British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

Home Main Menu Order Support About Search

Share page  

Previous Contents Next

224                                      may day.                              [May I.
The Irish still retain the Phoenician custom of lighting fires at short distances, and making the cattle pass between them. Fathers, too, taking their children in their arms, jump or run through them, thus passing the latter as it were through the flames—the very practice so expressly condemned in Scripture. But even this custom appears to have been only a substitute for the atrocious sacrifice of children as practised by the elder Phoenicians. The god Saturn, that is, Moloch, was represented by a statue bent slightly forward, and so placed that the least weight was sufficient to alter its position. Into the arms of this idol the priest gave the child to be sacrificed, when, its balance being thus destroyed, it flung or rather dropt, the victim into a fiery furnace that blazed below. If other proofs were wanting of Eastern origin, we might find them in the fact that Britain was called by the earlier inhabitants the Island of Beli, and that Bel had also the name of Hu, a word which we see again occurring in the Huli festival of India.—New Curiosities of Literature, vol. i. p. 229. See Higgins" Celtic Druids, chap. v. sect. 23, p. 181 ; Household Words, 1859, vol.xix. p. 557; Tolan's History of the Druids, 8vo, p. 115 ; Celtic Researches, 1806, 8vo, p. 191 ; Vossius, On the Origin of Idolatries: Essai sur le Culte des Divinites Generatrices.
Going a-Maying.—Bourne (Antiquitates Vulgares, chap, xxv.) describes this custom as it existed in his time:—On the ca­lends, or first of May, commonly called May-day, the juvenile part of both sexes are wont to rise a little after midnight and walk to some neighbouring wood, accompanied with music and blowing of horns, where they break down branches from the trees, and adorn themselves with nosegays and crowns of flowers; when this is done they return with their booty homewards, about the rising of the sun, and make their doors and windows to triumph with their flowery spoils.
In Chaucer's Court of Love we read that early on May-day " Fourth goth al the court, both most and lest, to fetche the flowris fresh and blome."
In the old romance, too, La Morte dy Arthur, translated by Sir Thomas Maleor, or Mellor, in the reign of Edward IV., is a passage descriptive of the customs of the times. " Now it befell in the moneth of lusty May, that Queene Guenever
Previous Contents Next