Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Mayday Fire

Happy Mayday! The story of the origins of Mayday can be a contested one, anarchists and pagans claiming the festival as their own, attempting to wrest the festival away from its usage by the state. In the ancient pantheon, the Greek Maia, mother of Hermes, was identified with the Roman Maia, a figure associated with growth and the earthly. According to Wikipedia,
the month of May (Latin Maius) was supposedly named for Maia, though ancient etymologists also connected it to the maiores, "ancestors," again from the adjective maius.
Here's a representation of the Greek Maia, with Hermes:

Mayday as a workers day is dated by anarchists from the late nineteenth century, and is intimately bound up with the fight for an eight-hour working day, the Haymarket riots and subsequent martyrdom of several men executed by the state in the aftermath. 6 years go, Democracy Now talked about these events in some detail:
Watch the whole show.
So that's the origins of Mayday from a modern perspective. Taking a longer view, the festival is as ancient as agriculture probably, maybe older. As the year's mid-point between spring equinox and summer solstice, this time is known as Beltain when the light and heat in the North is halfway between equality with dark and cold, and supremacy. The vulgar right-wing journalism of our old friends the Daily Mail holds that:
May Day as a festival is thought to have originated as a day of Roman dancing on which youths would celebrate the coming of spring and pay homage to Flora, the goddess of fruit and flowers. Read more.
The Mail here seems to want to downplay any grass-roots origins of the festival, and thus any authentic association with a people's history, instead preferring the Roman Empire as the secret origin. It appears far more likely the Roman Floralia was added to the British Beltain. This process has been repeated over and over, the day repressed or co-opted by the state as time moves on.

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