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Political Pagans
Hazel Marshall

As foot and mouth pyres are still being lit in a gruesome parody of the Beltane fires, they remind us that it is time to celebrate May Day once again. Yes, you too can dance with the fairies or round a Maypole, jump over a roaring fire to make a wish or wash your face in the morning dew. Just remember that to keep up with contemporary ideology you have to go and mutilate some public architecture in support of workers rights the next day.

Build up your energy, there’s a lot to be done in the first twenty four hours of May. In fact, so much that, to make things a little easier, I have decided to split the May Day celebrations into two halves. Arguably it is split into the female and male half. After all, the pagan side seems to call on worshipping the fertility of the Earth, the goddess Diana or some other embodiment of womanhood. While the political side has never had any qualms about calling on the International Brotherhood of Workers. Therefore, feel free to take your side. Pagan or political; male or female, the decision is yours.

The Pagan Side
Beltane (named after the Celtic God of Sun, Bel) is celebrated on the eve of May Day, on April 30th. It is a ritualistic celebration dating back to the Celts and Saxons (that’s quite a long time ago). It is strongly linked to the seasons and is about celebrating the earth and the first planting season. Spring, after all, is all about creation and fertility. It is about reminding us that the sap is rising. There are many ways to get rid of the sap if it is bothering you. Most of them involved leaping, jumping, dancing, rutting or just plain running around. If you want to celebrate May Day the pagan, female way, here are a list of dos and don’ts to help you along the way:

1. Do dance with the fairies;
2. Don’t try to capture one - they will curse you;
3. Do bathe your face in nice fresh morning dew;
4. Don’t do it in a public park where you have seen dogs running around;
5. Do leap over the Beltane fire while making a wish;
6. Don’t do so while wearing floating gauzy clothes;
7. Do dress up like Diana and Herne, the god and goddess of hunting;
8. Don’t go down the pub until you’ve changed;
9. Do celebrate all aspects of fertility and creation;
10. Don’t do it in public (especially the fertility bit).

The Political Way
Meanwhile, over in the more serious male, political arena people are limbering up for May Day. Daubing Winston Churchill with a spot of paint and giving him a grass Mohican is maybe not the best way to remember that May Day was first granted as a public holiday in honour of the Haymarket Martyrs. Bizarrely, the Haymarket Martyrs were American, from Chicago in fact, and they were martyred for fighting for an eight hour working day. This all happened back last century when the Americans still had unions. But it is the French that we really have to thank, for when the Second International was formed on the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution (that means it happened in 1889), they supported the Chicago Workers and called for a demonstration to take place in support of them. This demonstration took place on 1 May 1890 and became known as International Workers Day. These demonstrations took place throughout the world on the 1st of May every year throughout the next few decades. While we in Europe clung to the date as being a celebration of workers rights, the Americans, who, if you remember started it all, ditched that date in favour of Labour Day on 5 September, since it fitted in much better with their holiday plans, slotting conveniently as it did in between the 4th of July and Thanksgiving. They also managed to turn it into a weekend instead of just a day. Anyway, if you insist on going down the male or political route here are your dos and don’ts:

1. Do demonstrate for the rights of others;
2. Don’t think that giving Winston Churchill a Mohican is funny, rebellious or even mildly amusing;
3. Do remember the Haymarket Martyrs - don’t say ‘who?’, they are the reason for your bank
4. Don’t sing the Red Flag, particularly if you are a New Labour supporter;
5. Do ask the Marxist next to you why the revolution hasn’t come yet;
6. Don’t ask him which private school he went to;
7. Do feel free to go away for a long weekend instead of marching;
8. Don’t go to London for that long weekend;
9. Do try to get extra money out of your company by insisting that you have crucial work that
needs done that day, so that you can go to work and surf the internet because nobody else is in;
10. Don’t forget to annoy any New Labour supporter by asking if they actually know the words to
the Red Flag.

© Hazel Marshall 2001

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