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In mediæval poetry and romance, the month of May was celebrated above all others as that consecrated to Love, which seemed to pervade all nature, and to invite mankind to partake in the general enjoyment. Hence, among nearly all peoples, its approach was celebrated with festivities, in which, under various forms, worship was paid to Nature's reproductiveness. The Romans welcomed the approach of May with their Floralia, a festival we have already described as remarkable for licentiousness; and there cannot be a doubt that our Teutonic forefathers had also their festival of the season long before they became acquainted with the Romans. Yet much of the mediæval celebration of May-day, especially in the South, appears to have been derived from the Floralia of the latter people. As in the Floralia, the arrival of the festival was announced

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by the sounding of horns during the preceding night, and no sooner had midnight arrived than the youth of both sexes proceeded in couples to the woods to gather branches and make garlands, with which they were to return just at sunrise for the purpose of decorating the doors of their houses. In England the grand feature of the day was the Maypole. This maypole was the stem of a tall young tree cut down for the occasion, painted of various colours, and carried in joyous procession, with minstrels playing before, until it reached the village green, or the open space in the middle of a town, where it was usually set up. It was there decked with garlands and flowers, the lads and girls danced round it, and people indulged in all sorts of riotous enjoyments. All this is well described by a Puritan writer of the reign of Queen Elizabeth--Philip Stubbes--who says that, "against Maie," "every parishe, towne, and village assemble themselves together, bothe men, women, and children, olde and yong, even all indifferently; and either goyng all together, or devidyng themselves into companies, they goe some to the woodes and groves, some to the hilles and mountaines, some to one place, some to another, where they spend all the night in pleasant pastymes, and in the mornyng thei returne, bryngyng with them birch bowes and braunches of trees to deck their assemblies withall, . . . . But

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their cheerest jewell thei bryng from thence is their Maie pole, whiche thei bryng home with greate veneration, as thus: Thei have twentie or fourtie yoke of oxen, every oxe havyng a sweete nosegaie of flowers placed on the tippe of his hornes, and these oxen drawe home this Maie poole (this stinckyng idoll rather), whiche is covered all over with flowers and hearbes, bound rounde about with strynges, from the top to the bottome, and sometyme painted with variable colours, with twoo or three hundred men, women, and children following it, with greate devotion. And thus beyng reared up, with handekerchiefes and flagges streamyng on the toppe, thei strawe the grounde aboute, binde greene boughes about it, sett up sommer haules, bowers, and arbours hard by it. And then fall thei to banquet and feast, to leape and daunce aboute it, as the heathen people did, at the dedication of their idolles, whereof this is a perfect patterne, or rather the thyng itself." 65

The Puritans were deeply impressed with the belief that the maypole was a substantial relic of Paganism; and they were no doubt right. There appears to be reason sufficient for supposing that, at a period which cannot now be ascertained, the maypole had taken the place of the phallus. The ceremonies attending

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the elevation of the two objects were identical. The same joyous procession in the Roman festivals, described above, conducted the phallus into the midst of the town or village, where in the same manner it was decked with garlands, and the worship partook of the same character. We may add, too, that both festivals were attended with the same licentiousness. "I have heard it credibly reported," says the Puritan Stubbes, "and that viva voce by menne of greate gravitie and reputation, that of fourtie, three score, or a hundred maides goyng to the woode over night, there have scarcely the third part returned home again undefiled."

The day generally concluded with bonfires. These represented the need-fire, which was intimately connected with the ancient priapic rites. Fire itself was an object of worship, as the most powerful of the elements; but it was supposed to lose its purity and sacred character in being propagated from one material to another, and the worshippers sought on these solemn occasions to produce it in its primitive and purest form. This was done by the rapid friction of two pieces of wood, attended with superstitious ceremonies; the pure element of fire was believed to exist in the wood, and to be thus forced out of it, and hence it was called need-fire (in Old German not-feur, and in Anglo-Saxon, neod-fyr), meaning literally a forced

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fire, or fire extracted by force. Before the process of thus extracting the fire from the wood, it was necessary that all the fires previously existing in the village should be extinguished, and they were afterwards revived from the bonfire which had been lit from the need-fire. The whole system of bonfires originated from this superstition; they had been adopted generally on occasions of popular rejoicing, and the bonfires commemorating the celebrated gunpowder plot are only particular applications of the general practice to an accidental case. The superstition of the need-fire belongs to a very remote antiquity in the Teutonic race, and existed equally in ancient Greece. It is proscribed in the early capitularies of the Frankish emperors of the Carlovingian dynasty. The universality of this superstition is proved by the circumstance that it still exists in the Highlands of Scotland, especially in Caithness, where it is adopted as a protection for the cattle when attacked by disease which the Highlanders attribute to witchcraft. 66 It was from the remotest ages the custom to cause cattle, and even children, to pass across the need-fire, as a protection to them for the rest of their lives. The need-fire was kindled at Easter, on May-day, and especially at the

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summer solstice, on the eve of the feast of St. John the Baptist, or of Midsummer-day. 67


93:65 Stubbes, Anatomie of Ahuses, fol. 94, 8vo. London, 1583.

95:66 Logan, The Scottish Gael, vol. ii, p. 64, and Jamieson's Scottish Dictionary, Suppl. sub. v. Neidfyre.

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