Glossary of Magical Terms

May Pole: Dance, Symbolism, & Creating One


By Morningbird

A maypole is a tall pole with ribbons attached to the top around which people dance to celebrate springtime celebrations, particularly May Eve or Beltane but also occasionally Midsummer. The tradition has its roots in Germanic tradition and continues on the British Isles today.

The Pole

The pole is traditionally made of maplehawthorn or birch. Ribbons may be all colors of the rainbow or certain symbolic colors according to the tradition.

The pole itself may be plain or decorated with wreaths and flowers. One tradition has a wreath at the top of the pole held up by the ribbons extended in all directions. As the dancers circle the pole the wreath moves down the pole.

The Dance

The maypole dance usually begins with the celebrants standing in a circle around the pole alternating male and female. The males all turn to face one direction and the females the other.

When the dance begins, alternating dancers move in opposite directions ducking under and over each other’s ribbons so that the ribbons weave their way down the pole. People may sing as they dance or drummers or other musicians may accompany the dance.

Symbolism of Maypole

The maypole is often considered a phallic symbol and the dance and the weaving of the ribbons a symbolic demonstration of the union of male and female- i.e. the sex act. The tradition of men preparing and bringing the pole and women digging the hole enhances this idea.

The Maypole also may represent Yggdrasil.

Creating a Maypole

The easiest way to create a maypole is to start with a tall, young tree that has been cut down. Trim away the branches and cut the top to a reasonable height before it narrows. Ribbons can be attached using nails or a staple gun.

Dig a hole at least a foot deep, two feet is better, to ensure that exuberant dancers won’t pull over the pole. Put the bottom end of the pole in the hole, bury it and secure it with rocks at the base if necessary.

If you are going to use the same hole year after year, you may wish to stick a length of PVC pipe into the hole and secure that and then stick your pole in the pipe. After the dance, the pole can be removed and kept for next year, or burned at Samhain.

Written by Morningbird & Witchipedia Team

I have been practicing magick alone and with family and friends for over 30 years. As a founder and lead writer on Witchipedia, I’ve been publishing articles since 2006.

It is our mission to provide the most accurate Pagan, occult and magical information.

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