And So, It Is May Day Again

Bonfire at the Beltane Fire Festival 2019, Calton Hill, Edinburgh. The reunited May Queen and Green Man face the fire, while dancers raise their arms to heaven.
Image by Nyri0, Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

You made it through another Walpurgis Eve and now it is May Day.  The name derives from the Greek goddess Maia, the most important of the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades) and the mother of Hermes. Her name became the name for this month. The Romans called her Maius, goddess of Summer, and honored her during Ambarvalia.

Will you celebrate today? You might have a bonfire or a Maypole to dance around, move your cattle to summer pasture, decorate your home with flowers (or put a basket secretly at someone’s door), protect yourself from evil witchcraft, or just rest and have an early Labor Day.

May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers. The Walpurgis Night celebrations occurred in the Germanic countries.

May Day celebrations throughout Europe eventually traveled to the New World and so Maypole dances and May baskets filled with flowers or treats might be left secretly at someone’s doorstep. If the receiver of a basket catches the giver, a kiss is exchanged.

May Day basket
Did you catch anyone putting a May Day basket at your door?

In the Roman Catholic tradition, May is observed as Mary’s month, and May Day is usually a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary with works of art, school ceremonies etc. Statues of Mary will sometimes be adorned with a ring of flowers in a May crowning.

May first is also International Workers’ Day which is also known as May Day and is a celebration of the international labor movement. This celebration of laborers and the working classes that is promoted by the international labor movement.  May 1 was chosen as the date for International Workers’ Day by the Socialists and Communists of the Second International to commemorate the Haymarket affair in Chicago that occurred on May 4, 1886.

Because May 1 also marks a traditional European spring holiday, it is a national public holiday in more than 80 countries. In some of those countries, it is officially celebrated as Labor Day or some variation without the spring season associations.

Beltane is an ancient Celtic festival which came into English from the Gaelic word bealltainn which literally means “May First.” Depending on where you are living, today might seem like spring or summer, or autumn or winter in the Southern Hemisphere. This Gaelic May Day festival was usually held on the first of May, or about halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice.

Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals—along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh.

In some of the earliest Irish literature and Irish mythology, Beltane is associated with summer. (It is aslo known as Cétshamhain which means “first of summer.”) In America, we think the unoficial start of summer as Memorial Day at the end of May.
The traditions of May day included driving cattle to summer pastures. Special bonfires were made and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. The people and their cattle would walk around or between bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. Household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire. Of course, there was feasting and drinking. Doors and windows, even livestock, might be decorated with May flowers, particularly yellow and red as they evoked fire.

Though much of the May Day, spring/summer and Beltane celebrations have stopped, the annual Beltane Fire Festival held in Edinburgh, Scotland is one modern example. The modern neo-pagan community also embrace fire dancing and rituals and festivities at this time.

In Wales, Creiddylad was a character connected with this festival and is often called the May Queen. The maypole and its dance is a remnant of these old festivities.

In Finland, May 1 was celebrated as Rowan Witch Day, a time of honoring the goddess Rauni, who was associated with the rowan tree. Twigs and branches of the rowan are used as protection against evil.

The Rowan Tree in the Celtic Zodiac is the sign for Jan. 21st to Feb. 17. In mythology, the first woman was made from the Rowan tree. These trees are believed to have magical properties that can protect from witchcraft and misfortune. Small crosses made from rowan twigs were carried for such protection. It is also known as the goddess tree and the red berries can be fermented into wine, spirits and ale.

Rowan tree art via Amazon

The Full Milk Moon of May


cow grazing under the full moon

The Moon will be full today in Paradelle at 5:42 pm. It is probably best known as the Corn Moon, Planting Moon, and the Hare’s Moon. The Arapaho Indians referred to this Full Moon as “when the ponies shed their shaggy hair.” It is the Flower Moon in Algonquian.

I chose one of its lesser known names, the Milk Moon. During May cows, goats, and sheep (at least they did and may still if they are free to do so) get to enjoy the newly-sprouting weeds, grasses, and herbs in the pastures and so produce very rich milk.

The exact moment at which the moon is fullest — when the sun, Earth and moon align — won’t be visible to observers in North America, because the moon will be below the horizon. On the U.S. East Coast observers will see the moon rise a few minutes before 8 p.m., 2 hours after the full moon’s peak. (Find out what time the moon will be visible at your location with this moonrise and moonset calculator.)

According to folklore, it is lucky to hold a moonstone, a gemstone that looks like a milky moon, in your mouth at the full moon. It is said that it will reveal the future.

Folklore also says that a the eyes of a cat will be open wider during a full moon than at any other time.

Though the term “moon struck” usually means mentally deranged, crazed or dreamily romantic or bemused, it originally meant a person was chosen by the Goddess and the person was said to be blessed.

Vesak Day is one of the biggest days of the year in the Buddhist calendar and is celebrated by Buddhists all over the world on the day of the full moon in May. Sometimes informally called “Buddha’s Birthday”, it commemorates the birth, enlightenment (Buddhahood), and death (Parinirvāna) of Gautama Buddha in the Theravada or southern tradition.




A Full Blue Moon and Day for Night

shoot moon pexels

Today’s Full Moon (May 21, 2016) is the third of four full moons to occur between the March equinox and the June solstice and so it can be called a Blue Moon. To be precise, it occurs at 21:14 Universal Time, but it looked full last night and will look full to many people tomorrow night too.

No blue color to the moon, though we often see moon or night photos that have a blue cast to them because of the way cameras often interpret the color of sunlight and moonlight as respectively red/orange and blue.

Movies often use filters to change those colors. Francois Truffaut made a film I like titled Day for Night (La Nuit américaine) for the film-making process referred to in French as la nuit américaine (“American night”) of shooting outdoors in daylight with film stock balanced for tungsten (indoor) light and underexposed (or adjusted during post production) to make the final result appear as if it was filmed at night. In English the technique is called “day for night. ” As more sensitive low-light film became available and with the takeover of digital, shooting day for night is not as common. In the Truffaut film, it also implies that other things are not as they seem.

This is a Blue Full Moon by one older definition of the term as described above.A more recent definition is that a Blue Moon is a second full moon in the same month. Today’s full moon doesn’t fit that definition. That definition of the Blue Moon won’t come around until  won’t happen until January 31, 2018 and will only occur 7 or 8 times in 19 calendar years.

Look up tonight and if you see the Full Moon clearly you will also see a brilliant “star” following it. That is Mars, shining much brighter than any star. Mars will also be move on May 22 into opposition and be the brightest Mars we have seen in 10 years.

This Full Moon has many names including Hare Moon, Merry or Dyad Moon, Fright Moon, Flower Moon, Frogs Return Moon, Thrimilcmonath (Thrice-Milk Month) or Milk Moon, Sproutkale, Winnemonoth (Joy Month), Planting Moon, and Moon When the Ponies Shed.

Many cultures celebrated this month. The Greek goddess Maia, the most important of the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades) and said to be the mother of Hermes, gave the name to this month. The Romans called her Maius, goddess of Summer, and honored her during Ambarvalia, a family festival for the purification and protection of farm land. In the Celtic cultures, May was called Mai or Maj, a month of sexual freedom. Green was worn during this month to honor the Earth Mother. May 1 was the Celtic festival of Beltane, a festival celebrating fertility of all things. Cattle were driven through the Beltane bonfires for purification and fertility. In Wales, Creiddylad was a character connected with this festival and often called the May Queen. The maypole and its dance is a remnant of these old festivities.

This can be the Buddha Full Moon when it occurs near the Buddha-Wesak Festival. The date of Buddha’s birthday varies but it is said that Buddha was born, died and received enlightenment on the Full Moon in Scorpio and many followers consider this the highest spiritual day of the year.


The May Moon When Frogs Return

frog moon

May 4th is the Full Moon for this month. It occurs at 3:43 UTC, but in Paradelle (and the eastern U.S. coast) it slips into fullness tonight (May 3) just before midnight at 11:42 pm EDT.

The Full Moons get all the attention, but it is nice to be aware of the other phases too. On the 1th, make note of the Last Quarter (seeing the left half of the Moon) and the New Moon (or “no Moon”) on the 18th. You can look wise on the 25th by pointing out the First Quarter (the right half showing brightly) to people.


As the years pass, I will run out of names for the Full Moons. This year I chose the name Moon When Frogs Return which is said to be an American Indian name (though I can’t find a tribe it is attached to). Frogs, which probably don’t seem very noble or heroic compared to others who have Full Moons named for them, like the Wolf Moon, have a place in Native American mythology. The frog was the guardian of all the fresh water in the springs and wetlands. Water is more essential than even food and the “singing” of frogs like spring peepers is a surer sign of the spring season than those groundhogs.

Most species of frogs interpret signs in nature, such as slight rises in temperature, to know when to travel to vernal (spring) pools and ponds and begin breeding. At the breeding sites, frogs sing to attract mates and the sound can be quite loud song to the new season.

As I have written several times before, many of the Full Moon names are geographically based. What is happening in nature in Maine is not happening that month in Arizona. One species of frog, spring peepers, emerge from their winter hibernation in early January to early April depending on where you live. You can hear them singing in ponds, marshes, swamps and temporary pools throughout the eastern half of the United States.

You can also call this the Hare Moon, Merry or Dyad Moon, Fright Moon, Bright Moon, Mothers Moon (for Mothers Day), Flower Moon, Frogs Return Moon, Thrimilcmonath (Thrice-Milk Month), Sproutkale, Winnemonoth (Joy Month), Seed Moon or the Planting Moon.

The American Colonists sometimes called this the Milk Moon. It’s not a name the American Indians would have used because they did not domesticate cows. Colonists thought of May as the time when their cows, goats and sheep could enjoy the abundantly-sprouting new grasses, weeds and herbs in the pastures and produce lots of rich milk.

Buddhists can view this as the Buddha Moon since it was said that Buddha was born, died and received enlightenment on the Full Moon in Scorpio. This Full Moon is considered by some as a very spiritual day.

I may have invented the name of the Moon of the Horseshoe Crabs that I used in the past on this site. Their spawning activity (which I know and have seen in the waters between New Jersey and Delaware) peaks for a few days before and after the May and June new and full moons. Huge numbers of horseshoe crabs will appear on the beaches along Delaware Bay to mate and to lay eggs under the sand. The numbers peak on the night of Full Moon and at the time of high tide. They feel the pull.

It is a Romantic idea that the lunar pull controls the crabs. Well, it does control the tides.  I love those horseshoe crabs. They are “living fossils” that have remained essentially the same for 300 million years.

The tens of thousands of eggs which the females deposit in the sand for the males to fertilize coincides with the spring migration of many species of shorebirds. Those birds rely on those eggs for the food they need to continue their migration. It is a great example of the web that connects the natural world.

Full Corn Planting Moon

Tonight’s May full moon is known, like other months’ full moons, by several names.

It is sometimes known as the Full Flower Moon since in most areas of the country flowers are abundant.

It is also known as the Milk Moon.

Being a gardener, my favorite name is the Full Corn Planting Moon.

There is a long tradition of “moon planters” who believe that the gravitational force that pulls the tides and pulls a horseshoe crab ashore to mate, also causes crops (particularly those that bear fruit above ground) to sprout faster from the earth.

When the moon is waning and the pull decreases good old gravity has its way and roots and root crops have their way. Plant potatoes, carrots et al. Don’t plant anything when the moon is dark. That’s when plants rest. It’s a good time to kill weeds because they won’t grow back.

In the Native American tradition of the Medicine Wheel, the Corn Planting Moon is the third moon of Wabun, the Spirit Keeper of the East.  The stone on the wheel representing this moon is placed three quarters of the way between the eastern and southern stones in the outer circle of the Medicine Wheel.

Full moon names go back hundreds of years to Native Americans of the northern and eastern United States who kept track of the seasons by giving names to each full moon based on natural occurrences.

Variations in these names come from the European settlers who created some of their own names. Native Americans did not domesticate cows, so it was these settlers who named the May full moon the Milk Moon. During May cows, goats, and sheep enjoy sprouting weeds, grasses, and herbs in the pastures and produce lots of rich milk, full of vitamins.