The myths of May

By Leslie Bray Brewer - Special to The Stokes News

Well, it is now the merry, merry month of May, and you are legal to go barefoot outdoors! On the old paths, one had to wait until May 1 to do so, although I have no clue why. Have you ever wondered where old traditions or superstitions come from?

You know by now that I am a gal who likes to get to the root of things. And if I find out that our beliefs have no valid base, then I pronounce them as worthless in my life. Thus, I shed my shoes as soon as spring’s warmth arrives—be it March or April.

Were any of you up early on the first day of May to collect the dew to wash your face? If so, then supposedly you became more beautiful and youthful-looking. Why, your freckles might even disappear! This ancient belief is rooted in Celtic culture.

A 1652 book written by a doctor about Irish history tells how young girls would go into green fields on early spring mornings to gather the dew. They often put a bedsheet atop the grass then wrung it out into a jar. For a year, the jar—with many mornings’ dews collected—would sit on a windowsill in the sun.

When necessary, the liquid would be strained to get rid of impurities. Twelve months later, the aged spring dew could be used to wash the face to increase beauty and get rid of imperfections such as pimples. Obviously it is not only our modern culture that has been obsessed with magical potions for beauty!

This old May Day dew tradition is thought to have been part of Beltane, an ancient Celtic festival held on May 1. Since “Bel” was the name of a pagan Celtic god, and “teine” meant “fire,” bonfires as a religious celebration were also an important part of May Day festivities in Celtic lands once upon a time. Go out and roll in the dew in the morning, and dance around a bonfire at night—no thanks, I say.

For those of you who are of a superstitious bent, there are some things you might want to avoid this month, such as picking a May wedding date. The old rule is, “Marry in May, and you’ll rue the day.” Also, you might want to hold off on washing your blankets; an old English rhyme says, “Wash a blanket in May, wash a dear one away.”

You probably won’t want to purchase a new broom either; “Buy a broom in May, and you will sweep your friends away.” My Irish ancestors would not even make brooms in the month of May. It was considered wise to lay up a

stock of them to last you until June 1. One ancient Celtic saying prophesied that if you even swept your house in May, you would sweep the head of the family away.

There was another superstition about not bathing in May lest you die during the month—simply sounds like dirty floors and stinky people to me. If this warm weather holds, I intend to wash my blanket to put it away ’til fall, and I will surely sweep my house regularly and bathe. I detest superstitions, which are primarily rooted in fear and pagan practices designed to appease pagan deities.

So in essence, you won’t find me dancing around the Maypole on May 1 of each year. That, too, comes from a pagan tradition—Germanic this time—and is hypothesized to be based on fertility rituals.

What the month of May should find us all doing is getting outside more. There is something therapeutic about nature. That really struck me last week as I attended the annual Environmental Awareness Days at Hanging Rock State Park, sponsored by the good folks from the Stokes Soil and Water Conservation District for close to 30 years.

This event is offered to every fifth-grade class in our county, each school coming one of the three days. Having attended it for many years as editor of The Stokes News and now as a volunteer 4-H leader, I think it is one of the best educational events of the school year. As the children rotate through eight stations for lessons that last about 20 minutes each, a wide array of scientific knowledge is offered.

I am always encouraged as I see the adult presenters so diligently teach the children, incorporating games to make learning memorable. The children’s enthusiasm also blesses me, and I am ever amazed at just how much these fifth-graders know. Despite the negative things we often hear about youngsters these days, the classes I hang with each April at EAD are very well-behaved—this year, Ms. Mary Carder’s class from Sandy Ridge Elementary.

And to top it all off, this excellent event could be held at no finer place than our very own state park. Learning about forestry with the wide blue sky overhead, playing natural resources games on the shore of the shimmering lake encircled by mountains, using a watershed model to discuss water pollution in the bright sunshine, studying topsoil and erosion surrounded by blossoming trees swaying in the spring breeze…..

THIS is a setting I believe children learn best in—outdoors. The European school officials tend to agree with me; more and more they are creating forest kindergartens where learning takes place outside, even in winter.

So where will you find my kids and me in the most merry month of May and any other month when weather permits? Out of doors—doing math on the sunny deck, taking spelling tests by the backyard creek, studying science down at Moratock Park. Therapy for the spirit, soul and body via God’s creation—it works!

Who needs old fear-based superstitions when spring offers us such glorious opportunities? So hurry up and wash your blankets and sweep your floors so you can go bask in the great out-of-doors. And if you choose to roll in the dew, I won’t say a word when your freckles and zits don’t disappear. I will simply recommend fresh air and sunshine instead. Lovely, magnanimous spring provides us plenty of both!

Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at Her blog is at

By Leslie Bray Brewer

Special to The Stokes News

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