Beliefs are and should be a matter entirely of personal choice, without compulsion, pressure, recommendation, or public stipulation. Humankind has as many variances of opinion upon religious doctrines as might be imagined, can be roused frighteningly easily to disagree, bicker, come to serious words, fight, war, kill, commit atrocity and extermination over devout considerations than any other subject.
My mind invariably is moved to the discrepancy between the sacred and the ethical yearly upon this particular day, May day, the ancient spring festival, happily celebrated continually in one form of another, with only the one short interruption of Puritanical rule in the mid seventeenth century, from the very dawning of humanities ascension to questioningly gazing at the heavens above to this very day. The relationship betwixt time, the seasons, the stars and planets, remains a driving fascination, a constant ongoing connection between beast and solar system, that can with but a modicum of invention, fable, be translated into any number of alternating and equally attractive explanations for what we are, what we see, and the apparent rag tag of magical and mysterious reasonings that hold our universe together as a somewhat cohesive unit.
Of all the ‘special celebrity days’ May day is solely particularly significant in that it quite casually in 1889 jumped through the previously impenetrable belief glass ceiling to become accepted as International workers day, thereby adjoining the previously unattached atheist, socialist, anarchist, communist, humanist, to the religious fold. Certainly, one could claim that Christmas and Easter have attained similar precedence, but purely through overt commercial pressure. May day has succeeded in become universally celebrated for the very best of our species puerile moral and ethical reasonings.
A short distance from my childhood front door was a rather splendid cricket pitch, at the very center of Ham village green. On May day the celebrations would be heavy and hearty, both on the green and in the many hostelries that surrounded that lush turf on all available sides. At midday, a procession would depart from our local church, Saint Andrews, and snake its way along the common road to the ornate maypole set up for the celebratory participation of many of the local village children, their dancing and cavorting cheered on by schoolmates, teachers, parents, amassed locals, and peers. Music would be provided by a local band, mainly brass based but with some percussion and a few strings, and vocal accompaniment by the Saint Andrews choir under the supervisory baton of the good and kindly Canon Beard, whom was coincidentally my first interface with an individual who placed aesthetic duty and responsibility above all matters of personal consideration.
The older pagan practices of Spring solstice and Beltane melded quite comfortably with Anglican traditions, a combination that was considered almost orthodox within the broad church practiced by the educated and scholarly overseers of Church of England Protestantism, an acceptance and openness that kept the church pews packed well into the late ninety sixties, when new Eastern concepts swamped British traditionalism.