The Fragrant Month of May: Folklore, Poetry & More by Amanda Bergloff
Updated: Jul 4
Among the changing months, May stands confessed the sweetest, and in fairest, colors dressed! -James Thomson
The beautiful month of May is here!
May is the month that is a bridge between spring and summer- A time when the garden starts growing, the birds sing, the flowers bloom, and the sun warms the days in anticipation of summer.
This month is thought to be named for the Roman goddess Maia, who oversaw the growth of plants. Maia was considered an earth goddess and nurturer which may explain the connection with this springtime month.
To celebrate May, we've gathered some folklore, poetry and more for you to enjoy below!
BELTANE (which means "lucky fire") is a celebration first attested in 900AD in Gaelic culture. It is one of four Gaelic festivals that are still observed today (along with Samhain, Imbolic and Lughnasadh.)
Celebrated on the evening of April 30th, (the eve of May Day) Beltane was focused on the symbolic use of fire to bless cattle and other livestock before being moved to summer pastures. The lighting of bonfires was a ritual meant to protect farmers, crops, and cattle, as it was thought that the flames, smoke, and ashes had protective powers. People would walk around the bonfires or jump over embers for luck, and cattle would be made to jump over small bonfires to protect their milk from being stolen by fairies. Fires in the home hearth would be put out and then re-lit using the Beltane bonfire to ensure extra luck and protection.
In addition to bonfires, this celebration included feasts with some of the food and drink being set aside as an offering to fairies as well. In early Irish literature, Beltane is mentioned and is considered another time of the year when the veil between our world and the underworld is thin, making it the best time to contact spirits. Conversely, the beings of the otherworld, such as fairies, and other spirits, can also have an effect on humans. That's why the protection of bonfires and other Beltane rituals were important.
Celebrated on May 1st, MAY DAY is a traditional spring festival in many cultures. It is also linked with Gaelic Beltane, as well as being the date of International Workers' Day.
May Day is the celebration of the return of spring and has a connection to astronomy, as it's the halfway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice.
The celebration is also rooted in agriculture since springtime festivities, filled with song and dance, hailed the sown fields starting to sprout. Cattle were driven to their summer pastures and special bonfires were lit. The "bringing in the May" rituals involved the gathering of wildflowers or green branches, the weaving of floral garlands, the crowning of the May king and queen, and the maypole. These rites were originally intended to ensure fertility for crops, livestock, and humans, and the celebrations of May Day around the world today still include many of these ancient rites.
A delicate fabric of bird song Floats in the air, The smell of wet wild earth Is everywhere.
Oh I must pass nothing by
Without loving it much,
The raindrop try with my lips, The grass with my touch; For how can I be sure I shall see again The world on the first of May Shining after the rain? -Sara Teasdale, May Day
MAY BIRTH FLOWERS
Lily of the Valley & Hawthorn
LILY OF THE VALLEY
To show the one you love that your life is complete with them,
give them a few lilies of the valley as this fragrant flower signifies sweetness, humility, and happiness.
The hawthorn plant is the other May flower. It represents hope and supreme happiness,
and when you give it to someone, it signifies that you want only the best for them.
Goddess of Spring
The earliest known May celebrations appeared with the Floralia, festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers and spring, which was held the 27th of April through the 3rd of May in ancient Rome.
Flora was the symbol for nature and flowers, especially the May-flower. Being one of several fertility goddesses in Roman mythology, her association with the spring gave her great importance at the coming of springtime, and her festival symbolized the cycle of life, rebirth, and flowers.
THE FULL MOON OF MAY
The Flower Moon
May 5, 2023
The full moon for May is named the Flower Moon for the simple reason
that many spring flowers are in bloom at this time of year.
May's Moon Phases
Full Moon: May 5 Third Quarter: May 12 New Moon: May 19 First Quarter: May 27
Oh! fragrant is the breath of May
In tranquil garden closes,
And soft yet regal is her sway
Among the springtide roses.
- William Hamilton Hayne, American poet (1856–1929)
Here we come piping In Springtime and in May; Green fruit a-ripening, And Winter fled away. The Queen she sits upon the strand, Fair as lily, white as wand; Seven billows on the sea, Horses riding fast and free, And bells beyond the sand.
The MAYPOLE is a tall wooden pole erected as part of various European May Day folk festival celebrations, around which the maypole dance takes place. It is thought by historians that maypoles were set up as part of spring rites to ensure fertility and as a sign that the season of warmth and growth had returned. The pole shape allowed for garlands or ribbons to be hung from them, and they were first seen in the British Isles between AD 1350 and 1400. The maypole dance is the ceremonial folk dance performed around the maypole which is garlanded with greenery or flowers and festooned with colorful ribbons that are entwined into patterns as the dancers holding them dance around it. Many maypole chants have been written to accompany this dance, and some dancers wear bells to mark off the beats of the chants or music by making their steps cross between a skip and a jog, coming down in time to the music.
When April steps aside for May,
Like diamonds all the rain-drops glisten;
Fresh violets open every day:
To some new bird each hour we listen."
- Lucy Larcom
MAY BIRTH STONE
EMERALD is the birthstone of May and is associated with love, fertility, and rebirth. It was purported to be Queen Cleopatra's favorite gem, and ancient Romans dedicated the stone to Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. The emerald signifies patience, growth, and wisdom. It is also thought to improve memory, soothe nerves, grant foresight, and ensure loyalty.
A dry May and a leaking June make the farmer whistle a merry tune.
A warm January, a cold May.
A wet May makes a big load of hay. A cold May is kindly and fills the barn finely.
Mist in May, heat in June, make the harvest come right soon.
The first 3 days of May were thought to be the time when the evil influence of fairies was at their strongest. To prevent them from entering your home, scatter primroses across the doorstep as they cannot pass it.
The Hawthorn tree is thought to be a tree of protection and can prevent lightning from striking the home and from storm damage when growing in the yard.
A swarm of bees in May makes a lucky day.
For good luck throughout the spring, bring branches into your home of forsythia, lilacs or other flowering shrubs from your region.
Gathering the first dew on May mornings will guard against the evil eye.
Washing the face with dew on May 1st can beautify the skin.
Sweet May hath come to love us,
Flowers, trees, their blossoms don;
And through the blue heavens above us
The very clouds move on.
- Heinrich Heine, Book of Songs
Some music that evokes the "feeling" of May to us...
Wishing all our FTM readers
an enchanted May!
Share what you love about this month in the comments section below~
The Fairy Tale Magazine's contributing editor, Amanda Bergloff, writes modern fairy tales, folktales, and speculative fiction. Her work has appeared in various anthologies, including Frozen Fairy Tales, After the Happily Ever After, and Uncommon Pet Tales. Follow her on Twitter @AMANDABERGLOFF