When I was in first grade, on the first of May our classroom teacher herded all of us outdoors and made us “decorate the Maypole“, which I recall being an immense flag pole but (given that I was 7) was probably a tether-ball pole. She offered us no explanation for what we did except that it was May-day, which was explained to us as the first of May. Duh. All we knew was that we were to carry colored streamers which had been affixed to the top of the pole in concentric circles while some of us walked clockwise (er, was that deosil?) and some walked counter-clockwise (no one used the word widdershins), gradually wrapping the entire pole in multicolored strands. We had no sense of why we were performing this antic, although I’ll admit it was pretty.
Now, of course, I know that was a holdover from the pagan holiday of Beltane, though I’m certain my thoroughly Christian teacher had no idea what apostasy she was spreading among impressionable youth. Beltane, for those of you who haven’t been playing the home game, is one of the great festivals of the pagan religion and a fertility festival. (Take a moment; pause to consider the pole we were decorating. We were seven.) Personally, I’m a fan of a good fertility festival, but like so many of the holiday traditions I met as a child, it was just one of the things I had to connect the dots on later. Like, you know, the Easter Bunny. And, for that matter, Easter.
Schools are much more self-conscious about that sort of thing these days; I’m sure my younger readers never had such a bizarre and unexplained holdover of an older religion manifest at school. Except, uh, Halloween. Groundhog Day, anyone?
This sort of disconnect between received wisdom, religion, and the eternally elusive truth has always fascinated me. It’s one of the most important thematic drivers of the series I’m working on. And it’s probably no coincidence that the climax of the first novel, The Shadow of the Sun, takes place on Beltane.
That’s why, in honor of Beltane and informational disconnects everywhere, I’m giving away The Shadow of the Sun ebook throughout the month of May. Check here for details on how to get your own copy.