May Morning in Oxford

From the beginning, I arranged our whole trip around being in Oxford for May Day. I knew I wanted to do something special for the holy day, and this was the best option because it not only had Morris men and other traditional British customs, but it featured music led by one of my favorite musicians, Andy Letcher (frontman for Telling the Bees, and also author of the excellent book Shroom), who I got to meet and speak with briefly at the end.

May Morning is a big deal in Oxford, especially the 6am hymn singing from the top of Magdalen Tower, attended by huge crowds, mostly seeming to be comprised of college kids still drunk from the night before (it is rather surreal to have hundreds of them shouting “woooooo!” at the Latin singing as if they were at a sporting event). We were not anticipating the numbers that showed up and had to fight our way through the crowd to get to the place where the music was being played. But it was well worth it, for this:

(These clips were put together by someone else – if you look closely, you can see me dancing around 1:54, and then from about 3:50 there are some shots of the back of our heads as we clap along – my mom has short white hair, mine is long brown and we’re both wearing ivy crowns.)

The band of pipes, flutes, horns, drums, fiddles, concertinas and more played for almost two hours on the steps of this beautiful neo-classical building, and I danced my ass off the whole time.

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As befitting May Day, there were even some naked breasts, as one woman dancing in only a sarong lost control of it briefly. People were decked out in green, crowned with vegetation, and very enthusiastic. It was awesome.

At one point, people began to turn around to look at something, and Andy said “It’s behind you!” in a creepy voice, and I caught a glimpse of a Jack-in-the-green walking by (no time for a photo, unfortunately). It was actually a bit unnerving – so inhuman, just walking foliage. I think it was joining the Morris dancers, who we caught up with later:

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Here’s a brief video I took of them departing the square, with their amazing bull effigy leading the way:

This May Day was especially sacred for me, marking the five year anniversary of my wedding to my spirit-Husband, as well as a couple other significant anniversaries with my spirits (May Day traditionally being when I’ve done most of my important rituals for Them, due to it being the day everything started with Them back in 1991, even though I had no clue as to the significance of the date at that point). I can’t imagine a better way to have celebrated it.

~ by Dver on May 7, 2013.

8 Responses to “May Morning in Oxford”

  1. Looks like you had an awesome time. Blessings.

  2. Wonderful! I’m going to see this one May Day! I hadn’t heard about it before :)

  3. […] the places she visited and things she saw there; my favorites are Dionysos at the British Museum, May Morning in Oxford and Glastonbury, though they’re all worth a read) came across […]

  4. Alas, when I was in Oxford, I didn’t get to go to that. I was awake, and thought about it, but was feeling rather poorly, and so I didn’t feel like walking all the way to Magdalen for it. I probably should have. Damn.

    Well, it looks like it was a wonderful trip!

    • Well, the part happening at Magdalen was awful in my opinion – just a horrible crowd of people still drunk from the night before, and a lot of Christianization of our holiday. The part I went to was at the Clarendon building, but I have no idea if that was being done back when you were there.

      It definitely was a great trip!

      • As I was looking at the video and such, I was wondering about how it might have changed in the last 15+ years. I don’t recall it being as “re-paganized” back then as it might be now, at least as far as I was told. (The people I know who went were all at Magdalen, so maybe they didn’t see the fun stuff…) People were being prevented from jumping off Magdalen Bridge that year, but it used to be rather traditional to do so…and that, in itself, is a bit pagan, if you ask me! (Especially the years that it resulted in drowning deaths…)

        I’m trying to recall where exactly the Clarendon building is…I’m sure I saw it at some point when I was there. There were so many lovely “ooh! Look at that!” walks in Oxford–one of my favorites was to go down New College Walk, starting by going under the Bridge of Sighs at Hertford near the Bodleian, going around the back of All Souls College (ironically named, since I never saw a living being within it once when I passed!), passing by the back entrance to New College, and then emerging on the High Street on one side of Queens and by St. Edmund (a.k.a. “Teddy”) Hall. Loved it!

        • I think they said they’d been doing that May celebration for 10 years, so maybe it wasn’t happening when you were there. It seems to be entirely separate from the more official stuff at Magdalen College (and yes, they’re still barring people from jumping off the bridge).

          The Clarendon building is kind of near the Ashmolean.

          I’d have liked to have gone to the Pitt Rivers Museum, and the Bodleian, had I had more time. So much to see! I did do all the Alice stuff of course (which will be showing up as a post on my Girls Underground blog), and I hit the Eagle & Child pub as well (which I’ll probably mention here later).

          • The Bird and Baby! Yes…I was only there once or twice, with Arthurian Soc. folks, most of whom were also in the Tolkien Society, which always had its meetings there.

            Okay…I think I know the vague area where the Clarendon was, then. I was at Wadham College, which is not too far from there; the Rhodes Hall (for Rhodes scholars) was near there, too, as well as Keble College, if I remember correctly…

            I hope you were able to just hang out a bit in Christchurch Meadow, where there are still tons of trees with little holes at the roots that, I’m sure, inspired Carroll in his writing quite a bit.

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