May Day Morris Dancing

For the past several years, I’ve been rising before dawn on the first of May to join a host of other crazy people in the International Rose Test Garden to celebrate the rising sun on May Day — but really, that’s just an excuse to come out and watch the Morris dancers.

I’ve written previously about dancing up the sun on May Day — also known as Beltane — on my thoughts from the spiral blog and for The Portland Tribune. This year, I’ve also captured video of several of the dances.

But this hardly does justice to actually being there.

It’s usually quite chilly up in Washington Park so early in the morning, and rising just after 4 a.m. to walk the dog, wake up the boyfriend (and get him to stop screaming), secure hot chocolate and drive through the park in near darkness is an adventure in itself.

But once the dancers — festooned in ribbons, bells and flowers — get started, most folks quickly forget all the fuss over getting there in the first place. There are even a couple of participatory dances, including a circle dance to greet the rising sun, and a Maypole dance to celebrate the fertility of the season.

Derived from country dancing of different regions in Great Britain, Morris dancing is fun entertainment for all ages and is especially appropriate for holidays like May Day. Dances with sticks are thought to drive bad spirits back underground — they’re apparently frightened of the noise — preventing them from doing damage to newly planted crops, and the colorful ribbons fit in nicely with the blooming spring flowers. It’s said that the higher the dancers jump, the higher the crops will grow.

While not a specifically Pagan tradition, May Day Morris dancing attracts Neopagans of many stripes to May 1st performances around the world. In Portland, we even had our very own green man — a local man disguised very convincingly as a shrub — for several years running.

May 1st marks the first day of summer on the Pagan calendar — the summer solstice marks the middle of the season, and Lammas its end — and I’ve yet to find a more enjoyable way to celebrate the May Day morning sun than with the Morris dancers in the garden. It’s fun to come together with other like-minded souls for some annual, early morning revelry — and then to head out immediately afterward in search of pancakes and a nap.

I’ll have more videos to post in the coming days, so stay tuned.

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