When I lived in a small Greek village in 2002, I was informed that on May first I should rush out and pick a wild plant called mai–which sounds much like the word for May–so I could “catch the May” and gain control over the month. Apparently, it’s an unruly month, full of wild, powerful, magical properties (perhaps, and I’m just speculating here, because it’s name is also close to the word for magic).
I was also warned that one should not get married in May, because one might make a hasty decision, having been driven mad by lust. Since I lived in a village full of senior citizens, I managed to avoid that danger quite easily. But I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that Camelot (the musical, not the presidency) includes a song devoted to “the lusty month of May, that lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray/…that shocking time of year/when tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear.”
I did get engaged in May, last year…lust had something to do with it but certainly not everything, and a year later, I think the decision was a sound one. I suspect maté, the strong Argentine tea that is rumored to have hallucinogenic properties may have more to do with the engagement than lust. Emilio and I were on vacation in Buenos Aires, and just after drinking some, he said, “How soon can we get married?” We’d only been dating 10 months, so I said, “Is that the maté talking?” before jumping onto Facebook and messaging my cousin on Corfu, thus kicking off four months of speed wedding planning before our October nuptials.
That was pretty much the wackiest thing I remember from last May, but today is May 3d and we’ve already had an insane, unexpected month, from the hoopla surrounding the Royal Wedding (is it weird that it sort of snuck up on me), to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Yesterday I noticed that January Jones, the Mad Men star, quietly announced over the weekend that she’s pregnant, but made no mention of who the babydaddy is. I suspect she and her PR people released the news on April 30th so that it would go quietly unnoticed amid the hats and hilarity of the Royal Wedding, and be an established, non-controversial fact by the time anyone noticed her baby bump. And then bin Laden was killed, burying the news even deeper. (I know it’s shallow, and perhaps psychotic, that I link these three events–the Royal Wedding, January Jones procreating, and the death of bin Laden, but that’s the way my twisted mind works.)
The craziness just keeps going on and on–apparently Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller made up–or misappropriated that quote, attributed to Martin Luther King, that everyone has been posting to Facebook: “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” (MLK didn’t say it, but Jessica Dovey did on her Facebook page before quoting him, which may be the source of the confusion). And Donald Trump just can’t shut up about how shocked–shocked–he is that his pals’ sons just couldn’t get into Harvard when Obama did! And look how Obama turned out–I mean, sure, he’s the President of the US and riding high right now, but does that mean he’s as intelligent as Trump’s young boy network…you see what I mean? Crazy.
Anyway, given my one-track mind, I knew there had to be a folkloric reason for May’s lascivious and nutty reputation (which makes May sound like the Tara Reid of months, when really it’s such a lovely time of year, weather-wise, just full of Spring Fever, more an Angie Dickinson than a Tara Reid). And then I remembered Beltane, which started out as a Gaelic festival that was the upbeat, Spring counterpoint to Samhain (a sort of proto-Halloween in October). Think bonfires and fertility rituals.
Here’s a more astrological description from the article Popular Pagan Holidays by Christina Aubin: “At Beltane the Pleiades star cluster rises just before sunrise on the morning horizon, whereas winter (Samhain) begins when the Pleiades rises at sunset.” Samhain is an observance of death, and Beltane a celebration of rebirth and fertility, and these yin-yang moments are both thought to be liminal stages when the border between this world and the next is very thin, a good time to spot ghosts (Samhain) or faeries (Beltane).
Neopagans and Wiccans have appropriated Beltane as a celebration to mark the middle of the sun’s trajectory from the Spring Equinox to the Summer Soltice, and observe it on May 1st every year. According to a Celtic Connection article on Beltane, in Celtic celebrations, married couples took off their wedding rings on Beltane, and were free to do as they pleased, making Beltane the world’s biggest key party, and, perhaps, an early inspiration of the movie Hall Pass.
The celebration of fruitfulness is fairly worldwide, although it often has less racy manifestations–it’s thought to be the reason we hang May wreathes on our doors (or at least, we did when I lived in Greece; once we moved to the US we switched to making May baskets out of those green plastic cases strawberries come in; my mom Joan Paulson Gage reminisces about it on her blog, A Rolling Crone.) Being wrapped up in the Royal Wedding, January Jones’ pregnancy as well as my own, and Obama, along with work, life, cooking dinner, etc, I missed my chance to make a May wreath or basket, dance around a maypole (hello, phallic!) to throw fertile fruit or spring flowers into wild water (a river or stream are thought to be auspicious) or wash my face with morning dew. And being 6+ months pregnant no May wine for me. But I did just return from the doctor’s office where I had my glucose test. And that has to count as a fertility ritual, doesn’t it? Also, right now, I look like the Venus of Willendorf. And it doesn’t get much more fertile than that.