May Day Celebrations
Originally May Day marked the Druidic feasts that celebrated the sacred union of the Goddess and the God Beltane. This is when the Celts marked the beginning of summer with great bonfires in honour of the sun. Later the May Day festival merged with the ancient Roman festival to Flora, the goddess of flowers and is celebrated around the same time.
THE MAY POLE
The Maypole was a falix symbol representing the male god Belatne. The soft colourful ribbons that entwine around the pole represented his Queen. The dance is their blissful union and all who wished to danced round the maypole decorated with flowers and ribbons. It wasn’t only the Maypole that had a prominent roll in the May Day festivities for in Tudor England it was customary for people of all classes to go out "a-maying" on the first of this month. During these celebrations our ancestors acted out the human version of the union of the god and goddess Beltane by spending the entire night making love in the fields to ensure the fertility of the land. They stayed out to greet the May sunrise and brought back boughs of flowers and garlands to decorate the village the next morning. Children conceived at this time were considered especially blessed and were known as Merry-be-Gots. This method of ritually conveying the fertilising powers of nature into the community was greeted with horror by the Puritans who attempted to suppress these ‘greenwood marriages.’ They made Maypoles illegal in 1644AD and one angry Puritan wrote that men 'doe use commonly to runne into woodes in the night time, amongst maidens, to set bowes, in so muche, as I have hearde of tenne maidens whiche went to set May, and nine of them came home with childe.' Another Puritan complained that, of the girls who go into the woods, 'not the least one of them comes home again a virgin.' However, although these activities were forbidden by the puritans in their Roundhead Parliament, they were, however sanctioned at the Restoration under Charles II.
Garland Day has been celebrated in Castleton for hundreds of years with celebrations being held on Oak Apple Day the 29th May unless it falls on a Sunday in which case it is held on the Saturday. Originally it appears to have been a fertility rite performed by the Druids who worshipped on Castle Hill but today it has become mixed up with the restoration of King Charles II who escaped the Roundheads by hiding in an oak tree at Boscobel House in Shropshire. Today a ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ ride on horseback through the streets, the king’s head completely covered by a garland in the form of an inverted basket decorated with flowers. The procession is accompanied by a band and dancing and progress tends to be slow as all the pubs in the village are visited before the garland is finally hoisted to the top of St. Edmunds Church tower. After the procession there is Morris dancing and singing in the market place. Wikipedia comments, “It is widely believed that these ceremonies, which have now largely died out, are continuations of pre-Christian nature worship and can have little connection with the Restoration.” The strange heavy Garland Headdress shaped like a bell might be traced back by devotees of Druidism to the wicker cages used for the Druidical sacrifices, the season being close to the ancient Feast of Beltane (May Day) which was the most important festival in the Celtic calendar, heralding as it did the coming of summer and fertility. The church at Castleton perhaps dates from Celtic Christianity having been built, re-built, and added to, for although there is no mention of a church in the Domesday, the ninth century name of the Patron Saint suggests a strong claim to Saxon origin even if it was merely a private chapel for the two thanes who supposedly resided in a pre-Norman stronghold.
Sacred wells have been centers of worship and religious magic from the earliest times and are thought to date back to the Celts or even earlier perhaps stemming from the pagan tradition of worshiping the earth’s elements. In Scotland (Tullie Beltane) there is a Druid temple of eight upright stones. Some distance away is another temple, and near it a well still held in great veneration. A writer in The Gentleman's Magazine (1811) says. "On Beltane morning superstitious people go to this well and drink of it; then they make a procession round it nine times; after this they in like manner go round the temple. So deep-rooted is this heathenish superstition in the minds of many who reckon themselves good Protestants, that they will not neglect these rites even when Beltane falls on a Sabbath."
Another school of thought is that the Romans introduced the custom into Britain especially given the fact that a feature of many of