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Saturday Morning News and Views: May Day Edition

Beltane Fire Ritual, Edinburgh, Scotland

Happy May Day, Conflucians!! It’s the feast of Beltane. In Edinburgh, 12,000 people gathered for the Beltane Fire Festival spring rituals. Here is a little information on the pagan holiday:

By Celtic reckoning, the actual Beltane celebration begins on sundown of the preceding day, April 30, because the Celts always figured their days from sundown to sundown. And sundown was the proper time for Druids to kindle the great Bel-fires on the tops of the nearest beacon hill (such as Tara Hill, Co. Meath, in Ireland). These “need-fires” had healing properties, and skyclad Witches would jump through the flames to ensure protection.

Frequently, cattle would be driven between two such bonfires (oak wood was the favorite fuel for them) and, on the morrow, they would be taken to their summer pastures.

Other May Day customs include: processions of chimney-sweeps and milk maids, archery tournaments, morris dances, sword dances, feasting, music, drinking, and maidens bathing their faces in the dew of May morning to retain their youthful beauty.

In the words of Witchcraft writers Janet and Stewart Farrar, the Beltane celebration was principly a time of “…unashamed human sexuality and fertility.” Such associations include the obvious phallic symbolism of the Maypole and riding the hobby horse. Even a seemingly innocent children’s nursery rhyme, “Ride a cock horse to Banburry Cross…” retain such memories. And the next line “…to see a fine Lady on a white horse” is a reference to the annual ride of “Lady Godiva” though Coventry. Every year for nearly three centuries, a sky-clad village maiden (elected Queen of the May) enacted this Pagan rite, until the Puritans put an end to the custom.

May Day is also an important day for the labor movement.

At its national convention in Chicago, held in 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor), proclaimed that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.” The following year, the FOTLU, backed by many Knights of Labor locals, reiterated their proclamation stating that it would be supported by strikes and demonstrations. At first, most radicals and anarchists regarded this demand as too reformist, failing to strike “at the root of the evil.” A year before the Haymarket Massacre, Samuel Fielden pointed out in the anarchist newspaper, The Alarm, that “whether a man works eight hours a day or ten hours a day, he is still a slave.”

Despite the misgivings of many of the anarchists, an estimated quarter million workers in the Chicago area became directly involved in the crusade to implement the eight hour work day, including the Trades and Labor Assembly, the Socialistic Labor Party and local Knights of Labor. As more and more of the workforce mobilized against the employers, these radicals conceded to fight for the 8-hour day, realizing that “the tide of opinion and determination of most wage-workers was set in this direction.” With the involvement of the anarchists, there seemed to be an infusion of greater issues than the 8-hour day. There grew a sense of a greater social revolution beyond the more immediate gains of shortened hours, but a drastic change in the economic structure of capitalism.

Back here in the 21st Century, it’s been quite a week for news.

Continue reading

Wednesday: Fire Festival

Today is Beltane Eve, that time of year in the Celtic calendar marking the first day of the summer pasture season. It’s also the time when the world of faerie and the world of men collide and unusual things are apt to happen. Beltane celebrations feature fire, a sort of purification symbol, and can range from the ancient rustic innocent where participants dig a hole in the earth, fill it with fire and make egg custards and oatmeal cakes, finishing it off by leaping over the flames, to the wiccan versions where the May Lord and Lady are “united”. (makes you almost want to convert, huh?)

The modern version of the Fire Festival of Beltane is celebrated every April 30 in Edinburgh. There are elaborate processions and rituals and bonfires.

Our own primary season is a trial by fire of sorts. How are our candidates doing this morning?

  • Hillary Clinton is wearing out her press corps as she leads them in a merry chase from state to state. NPR’s David Greene recounts yesterdays schedule for our Energizer Bunny in A Candidate on the Campaign Trail.
  • Yesterday, she practiced leaping over some bonfires at her interview with the Indianapolis Star. Her response on China policy will make your jaw drop. (The link is from TalkLeft. Hint for using the player: Click the On Demand link)
  • Did Obama pull his bacon out of the fire yesterday? The New York Times ponders his problem with Rev. Wright in Obama’s Break with Ex-Pastor Sets Sharp Shift in Tone. The issue now extends to the superdelegates. Is it enough to give them pause? Will they be worried that he won’t be able to withstand the flames of the general election? I’m a little concerned that people are focusing too much on the quality of the excuse and not the credibility. As to the latter, it’s pretty much shot in my estimation. The last part of the NYTimes editorial on the subject was just bizarre:

    This country needs a healthy and open discussion of race. Mr. Obama’s repudiation of Mr. Wright is part of that. His opponents also have a responsibility — to repudiate the race-baiting and make sure it stops.

    Are they serious?! What kind of fools do they think we are? (don’t answer that) If they want repudiation of race baiting, they need look no further than Obama himself and their own writing on the subject. His “opponents” didn’t start this. Obama did and now it’s coming back to get him. Well, even if the NYTimes doesn’t get this, the voters most likely do. They are the next trial by fire and, right now, Obama looks a bit flammable.

  • Eriposte at TheLeftCoaster is burning and smoldering over the latest character assassination attempts from Obamaphiles directed towards Rev. Barbara Reynolds, a member of the National Press Club’s board, and by extension, Hillary Clinton. Eriposte thinks along the same lines that I do on the Wright matter: He’s said some pretty preposterous things but he has been a respected preacher for years. It’s a shame that his character has also been destroyed, even if he gave it a little help. Just go read it. These Obama supporters know no shame. I guess they figure we’re just too stupid to know what’s really going on. They must be friends with whoever wrote that ridiculous NYTimes editorial for ttoday. Can we talk about something else now? Like the incendiary price of gas?
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