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Article ID: 4508
Age Group: Adult
Posted: April 23rd. 2001
It's Maypole Week 'Round the World
Greetings Witches, Wiccans and Pagans,
You sure can tell a lot about a group simply by looking at their Maypole. Some groups are obviously pretty tightly focused and use their Maypole to work some serious magick. All the ribbons are color-coordinated, the same width, the same length (you can tell because all of the 'tails' at the bottom make a nice evenly hemmed tassel) and woven about the pole in a herringbone pattern that is as tight and neat as any found wrapped about the most prestigious Egyptian pharaoh's mummy. They probably held a practice session or two on the 'ins and outs' of Maypole weaving before the main event. One is tempted to take a peek under the layers-many groups build on the same pole from year to year, it being 'bad luck' to unravel the ribbons-to see the process involved in building such perfection. Are there some only semi-successful layers hidden under there? A year when they didn't have it quite as together as they do now? Perhaps that one quirky May when they let just 'anyone' grab a ribbon and run with it? While most Pagans also have an eye for structural beauty, we can't help but feel a bit uneasy when we see a Maypole-the epitome symbol of freedom and Springtide-the-sap-is-rising exuberance- that is executed with such precision and basically wound up just a little too tightly for our tastes.
The Maypole as we know it today is (historically speaking) a relatively new custom. The first literary references to a maypole come from a mid-14th century Welsh poem and a late 14th century poem called, "Chance of the Dice". This poem refers to the 'grete shafte of Corneylle' in London. For it to be mentioned at all demonstrates some wide-spread knowledge of the existence of maypoles, but how much earlier that the custom evolved before this reference was penned is unknown. However, we have our suspicions that many of the recently discovered rings which in ancient times were marked with log poles or beams may be the 'old memory' that sparked the renewed interest in erecting the things as came to be known as 'maypoles'.
Wherever and whenever they came from, Maypoles have been embraced, reviled and then embraced again. In the early American colonies, the more pious Christians banned the practice and at various times in England, the religious authorities there did the same. The weaving of ribbons seems to be a very recent addition as the earlier poles were decorated mostly with flowers and wild garlands ahead of the dancing about that was scheduled to follow. The 'kissing the lad or lass whom you might meet' however seems to have been as popular then as it is now. (Probably another reason that the more repressed factions looked upon it with such disapproval.)
We here at TWV like our Maypoles messy because-well, let's face it-sexuality and life (both elements reflected strongly in the Maypole symbol) can be quite messy as well. Life is full of surprises. Sometimes you find out that your ribbon seems to be shorter than everyone else's ribbons. How one deals with that can be a very interesting lesson. And then there are those times when one or two people want to 'take charge' of a situation. Trouble is, no one ever elected them to take charge of anything. And so there you have one or two people looking in disgust at all this chaos going on around the pole while everyone else seems to be quite happy dancing about with ribbons all going every which (Witch?) way. Messy. Freedom can be so damned messy, can't it? Abandoning oneself to one's bliss implies that one actually is prepared to do that abandonment part.
And that is why our favorite Maypoles are the ones that were woven by all of the adults, teens, old folks and children of the group. Some weavings are high and tight, but just as many are low and bumpy. The wide and wild menagerie of colored ribbons crisscross and overlap one another in mysterious ways. One could stand back and rightly wonder, "Whoa! What happened here?" It is only upon closer inspection that one can actually see what indeed happened there: Everyone wove their own ribbon, everyone did their own part and everyone was welcome to become a part of the whole Maypole package.
The short ends have been tied onto the longer ones. The bumps have been incorporated into the total design. And here and there amongst the lower ribbons, one can see the tiny fingerprint made by a small chocolate-rabbit-covered finger.
So this Beltaine, weave your magick, Pagans! Weave your wonderful, blissful and often messy real life magick. And may your Maypole reflect the power and wonder and diversity of the many and colorful peoples whom we call Pagans.
Photo credit: The forest shot to your upper right was taken this past week at CMA Beltane by Don Waterhawk. See our review just below. The Maypole to your upper left was sent in last year from Susan Lockwood of Rose Hill, Ohio (web: email@example.com). Thanks Susan!... NOTE: We are looking for group shots from THIS years Belatane celebrations, if you capture a good one of your group, send it in so that we can share its magick with the community.
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