May Day
Michael Ellis

The Druids, the priestly class of the ancient Celts, divided the year into 8 parts. They had the usual solar divisions – the two equinoxes and the two solstices – but they also had what are called cross quarter days. That is, halfway between the solstices and equinoxes. For us June 21 is the beginning of summer but think about it. On the first of summer the days are getting shorter what kind of summer is that? To the Druids June 21st was the middle of summer. On this day they burned the bones from all the animals that had died the previous year. This bone fire is the origin of our bonfire.

From the summer solstice halfway to the fall equinox was the cross quarter day called Lamas. This word means loaf of bread. The first grain harvested was made into a celebratory loaf on the first of August. This day marked the end of summer and the beginning of fall.

The fall equinox was the midpoint of autumn and the next cross quarter day was Samwain. We know this today as Halloween and this was the biggest day of the Druid year – New Years Eve. So November 1 was the beginning of winter and the beginning of the next year. At the winter solstice was mid winter – now celebrated as Christmas. The next cross quarter day was Candlemas. This was the beginning of the Druid spring and recognized by us in the quaint custom of Groundhog Day. But to the ancients it was the promise of milk flowing in ewes and the sap rising in trees.

Next is the vernal equinox or mid spring and finally we get to the last cross quarter day in the yearly cycle – May Day. This day was devoted to the essential nature of male and female. The union of the sexes insured fertility of crops, animals and humans and many lascivious activities occurred then. I am always amused by the vision of innocent children gaily dancing around the maypole. I am sure their parents would not appreciate being told that they are celebrating the phallus and its union with Mother Earth.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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November 8, 2010