A central feature in the conducting of Beltane (see Sabbats) festivities as celebrated by neo-Pagans and neo-Pagan Witches. The maypole is usually a fleshly cut oak, birch, elm, or fir tree. It may be any one of these trees since they all are associated with fertility, and Beltane is a fertility festival celebrated on May Eve, from which the maypole receives its name.
The maypole is a phallic symbol associated with fertility. Trees have been worshipped as bearers of life since ancient times. They have constantly played a major part in pagan rituals to insure the fertility of women, cattle, and crops. According to tradition the cutting of the maypole was always accompanied by much joyous celebration with dancing and singing. In earlier times it was erected in the center of the village; but in modem times it is usually place in a cleared area, or wherever the sabbat celebration occurs. Customarily the tree, after being stripped of its branches, is decorated with garlands of flowers and long ribbons which are attached to its crown. In celebration, ends of the ribbons are took in hand by young men and women alternatively who dance around the tree in opposite directions braiding the ribbons over and under while singing until the tree is wrapped in ribbons. (see also Morris dance)
The May rites are most common in the British Isles, Europe, Canada and the United States. Various countries have different customs. In parts of France, only girls dance around the pole while a boy wrapped in leaves, who is called Father May, is led around it. In Bavaria, the maypole is erected in front of a tavern, a man called Walber was wrapped in straw, and he dances around it. Feasting follow the singing and dancing. While in Scandinavia, it is tradition to set up many maypoles at each house. The festivities are celebrated at midsummer instead of the beginning of May.
Currently the poles are burned at year’s end at the autumn sabbat. Ideally a new pole is cut and dressed again at the next Beltane festival. However, in olden times villagers found it more convenient to retain a permanent maypole and dress it anew each year. Puritans frowned on the sexual aspects of the permanent maypoles and destroyed them in many locations throughout England. A.G.H.