Ok, I will not get too much into speculations about the history of the maypole and will just share some things that are happening around the erection of a maypole in Austria. Two years ago in 2006 I recorded two videos about putting up a maypole and the celebrations around it and uploaded them recently to YouTube.
On the first video, you see the men of the village in their endeauvours to get the maypole straight up. This usually happens in our area at the last day of April.
What you don't see:
After having got the maypole erected, a tent with some benches will be placed at the foot of the maypole, as in this time of the year it can still get chilly in the night here. The tent is for the watchers of the maypole, who have to care, that the maypole doesnt get stolen by people of another village. The music to the first video, I recorded in the evening, when the men (5-15) sat in the tent, and spent their time singing, drinking and cracking jokes.
"Die VogelGrippe wird uns nicht erreichen, denn wir sind heute die VogelScheuchen." This last part I inserted from some TV news. 2006 was the time of the bird flu and everybody was scared and talking about that. And what this young man is saying, is, that the bird flu will not do any harm to us, but rather will be scared by us. Ok, no one is talking about bird flu in this year 2008 so far. And maybe all the Austrian MayPoles drove the BirdFluBirds away :)
The second video about the MayPole ("MaiBaum") was recorded on the first of May 2006 (with some 'backflashes', sorry, 'flashbacks' to the day before).
In the morning people of our village gather at the maypole. Children and teens climb up the maypole and can catch prices if they manage to get up far enough. Prices can be sausages, candies or even a bicycle if someone manages to get high enough. A local orchestra will play some songs on their tubes and that's it.
close to here (St. Wolfgang) a man got killed, as the men lost control over the tree.
Let's take a look into this water bucket (it stands in front of the house I live in) and find in it some words on and about maypoles. After doing the usual researches on maypoles, I got a deep distrust in all the provided information. Why? If you are not a historian, but a psychologist or psychiatrist you may detect some ambivalences in my approches to history and can find the roots in my high school time (Gymnasium).
In the 1960ies the girls skirts were short (mini-skirt, Mini-Rock) and my/our history teacher usually concentrated looking at girls legs, getting himself appetite, while his mouth was talking about stuff, that his mind wasn't thinking about.
And as a simple pupil, you learn this kind of attitude, you sit at school and think about something totally different, not about sex necessarily, but about the weekend, what you will do with your friends etc.
I will spare you some Freudian explanations on the erection of a maypole. Soooo ...
Some things that maybe should be said about the maypole:
The Maypole is not an invention of modern times. Usually, the people of ancient times saw in the tree a parable of life and its laws, the tree as a mirror in which they find themselves, reach out into the sky (the mysteries of the deep or space).
Some clever people like to talk about 'fertility religions', yes that is something that is missing in todays European saecularized culture. Europe is not reproducing itself and has to 'import' people.
music, fire and lots to drink ...
Fertility religions usually deal with and about heterosexuality. A heterosexual person is sexually attracted to persons of the opposite sex or a person who has sexual relations with the opposite sex. The name of this sexual orientation is usually called 'straight'.
You will hear them sometime this year, just stay in touch.
So the straight maypole seems to be a fertility symbol, in the spring and summer point that can be tracked back to a lot of ancient cultures, a symbol with a meaning of annual health of the crops and livestock, the indispensable means of livelihood for the people.
The maypole was 'watched' by men sleeping in the blue tent.
Around midday there will be some more celebrations.
I would not say, that there is a living Celtic tradition in our area, but it is proven, that the Celts have been here before the Romans did and there is empirical prove for that. (See also 'Hallstatt - Culture'). Hallstatt World Heritage is just a few miles away from here.
After the retreat of the Romans, Germanic culture triggered in and replaced the Celtic one. However there were no dramatic breakthroughs in the ideas and religious rites. Nature worship persisted, the tree cult was considered holy and to bring blessings. Each tree was considered to have a soul and should not be cut without compelling reasons.
by the storm Emma (Orkan Sturm Emma).
The First of May was considered a special holiday. It was believed, that on this day Freia married the sky god Wotan (Teuton belief). Wotan was the ruler of the gods and gave up his one eye to woo Fricka, the sister of Freia who was the goddess of youth and beauty. So, was he married to both? You know.
That's some of the stuff that Richard Wagner wrote about, for example in his opera 'Die Walkuere'.
Europe turned Christian, but pagan myths were not complety eradicated. Pagan Myths lived in the knowledge and traditions of the people and some were taken into the Christian Faith (Christmas tree, Maypole, judgement tree, Richtbaum).
And that's why we are putting up maypoles.