“With a crown of the lilies of light —
For a maiden they crowned her in May,
For the Queen of the Daughters of Day
That are flowers of the forest of Night.”
~~~May Queen by Aleister Crowley
Freya, a May Queen.
Yesterday, during our Family Beltaine/ May Day activities, I played the role of the May Queen. Mambo Sam spoke about the holiday and its significance, and how it is celebrated in many cultures across the world. Today, I was doing some reading about the May Queen and how she is represented in other places and times. I found myself drawn to some information about Freya, an important Germanic Goddess. Her main festival is May Day. Walpurgisnacht ‘Walpurga’s Night,’ when the festival actually begins, is April 30, the evening before May Day is named for Freya. This time of year coincides loosely with the first dew fall, that is the time of year when frost no longer forms at night, but rather the temperature remains above freezing at least for some of the nights. This change in the weather allows the growth of green things and the blooming of all the flowers. This in turn allows for the cattle to be turned out of their winter quarters and released to graze on the new grass which increases the amount and quality of milk available to humans.
Walpurgisnacht is not named after St. Walburga, as is commonly said. However, the saint’s name became attached to the festival as a way of “explaining” the meaning of the name of the holiday. St. Walburga’s feast day is set to May 1st because that was already the name of a major festival of Freya. The pretense that the festival of Walpurgisnacht is named for St. Walburga provides a convenient way of obscuring the festival’s older Pagan origin.
Freya’s domain is the garden, especially a walled garden with fruit trees, properly an orchard with a spring or well. She is responsible for making the flowers bloom and she is always associated with flowers especially flowering trees. As a Goddess of spring time, she is especially associated with romantic love among human beings. Songs of love are well-pleasing to her; it is good to call on her for furtherance in love.
An important event in the changing of the seasons was the moving of livestock from their winter pastures to summer pastures, and vice versa. In some areas of Europe, as the weather permitted, cattle were moved to summer pastures during the May Day/ Walpurgis/ Spring time festivities and Freya was invoked for their protection and fertility.
The following Middle High German charm is to protect cows when they are turned out into the forest, as they were in spring in northern Europe. The exact date would depend on the climate and when the grass was sufficient to support the cattle, though some traditions closely associate this prayer with May Day and associated festivities. “Lady” may refer to the Goddess Freya, the Virgin Mary, or to any unspecified but highly respected woman. The ambiguity may be intentional, and possibly life-saving, since people could ask for assistance from the Goddess while pretending to refer to one of the Christian deities.
Herdsman’s Charm to Protect Cows
Today my herd I drove into our Lady’s grove,
Into Abraham’s garden; Be, good St. Martin,
this day my pledge and warden,
and good St. Wolfgang, good St. Peter,
(whose key can heaven unlock),
throat of wolf and vixen block,
against blood shedding, and bone shredding.
Help me, holy one, who ill hath never done,
and [by] his five holy wounds;
keep my herd from all wood-hounds!
[Say] 5 Pater Nosters (Our Fathers) and 5 Hail Marys
Hope you enjoyed reading about this as much as I did!