherever Punic culture extended (including, but not limited to, the Ammonites, Edomites and the Moabites). Baal Moloch was conceived under the form of a calf or an ox or depicted as a man with the head of a bull.
There are other references to Moloch in the context of "passing children through fire". It has traditionally been understood to mean burning children alive to the god Moloch. But some have suggested a rite of purification by fire instead, though perhaps a dangerous one. References to passing through fire appear in Deuteronomy 12.31, 18.10–13; 2 Kings 21.6; Ezekiel 20.26,31; 23.37. Jeremiah 32.35: And they built the high places of the Ba‘al, which are in the valley of Ben-hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire Molech. So the existence of this practice is well documented. There is a comparable practice of rendering infants immortal by passing them through the fire, indirectly attested in an early Greek myth of Demeter as the nurse of Demophon.
The 12th century rabbi Rashi, commenting on Jeremiah 7.31 stated: Tophet
is Moloch, which was made of brass; and they heated him from his lower
parts; and his hands being stretched out, and made hot, they put the
child between his hands, and it was burnt; when it vehemently cried out;
but the priests beat a drum, that the father might not hear the voice of
his son, and his heart might not be moved.
Later commentators have compared these accounts with similar ones from
Greek and Latin sources speaking of the offering of children by fire as
sacrifices in the Punic city of Carthage, which was a Phoenician colony.
Cleitarchus, Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch all mention burning of
children as an offering to Cronus or Saturn, that is to Ba‘al Hammon,
the chief god of Carthage. Issues and practices relating to Moloch and
child sacrifice may also have been overemphasized for effect. After the
Romans finally defeated Carthage and totally destroyed the city, they
engaged in post-war propaganda to make their archenemies seem cruel and
It seemed to many commentators that Cronus or Saturn must also be Moloch. However, nineteenth century and early twentieth century archaeology found almost no evidence of a god called something like Moloch or Molech. Commentators also characterized Rabbinical traditions about other gods mentioned in the Tanach as simply legends, and regarded them as raising doubt about what was said about Moloch. They suggested that such descriptions of Moloch might be simply taken from accounts of the sacrifice to Cronus and from the tale of the Minotaur. No bull-headed Phoenician god was known. This did not prevent some from identifying Moloch with Milcom, with the Tyrian god Melqart, with Ba‘al Hammon to whom children were purportedly sacrificed, and with any other god called 'Lord' (Ba‘al) or (Bel). These various equations combined with the popular solar theory hypotheses of the day generated a single theoretical sun god Baal.24
"Ba'al" can refer to any god and even to human officials; in some texts
it is used as a substitute for Hadad, a god of the rain, thunder,
fertility and agriculture, and the lord of Heaven. Since only priests
were allowed to utter his divine name Hadad, Ba'al was used commonly.
Nevertheless, few if any Biblical uses of "Ba'al" refer to Hadad, the
lord over the assembly of gods on the holy mount of Heaven, but rather
refer to any number of local spirit-deities worshipped as cult images,
each called ba'al and regarded in that context as a false god.
Survival of an ancient fire festival
The Celts may have referred to themselves as the People of the Sun, but Bel is a Fire God, not a Sun God as previously believed. NeoPagan authors were right about the festivities of Beltane, but I believe it was for the wrong reasons. Beltane is the surviving remnant of an ancient Phoenician/Celtic holiday centered around human (child), animal, and grain sacrifice by fire. No other Pagan author has mentioned sacrifice as being part of the Beltane festivities, either past or present. Running cattle between two balefires on a hilltop to bless them for protection and humans running between two balefires or jumping the balefire to ensure fertility is the survival of sacrifice by fire. Sometimes a bull was slaughtered between the balefires as a sacrifice. Prostitution was replaced by a free sex attitude and couples may still engage in sexual acts in the great outdoors, as was done in the past to ensure fertility of the recently planted grain crops--primarily wheat. In post-Christian Britain, this practice was replaced with pouring milk and honey on wheat seeds as they were planted. The balefire on a hilltop is obvious, but only rowan or hawthorn was burned. Cremation on a funeral pyre also seems to be a surviving remnant of human sacrifice by fire. It was the traditional burial for those who had died of natural causes or in battle and was the preferred funerary practice among the ancient Greeks.
The Real Druids
Druids were a class of Celtic society -- a people who originally inhabited much of Northern Europe between 800 BCE and 400 CE. The Celtic culture began in the Rhine River valley of Germany and spread throughout France, Spain, and the British Isles. Although much of the culture was absorbed into the Roman Empire by the third century BCE, the Celts of the British Isles -- and especially Ireland -- remained relatively untouched for the next 600 years.
The Celtic faith featured a strong bond with the natural world. Druids, and all Celts, saw the Earth as a great system in which all creatures and forces of nature were bound. The numerous gods and goddesses of the Celtic world were all bound to nature and often linked to the bounty of the land and its creatures.
Celtic society focused on the various classes of its citizens, including the aristocracy, warriors, professionals (lawyers, artisans, etc.), bards and slaves. The Druidic class was highly specialized and respected even above the aristocracy. They served not only as the principal holders of religious knowledge, but as judges, doctors, scientists and scholars. They were the keepers of sacred law -- a law to which even the High Kings were bound.
"In the last centuries BC, the rest of Celtic Europe fell to the expanding Roman Empire. The Celts of southern Britain were conquered in 43AD. Stopping short of the Picts of modern-day Scotland, the Roman emperor Hadrian built his famous wall between the Celts of the north and Roman Britain. The Romans did not invade Ireland. However, Ireland did come under heavy Roman influence. In the first and second centuries AD, there is evidence that there was sporadic trading between the Irish and the Romans of Britain. Evidence of a Roman trading post has been found near Dublin. However, it was not until the fourth and fifth centuries AD that there is evidence of prolonged Roman influences in Ireland. Roman coins and other implements have been found in Ireland.8
Ogham is the oldest form of writing in Ireland and Scotland (where it was used by Irish missionaries). It can still be seen inscribed on hundreds of large and small stones, on the walls of some caves, but also on bone, ivory, bronze and silver objects. The Ogham script was especially well adapted for use on sticks. Sticks are part of the Basque word for "alphabet": agaka, agglutinated from aga-aka, aga (stick or pole) and akats (notch). The meaning of the word agaka therefore isn't so much "alphabet" as "writing", a stick with Ogham notches conveying a message. The name Ogham likely comes from oga-ama, ogasun (property, wealth) ama (Priestess, mother) property of the Priestess, which indicates that the script may originally have been designed for use by the clergy of the pre-Christian religion.
Ogham may have originated in Libya, from where the first Gnostic missionaries are thought to have come. It was adopted and further developed by the first (Gnostic) monks in Ireland around 350 AD. At this time, it was written from the bottom up. From about 750 to 900 AD the Benedictine monks also used it in their inscriptions and in their book the Auraicept, but they wrote it from left to right.
Our earliest information indicates that they were not sure as to where Ogham came from. According to the "Auraicept" the origin of Irish and Ogham must be sought in the Near East: "In Dacia it was invented, though others say it was in the Plain of Shinar" (line 1105-06). A "made in Ireland" version is recorded in "In Lebor Ogaim" in which the inventor is "Ogma mac Elathan who is said to have been skilled in speech and poetry and to have created the system as proof of his intellectual ability and with the intention that it should be the preserve of the learned, to the exclusion of rustics and fools" ( McManus 8.4). [Oghma was later deified as a result of his prowess and for many years was purported to be of the Tuatha De Danann race.] The script was used by the Gnostic monks as a monument script between 450 and 800 AD and the succeeding Roman Catholic Benedictines used it for literary purposes between ca 700 and 900 AD.
Every time the script was inscribed in stone
it must have been used thousands of times on sticks, for which medium
the script was obviously designed. Over 600 Ogham inscriptions are known
from Ireland, some 40 from Scotland, and a growing number from the east
coast of North America. The fact that not a single one had been
successfully translated is not so much the fault of the monks who wrote
the texts, as of our linguists, all of whom assumed that the language of
the script was Gaelic [or Latin]. However, this assumption appears to be
without foundation, because the syntax of the Gaelic language in no way
lends itself to be written in traditional Ogham.1
Image Source: Ancient Ogham in Oklahoma?
The ancient Irish Celts referred to themselves as "The People of the Sun". Late anthropologist, Bill McGlone, discovered Ogham inscribed on the cliffs in southern Colorado near La Junta and the Panhandle of Oklahoma. One finding in particular, translates into old Celtic, and it is verified by the concurrence of the alignment with the sun. The inscriptions protruding from the flat wall read, "On the day of Bel, the sun will strike." Only on the Summer Solstice is the inscription illuminated by the rising sun in a way that suggests it was intentionally carved to mark this important day of the year.1 The Summer Solstice was therefore originally known as Beltane. Why or when the name was adopted for May Day, I haven't yet determined.
The Celtic calendar divided the year into two halves, the "dark" half, beginning with the month Samonios (the October/November lunation), and the "light half", beginning with the Giamonios (the April/May lunation). The entire year appears to have been considered as beginning with the "dark" half, so that the beginning of Samonios may be considered the Celtic New Year's day. All months began at full moon, and the celebration of New Year took place during the "three nights of Samonios", the full moon nearest the 1st of November. Likewise, the beginning of the summer season was celebrated at the full moon nearest the 1st of May (Beltane). The full moons marking the middle of each half-year were also specific festivals, Imbolc (mid-winter) and Lughnasadh (mid-summer). Note that the seasons are not oriented at the solar year, viz. solstice and equinox, but that the mid-summer festival would be considerably later than summer solstice, around 1 August. It appears that the calendar was designed to align the lunations with the agricultural cycle of vegetation, and that the actual movements of the Sun were less 6.
"The Green Man" © Jessica Galbreth
History of Beltane I
Titled: May 1: Beltane
by Mara Freeman
Beltaine is an Anglicization of the Irish "Bealtaine" or the Scottish "Bealtuinn." While "tene" clearly means "fire," nobody really knows whether Bel refers to Belenus, a pastoral god of the Gauls, or is from "bel," simply meaning "brilliant." It might even derive from "bil tene" or "lucky fire" because to jump between two Beltane fires was sure to bring good fortune, health to your livestock, and prosperity.
When the Druids and their successors raised the Beltaine fires on hilltops throughout the British Isles on May Eve, they were performing a real act of magic, for the fires were lit in order to bring the sun’s light down to earth. In Scotland, every fire in the household was extinguished, and the great fires were lit from the need-fire which was kindled by 3 times 3 men using wood from the nine sacred trees. When the wood burst into flames, it proclaimed the triumph of the light over the dark half of the year.
Then the whole hillside came alive as people thrust brands into the
newly roaring flames and whirled them about their heads in imitation of
the circling of the sun. If any man there was planning a long journey or
dangerous undertaking, he leaped backwards and forwards three times
through the fire for luck. As the fire sunk low, the girls jumped across
it to procure good husbands; pregnant women stepped through it to ensure
an easy birth, and children were also carried across the smoldering ashes.
When the fire died down, the embers were thrown among the sprouting crops
to protect them, while each household carried some back to kindle a new
fire in their hearth. When the sun rose that dawn, those who had stayed up
to watch it might see it whirl three times upon the horizon before leaping
up in all its summer glory.
Beltaine was a time of fertility and unbridled merrymaking, when young and old would spend the night making love in the Greenwood. In the morning, they would return to the village bearing huge budding boughs of hawthorn (the may-tree) and other spring flowers with which to bedeck themselves, their families, and their houses. They would process back home, stopping at each house to leave flowers, and enjoy the best of food and drink that the home had to offer. In every village, the maypole-usually a birch or ash pole-was raised, and dancing and feasting began. Festivities were led by the May Queen and her consort, the King who was sometimes Jack-in-the-Green, or the Green Man, the old god of the wildwood. They were borne in state through the village in a cart covered with flowers and enthroned in a leafy arbor as the divine couple whose unity symbolized the sacred marriage of earth and sun.
www.chalicecenter.com/beltaine.html 5/6/01 © Mara Freeman, 1999
History of Beltane II
Titled: The High Holy Days
by SpringIce, Inc.
Let's start with the name. Beltane, Beltain or Bealtain are all correct spellings. In my Deborean tradition, the spelling is Bealtaine. Many historians however suggest the original spelling to be Beltane. In any case, the word consists of two parts. Bel (also Belenos, Beli, Belin or Belinus. Bel is associated with the Roman god Apollo), the patron God of this High Holy Day. Bel is recognized as the son of Light or the first Light of the Universe. He is also considered to be the deity of Therapy further aligning his energies with Apollo. The alternative spelling Beal is associated with a combination of pagan and Christian deities. Bel and Ba'al (meaning 'master') who is found in the Old Testament. His association as the son of light maybe the reason behind his secondary label as the divine Holly King who battles during the year with the wise Oak King. The recurring theme in the legends of each name described here, is that Bel is the son of the Divine God, not THE God himself. This could be an example of the Holy Trinity that embodies many magikal and even Christian beliefs. The Divine Spirit at the top of the trinity is the whole or the union of the God (the son) and Goddess (the daughter). It's also another representation of his youth as the Holly King.
The second part 'tan', 'tine' or 'tain' meaning fire is associated with the God and the ceremony itself. Bealtaine is the last of the spring festivals, but it rings in the start of summer as well. On the eve of Bealtaine, large bon fires were (and still are today) to purify the land from the devastation of winter.
Bealtaine is also seen as the union of the God and the Goddess in matrimony. So how did that come about? According to the The Gabhala Eireann May 1st marks the anniversary that the first human beings set foot on Irish soil. Ireland was considered to be the Lady, the Mother of life giving gifts and sustenance. Some speculate that this event symbolizes the union of the people (The Sons of Mil Éspáine) with Maiden Ireland. The symbolism of this union is presented in the form of the God (the son of light, the sons of Mil Éspáine) with the Goddess (the maiden soil of Ireland).
www.paganspath.com/magik/bealtaine.html 5/7/01 © SpringIce, Inc. 1996-1999
© Lady Dairhean
History of Beltane III
Titled: Beltane: Holiday Details and History
by Christina Aubin
At Beltane the Pleiades star cluster rises just before sunrise on the morning horizon, whereas winter (Samhain) begins when the Pleiades rises at sunset. The Pleiades is a cluster of seven closely placed stars, the seven sisters, in the constellation of Taurus, near his shoulder. When looking for the Pleiades with the naked eye, remember it looks like a tiny dipper-shaped pattern of six moderately bright stars (the seventh can be seen on very dark nights) in the constellation of Taurus. It stands very low in the east-northeast sky for just a few minutes before sunrise.
Beltane, and its counterpart Samhain, divide the year into its two primary seasons, winter (Dark Part) and summer (Light Part). As Samhain is about honoring Death, Beltane, its counter part, is about honoring Life. It is the time when the sun is fully released from his bondage of winter and able to rule over summer and life once again.
Beltane, like Samhain, is a time of "no time" when the veils between the two worlds are at their thinnest. No time is when the two worlds intermingle and unite and the magic abounds! It is the time when the Faeries return from their winter respite, carefree and full of faery mischief and faery delight. On the night before Beltane, in times past, folks would place rowan branches at their windows and doors for protection, many otherworldly occurrences could transpire during this time of "no time". Traditionally on the Isle of Man, the youngest member of the family gathers primroses on the eve before Beltane and throws the flowers at the door of the home for protection. In Ireland it is believed that food left over from May Eve must not be eaten, but rather buried or left as an offering to the faery instead. Much like the tradition of leaving of whatever is not harvested from the fields on Samhain, food on the time of no time is treated with great care.
When the veils are so thin it is an extremely magical time, it is said that the Queen of the Faeries rides out on her white horse. Roving about on Beltane eve She will try to entice people away to the Faeryland. Legend has it that if you sit beneath a tree on Beltane night, you may see the Faery Queen or hear the sound of Her horse's bells as She rides through the night. Legend says if you hide your face, She will pass you by but if you look at Her, She may choose you. There is a Scottish ballad of this called Thomas the Rhymer, in which Thomas chooses to go the Faeryland with the Queen and has not been seen since.
Beltane has been an auspicious time throughout Celtic lore, it is said that the Tuatha de Danaan landed in north-west Connacht on Beltane. The Tuatha de Danaan, it is said, came from the North through the air in a mist to Ireland. After the invasion by the Milesians, the Tuatha faded into the Otherworld, the Sidhe, Tir na nOg.
The beginning of summer heralds an important time, for the winter is a difficult journey and weariness and disheartenment set in, personally one is tired down to the soul. In times past the food stocks were low; variety was a distant memory. The drab non-color of winter's end perfectly represents the dullness and fatigue that permeates on so many levels to this day. We need Beltane, as the earth needs the sun, for our very Spirit cries out for the renewal of summer jubilation.
Beltane marks that the winter's journey has passed and summer has begun, it is a festival of rapturous gaiety as it joyfully heralds the arrival of summer in her full garb. Beltane, however, is still a precarious time, the crops are still very young and tender, susceptible to frost and blight. As was the way of ancient thought, the Wheel would not turn without human intervention. People did everything in their power to encourage the growth of the Sun and His light, for the Earth will not produce without the warm love of the strong Sun. Fires, celebration and rituals were an important part of the Beltane festivities, as to insure that the warmth of the Sun's light would promote the fecundity of the earth.
Beltane marks the passage into the growing season, the immediate rousing of the earth from her gently awakening slumber, a time when the pleasures of the earth and self are fully awakened. It signals a time when the bounty of the earth will once again be had. May is a time when flowers bloom, trees are green and life has again returned from the barren landscape of winter, to the hope of bountiful harvests, not too far away, and the lighthearted bliss that only summer can bring.
Beltane translated means "fire of Bel" or "bright fire" - the "bale-fire". (English - bale; Anglo-Saxon bael; Lithuanian baltas (white)) Bel (Bel, Bile, Beli, Belinus, Belenos) is the known as the bright and shinning one, a Celtic Sun God. Beli is the father, protector, and the husband of the Mother Goddess.
Beltane is the time of the yearly battle between Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwythur ap Greidawl for Creudylad in Welsh mythology. Gwyn ap Nudd the Wild Huntsman of Wales, he is a God of death and the Annwn. Creudylad is the daughter of Lludd (Nudd) of the Silver Hand (son of Beli). She is the most beautiful maiden of the Island of Mighty. A myth of the battle of winter and summer for the magnificent blossoming earth.
In the myth of Rhiannion and Pwyll, it is the evening of Beltane, that Rhiannon gives birth to their son. The midwives all fell asleep at the same time, as they were watching over Rhiannon and her new baby, during which he was taken. In order to protect themselves, they smeared blood (from a pup) all over Rhiannon, to which they claim she had eaten her son. The midwives were believed, and Rhiannon was forced to pay penance for seven years. She had to carrying people on her back from the outside of the gate to the palace, although rarely would any allow her to do so. The baby's whereabouts were a mystery. Oddly, every Beltane night, one of Pwyll's vassals, Teirnyon Twryv Vliant, had a mare that gave birth but the colt disappeared. One Beltane night Teirnyon Twryv Vliant awaited in the barn for the mare to foaled, when she did, he heard a tremendous noise and a clawed arm came through the window and grabbed the colt. Teirnyon cut off the arm with his sword, and then heard a wailing. He opened the door and found a baby, he brought it to his wife and they adopted Gwri Wallt Euryn (Gwri of the Golden Hair). As he grew he looked like Pwyll and they remembered they found him on the night Rhiannon's baby became lost. Teirnyon brought Gwri of the Golden Hair to the castle, told the story, and he was adopted back to his parents, Rhiannon and Pwyll, and and named by the head druid, Pryderi (trouble) from the first word his mother had said when he was restored to her. "Trouble is, indeed, at an end for me, if this be true".
This myth illustrates the precariousness of the Beltane season, at the threshold of Summer, the earth awakening, winter can still reach its long arm in and snatch the Sun away (Gwri of the Golden hair). "Ne'er cast a clout 'til May be out" (clout: Old English for cloth/clothing). If indeed the return of summer is true than the trouble (winter) is certainly over, however one must be vigilant.
On Beltane eve the Celts would build two large fires, Bel Fires, lit from the nine sacred woods. The Bel Fire is an invocation to Bel (Sun God) to bring His blessings and protection to the tribe. The herds were ritually driven between two needfires (fein cigin), built on a knoll. The herds were driven through to purify, bring luck and protect them as well as to insure their fertility before they were taken to summer grazing lands. An old Gaelic adage: "Eadar da theine Bhealltuinn" - "Between two Beltane fires".
The Bel fire is a sacred fire with healing and purifying powers. The fires further celebrate the return of life, fruitfulness to the earth and the burning away of winter. The ashes of the Beltane fires were smudged on faces and scattered in the fields. Household fires would be extinguished and re-lit with fresh fire from the Bel Fires.
Celebration includes frolicking throughout the countryside, maypole dancing, leaping over fires to ensure fertility, circling the fire three times (sun-wise) for good luck in the coming year, athletic tournaments feasting, music, drinking, children collecting the May: gathering flowers. children gathering flowers, hobby horses, May birching and folks go a maying". Flowers, flower wreaths and garlands are typical decorations for this holiday, as well as ribbons and streamers. Flowers are a crucial symbol of Beltane, they signal the victory of Summer over Winter and the blossoming of sensuality in all of nature and the bounty it will bring.
May birching or May boughing, began on Beltane Eve, it is said that young men fastened garland and boughs on the windows and doors of the young maidens upon which their sweet interest laid. Mountain ash leaves and Hawthorne branches meant indicated love whereas thorn meant disdain. This perhaps, is the forerunner of old May Day custom of hanging bouquets hooked on one's doorknob?
Young men and women wandered into the woods before daybreak of May Day morning with garlands of flowers and/or branches of trees. They would arrive; most rumpled from joyous encounters, in many areas with the maypole for the Beltane celebrations. Pre-Christian society's thoughts on human sexuality and fertility were not bound up in guilt and sin, but rather joyous in the less restraint expression of human passions. Life was not an exercise but rather a joyful dance, rich in all beauty it can afford.
In ancient Ireland there was a Sacred Tree named Bile, which was the center of the clan, or Tuatha. As the Irish Tree of Life, the Bile Pole, represents the connection between the people and the three worlds of Bith: The Skyworld (heavens), The Middleworld (our world), and The Otherworld. Although no longer the center life, the Bile pole has survived as the Beltane Maypole.
The Maypole is an important element to Beltane festivities, it is a tall pole decorated with long brightly colored ribbons, leaves, flowers and wreaths. Young maidens and lads each hold the end of a ribbon, and dance revolving around the base of the pole, interweaving the ribbons. The circle of dancers should begin, as far out from the pole as the length of ribbon allows, so the ribbons are taut. There should be an even number of boys & girls. Boys should be facing clockwise and girls counterclockwise. They each move in the direction that they are facing, weaving with the next, around to braid the ribbons over-and-under around the pole. Those passing on the inside will have to duck, those passing on the outside raise their ribbons to slide over. As the dances revolve around the pole the ribbons will weave creating a pattern, it is said that the pattern will indicate the abundance of harvest year.
In some areas there are permanent Maypoles, perhaps a recollection of ancient clan Bile Pole memory. In other areas a new Maypole is brought down on Beltane Eve out from the wood. Even the classical wood can vary according to the area tradition is pulled from, most frequently it seems to be birch as "the wood", but others are mentioned in various historical documents.
Today in some towns and villages a mummer called Jack in the Green (drawing from the Green man), wears a costume made of green leaves as he dances around the May pole. Mumming is a dramatic performance of exaggerated characters and at Beltane the characters include Jack in the Green and the Fool. The Fool, and the Fool's journey, symbolism can be understood in relation to Beltane as it is the beginning of beginnings, the emergence from the void of nothingness (winter), as one can also see the role of the green man as the re-greening of the world.
Traditionally in many areas Morris dancers can be found dancing around the Maypole. Morris dancing can be found in church records in Thame England going back to 1555. Morris dancing is thought to have originated many centuries ago as part of ancient religious ceremonies, however it seems that Morris dancing became associated with Mayday during the Tudor times, and its originating history is not all that easily traced, as is the way with many traditions.
The Maypole dance as an important aspect of encouraging the return of fertility to the earth. The pole itself is not only phallic in symbolism but also is the connector of the three worlds. Dancing the Maypole during Beltane is magical experience as it is a conduit of energy, connecting all three worlds at a time when these gateways are more easily penetrable. As people gaily dance around and around the pole holding the brightly colored ribbons, the energy it raises is sent down into the earth's womb, bringing about Her full awakening and fruitfulness.
In Padstow, Cornwall, Beltane morning a procession is led by the "obby oss" a costumed horse figure, in a large circular banded frock and mask. The procession is full of song, drums and accordions. Professor Ronald Hutton of Bristol University points out that the first account of the Padstow May Day 'Obby 'Oss revelries was written in 1803. He offers evidence however that, like English Morris Dancing, its origins lie in English medieval times. This does not discount the possibility that its roots lay in the foundation of the fertility rites of Beltane, a more politically correct transmutation of fertility acts.
There is also a Queen of May. She is said in many areas to have worn a gold crown with a single, gold leaf at its front, in other areas her crown was made of fresh flowers. She was typically chosen at the start of the Beltane festival, which in time past was after sundown on the eve before Beltane day. Many accounts mention both a May Queen and King being chosen, whom would reign from sundown the eve before the Beltane day to sunset on Beltane. Among their duties would be to announce the Beltane games and award the prizes to the victors. The rudimentary base of this practice can be drawn back to the roots of Beltane festivities, the union of the Goddess and Her Consort, the joining of earth and sun, the endowment of summer. The Goddess has many guises: Danu - The Great Mother, Blodeuwedd (the Flower Bride), Isolt (Iseult, Isolde) and many, many others. The consort can also take many forms including the Green Man, Cernunnos or Tristan.
As Beltane marks this handfasting (wedding) of the Goddess and God, it too marks the reawakening of the earth's fertility in its fullest. This is the union between the Great Mother and her Young Consort, this coupling brings new life on earth. It is on a Spiritual level, the unifying of the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine to bring forth the third, consciousness. On the physical, it is the union of the Earth and Sun to bring about the fruitfulness of the growing season.
It is customary that trial unions, for a year and a day, occur at this time. More or less these were statements of intent between couples, which were not legally binding. The trial marriages (engagements) typically occurred between a couple before deciding to take a further step into a legally binding union. It seems ancient wisdom understood that one does not really know another until they have lived with them, and when you live together things change and we change, as well. With this understanding unions were entered upon, first as a test period, and then if desired, a further commitment could be taken. It through always knowing that it is only through the choice of both to remain, that the relationship exists favorably.
May, however, according to old folklore is not a favorable time for marriages in the legal and permanent sense. There is reference after reference in the old books of this belief, and according to my Irish grandmother, May is not the month to marry, woe is to had by those who do. I can understand the premise of this folklore, May is the Goddess and God's handfasting month, all honor would be Hers and His.
Water is another important association of Beltane, water is refreshing and rejuvenating, it is also imperative to life. It is said that if you bathe in the dew gathered before dawn on Beltane morn, your beauty will flourish throughout the year. Those who are sprinkled with May dew are insured of health and happiness. There are other folk customs such as drinking from the well before sunrise on Beltane Morn to insure good health and fortune.
The central color of Beltane is green. Green is the color of growth, abundance, plentiful harvest, abundant crops, fertility, and luck. White is another color that is customary, white brings the energies of cleansing, peace, spirituality, and the power to dispel negativity. Another color is red who brings along the qualities of energy, strength, sex, vibrancy, quickening, health, consummation and retention. Sun energy, life force and happiness are brought to Beltane by the color yellow. Blues and purples (Sagittarius energies: expansion, Good Fortune, magic, spiritual power, Success), and pinks (Venus energies). Beltane is rich in vibrant color, lighting the eyes and cheering the Spirit as we leave the dreariness of winter behind.
It is customary to bake a colorful fruit and spiced filled bread for festivals in the Celtic lands, traditionally this festival bread is sweet dough made with sweetmeat and spices. In Scotland they are the bannock - Bonnach Bealtain - for Beltane, in Wales - Bara Brith, Ireland it is Barm Brack and in Brittany Morlaix Brioche. For Beltane this bread was made the eve before Beltane day, is it said that the bread should not allow it to come into contact with steel during preparation (steel is harmful, deadly to the faery folk).
Bannocks are actually uncut scones originally cooked on a griddle. Wheat does not grow well in the Highlands, originally bannocks were made with oat or barley flour made into dough with little water and no leavening. Traditionally, a portion of the cake was burned or marked with ashes. The recipient of the burnt cake jumped over a small fire three times to purify and cleanse him or herself of any ill fortune. Offerings of bannocks and drink are traditionally left on doorsteps and roadways for the Faeries as an offering, in hope of faery blessings.
May is the month of sensuality and sexuality revitalized, the reawakening of the earth and Her Children. It is the time when we reawaken to the vivid colors, vibrant scents, tingling summer breezes, and the rapture of summer after a long dormant winter. It is a time of extraordinary expression of earth, animal, and person a time of great enchantment and celebration.
The excitement and beauty of Beltane can not be better expressed than through the gaiety and joy of our children. There is not doubt "spring fever" hits at Beltane, and hits hard. Children are full of unbridled energy charged up and ready to go! Children always amplify the seasonal energies and the thrill of their change, they bring richness and merriment wherever they go.
It is the child's unrestrained expression of bliss and delight that is what Beltane is all about. It is the sheer joy of running through fields, picking flowers, rapturing in the sunlight, delighting in the fragrance of spring, dancing in the fresh dew covered grass. Our children guide us through the natural abandonment of our adult sensibilities and show us how to take grand pleasure, warmth and bliss from the gift of Beltane.
www.witchvox.com/holidays/beltane/beltanehistory.html 5/7/01 © Witches’ Voice Inc. 1995-2001
Above image is "Guenevere and Lancelot" © Jessica Galbreth
History of Beltane IV
Titled: The Merrie May
The History of Beltane, May Day, and Everything in Between
by Tammy Todd
May Day, or Beltane to many pagans, is somewhat unique in the modern world: It is one of the very few ancient celebrations that has not been incorporated into a Christian holiday. The ceremonies and festivals surrounding May 1 have changed somewhat through the thousands of years that the holiday has existed, but the core celebration -- of the coming of Spring and the fertility associated with it -- remain the same.
Roman prostitutes in particular loved the holiday of Floralia. As a goddess of fertility, Flora was considered to be the patron of the 'working ladies,' and they went all out to enjoy the holiday they had adopted as their own, from performing naked in the theaters to participating in gladiatorial events. This theme of fertility -- and sexuality -- would continue throughout May Day for hundreds of years.
The Celtic Holiday
Beltane, like the Floralia, was a celebration of fertility and the coming of Summer. The rites were marked by the lighting of bonfires-- known as balefires or bonefires -- on hilltops and near villages. Villagers would drive their livestock through or around the flames in order to ensure their fertility for the coming year. Couples and new brides would also perform fertility rituals around the bonfires. The also had a habit of performing fertility rites in the bushes. These unions, although often temporary, were blessed by the gods because they occurred during the sacred night of Beltane.
The maypole also may have begun with the Celtic festivals, although some evidence exists that it is also related to the Roman celebration of Cybele and Attis. The Maypole represented the divine essence of the young and thriving god -- whether Bel or Attis -- and his role in the dawning fertility of Summer.
"Every parish town and village assemble themselves together. Men and women and children, old and young and go off, some to the woods and groves, some to the hills and mountains, where they spend the night in pastimes. In the morning they return bringing with them birch-boughs and trees to deck their assemblies withal. I've heard it credibly reported by men of great gravity, credibility and reputation. That forty, three score, or a hundred youths, going to the woods over night. They have scarcely the third part of them, returned home again undefiled."
Under Charles II the holiday was once again officially permitted, but it had lost much of its concentration on sexuality and fertility. Modern celebrations of May Day rarely involve any mention of the sexual aspects of the original festivals, but instead concern themselves with celebrating the warmer weather and abundant flowers associated with the season. However, most modern pagans are working hard to revive the old customs of the holiday and return it to a celebration more akin to those once practiced in the dells of ancient Britain and Germany.
Image Source: Net glimpse Holidays
The Green Activist's Holy Day
The farmers, workers, and child-bearers (laborers) of the Middle Ages had hundreds of holy days which preserved the May Green, despite the attack on peasants and witches. Despite the complexities, whether May Day was observed by sacred or profane ritual, by pagan or Christian, by magic or not, by straights or gays, by gentle or calloused hands, it was always a celebration of all that is free and life-giving in the world. That is the Green side of the story. Whatever else it was, it was not a time to work.
Therefore, it was attacked by the authorities. The repression had begun with the burning of women and it continued in the 16th century when America was "discovered," the slave trade was begun, and nation-states and capitalism were formed. In 1550 an Act of Parliament demanded that Maypoles be destroyed, and it outlawed games. In 1644 the Puritans in England abolished May Day altogether. To these work-ethicists the festival was obnoxious for paganism and worldliness. Philip Stubs, for example, in Anatomy of Abuses (1585) wrote of the Maypole, "and then fall they to banquet and feast, to leape and daunce about it, as the Heathen people did at the dedication of their Idolles." When a Puritan mentioned "heathen" we know genocide was not far away. According to the excellent slide show at the Quincy Historical Society, 90% of the Massachusetts people, including chief Chicatabat, died from chicken pox or small pox a few years after the Puritans landed in 1619. The Puritans also objected to the unrepressed sexuality of the day. Stubs said, "of fourtie, threescore, or an hundred maides going to the wood, there have scarcely the third part of them returned home again as they went."
The people resisted the repressions. Thenceforth, they called their May sports, the "Robin Hood Games." Capering about with sprigs of hawthorn in their hair and bells jangling from their knees, the ancient charaders of May were transformed into an outlaw community, Maid Marions and Little Johns. The May feast was presided over by the "Lord of Misrule," "the King of Unreason," or the "Abbot of Inobedience." Washington Irving was later to write that the feeling for May "has become chilled by habits of gain and traffic." As the gainers and traffickers sought to impose the regimen of monotonous work, the people responded to preserve their holyday. Thus began in earnest the Red side of the story of May Day. The struggle was brought to Massachusetts in 1626.
In 1625 Captain Wollaston, Thomas Morton, and thirty others sailed from England and months later, taking their bearings from a red cedar tree, they disembarked in Quincy Bay. A year later Wollaston, impatient for lucre and gain, left for good to Virginia. Thomas Morton settled in Passonaggessit which he named Merry Mount. The land seemed a "Paradise" to him. He wrote, there are "fowls in abundance, fish in multitudes, and I discovered besides, millions of turtle doves on the green boughs, which sat pecking of the full, ripe, pleasant grapes that were supported by the lusty trees, whose fruitful load did cause the arms to bend."
On May Day, 1627, he and his Indian friends, stirred by the sound of drums, erected a Maypole eighty feet high, decorated it with garlands, wrapped it in ribbons, and nailed to its top the antlers of a buck. Later he wrote that he "sett up a Maypole upon the festival day of Philip and James, and therefore brewed a barrell of excellent beare." A ganymede sang a Bacchanalian song. Morton attached to the pole the first lyric verses penned in America which concluded.
With the proclamation that the first of May
The Puritans at Plymouth were opposed to the May Day. they called the Maypole "an Idoll" and named Merry Mount "Mount Dagon" after the god of the first ocean-going imperialist, the Phoenicians. More likely, though the Puritans were the imperialist, not Morton, who worked with slaves, servants, and native Americans, person to person. Everyone was equal in his "social contract." Governor Bradford wrote, "they allso set up a Maypole, drinking and dancing aboute it many days together, inviting the Indean women for thier consorts, dancing and frisking together (like so many faires, or furies rather) and worse practise."
Merry Mount became a refuge for Indians, the discontented, gay people, runaway servants, and what the governor called "all the scume of the countrie." When the authorities reminded him that his actions violated the King's Proclamation, Morton replied that it was "no law." Miles Standish, whom Morton called "Mr. Shrimp," attacked. The Maypole was cut down. The settlement was burned. Morton's goods were confiscated, he was chained in the bilboes, and ostracized to England aboard the ship "The Gift," at a cost the Puritans complained of twelve pounds seven shillings. The rainbow coalition of Merry Mount was thus destroyed for the time being. That Merry Mount later (1636) became associated with Anne Hutchinson, the famous mid-wife, spiritualist, and feminist, surely was more than coincidental. Her brother-in-law ran the Chapel of Ease. She thought that god loved everybody, regardless of their sins. She doubted the Puritans' authority to make law. A statue of Robert Burns in Quincy near to Merry Mount, quotes the poet's lines:
A fig for those by law protected!
Thomas Morton was a thorn in the side of the Boston and Plymouth Puritans, because he had an alternate vision of Massachusetts. He was impressed by its fertility; they by its scarcity. He befriended the Indians; they shuddered at the thought. He was egalitarian; they proclaimed themselves the "Elect". He freed servants; they lived off them. He armed the Indians; they used arms against Indians. To Nathaniel Hawthorne, the destiny of American settlement was decided at Merry Mount. Casting the struggle as mirth vs. gloom, grizzly saints vs. gay sinners, green vs. iron, it was the Puritans who won, and the fate of America was determined in favor of psalm-singing, Indian-scalpers whose notion of the Maypole was a whipping post.
Parts of the past live, parts die. The red cedar that drew Morton first to Merry Mount blew down in the gale of 1898. A section of it, about eight feet of its trunk became a power fetish in 1919, placed as it was next to the President's chair of the Quincy City Council. Interested parties may now view it in the Quincy Historical Museum. Living trees, however, have since grown, despite the closure of the ship-yards.
In England the attacks on May Day were a necessary part of the wearisome, unending attempt to establish industrial work discipline. The attempt was led by the Puritans with their belief that toil was godly and less toil wicked. Absolute surplus value could be increased only by increasing the hours of labor and abolishing holydays. A parson wrote a piece of work propaganda called Funebria Florae, Or the Downfall of the May Games. He attacked, "ignorants, atheists, papists, drunkards, swearers, swashbucklers, maid-marians, morrice-dancers, maskers, mummers, Maypole stealers, health-drinkers, together with a rapscallion rout of fiddlers, fools fighters, gamesters, lewd-women, light-women, contemmers of magistracy, affronters of ministry, disobedients to parents, misspenders of time, and abusers of the creature, &c."
At about this time, Isaac Newton, the gravitationist and machinist of time, said work was a law of planets and apples alike. Thus work ceased to be merely the ideology of the Puritans, it became a law of the universe. In 1717 Newton purchased London's hundred foot Maypole and used it to prop up his telescope.
Chimney sweeps and dairy maids led the resistance. The sweeps dressed up as women on May Day, or put on aristocratic perriwigs. They sang songs and collected money. When the Earl of Bute in 1763 refused to pay, the opprobrium was so great that he was forced to resign. Milk maids used to go a-Maying by dressing in floral garlands, dancing and getting the dairymen to distribute their milk-yield freely. Soot and milk workers thus helped to retain the holyday right into the industrial revolution.
The ruling class used the day for its own purposes. Thus, when Parliament was forced to abolish slavery in the British dominions, it did so on May Day 1807. In 1820 the Cato Street conspirators plotted to destroy the British cabinet while it was having dinner. Irish, Jamaican, and Cockney were hanged for the attempt on May Day 1820. A conspirator wrote his wife saying "justice and liberty have taken their flight... to other distant shores." He meant America, where Boston Brahmin, Robber Baron, and Southern Plantocrat divided and ruled an arching rainbow of people.
Two bands of that rainbow came from English and Irish islands. One was Green. Robert Owen, union leader, socialist, and founder of utopian communities in America, announced the beginning of the millennium after May Day 1833. The other was Red. On May Day 1830, a founder of the Knights of Labor, the United Mine Workers of America, and the Wobblies was born in Ireland, Mary Harris Jones, a.k.a., "Mother Jones." She was a Maia of the American working class.
May Day continued to be commemorated in America, one way or another, despite the victory of the Puritans at Merry Mount. On May Day 1779 the revolutionaries of Boston confiscated the estates of "enemies of Liberty." On May Day 1808 "twenty different dancing groups of the wretched Africans" in New Orleans danced to the tunes of their own drums until sunset when the slave patrols showed themselves with their cutlasses. "The principal dancers or leaders are dressed in a variety of wild and savage fashions, always ornamented with a number of tails of the small wild beasts," observed a strolling white man.
May Day also marks the celebration of the eight hour work day. The history of the modern May Day originates in the center of the North American plains, at Haymarket, in Chicago - "the city on the make" - in May 1886. The Red side of that story is more well-known than the Green, because it was bloody. But there was also a Green side to the tale, though the green was not so much that of pretty grass garlands, as it was of greenbacks, for in Chicago, it was said, the dollar is king.
Thousands of immigrants, many from Germany, poured into Chicago after the Civil War. Class war was advanced, technically and logistically. In 1855 the Chicago police used Gatling guns against the workers who protested the closing of the beer gardens. In the Bread Riot of 1872 the police clubbed hungry people in a tunnel under the river. In the 1877 railway strike, Federal troops fought workers at "The Battle of the Viaduct." These troops were recently seasoned from fighting the Sioux who had killed Custer. Henceforth, the defeated Sioux could only "Go to a mountain top and cry for a vision." The Pinkerton Detective Agency put visions into practice by teaching the city police how to spy and to form fighting columns for deployment in city streets. A hundred years ago during the street car strike, the police issued a shoot-to-kill order.
Of course the prairies are green in May. Virgin soil, dark, brown, crumbling, shot with fine black sand, it was the produce of thousands of years of humus and organic decomposition. For many centuries this earth was husbanded by the native Americans of the plains. As Black Elk said theirs is "the story of all life that is holy and is good to tell, and of us two-leggeds sharing in it with the four- leggeds and the wings of the air and all green things; for these are children of one mother and their father is one Spirit." From such a green perspective, the white men appeared as pharaohs, and indeed, as Abe Lincoln put it, these prairies were the "Egypt of the West".
The land was mechanized. Relative surplus value could only be obtained by reducing the price of food. The proteins and vitamins of this fertile earth spread through the whole world. Chicago was the jugular vein. Cyrus McCormick wielded the surgeon's knife. His mechanical reapers harvested the grasses and grains. McCormick produced 1,500 reapers in 1849; by 1884 he was producing 80,000. Not that McCormick actually made reapers, members of the Molders Union Local 23 did that. On May Day 1867 they went on strike, starting the Eight Hour Movement. McCormick cut wages 15%. His profit rate was 71%. In May 1886 four molders whom McCormick locked-out were shot dead by the police. Thus, did this 'grim reaper' maintain his profits. Afterward, it was decided that May 1 should be a day of universal work stoppage. On that day, 200,000 laborers staged a strike to demand the eight hour day.
On 4 May 1886 several thousand people gathered near Haymarket Square to hear what August Spies, a newspaperman, had to say about the shootings at the McCormick works. Albert Parsons, a typographer and labor leader spoke next. Later, at his trial, he said, "What is Socialism or Anarchism? Briefly stated it is the right of the toilers to the free and equal use of the tools of production and the right of the producers to their product." He was followed by "Good-Natured Sam" Fielden who as a child had worked in the textile factories of Lancashire, England. He was a Methodist preacher and labor organizer. He got done speaking at 10:30 PM. At that time 176 policemen charged the crowd that had dwindled to about 200. An unknown hand threw a stick of dynamite, the first time that Alfred Nobel's invention was used in class battle. All hell broke lose; seven policeman were killed and many were injured, and the rest is history.
"Make the raids first and look up the law afterwards," was the Sheriff's dictum. It was followed religiously across the country. Newspaper screamed for blood, homes were ransacked, and suspects were subjected to the "third degree." Mother Jones said of the incident: "The workers asked only for bread and a shortening of the long hours of toil. The agitators gave them visions. The police gave them clubs". Eight men were railroaded in Chicago at a farcical trial. The charge against the accused, eight anarchists, was conspiracy--labor unions were illegal at the time under conspiracy laws. The prosecution summed up their arguments with: "Anarchy is on trial...[These men] are no more guilty than those thousands who follow them...convict these men, make examples of them, hang them and you save our institutions, our society". All were found guilty; four of the eight were hanged, one committed suicide in jail, and the remaining three were freed years later when public opinion turned against the rigged trial. Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engle and Adolph Fischer were hanged on "Black Friday," 11 November 1887.
"There will come a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today," said Spies before he choked.
Lucy Parsons, widowed by Chicago's "justice," was born in Texas. She was partly Afro-American, partly Native American, and partly Hispanic. She set out to tell the world the true story "of one whose only crime was that he lived in advance of his time." She went to England and encouraged English workers to make May Day an international holiday for shortening the hours of work.
At the International Workers' Congress in 1889, it was decided that the workers of all lands would demonstrate together for the eight-hour day on May 1, 1890. No one spoke of a repetition of the holiday. However, it was enough that everyone felt that May Day must be a yearly and continuing institution. "As long as the struggle of the workers against the bourgeoisie and the ruling class continues, May Day will be the yearly expression of these demands. And, when better days dawn, when the working class of the world has won its deliverance then too humanity will probably celebrate May Day in honor of the bitter struggles and the many sufferings of the past."2
The international movement for fair labor laws began with the socialist, Karl Marx. "In his preface to the fourth German edition of the Communist Manifesto, which he wrote on May 1, 1890, Engels, reviewing the history of the international proletarian organizations, calls attention to the significance of the first International May Day:
At the International Congress at Paris in 1900 the May Day resolution of the previous Congresses was again adopted, and was strengthened by the statement that stoppage of work on May First would make the demonstration more effective. May Day was becoming more and more menacing to the ruling class. It became Red Day, which authorities in all lands looked at with foreboding when each May Day came around. While in prison, in 1896, Lenin wrote a May Day leaflet for the St. Petersburg Union of Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class, one of the first Marxist political groups in Russia. The Russian revolutionary movement utilized May Day to great advantage. They organized on April 19 (May 1) [the Russian calendar was then 13 days behind the West-European] a general holiday of Labor. On this day the workers reminded bosses of their main demand: 8 hours work, 8 hours recreation, and 8 hours rest.
The Communist International, inheritor of the proletarian movement since Marx and Engels published the Communist Manifesto in 1848, carried on the traditions of May Day. The Communist parties of the various capitalist countries called upon the workers each year to stop work on May Day, to demand a shorter work day--now the 7-hour day--without reduction in pay, to demand social insurance, to fight the war danger and defend the Soviet Union, to fight against imperialism and colonial oppression, to struggle against race discrimination and lynching, to denounce the social-fascists as part of the capitalist machine, to resolve to build their revolutionary unions, to proclaim their determination and iron will to organize for the overthrow of the capitalist system and for the establishment of a universal Soviet Republic.
The next May Day wasn't observed until 1890. Spurred by a resolution from the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the International Socialist Congress, this day saw parades not only in American cities but simultaneous demonstrations throughout the European industrial centers and in Havana, Cuba. The common theme was the demand for guaranteed eight-hour workdays, and to raise awareness of the common class struggle existing in all countries. From that time on, May Day became an annual gathering of the working class in industrial countries.
In their attempt to defeat May Day and to draw the workers' organizations which are under their influence away from participation in May Day demonstrations, the American Federation of Labor fostered the observance of a so-called Labor Day on the first Monday in September of each year. Labor Day was adopted first on a local scale in 1885 and later granted by the various state governments as an antidote to May First celebrations. Another campaign against May Day was inaugurated by the federal government with the aid of AFL leaders when May 1 was adopted as Child Health Day. The hypocrisy of both the government and the AFL is proven by the fact that a million and more children under 16 are sweated in American mills, shops and fields for the glory of American capital.
The fear of socialist revolution increased the anti-communist sentiment in America; in 1919 May Day participants were attacked by police and anti-labor rioters, which led to the destruction of socialist or communist party offices in many cities. Workers encountered difficulty in getting permission for marches, and some cities required that the American flag be carried. Similar attacks or bans on May Day parades became common throughout non-socialist European countries, especially in fascist Italy and Germany. May Day continued to grow everywhere in the world--Canada, South Africa, China, Japan, and Korea all saw nascent labor movements celebrate May Day. The largest turnouts were in the Soviet Union and Cuba; US media increasingly described May Day as a "commie" event, even though American leftists of all types continued to participate, calling for fairness and equal opportunity on the job. Large-scale demonstrations led to employers recognizing the eight-hour day and forty-hour workweek, among other achievements. But between the Cold War and McCarthyism, participation in May Day events in the US dwindled.
The real meaning of this sudden interest in child welfare, however, may be gleaned from the following reference to the subject in a report submitted by the Executive Council to the 1928 Convention of the AFL:
Loyalty Day, along with Law Day, was created to discourage
celebration of May Day, a perceived communist holiday.
Loyalty Day is observed on May 1 in the United States. It is a day set
aside for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the
recognition of the heritage of American freedom. The holiday was first
celebrated in the 1930s as Americanization Day. Loyalty Day is
celebrated with parades and ceremonies in communities across the United
States, although many people in the United States remain unaware of it.
Although a legal holiday, it is not a federal holiday.
Continued in the Labor Day section of the September page...
Image Source: Hellas Multi Media
by Walter Crane, April 13, 1894
World Workers, whatever may bind ye,
Now again while the green earth rejoices
Let the winds lift your banners from far lands
It is writ on each ribbon that flies
Your cause is the hope of the world,
Be ye many or few drawn together,
Of the new life that still lieth hidden,
Stand fast, then, Oh Workers, your ground,
When the World's Workers, sisters and brothers,
On May Day 1980 the Green and Red themes were combined when a former Buick auto-maker from Detroit, one "Mr. Toad," sat at a picnic table and penned the following lines:
The eight hour day is not enough;
We are thinking of more and better stuff.
So here is our prayer and here is our plan,
We want what we want and we'll take what we can.
Down with wars both small and large,
For air to breathe and water to drink,
No more women who are less than free,
For teachers who learn and students who teach
An end to shops that are dark and dingy,
For all who dance and sing, loud cheers,
So, on this first of May we all should say
5) The Incomplete, True, Authentic and Wonderful History of May Day Visited 01/21/069) Cladh Hallan Visited: 04/17/2007 10) Egtved Girl Visited: 04/17/2007 11) Haraldskær Woman Visited: 04/17/2007 12) Tollund Man Visited: 04/17/2007 13) Clonycavan Man Visited: 04/17/2007 14) Old Croghan Man Visited: 04/17/2007 15) Grauballe Man Visited: 04/17/2007 16) Celts and Human Sacrifice Visited: 04/17/2007 17) Weerdinge Men Visited: 04/17/2007 18) Yde Girl Visited: 04/17/2007 19) Bog Bodies Visited: 04/17/2007
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