The Beltane Maypole

Among the various symbols of Beltane frivolity, the Maypole is probably the most well known, even to non-Pagans.

On the surface, the tall Maypole is simply a phallic symbol to reflect the fertility of the season. But it originates with the ancient Irish story of the Bile Pole. The Bile Pole was a sacred tree of life that grew up through the Earth to join the Heavens above and the Otherworld beneath. A similar story to the Norse tree, Yggdrasil.

history of the beltane maypole

One does not simply put up a Maypole at Beltane, the pole must be draped with ribbons and flowers, and it must be danced around. In the past, it was the young children who did the dancing.

Long ribbons are attached to the top of the pole, usually in pastel Spring colours. Half the ribbons would be taken up by the boys, and the other half by the girls. The boys then go clockwise around the pole, and the girls move counter-clockwise. Some raise their arms, and others duck under, to weave the ribbons tightly around the pole.

The children did not just run about, willy-nilly. Quite often they would have a rehearsed dance so that the ribbons wound round the pole would have a pattern. The better the pattern, the better the harvest would be that fall.

Some villages had a permanent Maypole, but others would erect a new one every year on Beltane eve. Birch was frequently used for the poles, but not exclusively.

If you’re looking for the perfect decoration for Beltane this year, try putting up a Maypole in your yard. If you have no place outdoors, you could put up a small pole in your home. Be sure to cover it with flowers, ribbons and leaves either way.