Attributes & Correspondences
May (Maius in Latin) was named for the Greek goddess Maia, who oversaw the growth of plants. Another theory is that the Romans dedicated this month to their elders (maiores), and June to the young (iuniores).
With plants greening along nicely and many flowers blooming, it’s not surprising that May is associated with the element of Earth. The month is dominated by Taurus (April 20 to May 20). Like April, fertility, rebirth and growth are main themes.
For the ancient Celts and neo-pagans, the month starts with the fire festival of Beltane on May 1. On the Wheel of the Year, Beltane is directly opposite Samhain (October 31), the Celtic New Year. To the old ones, Beltane was the halfway point of the year, and so it was celebrated with bonfires and feasting, blessing of animals, and uninhibited sex, presumably to promote fertility and abundance. Beltane is also midway between the vernal equinox (first day of Spring) and the summer solstice (Litha; first day of summer). The maypole is a very obvious fertility symbol; the practice of bedecking it with ribbons and dancing around it on May Day is an old tradition that’s still carried on in some cultures today.
Green is May’s colour – a natural choice, considering the fresh green, leafy boughs flourishing at this time of year. White and yellow are alternative colours.
There are two main birth flowers for May. Old-fashioned lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) bears stalks of pure white bell-shaped flowers and bright green foliage. In the Victorian language of flowers, it represents sweetness, humility and the return of happiness. Caution: All parts of this plant are highly poisonous to humans and animals if ingested. The highly fragrant flowers make lovely, nostalgic bouquets; try a bunch in a simple silver vase. Muguet, the French name for lily-of-the-valley, is often used as a perfume.
The alternative May birth flower is the common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). Also known as may, mayblossom, maythorn and others, the hawthorn is a thorny shrub or small tree bearing fragrant white flowers, and, later in the season, red fruit called haws. The famous holy thorn of Glastonbury, which reputedly began to grow when Joseph of Arimathea visited Glastonbury and plunged his staff into the earth, was a common hawthorn variety that blossoms twice a year. Its descendants, from cuttings and grafts, still grow around Glastonbury Abbey today, and a budding branch is sent to the British monarch every Christmas. In the language of flowers, the hawthorn symbolizes hope and supreme happiness.
Other herbs associated with May are asparagus, catnip, elderflower, mint, rhubarb and thyme.
Emerald (“green gem” in ancient Greek) is the traditional birthstone for May babies. This variety of beryl was mined in Egypt and was a favourite of Cleopatra. The Romans dedicated the stone to Venus, goddess of love and beauty. Perhaps because of these ancient associations, the emerald has come to symbolize love, fertility, growth, wisdom, foresight, patience and success. It is also thought to be a very calming gemstone that ensures loyalty.
Agate is an alternative birthstone, thought to harmonize body, mind and spirit. It provides a connection to the Earth, and is grounding and stabilizing.
In 2021, the full Moon reaches its peak on May 26 at 7:14 a.m. EDT. In North America, it is most often referred to as the Flower Moon from the Algonquin culture, but also goes by:
Bright Moon (Celtic)
Milk Moon (Anglo-Saxon)
Mother’s Moon (medieval English)
Budding Moon (Cree)
Corn Planting Moon (native North American)
Dragon Moon (Chinese)
Grass Moon (neo-pagan)
A bonus event this year is the total lunar eclipse which will be visible in western North America on May 26.
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