British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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May i.]                          MAY DAY.
I                                   .
The festival of May Day has existed in this country, though
jits form has often changed, from the earliest times, and we find abundant traces of it both in our poets and old chroni≠clers. Toilet imagines that it originally came from our Gothic ancestors; and certainly, if this is to be taken for a proof, the Swedes and Goths welcomed the first of May with songs and dance, and many rustic sports; but there is only a general, not a particular, likeness between our May≠day festivities and those of our Gothic ancestors. Others again have sought for the origin of our customs in the Floralia, or rather the Maiuma, of the Romans, which were established at a later period under the Emperor Claudius, and differed perhaps but little from the former, except in being more decent. But though it may at first seem probable that our May-games may have come immediately from the Floralia or Maiuma of the Romans, there can be little question that their final origin must be sought in other countries, and 'far remoter periods. Maurice says (Indian Antiquities, vol. i. p. 87) that our May-day festival is but a repetition of the phallic festivals of India and Egypt, which in those countries took place upon the sun entering Taurus, to celebrate Nature's 'renewed fertility. $aAAos (phattos) in Greek signifies a pole, in addition to its more important meaning, of which this is the type; and in the precession of the Equinoxes and the changes of the calendar we shall find an easy solution of any apparent inconsistencies arising from the difference of reasons.
That the May-festival has come down to us from the Druids,
vho themselves had it from India, is proved by many striking
facts and coincidences, and by none more than the vestiges
of the god Bel, the Apollo, or Orus, of other nations. Tht
Druids celebrated his worship on the first of May, by
lighting immense fires in honour of him upon the various
I earns, and hence the day is called by the aboriginal Irish and
the Scotch Highlandersóboth remnants of the Celtic stockó
la Bealtine, Bealtaine or Beltine, that is, the day of Belen's
fire, for, in the Cornish, which is a Celtic dialect, we find
that tan is fire, and to tine signifies to light the fire.
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