Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Heathenish Customs

May Day has been celebrated as a springtime holiday for centuries, its origins stretching back to a Roman festival of the flower and fertility goddess Flora. In early modern England, the first of May was traditionally a holiday for laborers commemorated by revelry and dancing centered around a Maypole. The celebration of May Day was outlawed by Puritan authorities during the English interregnum, but after the Restoration in 1660, the festival commenced again in earnest.

The revival of May Day revels was much to the dismay of Thomas Hall, a pastor and the author of a pamphlet titled: Funebria Florae, The Downfall of May-Games: Wherein Is set forth the rudeness, prophaneness, stealing, drinking, fighting, dancing, whoring, mis-rule, mis-spence of precious time, contempt of God, and godly Magistrats, Ministers and People, which oppose the Rascality and rout, in this their open prophaneness, and Heathenish Customs.

The pamphlet's long-winded title speaks for itself.  The title begins in large type but finishes several sizes smaller -- apparently the compositor had difficulty in fitting all of Hall's abundant condemnations onto a single page.

A poem written from the perspective of the Maypole concludes Hall's criticisms:
Yea, Hobby-horse doth hither prance,
Maid-marrian, and the Morrice-dance.
My summons fetcheth far and near
All that can dance, and drab, and drink,
The run to mee as to a sink.
These, mee for their Commander take,
And I do them my black-guard make.

To reel and spue, to brawl and fight,
To scoff and rail with all their might:
I bid men cast off gravity,
And women eke their modesty:
Old crones that scarce have tooth or eye,
But crooked back, and lamed thigh
Must have a frisk, and shake their heel,
As if no stitch, nor ache they feel.
I bid the servant disobey,
The childe to say his parents nay.
The poorer sort that have no coin,
I can command them to purloin;
All this and more, I warrant good,
For 'tis to maintain neighbourhood.

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