In Sweden, kids dress up as traditional Scandenavian witches and hunt for chocolate eggs. That’s what I’m gonna do next year!
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starstuff has written 12 entries about this goal
This is a photograph from the Beltane Fire Festival in Scotland. Beltane coincides with May Day, the holiday referring to the Celtic god Bel and his fire (“tane”). Beltane, the fires of Bel. It’s about renewal and the approaching summer.
It is very very very strange writing this. I can so clearly see myself as I was last year: perhaps twice as healthy as I am now, and expecting to get even better. I didn’t do anything for May Day this year but I want to mark it somehow, even after the fact. I often feel as if time is out of control, as if I am on pause and everyone else is on fast forward. Putting these marks on the year makes the cycles seem much more regular, and much less like I’m standing in and being thrashed by the sandstorm of time.
This is a French May Day custom that I like:
On May 1st, 1561, King Charles IX of France received a lily of the valley as a lucky charm. He decided to offer a lily of the valley each year to the ladies of the court. At the beginning of the 20th century, it became custom on the 1st of May, to give a sprig of lily of the valley, a symbol of springtime. The government permits individuals and workers’ organisations to sell them free of taxation. It is also traditional for the lady receiving the spray of lily of valley to give a kiss in return. Now, people may present loved ones with bunches of lily of the valley.
Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote. The relative positions to be assumed by man and woman in the working out of our civilization were assigned long ago by a higher intelligence than ours. ~ Grover Cleveland, 1905
“Feminism is about making your life better. It is like self-help multiplied by a hundred.”
“As all advocates of feminist politics know most people do not understand sexism or if they do they think it is not a problem. Masses of people think that feminism is always and only about women seeking to be equal to men. And a huge majority of these folks think feminism is anti-male. Their misunderstanding of feminist politics reflects the reality that most folks learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media.”
“Feminism is for everyone.”
“Justice demands integrity. It’s to have a moral universe – not only know what is right or wrong but to put things in perspective, weigh things. Justice is different from violence and retribution; it requires complex accounting. “
“I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.”
“Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths.”
“Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man.”
“The function of freedom is to free someone else.”
“You are your best thing”
“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”
“Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself.”
“Have higher standards. Trust your bullshit detector. That’s what it’s about.”
“For much of the female half of the world, food is the first signal of our inferiority. It lets us know that our own families may consider female bodies to be less deserving, less needy, less valuable.”
“If women are supposed to be less rational and more emotional at the beginning of our menstrual cycle when the female hormone is at its lowest level, then why isn’t it logical to say that, in those few days, women behave the most like the way men behave all month long?”
“I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.”
“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.”
“Equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who’s confronted with it. We need equality. Kinda now.”
Where I lived – winter and hard earth.
I sat in my cold stone room
choosing tough words, granite, flint,
to break the ice. My broken heart –
I tried that, but it skimmed,
flat, over the frozen lake.
She came from a long, long way,
but I saw her at last, walking,
my daughter, my girl, across the fields,
in bare feet, bringing all spring’s flowers
to her mother’s house. I swear
the air softened and warmed as she moved,
the blue sky smiling, none too soon
with the small shy mouth of a new moon
Although I didn’t know it at the time, Darwin’s legacy has inspired me so much it is even reflected in my username.
43Things doesn’t allow YouTube videos to be played on site, but here are some great links about evolution and fuzzy feel good real science:
Symphony of Science sings about The Unbroken Thread.
I often see doubt expressed about evolution. “It’s just a theory” people say, but theory in science means something different to how most people use it in everyday language (the theory of gravity, for example, or the theory of relativity, or germ theory). QualiaSoup talks about some of the misconceptions people have about evolution in a brilliant video. Evid3nc3 briefly expands on this and highlights the curiously named Project Steve.
Meanwhile Rev. Dowd wants you to Evolutionise Your Life. He says that, apart from Jesus, no one has had a bigger impact on his sense of spirituality than Darwin.
Actually, it is kind of weird that we don’t care to celebrate science.
The reason I am marking Darwin Day as part of this goal is not because it’s a quirky date on the calendar, but because he showed that human beings are an intimate part of the natural world. We are as part as nature as much as the dawn chorus, a late cold snap in spring or the Andromeda galaxy. Happy birthday, Darwin!
I for one will be celebrating the slow return of sunlight: from tomorrow the nights will slowly get shorter and sunshine will last a little longer.
There’s an old saying that goes “nay cast a clout until May is out” meaning that you shouldn’t remove any of your clothes off until the end of May because, despite what you like to believe about May in Great Britain, it’s still too cold. True to form, during the last days of this particular dreary month, sun and heat has suddenly exploded into England.
I have fantasies of May being a lovely month of gentle warmth, of May Poles, of leaving your coat inside and of lambs and ducklings and the like. Not so, but it seems everyone else shares this fantasy or else we wouldn’t have to remind ourselves with archaic sayings with words like “nay” and “clout” in them.
When I was a child my school used to organise a traditional May Day celebration for us kids. I remember standing in a row with my fellow pupils wearing green headbands with yellow cardboard daffodils on them which we’d made ourselves out of egg boxes and loo rolls. We looked splendid.
I desperately wanted to be the May Queen. I didn’t know how you got to be one, I just knew that you must be the best and the most special and the most pretty girl to be the May Queen and that therefore I probably would never be one.
The May Queen wore real flowers, a white dress and sat on a throne that overlooked a colourful May Pole, ribbons fluttering in the breeze. Us kids would watch her from the sidelines with toilet rolls stuck on to our heads and our scuffed up Nike trainers and Addidas tops (although I was never cool enough to wear sports clothes and hung onto my dresses – the only girl in the class apart from Aimie to wear them – as long as I could).
The roots of May Day are deep and reach back into pre-Christian times. This isn’t so surprising as cultures everywhere tend to mark seasonal changes in some way or another, and every modern festivity marks a link in a unbroken chain that spans for thousands of years. Humans are very much creatures of nature, and despite how technological and removed we think we are, we always have one finger on the pulse of the earth.
Although the Roman Goddess Maia lends her name to the entire month of May, it was the Goddess Flora who was honored at May Day and people in the UK are still known to “bring in the May” from time to time. Bringing in the May involves going out on the night before May Day and picking flowers. In the past this night was also known for its mischievousness as romance was often in the air.
The Celtic people of the British Isles celebrated Beltane around May 1st, which involves a traditional Beltane fire to symbolise how warmth is returning to the earth. For farmers and gardeners like me it’s reminds us that the earth is literally warming up, the soil is warm enough for seeds to be planted and seedlings to be put into the ground.
No May Day would be complete without a May Pole, although it’s a myth that this pole is strictly pagan. In pre-Christian times the May Pole was ribbonless and probably originated in Northern Europe and spread after the fall of the Roman Empire. It was the Victorians who added the ribbons and who’s children first danced with them. An excerpt from The Guardian Newspaper:
In 1989, the Rev Ben Turner, the newly installed incumbent of St Stephen’s Church in Bury, Lancashire, announced that he was banning the Maytime practice of crowning the Rose Queen in his church. “It is firmly rooted in pagan fertility rites, like dancing round a maypole,” he said. “To continue such a practice, outwardly harmless and entertaining as it may be, shows poor theological understanding.”
However much we may marvel at Turner’s meanness of spirit and astonishing insensitivity, or his channelling of the Puritan mindset, that isn’t the whole story. As Steve Roud says: “Unfortunately, Turner had fallen rather publicly into the trap of believing that all traditional customs must be extremely old, and are therefore linked to pagan activities. The Rose Queen was in fact a late Victorian invention encouraged, and perhaps even created, by clergy and respectable churchgoers as a piece of safe and controlled pageantry.”
A few years ago some Australian friends of my mum’s who were visiting England came to dinner with us. They said, “A really strange thing happened to us today. We were sitting outside a pub when a gang of men dressed in waistcoats and bells walked towards the garden where the people drinking. We looked around and suddenly everybody apart from the men had disappeared and then they started jumping around and waving scarves and hitting sticks together! What was that!”
Ah, Morris Men. Morris Men are another traditional icon in England, although the “art” is dying out. Mostly because people mock and dislike it so much! There’s no record of this folk dance before the 1400s and claims that it is pre-Christian doesn’t hold up (it’s another example of the “if it’s traditional it’s pagan” meme.)
Terry Pratchett has written about Morris Dancing many times and has a lovely if dark spin on it:
The Morris dance is common to all inhabited worlds in the multiverse.
It is danced under blue skies to celebrate the quickening of the soil and under bare stars because it’s springtime and with any luck the carbon dioxide will unfreeze again. The imperative is felt by deep-sea beings who have never seen the sun and urban humans whose only connection with the cycles of nature is that their Volvo once ran over a sheep.
It is danced innocently by raggedy-bearded young mathematicians to an inexpert accordion rendering of “Mrs Widgery’s Lodger” and ruthlessly by such as the Ninja Morris Men of New Ankh, who can do strange and terrible things with a simple handkerchief and a bell.
And it is never danced properly.
There, the men dance on the first day of spring, backwards and forwards, bells tied under their knees, white shirts flapping. People come and watch. There’s an ox roast afterwards, and it’s generally considered a nice day out for the all the family.
But that isn’t the secret.
The secret is the other dance.
In the village in the Ramtops where they understand what the Morris dance is all about, they dance it just once, at dawn, on the first day of spring. They don’t dance it after that, all through the summer. After all, what would be the point? What use would it be?
But on a certain day when the nights are drawing in, the dancers leave work early and take, from attics and cupboards, the other costume, the black one, and the other bells. And they go by separate ways to a valley among the leafless trees. They don’t speak. There is no music. It’s very hard to imagine what kind there could be.
The bells don’t ring. They’re made of octiron, a magic metal. But they’re not, precisely, silent bells. Silence is merely the absence of noise. They make the opposite of noise, a sort of heavily textured silence.
And in the cold afternoon, as the light drains from the sky, among the frosty leaves and in the dampair, they dance the other Morris. Because of the balance of things.
You’ve got to dance both, they say. Otherwise you can’t dance either.
So long, May! To sleep at all in this weather you have to cast all your bloody clouts, each and every one.
“Springtime is the land awakening. The March winds are the morning yawn.” Lewis Grizzard
That come before the swallow dares, and takes
The winds of March with beauty.” William Shakespeare
It’s spring! Spring has sprung! It’s half way through March already and the vernal equinox arrived without so much as a whisper. I’ve been watching the sunlight stay a little longer each day since lent and it always surprises me how much I’ve missed it. It lights the earth like a smile.
Standing in my kitchen watching my black cat through the window as I hold a cup of tea (the cup is pink and also has a black cat on it) it’s hard to remember how, in the past, people made blood sacrifices to bring back the sun. These days people are more likely to give up chocolate or watching TV than do anything so blatantly pagan as that. Even so, altars of solar-yellow daffodils are sprouting up and down the country almost as if to mock us.
Until 1750 when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in Britain, it was March that was the first month of the year and not January. This makes sense: the roots of spring are deeply tangled with notions of beginnings and fresh starts, and for centuries the New Year rose with spring. (Of course, in the southern hemisphere, March heralds autumn.)
March didn’t just represent the beginning of the farming calendar as it was also the beginning of the military campaign season in Rome. March takes it’s very name from this campaign season: it is named after the Roman god of war, Mars.
According to Wikipedia, “In Finnish, the month is called maaliskuu, which originates from maallinen kuu, meaning earthy month, because during maaliskuu, earth finally became visible under the snow. In Ukrainian, the month is called березень, meaning birch tree. Historical names for March include the Saxon Lentmonat, named after the equinox and gradual lengthening of days, and the eventual namesake of Lent. Saxons also called March Rhed-monat or Hreth-monath (deriving from their goddess Rhedam/Hreth), and Angles called it Hyld-monath.”
My friend Steve can empathise with the Ukrainian name of birch tree, I’m sure. In spring the energy of plants begin to rise, and not in a New Age way. During winter plants withdraw and store their energy in their roots (this is why leaves fail and fall from trees and the stems of your roses die down) but in spring this energy rises in the form of sap, hormones and nourishment. If you time it just right, you can harvest this sap from birch trees. Steve did it for the first time this year and collected three pints in one day! He filled glass milk bottles with golden sap. I already want to establish this as a yearly tradition in my life.
Mothers Day is also (at least in the UK) in March and is Easter which falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Naturally this full moon is known in Britain as Lenten Moon as it is to do with the lengthening of days. Other names for it are: Crow Moon, Crust Moon, Sugar Moon, Sap Moon (birch trees!) Chaste Moon and, rather morbidly, Death Moon (I wonder if this harks back to Mars and war again?)
This, of course, as any daffodil will tell you, is not at all pagan. Happy March, and Happy Women’s History Month!
I know Valentines Day has been and gone, but I loved this essay about its history and folklore by the British Folklore Society.
In the 1660s, Samuel Pepys’s diaries frequently refer to another form of the custom. Families and friends would gather on Valentine’s Eve for a party during which they would write their names on pieces of paper, and so draw lots for a pretended sweetheart. On the feast itself, and for a few days thereafter, the ‘valentines’ were expected to flirt and flatter one another, and the men would give the women presents, such as embroidered gloves or silk stockings. These gifts themselves were sometimes called ‘valentines’. Pepys and his circle also knew the idea that the first person seen that day would be one’s destined valentine; he records that in 1662 his wife walked about with her hand over her eyes to avoid seeing some workmen who were in the house.
In Norfolk in the later eighteenth century, Parson James Woodforde used to give a penny to every child under fourteen in his parish who could say ‘Good morrow Valentine’ on the right day. There is also a Norfolk custom, still known, that parents should leave a present for their own children on the doorstep; this is alleged to be a parcel from ‘Jack Valentine’, ‘Mr Valentine’, or ‘Old Father Valentine’ – who, naturally, has vanished.
I’m imagining one with pockets to put things in and remind me not what appointments I have but how to move with the seasons: what seeds to plant on which month, when the little folky celebrations are coming up and mixed media collages and quotes to nudge me into doing something on them.
Note to self: Don’t be too ambitous or you’ll never get it done!
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