So here we are again, Beltane, the eve of May, one of my favourite times of year, and I'm gearing up to take the Whirly Band and the Bosky Man out onto the streets of Oxford first thing tomorrow morning (I've just written my latest Spiral Earth column about May Morning).

It's been a funny old spring. Midsummer weather in March followed by a month long deluge. April showers are one thing but the weather of late has been of a different order. Great galleon clouds hoving in and blasting us with thunder, hail and stair rods. The wind has spun round in so many directions that even weather cocks are giddy and green at the gills. No, I fear that this is all yet further intimation of a climate irredeemably buggered.

Of course, weird weather aside, one of the great myths about Beltane is that it was a fertility festival and that people went out into the woods and fields to, ahem, encourage the crops to grow. I've got a chapter coming out in the forthcoming book, Pop Pagans, in which I explain why the fertility myth is one that contemporary Paganism would do well to be rid of, but for now, here's what Ronald Hutton has to say on the matter of people frolicking in the fields, in his Stations of the Sun.


It took until the late twentieth century, and the patient labours of demographic historians, to reveal that there was in fact no rise in the numbers of pregnancies at this season [May], in or out of marriage. The boom in conceptions came later in the summer. In practice early modern people seem to have found the night of the 30 April generally too chilly, and the woods generally too damp.

Whatever else our ancestors were, they weren't stupid. Nevertheless, come rain or shine, we'll be out on the streets tomorrow, celebrating the (eventual) overthrow of winter by summer, giving nature her full dues at this time of growth, hope, and expansion, and generally stirring up the spirit of revellion. I hope to see you there but whatever you do, may it be large. Up the May!


  1. According to mircea Eliade, the Dayak people of North Borneo celebrated 'the period between the years' with the erection of a 'Tree of Life' followed by "sexual exchange, total and mass'
    This was not a matter of 'fertility' but one of renewing the creation ...

    1. And what, I wonder, did the Dayak people think they were doing? Eliade, like all the great armchair theorists before him, never really bothered to find out and, in silencing the indigenous voices, made the data fit his theory. Now, don't get me started on Frazer...!

  2. I'm with you on that one.

    BTW. Evidence for Beltane isn't that strong either.



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