01 May 2012


You ask where I think the name of May comes from?
Its origin’s not totally clear to me.
As a traveler stands unsure which way to go,
Seeing the paths fan out in all directions,
To give different reasons: plenty itself confuses….
Ovid, Book V: Introduction
[According to Ovid, the Muse Polyhymnia says that the month is named for the goddess Majesty; her sister Urania claims the month is dedicated to the Senators (maiores), and Calliope gives the honor to beautiful Maia, the mother of the god Mercury.]

Then came fair May, the fairest maid on ground
Decked all with dainties of her seasons pride,
And throwing flow’res out of her lap around:
Upon two brethren’s shoulders did she ride,
The twins of Leda; which on either side
Supported her, like to their sovereign Queen.
Lord! How all creatures laughed, when her they spied,
And leapt and danced as they had ravished been!
And Cupid self about her fluttred all in green.   

“May.  This month ranked second in the Alban calendar, third in that of Romulus, fifth in that of Numa.  In the first-named calendar it was twenty-two days in length, thirty-one in that of Romulus, thirty in that of Numa, and thirty-one again in that of Julius Caesar.  The name of this month is supposed by some to have come from Maia, the mother of the god Hermes, or Mercury.  This, however, is based solely on the similarity of the two words, and the name of May was much more probably given in honor of the Majores or Maiores, the original Roman Senate… The Saxons called this month Tri-Milchi, the improved condition of the pastures now enabling the cows to give milk three times a day.”
William Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898) p. 680

Astronomy for May:

The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower will occur in the predawn hours of the 5th and 6th, but the exceptionally bright full moon will wash most of them out.

May is half winter and half summer.

Weather for May:
According to the 12 Days of Christmas: Clear skies, brilliant sunshine, and warm.
According to the first 12 days of January: Sunny and less cold.
According to the Ember Days: Cold and overcast.

Weather Lore for May:

A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay.

A cool May gives good wine and much hay.

A cool and windy May causes the year to fruitful.

A windy May makes a fair year.

A cold May, a good year.

In the middle of May comes the tail of winter.  [Quite often true.  I've known a frost to come along just after I planted my tomatoes.]

A cold May is kindly, and fills the barns finely.  [That is as maybe, but I'm more worried about my tomatoes!]
                        on the other hand
A cold May enriches no one.

Cool weather in May is known as blackberry winter or dogwood winter.

A hot May makes a fat churchyard.

A dripping May brings a good crop of hay.
A dry May always brings a good crop of wheat.

Water in May is bread all the year.

A leaking May and a warm June
Bring the harvest very soon.
Mist in May, heat in June
Make the harvest come right soon.

In some places, it is the opposite:
A dry May and a dripping June,
Bring all things in tune. [I call it hedging your bets]

If May be cold and wet, September will be warm and dry (and vice versa).

A storm in May brings ruin with it.

Thunder in May signifies scarcity of food and great hunger that year.

The more thunder in May, the less in August and September
May thunder indicates no thunder during August and September.

5/1 – Hoarfrost on May 1st indicates a good harvest.

         If you go swimming on the first morning of May before the sun is up, you will not have any contagious disease during the year. [Contagious, no.  Pneumonia, probably.]

         If you remove your flannels on the first day of May, you will not take cold [however, see May 10 below]

         If it rains on Philip's and Jacob's day, a fertile year may be expected (traditional: May 1; new calendar: May 3)

5/3 – If Holy Cross day is dry, there will be no rain for six weeks.

         If dry be the buck’s horn on Holyrood morn, ‘tis worth a kist of gold;
         But if wet be seen ere Holyrood e’en, Bad harvest is foretold.

5/6 – An east wind on St. John’s day presages fine weather for the week.

5/8 – If it rains on the 8th of May, it foretells a wet harvest.

5/10 – It is dangerous to take off your winter clothing until the 10th of May.

5/11, 12, 13 – St. Mamertius, St. Pancras, and St. Servatus do not pass without a frost.

5/13 – Before St. Servatus, no summer
            After St. Servatus, no frost

5/11 – 15 – The Ice Saints: St. Mamertius, St. Pancras, St. Servatus, St. Boniface, Cold Sophie.

5/17 – As the weather is on Ascension Day, so may be the entire autumn.

5/17-19 – St. Dunstan brings a cold blast to blight the apples.

5/27 – Whitsun bright and clear, will bring a fertile year
                                on the other hand
            Whitsuntide rain is blessing for the wine.

5/30 - Ember Day – the weather today foretells the weather of July

Gardening for May

May brings flocks of pretty lambs
Skipping by their fleecy dams.

Plant pumpkin seeds in May
And they will run away.
Plant pumpkin seeds in June
And they will come soon.

A swarm of bees in May
Is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June
Is worth a silver spoon.

Cassell’s Illustrated almanac 1871 for May.
Flowers —Tender plants may now be placed out of doors, and cuttings or seedlings may be removed from the frame to the ground in fine, showery weather. Propagate heartsease and wallflowers by cuttings, and plant out your dahlias in holes eighteen inches deep. Look carefully after your creepers, training the young shoots as soon as they get long enough, and cutting off badly-placed or untidy growths. You may make layers of fuchsias in the same manner as carnations, as soon as the stems are well grown, and they will be fine plants in the autumn.

Vegetables—Hoe well between your growing crops; and if you detect the presence of slugs or other insects, strew soot or lime round about the plants. Continue the sowing of beans, cabbage, lettuce, mustard and cress, &c.

Fruit—Regulate the shoots of trained trees, and continue to remove suckers. Check the growth on vines of young wood, which will, if neglected, absorb the strength of the trees, and prevent the fruit from coming to maturity.  Cut off from strawberries all runners not required for propagation.

From the 1817 Almanac:
Sow cucumbers in the natural Ground, as also Purslane and Cabbages; sow Pease and Beans in a moist Soil for a latter Crop; plant Kidney-Beans for a second, Crop, and transplant Celery into Drills: How your Winter Crop of Carrots, Beans, Onions, &c. which will save much labour the succeeding Months.  Sow Turnips, and, if rain comes soon after, it will very much encourage the Plant.  Sow Buck-Wheat and latter Pease.  Weed young Quicksets and Ivy; fallow your Ground; look well to your sheep, if the Weather proves wet, for fear of a Rot.

Health for May

The Blood and Humours being now in Motion, we must be careful to avoid eating salt, strong or stale Meats: fat People must avoid Excess of Liquors of any Kind.

May. Engraving by William Hone.  The Everyday Book and Table Book, (1838) p. 538.
May - Watching Sheep. Engraving based on an 11th century manuscript. William Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898) p. 680