Seekers and Guides: Maypole Magic

The most iconic symbol we associate with May Day is the maypole.  I think it’s mostly because it’s a lot of fun to dance the maypole dance, but it’s bright, and cheerful, and contains an incredible depth of symbolism.

Maypole Crown.  Beltaine Faire 2011, Edmonton, AB.  Photo by Sable Aradia.  Copyright (c) 2014.  All rights reserved.
Maypole Crown. Beltaine Faire 2011, Edmonton, AB. Photo by Sable Aradia. Copyright (c) 2014. All rights reserved.

One could interpret it as a fertility symbol (a pole sticking into a hole, wrapped in white and red ribbons – you figure it out).  One could interpret it as a Year-Wheel.  One could see it as a World Tree or a model of the Universe (especially potent when rainbow ribbons are used.)

One of the most directly-successful spells I ever did involved a maypole.  You can invest a magical intent into your maypole dance, even if you’re dancing with others who do not share your magical goal.  Some ideas:

  • Maypole, Beltaine Faire 2011, Edmonton, AB.  Photo by Sable Aradia.  Copyright (c) 2011.  All rights reserved.
    Maypole, Beltaine Faire 2011, Edmonton, AB. Photo by Sable Aradia. Copyright (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

    A protection charm, especially when travelling – keeps you rooted in the earth and represents being centered

  • A spell to assure completion of a major project
  • When danced by a couple, especially when among other couples, a charm to maintain love
  • A charm to help bind a coven or community together – can be especially effective at the inauguration of a coven or group, or to bring disparate groups of people together
  • A fertility charm (this was very successful for me) – best followed by some babymaking sex!
  • A spell to bring growth and fertility to a piece of land – really effective when done in a garden
  • A spell to “get some” – concentrate on attracting sexy people who find you sexy!
Beltane 2012 in Vernon, BC.  Photo by Anari Houston, copyright (c) 2012.  Used by permission.
Beltane 2012 in Vernon, BC. Photo by Anari Houston, copyright (c) 2012. Used by permission.

How to Dance a Maypole[1]

You will need a maypole, which is a pole with streamers or ribbons all around the top. Sometimes a ring is fastened to it (coat hangers twisted into position to form a ring and a “cap” for the pole work nicely, especially if you cut a slot in the pole’s head) and sometimes the streamers are attached right to the top of the pole. You can cap it with flowers (tradition uses hawthorn or seasonal fruit blossoms). I advise you not to use crepe paper party streamers because they dissolve completely when wet and they don’t have good tensile strength to begin with. The ribbons are traditionally red (for the fertile menstrual blood of the Goddess) and white (for the God’s fertile seed) or multicolored.

You need to have as many streamers as there are people, and there needs to be an even number of them. I find it is better to err on the side of caution rather than have a whole bunch of unused streamers, which means not everyone might be able to participate. The maypole dance is physically demanding, so your less mobile folk may prefer to chant or drum anyway. I can tell you as a healthy asthmatic I find it challenging!

At one annual Beltane celebration I attend, the women dig the hole in the earth to hold the pole while the men chop it down and put it in. Both groups help to cap it with the ring of ribbons before it is propped up. The symbolism here should be fairly obvious!

Traditionally, everyone forms a circle, alternating men and women, though this convention will depend on your group. It is a fertility dance, so if you have a mixed gendered group, this can enhance the experience. Men and women face each other in pairs, with the women facing widdershins (direction of the moon) and men facing deosil (direction of the sun). I imagine in the southern hemisphere this would be reversed. If you aren’t alternating men and women, you still need two groups going in opposite directions.

Maypole 1 by Sable Aradia.  Copyright (c) 2014.  All rights reserved.
Maypole 1 by Sable Aradia. Copyright (c) 2014. All rights reserved.

Women hold the red streamers; men hold the white ones (or just pass them out in order, if your streamers are multicolored.)

Maypole 2 by Sable Aradia.  Copyright (c) 2014.  All rights reserved.
Maypole 2 by Sable Aradia. Copyright (c) 2014. All rights reserved.

Pulling the ribbons fairly taut, the dance begins with one group moving to the outside and the other moving to the inside as they pass each other. Women, again, move widdershins and men move deosil. It is easiest to have the widdershins group start to the inside and the deosil group start to the outside.

Maypole 3 by Sable Aradia.  Copyright (c) 2014.  All rights reserved.
Maypole 3 by Sable Aradia. Copyright (c) 2014. All rights reserved.

Almost right away, you will be face-to-face with a new partner. Now move past that person to the opposite side of the one you started with (so if you passed the first person to the outside, now pass to the inside).

Maypole 4 by Sable Aradia.  Copyright (c) 2014.  All rights reserved.
Maypole 4 by Sable Aradia. Copyright (c) 2014. All rights reserved.

When you reach the next person, pass to the other side again (so in our example, you would now be passing to the outside).

Maypole 5 by Sable Aradia.  Copyright (c) 2014.  All rights reserved.
Maypole 5 by Sable Aradia. Copyright (c) 2014. All rights reserved.

Repeat the steps of this dance, alternating inside and outside. Try to remember which way you are supposed to move next—it is easy to get mixed up! You might end up hopelessly laughing and completely lost. It’s okay to replace people as they get tired if it goes on long enough, but just remember to keep alternating men and women if you started that way!

As the dance progresses, you will be weaving a pattern with the ribbons on the pole. If everyone remembers where they are, this will be quite beautiful. You will also find yourselves moving faster and faster as the ribbons shorten.

Eventually the streamers will be too short to be useful. At that point, start tying them off with other ribbons to hold them in place. People will begin to bow out of the dance as they run out of ribbon. When the last of the ribbons are tied off, the dance is done!

[1] Aradia, Lady Sable.  The Witch’s Eight Paths of Power: A Complete Course in Magick and Witchcraft, p. 166-169.  Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, Sept. 2014.


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