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Beltane – ish or the May Pole

Beltane – ish or the May Pole

Putting up the May Pole.

Beltane is a Gaelic observance that occurs on May 1st each year. It is to herald the arrival of summer. As a Heathen, I hardly notice that May 1st is here, but I don’t necessarily begrudge the Celtic pagans and the Wiccans their holiday.

However, we Heathens apparently have something that overlaps Beltane, and that is, the May Pole or Midsummer Pole.

Celebrating the Solstice

As Heathens, we tend to celebrate the solstice rather than Beltane. The summer solstice marks the longest daylight hours, and the ongoing darkness. After the summer solstice, daylight starts waning. In the North, it can be very obvious. In the North, our ancestors tended to think in terms of Winter and Summer. The rest of it was simply transitional times, with special events marked, such as Harvest and Entschtanning.

Those horses look bored. Why are these guys playing with their pole?

But then, there’s the May Pole. Which is sort of an oddity that Northern Europeans seem to have inherited from pagan times. Different regions have different observances, from nothing to partying, drinking, feasting, and dancing.

But What About Beltane?

An erect May Pole.

I look at Beltane as one of those holidays we can certainly celebrate as Heathens. According to the Wikipedia article, herdsmen would drive their cattle between bonfires that the druids built to bless them and prevent disease. While I realize that Wikipedia can have errors, it at least sounds good to me.

People nowadays light bonfires, party, and feast. Probably some debauchery along with that, but hey, whatever floats your boat. I’m reminded of the song, “The Lusty Month of May” from the musical “Camelot,” whenever I think of May 1st and Beltane. Go figure.

May Day and the May Pole Weren’t Celebrated in the United States

Young pole dancers. Just saying.

In the United States, the whole May Pole concept got nixed by the Puritans, who figured it was one way to celebrate pagan gods and commit debauchery. So, when the International Worker’s Day thing started in 1889, Americans already had Labor Day, which came about in 1882. And since the May Day thing was linked to the Labor Movement, which was linked to Communism when I grew up, I knew damn little about its pagan roots.

The fact that the two celebrations are completely unrelated was somewhat confusing to me as a child, and I never really paid much attention to it.

Plus, unless you were into pole dancing, it seemed kind of lame.

Every day is May Day in a strip club.

Phallic Symbols and Walpurgis Nights

Well, okay then. We all can agree that the May Pole may have to do with phallic imagery. Apparently, in Bavaria, young men try to steal the May Pole after it is erected in April. If they succeed, then the town which has had its pole stolen must buy the other town beer on May 1st. I’ll leave your active imagination to work with that one.

According to Wikipedia–which isn’t the authority on the matter, but I’m lazy–May Day was celebrated as Walpurgis Night to celebrate the canonization of Saint Walpurga. Apparently, the Roman Catholics still had to change May 1st to venerate Mary with flowers, because Walpurgis Night wasn’t cutting into the communist celebrations of International Worker’s Day.

Celebrating the May Pole

They’re thinking free beer.

At this point, I can say with some certainty that May Pole celebrations are probably Heathen, or at least pagan, in origin. There are enough traditions throughout Europe of jumping over fire and dancing around an Axis Mundi to accept that this is a legitimate celebration that came before Christianity. Some scholars have linked it with the Irminsul, which is the World Tree. So, maybe it is something worth celebrating.

At least we should consider going to the neighboring village and stealing theirs.

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Surprising Ways Groundhog’s Day is Really a Heathen Holiday (And You Thought it was Just a Movie)

Surprising Ways Groundhog’s Day is Really a Heathen Holiday (And You Thought it was Just a Movie)

Why do we care what rodents think and why is Punxsutawney Phil an obvious celebrity who can’t even beat a coin flip when it comes to predicting the weather? Well, I’ll tell you.

Weather Prognostication and Varmints

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the drill.  If the groundhog sees its shadow on February 2nd, we’ll have six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, we’ll have an early spring. The most famous groundhog, which has been around for about 130 years, is Punxsutawney Phil (who apparently can’t die, if you believe his caretakers, that is the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle). Phil is brought out from his cushy “den” in front of a crowd and the handlers pronounce the weather.  Made famous by the movie, Groundhog’s Day, Punxsutawney Phil isn’t particularly good at forecasting the weather, being only 39 percent right during his entire 130 years.

Punsutawney Phil is a Pagan

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Punxsutawney Phil is a pagan.  Or more accurately, he comes from pagan roots.  The practice of looking at groundhogs and shadows comes directly from the Pennsylvanian Dutch who looked for badgers or bears to predict whether there would be more winter or if there would be an early spring. These settlers came from Germany and were greatly influenced by folk tales and customs which were handed down generations even after they became Christianized and settled in the United States. The Pennsylvanian Dutch had their own stories about the gods, their own magic and beliefs in magic, and their own customs.

The observance of Grundsaudaag (Groundhog’s Day) and the twelve day festival of Entschtanning in Braucherei (the magic system of the Pennsylvanian Dutch), the groundhog is an otherworldly messenger and may actually hail back to the squirrel, Ratatosk, who climbs along the World Tree to deliver insults from Nidhoggr and the eagle to each other.  Historians have traced Groundhog’s Day to Candlemas, which in turn was the Catholic Church’s way of incorporating pagan rituals into Christianity. It may be a Germanic version of the Celtic Imbolc, which shares common elements with Groundhog’s Day, most notably celebrating the beginning of Spring.

Urglaawe and Grundsaudaag

One branch of Heathenry, Urglaawe, is based on the Pennsylvanian Dutch folklore, legends, and myths.  It’s actually quite refreshing to see a denomination of Heathenry that incorporates American traditions, albeit, traditions that originally came from southwest Germany.  It’s also refreshing to see more prevalent goddesses in a branch of Heathenry.  Urglaawe’s most prominent god is actually a goddess: Frau Holle.  There are other interesting goddesses too such as Tyr’s wife, Zisa, and Weisskepicch Fraa, the White-Haired Lady.

Grundsaudaag is the beginning of Entschtanning, which means “emergence.”  This is the time when followers of Urglaawe begin their spring preparations. This includes spring cleaning and creating and honoring the Butzemann, who symbolizes the land’s guardian spirit. The Butzemann is like a scarecrow and is male because it is the energy of the growing plants which live in the Earth, which is considered female.  There’s a nifty article on Huginn’s Heathen Hof about Groundhog’s Day and Urglaawe, if you’re interested.