Friday, March 15, 2013

May Bushes, Boughs & Garlands

a part of my 2012 Bealtaine altar
By the time Bealtaine rolls around, many of us get to enjoy how everything is bursting with life: there is a constant chorus of birdsong, flowers are blooming, and there is greenery everywhere. There are traditions during Bealtaine that celebrates the beauty of Spring and Summer, and some of those traditions are decorating trees and decorating inside the home with boughs and floral garlands.
According to Patricia Monaghan in The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore May bush decorating was popular in both rural and urban Ireland up until the late 19th century. A tree would be chosen to be decorated, or boughs would be cut and adorned with ribbons, flowers, candles and sometimes with gussied-up hurling balls or coloured eggshells.

It appears that the most popular trees to become a May bush was the hawthorn, ash, rowan and sycamore. This is a tradition still practiced today, and you can see some examples of modern Irish May bushes here.

The May bush tradition was brought over to North America by Irish settlers and can still be seen in Newfoundland:
"spruce or fir saplings stripped of most of their limbs, save a few near the top, bedecked with strips of coloured cloth or ribbons, appear on the first day of May. These may bushes {also called maypoles, may brushes or may trees} are often nailed to fences or gates and are kept there by the householders who erected them for the duration of the month." {The May Bush in Newfoundland}  
In an article by Bridget Haggerty there is mention of folks trying to steal the community or household May bush, thus stealing that community's or household's luck. If one were vigilant and lucky enough to hold onto their May bush, they would often be burnt in a Bealtaine bonfire.

Besides May bushes, flowers were often utilized to decorate the home, as well as to bring blessings, luck and protection. The Tairis website has some excellent suggestions on what types of flowers and greenery to use {as well as more information on May bushes}, such as juniper, ivy, cowslips, elder, buttercups, and gorse. Some plants such as gorse and elder are not readily available to me, so some other suggestions that might be appropriate are sweet woodruff, lady's mantle, periwinkle, and dandelions.



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