30 April 2011

30 April - May Eve

The night before 1 May, known as May Eve, was spent in collecting the branches of 'protective' trees and decorating the entryways of houses and barns.  Sly young Reverend Francis Kilvert wrote in his diary in 1870: "This evening being May eve I ought to have put some birch and witan (mountain ash) over the door to keep out the 'old witch'.  But I was too lazy to go out and get it.  Let us hope the old witch will not come in during the night.  The young witches are welcome."

In some places, groups of young people would gather and stay up all night, at first enjoying the hospitality of various houses with small feasts and dancing, and then, as morning approached, going out to the woods to 'bring in the May' - flowers and tree branches - which were used to decorate themselves and their houses.  Hawthorn (or white-thorn) branches were preferred.

Primroses, scattered before the house door, will keep the fairies from entering the house tonight.
To see a vision of your true love tonight, fill your stocking (knee-highs are best, pantyhose if you must) with yarrow and place it under your pillow.  Then recite the following:

"Good morrow, good yarrow, good morrow to thee;
I hope by the morrow my lover to see,
And that he may be married to me;
The colour of his hair and the clothes he doth wear;
And if he be for me, may his face be turned to me,
And if he be not, dark and surly he may be,
And his back be turned to me."