Maypole dancing is SOP, standard operating procedure, for any Beltane rite that is worth attending. This form of ecstatic energy-raising has a long history in Europe and Great Britain. Ironically, this is a folk practice that appears to be an acceptable spring-time activity among the genteel society outside of paganism, too.
The first time I ever danced the Maypole was on “Mayday” in 1979. There in our PE class in Kindergarten at a public elementary school in Manchester, Tennessee, a gymnasium full of 5 year old, presumably christian children danced in an old pagan ritual–and they had no idea. I think that is hilarious.
Martha Stewart even gives instructions for how to make a maypole for your kids. However, I have a very pointy opinion against allowing children to participate in this magick; it is wildly inappropriate at least, and potentially harmful to the children at worst. This form of sympathetic magick is essentially symbolic group sex. The dancers become conduits for sexual, kundalini energy, and if their bodies are not yet sexually mature they cannot safely channel that power. In my article last year, Beltane: Once You Go Witch, You’ll Never Switch, I wrote:
Beltane has an Exotic Pole Dance
This dance symbolizes the act of coupling to fertilize and create life on the largest metaphorical scale. Just like within the actual Great Rite, the phallus goes into the yoni, and the Symbolic Great Rite wherein the knife goes in the cup, when we erect the Maypole, the pole goes in the hole. <boom chica wow wow>
All of these magickal acts are in sympathy to how the feminine and masculine forms of biology throughout nature get it on for the purpose of creating new life… [At] Beltane, we will crown the pole with a wreath of flowers flowing with ribbons of red and white – an eternal circle of creation that feeds two primary threads of polarity…
No matter who you are, when you hold onto that ribbon, for just a little while you choose to embrace and embody the creative potential of every end of that one side of polarity. It doesn’t matter which end, because you inherently have both within you! Some of us choose to pull up the power of the earth as Mother Goddess, and some of us pull down the heavens as Father Sky…”
Crafting a Maypole for a Large Coven
For many years now, I’ve been in charge of facilitating the Maypole dance at the local Beltane festival, where we needed to include at least 30 dancers. This year, I’m making one for just our coven of 20. This sex magick ain’t cheap, nor easy…but no quality sex worth having would be. One does not simply walk into Beltane. Before your coven can start dancing, you’ve got a lot of figuring, procuring and constructing to do.
There are three main components to prepare:
- The pole itself, blessed and set into the earth.
- The Ribbon Topper Apparatus to attach to the top of the pole.
- The Wreath – or as I call it, the sacred cock-ring – that will slide down the pole during the dance.
Tools to gather:
- 25 foot tape measure (at least)
- 1 long nail–at least 3-4″ long
- Staple Gun and Staples
- Hot Glue Gun and Glue Sticks
- Drill to make a hole in center of the plywood circle.
- Rubber Bands
Craft materials to gather for the topper:
- Plywood Circle Blank: I am using 12″ dia. X 1/4″ thick wood “clock face” blank that I found at AC Moore, Nicole’s Basic Crafts Corner brand, that already had a drilled hole in the center…very handy. Depending on the number of dancers you have, you can use a smaller diameter wooden circle; it just needs to be thick enough to hold the staples. Here is a link for plywood round blanks in various sizes.
- Styrofoam wreath blank at least 18″ diameter (or a straw one if you can find one big enough) but the important detail is that the clear inside “hole” dimension is bigger than the Wooden Circle by several inches.
- Silk flowers, ivy, etc. I get mine at Dollar General for a buck. You can also use live flowers if you have the luxury of crafting this topper immediately prior to the dance. We intend to leave our pole wrapped, decorated and in place until Samhain, so I like using materials that will withstand the weather for a while.
- Rolls of Florist Ribbon: 1 7/16″ wide X 100 Yard (300 foot) Rolls. I like Berwick brand, Flora-Satin, 100% Waterproof Polypropylene florist ribbon, made in the USA. I get mine on-line from Nashville Wraps for $3.90/roll and they have 12 color options.What ribbon colors to choose? Traditional colors for this magick are equal ribbons of red and white. Red for the women, symbolizing menstrual blood, and white for the men symbolizing semen. This year, I am planning a slightly different angle for our magick, and we are using rainbow colors, for all 7 chakras and layers of consciousness. If you are concerned about the seemingly hetero-normative, dual-gender focus of red/white, then going rainbow is a great alternative. How many rolls of ribbon you will need, depends on how many colors you are using, and how many dancers you have.
Calculations, with a little help from Pythagoras
Math is not my strongest subject…nay…I suck at math. My high school algebra teacher would roll her eyes into another dimension over the irony over what I’m about to write: In my job as Witch, Priestess and Shopkeeper, I use the math she taught me all.the.time. Which brings us back to Pythagoras.
Pythagoras of Samos was a seriously cool fellow. He lived in Greece from 570-495 BC and is considered a father of mathematics and science, of philosophy, metaphysics and numerology. Like most folks, I first heard his name in 7th grade geometry class thanks to his “Pythagorean Theorem.”
How long is your phallus – I mean, pole?
Size does matter…
Ideally, the group would go out into the woods and fell a young tree–perhaps a nice, straight pine tree, whose diameter is at least 4″ diameter at the smallest point, at least 15 feet above the ground, and 6″ diameter at ground level. Remove the limbs and bark and smooth it out, more or less.
I suggest making this a separate group project well in advance, perhaps as part of a “men’s mysteries bonding event.” The pole can be carved or painted in runes or sigils of male/god virility, charged and anointed magickally, but that is the subject of a different blog. Just be creative! This is the phallus of the Great God, after all! Make it an impressive one!
Before your rites begin, your 15′ prepared pole will need to have a big nail hammered into the top, sticking up a few inches, so that the topper can eventually be slipped over the nail. Then the pole should be sturdily set into a hole in the ground, buried at least 3 feet deep. This way it’s top-most point is at least twice the height of the average dancer. For a group of 20-30 people who are +/- 6′ tall, I’ve found that 12 foot tall pole is ideal. Too tall a pole is a problem, because that takes ridiculous amounts of ribbon, its impossible to reach the top with your tallest ladder, and if the dance takes too long to wrap the ribbons to within a few feet of the ground, then you loose too many folks to exhaustion before its done.
Use the Pythagorean Theorem to calculate your ribbon length
The Pythagorean Theorem calculates the length of the hypotenuse of a 90 degree triangle. In other words, if you know the length of the two sides of the right angle, then you can figure the length of the slanty side that connects them..
- A = Pole height of 12 feet
- B = Distance the dancer is standing away from the pole–or the radius of the circle you will be dancing. This is the same as the pole height of 12 feet. We want a 24 foot diameter dancing circle; I prefer my circles to always be multiples of 3. (Three-fold power, y’all!)
- C = Hypotenuse, or length of the individual ribbons
A² + B² = C²
12² + 12² = C²
(“squared” is 12 times itself, or 12 x 12)
144 + 144 = C²
√288 = C (square root of 288 finds what number multiplied by itself would equal 288, just use a scientific calculator)
16.97 = C
Round that up to 17 feet of Ribbon per dancer.
BOOM! You just did math, Witch!
Now, I add 1 more foot (making it 18 feet) so that as I’m crafting the topper, there is a bit of spare ribbon at the end, and its an even number and multiple of three. This way a 100 yard roll of ribbon can yield up to 16 ribbons, with around 6′ of spare for making the Wreath.
Now, that you’ve engaged with the Spirit of the Mighty Dead, the Father of Numerology, by utilizing his most magickal theorem, I’ll fill you in on a Witch-hack: just take the pole height of 12′ and multiply times 1.5 = 18′
So, if I want to have 7 different colored ribbons as options for my celebrants, but I have to have an even number of dancers, I cut 3 of each color (3 x 7 = 21) and one will just have to be left-over.
I lay out two heavy handled tools, like broom handles or rakes, 18 feet apart on the ground, and roll out the ribbons, wrapping around the handles so they’ll stay flat. Then I cut them, roll and rubber-band them to keep them tidy.
Making the topper apparatus:
In my rainbow ribbon ritual, each celebrant chooses a global or societal concern for which they’d like to manifest change and weave into the fabric of nature via their ribbon–this isn’t a personal intention, but a HUGE, OVERARCHING intention for all of life on Earth.
Like, PEACE in SYRIA, CLEAN WATER FOR ALL, RENEWABLE ENERGY, SAVE THE BEES, LGBT LIBERTY, or how about RATIONAL GOVERNMENT. Note that I’m not naming the problem, I’m naming the solution. Have each celebrant write their intention with a sharpie on the end of their ribbon. Charge the individual ribbons in a creative way.
Leaving the ribbon rolled up in the rubber band, pull out the inside end of the ribbon and staple them evenly around the edge of the wooden circle blank–add a dab of hot glue over the staple so that the florist ribbon won’t split and tear off during the dance. Then, hot glue or staple silk flowers or other decorative greenery over the tops of the ribbons, and hanging over the edge a little, so it can be seen from the ground. Make sure to leave that hole in the center of the wood blank clear and ready to be slipped over that nail on top of your pole.
The Wreath, or Sacred Cock Ring:
Possibly the most important component, is the wreath that will slip down the pole as the ribbons are woven during the dance. This element draws the powers of the above, down to the earth to touch the below. I call this the sacred cock-ring. During your ritual, after the ribbon topper is slipped over the nail, and each ribbon is uncoiled and handed down to each celebrant, who then spread out in the circle and stand 12 feet away, pulling their ribbon taught, the wreath is then slipped over the top, to be suspended on the taught ribbons.
The dance isn’t over until the wreath touches the ground. Traditionally, this was to be a woven wreath of fresh
flowers, which is really romantic and lovely, except that if there are any dangly or snaggy bits hanging off, it will inevitably catch in the ribbons as they are woven and get hung up…which is really disruptive to the flow of the dance, kind of like the coitus interuptus of a condom malfunction. No bueno.
So I make a smooth and slippery satin wreath, hubba hubba. Everyone knows that slippery is better! This gives plenty of clearance to go over the top, and slide easily down the pole, with nothing to snag. I glue the end of the ribbon to the 18″ styrofoam wreath blank, then wrap that around at an angle, gluing the other end to itself. Then turn and go the other way with the next one, until all the blank Styrofoam is covered.
The Dance of the Maypole:
The celebrants divide into two groups, standing every other person: those that will pull down the Father God energy – they stand facing clockwise, and those who will pull up the Mother Goddess energy – they stand facing counterclockwise. The drums or music begins, all begin chanting a simple and spritely ditty, and the “God” people circle first to the outside of the “Goddess” person beside them, then weave under the next person they encounter, and outside the next one, and so on.
In, Beltane: Once You Go Witch, You’ll Never Switch, I wrote: “We dance, interweaving in and out, steps syncopating to the pulse of the drum, breath syncopating as we chant… The ribbons slowly enclose the pole like a Chinese finger trap, as God/dess merges…That wreath, the sacred cock-ring, slips down that phallus as the vitality emerges within the wildness of nature and touches the earth – just like with actual sex, if you are doing it right, the cosmic orgasm explodes.
We spin out, sweaty and exhausted now, collapsing in laughter as within each of us the kundalini power rises from the base of our spines, coiling around our own axis mundi, our internal “maypole,” …tingling as our anima and animus merge in unified delight within us. Regardless of our bodies, gender identity, or sexual orientation, this is the bliss of The Two Who Move As One, and we are all their faces.”
Notes on Tangle-age:
If you attempt to top the pole before it is set in the ground, or in advance of the dance, trust me, there will be epic ribbon tangle-age, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. I have years of failure in this department. Untangling a mess is far more disruptive to the flow of ritual, than just carefully handing them out when the time to dance is nigh.
Just have your ladder already there at the pole. Send your Mayking, or representative of the God for the day, up
the ladder with the topper. He slips it over the nail, then calls out each intention as it is written on the ribbon tail. That Celebrant steps forward, he undoes the ribbon, they take it and step the circle edge and wait. Each time the intention is called out by the King, have all celebrants chant it aloud three times each, to begin weaving that intention with power.
Last thing, slip the “cock-ring” wreath over the top so it rests on the ribbons. Quickly remove the ladder, arrange everyone, with last minute dance instructions, then start the music or drumming.
Here is a catchy chant I just came up with:
Draw up the Earth!
Draw down the Sun!
Beltane is Here!
Magick be Done!
Meanwhile, the children are safely and appropriately skipping around the outside, singing, blowing bubbles, waving sticks with ribbons attached at the end, and laughing at the adults, because its pretty funny to watch.
May all your Beltanes be blessed,