Day 15: May Day Lore


May Day in the Ozarks seems more often than not associated with certain marriage and husband-finding rites. The same associations can be seen elsewhere in American folklore, including Appalachian, and also certain European folk traditions. The idea of the May Pole is absent from Ozark folklore, probably because of it’s association with more “pagan” rites, although elsewhere in other equally as Christian locales in America the May Pole is a staple of the holiday. The Christianity that came in with the first people into the Ozarks was a very simple form of Christianity, sometimes called “primitive” as in the “Primitive Baptist Church,” that word used just to mean “old” or “original” not the sense of the word today. This simple form of Protestantism was mostly devoid of holiday celebrations apart from Christmas (which was often celebrated on January 6th and called “Old Christmas”) and Easter.

Vance Randolph includes some May Day traditions in his “Ozark Magic and Folklore” which show similarities to these much older European traditions. To my knowledge there aren’t any indigenous associations with the day, but that’s something I will look into more.

“The first day of May is important to girls who are looking for information about their future mates. If a girl gets up early on the morning of May 1, goes to the spring, and breaks a guinea’s egg into a cup, she’ll see the face or the initials of her husband-to-be in the water. A girl who looks obliquely into a mirror when she first wakes up on May Day will see the reflection, or at least initials or letters forming the name, of the man who is to be her mate.”

“A maiden lady who wants to see her future husband goes to a well at noon on May 1 and holds a mirror so as to reflect the light down into the darkness. Some girls say that they have actually seen their mates-to-be in the water. Others are afraid to try this stunt, because sometimes a girl doesn’t see any man, but an image of herself in a coffin, which means that she’ll die before another May Day. If a girl sees nothing at all in the water, she is very likely to be an old maid.”

“On the last night of April, a girl may wet a handkerchief and hang it out in a cornfield. Next morning the May sun dries it, and the wrinkles are supposed to show the initial of the man she is to marry. Or she may hold a bottle of water up to the light on the morning of May 1, just at sunrise, and see a picture of outline of the boy who is to be her husband.”

“Sometimes a widow gets up before dawn on May Day and hangs a horseshoe over her door. The first creature to enter will have a complexion and hair color like that of her future mate. There is a whole cycle of funny stories based on this belief, tales of possums, rats, snakes, or even skunks wandering in, and so on.”

“The girl who washes her face in dew, just at sunup on May 1, will marry the man she loves best.”

“A schoolmarm in Fayetteville, Arkansas, says that a girl who looks into a spring before breakfast on May 1 will see, not only her future husband, but also the children she is to have by him. A young woman may check this latter information by skipping flat stones on the surface of a stream, believing that the largest number of skips represents the largest number of children it is possible for her to bear.”

“The woman who throws an egg shell into the fire on May 1 and sees a drop of blood on the shell knows that she will never live to enjoy another May Day.”

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