May Day Celebrations
The May Bush
decorating is alway a happy occasion in our Forest school sessions, this was an ancient tradition in Ireland, where a branch of Snowy White hawthorn was placed in the garden and decorated sometimes with decorated eggs shells from easter.
Communities would dance sun-wise/ clock wise around the branch, sometimes singing the Wonderful song;
"Babóg na Bealtaine, Maighdean an tSamhraidh,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn,
Samhradh buí faoi luí na gréine,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn."
The young woman of may, maiden of summer,
we brought the summer with us.
Golden summer under the spreading sun,
we brought the summer with us.
Here is a link to the Gloaming singing this song, with slightly different words:
The Queen of May was a tradition dating back to ancient times, where a young lady was chosen as queen of the May and decorated with a crown of yellow or white flowers, she would be treated like royalty for the day. The young maidens were given special celebration at this time as they would be leaving the community to return to the mountain pastures with sheep or cows for the summer months, only returning at Samhain. (See the story of the dance of the seven sisters below)
The may Alter was my favourite thing about school where we all brought in wild flowers every day for Mary the Queen of May.
Yellow flowers would be left at the doorstep of Neighbours.
More common in England, but they were also a tradition in some parts of Ireland. The younger forest schoolers love this, where we Hold onto ribbons and dance sun-wise around a tree, we usually tie on a bunch of snowy white Hawthorn flowers and sing this song.
Branch of snowy May
"Here’s a branch of snowy may,
a branch the fairies gave me,
Would you like to dance today,
with the branch the fairies gave me.
Dance away, dance away
Holding high the branch of May.
Dance away, dance away
Holding high the branch of May."
The dance of the Seven Sisters.
In our past the Seven Sisters constellation ‘the Pleiades,’ played a huge role in the ancient custom of ‘Buaile,’ of knowing when to take the herds to graze in higher or lower pastures. The role of Shepherds or Shepherdesses was given to the youths of the community.
When the Pleidies was high in the sky from Samhain to Bealtaine, during the winter months the youths would stay with their families and the herds would live around them on the lower pastures.
But at Bealtaine, the sisters began to move and Maya the Principal sister, begins her fair-well dance and leads the other sisters down below the horizon. Reminding the community to return to the mountains with the herds to graze on fresh pastures for the summer months.
And when the Seven Sisters return to the Sky at Samhain, it was a signal for the youths to return home for winter and as they arrive back, into the community a celebration was given for their return.
The Irish word for The Pleidies constellation is ‘An Treidín’ the little herd.
Reference for the story- In search of the awesome mystery -Lore of megalithic, Celtic and Christian Ireland. (Columba 2011) p24
The Star Boy and the Seven Sisters by Lakota Elder Duane Hollow Horn Bear
Cuckoo Flower and the sound of the Cuckoo
Bealtaine Eve Story
Many, many moons ago on the border of Cork and Kerry; Sat the Cathair Chrobh Dearg, the seat of the red claw, also known as the seat of the red cow Queen. Cathair Chrobh Dearg is an ancient fort whose ruins still lies under the turf at the foot of the Paps of Anu and believed to be one of the oldest sites of the Bealtaine festivals in pre-Celtic times.
The three sister priestesses initiated the festivities on Bealtaine Eve, just before the sun sets.
The maiden of Bealtaine is chosen and becomes the sovereign land Goddess and the representation of Mother Earth herself. Brigit the spring maiden now becomes the Bride and Mother, the second aspect of her triple form and is adorned with the yellow flowers of summer and is inaugurated as the Queen of May.
The young Lord of the green is chosen as the representation of the green vegetation and the offspring of Mother earth. He is crowned with the Stag Antler headdress. The horned Lord of the green and the Queen of May, raise their hands to the sun as it sinks below the horizon and together they take to their seats under the ancient Bile tree where they can preside over the festivities. The long awaited summer has finally arrived, the seeds have been sown and the wild food is in abundance.
The Bealtaine festivities begins with the lighting of the two fires of purification, lit by the Queen of May and The lord of the green. The Cows, the sheep and the tamed deer are driven into the mouth of the fire or ‘the Béal tine’, between the two fires of purification and they are washed with the smoke of the mighty blaze and are then led to the lower winter pastures to await for the sunrise.
The Queen of Summer then points to the skies and everybody looks up to see the last dance of the seven sisters, the Pleiades constellation known in Irish as ‘An Treidín’; the little herd, which lives in the constellation of taurus.
The music begins and the people dance around the bile tree with the sisters stars, who had graced their winter skies and who were now saying farewell for the warm months, just like the young maiden shepherdesses will say their farewells to the Tuatha at sunrise.
Maya the eldest of the Pleiades sisters slowly dances below the horizon, followed by her sisters and they will disappear from the summer sky until winter and the people of Cathair chrobh Dearg stop their dancing and frolicking and the maiden shepherdesses are brought to the Bile tree.
The maidens wash their face in the may morning dew and gather their flocks to say their goodbyes to their Clans and just as the pleiades sisters travel below the earth for the summer the shepherd maidens travel up the Paps of Anu to find fresh pastures for their cows, sheep and deer and will not return to their families until they see the seven sisters dance across the sky again at Samhain and only then will the young ladies return home with their flocks for winter.
The hill of Uisnech, the belly button of Ireland carried on the fire purifications rituals and is still lit by the guardians of the land there every May eve. The beacon of light set a chain of fires on hilltops in 20 different counties, who answered the fire call, by lighting their own beacons of fire and spreading the light to a further circle of fire in the remaining counties along the coasts and out onto the islands.
Still in recent times, the Irish celebrate the Queen of May as ‘Mary the Mother of Jesus’ and an Altar is set up for her, on which she is given the flowers of summer. The Yellow Marsh Marigold or Mary Gold is known in Irish as ‘Lus Buí na Bealtaine’, the yellow herb of Bealtaine and today you may still find the rare folk that leave yellow flowers on the doorsteps of their neighbours for good luck and abundance for the summer and to ward away any evil spirits.
Many of us remember the flower processions, where the children dressed in their white communion clothes carrying baskets of flower petals which we scattered as we walked. This ancient folk tradition was carried on into the Christian era, where the queens of May Brought the summer into the village. The wild flowers grew in the meadows and the bees busied themselves in the hedgerows. The cuckoo flower still pops up its head when it can, as it hears the return of the cuckoo each year.
The May bush is another custom from ancient Ireland that has survived into the present day. In every village or Tuatha was a sacred mass tree or Bile Tree in the centre of the village. At May time the tree was adorned with the flowers of May and ribbons and the people danced around the tree in celebration of the abundance of life and the union between the masculine and feminine. Lovers would leave branches of the tree of Love ‘Hawthorn’ outside their true lovers door on the first morning of May. Still today the hawthorn is associated with the heart and the berries are used in heart medication.
As time moved on and the sacred Bile trees became a thing of the past, the May bush and the may pole continued the legacy in Ireland and beyond.
The may bush, usually a branch of Hawthorn or ‘the fairy tree’ with snowy white buds and flowers was brough into the village with the words “Thugamar féin an Samhradh linn- We have brought the Summer in’ and the bush was decorated, sometimes using painted egg shells left over from Easter and ribbons of wishes, which were tied onto its branches, just like the hawthorn bushes you find at sacred wells today.
The bush was also adorned with the yellow flowers of May and with daisies holding the image of the bright sun in its centre, long daisy chains were made and hung all around and as the flowers open up to the morning sun each day, we too awake to the bright warm days and to the fiery sun in the blue skies.
We welcome back the Cuckoo and the Swallows and the bees in the flowering Rowan and Ash trees and the sweet singing Lark and with dance and joy we welcome the summer back “Thugamar féin an Samhradh linn- We have brought the Summer in’