On April 30th in the woods of the Pisgah National Forest a group of 100 or so people joined together to celebrate May Day.
Most people know May 1st to be a celebration of International Worker's Day. It's celebrated in communist countries like Cuba and even former Soviet Russia. But funny enough May Day actually stems from the pre Christian pagan holiday of Beltane.
What we know May Day to be:
In the late nineteenth century the working class were demanding their right to an 8-hour work week. In the Industrial Revolution most people were working 10 to 16 hour long days with unsafe and even fatal working conditions. This sparked many books like Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.
This gave start to the beginnings of Anarchism and Socialism in America.
What May Day originates from: (Beltane)
The Beltane Festival is celebrated April 30th to May 1st. It is a Fire Festival- the word Beltane originated from the Celtic God "Bel," meaning the bright one and the Gaelic word "teine," meaning fire.
Beltane represents the peak of Spring and beginning of Summer. The Earth is at its peak fertility and so the Pagans use this time to celebrate sexuality, passion, conception, vitality and joy.
The tradition goes that a Queen of May is chosen (also known as the Goddess of Spring or the May Bride) and must choose her May King (also known as Jack- in The- Green or the Young Oak King). He must win her hand, the union is consummated and the folklore goes the Queen becomes pregnant.
The union represents the Heiros Gamos (sacred marriage) of the Earth and Sky.
Traditions of Beltane for the Asheville region
So how do you celebrate Beltane? Well there's pole erecting, womb filling and fire dancing involved.
A Magician is chosen by the previous May King and Queen. The old May King and Queen are placed inside of hole that has been dug up (which represents the womb of Mother Earth).
They are then in charge of choosing the new Magi who places his or her hands onto their hearts. The Magi's role is to act as a Master of Ceremonies and is someone who bridges the two worlds of the masculine and feminine. They are in charge of keeping the rituals as close to Asheville tradition as possible.
The May King and Queen confer about who will be the new Magician inside the "womb," and reveal the Magician.
Once the Magician has been chosen they are in charge of facilitating the next May King and Queen. The previous Queen chooses the next queen. Women step forward as tribute to reign for the year.
The new Queen of May then chooses her May King.
She can use her own methods of choice. This Queen asked her prospects what their given names were as well as their chosen names and what did it mean to embody the true masculine. The men responded and a King was chosen.
Once the king and queen are chosen the King is taken into the woods with the other men. They stomp the ground making loud grunting sounds and cover the king with mud while the Queen is brought to her throne. She is adorned with rosewater, perfume, flowers, chocolates and tattoos. Then the women change into their sun dresses and adorn themselves with glitter and temporary tattoos.
The men then call to the women by way of drums and the Queen of May emerges from her tent. She is covered by her sisters and then presented to her King who is awaiting her within the womb of the Earth. The women sing their queen to her king.
To celebrate their new roles the King and Queen dance together in an expression of fertility.
It is then time to erect the May Pole into the womb of the earth. The men are called forth to help bring it to standing and the women help push dirt into the hole in another metaphor for conception.
Once the May Pole is erected each member of the gathering is asked to take a piece of the ribbon. Then everyone is asked to join in a dance around the May Pole and begin to create a weave of patchwork to represent the community they are weaving together physically and metaphorically.
Once the May Pole has become wrapped to the end the dancing stops and a community dinner ensues. The gatherers feast on organically grown vegetables, happily fed chickens and a pig that was able to live a healthy life up to the age of 5.
Once night falls a circle surrounds the bonfire and the King and Queen are brought to ceremoniously light the bonfire.
They begin the dancing and soon the whole congregation is dancing and singing around the fire to the beat of the drums. This continues on through the night. Soon everyone is dancing nude and rolling in the mud. There is a sensual feeling in the air. People drink mead they make themselves and everyone is given free reign to dance and play as they please.
The next day everyone joins together in dipping into the waterfalls about a mile away from the campsite. The gathering strips nude and wash themselves in the stream.