Pole Positions

Maypole dances may have seemed innocent when you were a kid, but for the MoonPath Chapter of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS), the practice stems from an ancient spring ritual that signifies new birth and celebrates the continuation of life. Historically the dance is supposed to represent the union of the god and the goddess, with the phallic maypole representing men, the ribbons women.

The highlight of CUUPS' Beltaine Festival, Family Picnic, and Sabbat Celebration Circle this Saturday is a more adult version of the maypole dance. The women travel in one direction, the men in the other as they hold the ribbons, going under and over as they pass so they are continually facing the opposite sex. CUUPS High Priestess Sophia Letourneau explains that their dance is not as risqué as many other maypole dances, where the men and women, many of whom don't even know each other, kiss as they pass.

The CUUPS dance includes adults and children, so they just weave in and out, leaving any premating behavior to a separate adults-only ritual that is more a game of tag than anything else. Numbered leaves cut from colored paper are pinned on the men. The women chase the men and pull the leaves off to represent capture. Whoever has a predetermined number becomes the May Queen. She picks any man she wants as King of the May.

The midpoint between the equinox and the solstice, Beltaine is part of the Pagan tradition, which includes ancient god/goddess-based, pre-Christian/ pre-Judaic deity systems. Paganism is an umbrella term rather than a specific belief system that includes Native American, Celtic, Nordic, shamanist, Wiccan, and druidic beliefs.

Letourneau can't avoid laughing as she tells of her favorite ancient rite once associated with Beltaine: "People are supposed to procreate in the fields to instruct the crops on what to do." You can almost hear a teenage boy using the line to try to get his girlfriend to sleep with him -- sort of a bucolic version of "Paradise by the Dashboard Light."

Held on the grounds of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Lauderdale, the event won't have fields in which to procreate. Instead the Beltaine Festival will feature drumming, dancing, chanting, vendors, storytellers, a labyrinth, drum circles, feasting, musicians, and a bonfire. In the ancient Celtic tradition, all participants are invited to bring drums, other percussion instruments, and picnic food for the daylong celebration.

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Karen Dale Wolman