The Legend of the May Queen

Back view of woman with flower crown
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In some Pagan belief systems, typically those that follow a Wiccan tradition, the focus of Beltane is on the battle between the May Queen and the Queen of Winter. The May Queen is Flora, the goddess of the flowers, and the young blushing bride, and the princess of the Fae. She is Lady Marian in the Robin Hood tales, and Guinevere in the Arthurian cycle. She is the embodiment of the Maiden, of mother earth in all of her fertile glory.

Did You Know?

  • The concept of a May Queen is rooted in early celebrations of fertility, planting, and flowers in the spring.
  • There is some degree of overlap between the idea of the May Queen and the celebration of the Blessed Virgin.
  • Jacob Grimm wrote about customs in Teutonic Europe that involved selecting a young village maiden to portray the May Queen.

As the summer rolls on, the May Queen will give forth her bounty, moving into the Mother phase. The earth will blossom and bloom with crops and flowers and trees. When fall approaches, and Samhain comes, the May Queen and Mother are gone, young no more. Instead, the earth becomes the domain of the Crone. She is Cailleach, the hag who brings dark skies and winter storms. She is the Dark Mother, bearing not a basket of bright flowers but instead a sickle and scythe.

When Beltane arrives each spring, the May Queen arises from her winter's sleep, and does battle with the Crone. She fights off the Queen of Winter, sending her away for another six months, so that the earth can be abundant once more.

Enjoying the beauty of nature and life
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In Britain, the custom evolved of holding celebrations each spring in which boughs and branches were carried from door to door in each village, with great ceremony, to ask for the blessings of a bountiful crop. May Fairs and May Day Festivals have been held for hundreds of years, although the idea of choosing a village maiden to represent the queen is a fairly new one. In Sir James George Frazer's The Golden Bough, the author explains,

"[T]hese... processions with May-trees or May-boughs from door to door (‘bringing the May or the summer’) had everywhere originally a serious and, so to speak, sacramental significance; people really believed that the god of growth was present unseen in the bough; by the procession he was brought to each house to bestow his blessing. The names May, Father May, May Lady, Queen of the May, by which the anthropomorphic spirit of vegetation is often denoted, show that the idea of the spirit of vegetation is blent with a personification of the season at which his powers are most strikingly manifested.”

It wasn't just the British Isles where the May Queen ruled, however. Jacob Grimm, of Grimm's Fairy Tales fame, also wrote an extensive collection of Teutonic mythology. In one of his works, he says that in the French province of Bresse, now called Ain, there is a custom in which a village girl is selected to play the role of the May Queen, or the May Bride. She is adorned with ribbons and flowers, and is escorted by a young man through the streets, while the blossoms of a May tree are spread out before them.

Although there are pop culture references to human sacrifice related to the May Queen, scholars have been unable to determine the authenticity of such claims. In films like The Wicker Man and Midsommar, there is a connection between lusty spring celebrations and sacrifice, but there doesn't appear to be much academic support for the idea.

Young woman wears flower crown at golden hour
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Arthur George of Mythology Matters writes that there is some overlap between the Pagan concept of the May Queen and the Virgin Mary. He says,

"In the Catholic Church’s liturgical year the entire month of May became devoted to the veneration of the Virgin Mary. The high point has always been the ritual known as “The Crowning of Mary"... usually performed on May Day...[which] involved a group of young boys and girls proceeding to a statue of Mary and placing a crown of flowers on her head to the accompaniment of singing. After Mary is crowned, a litany is sung or recited in which she is praised and called the Queen of Earth, Queen of Heaven, and Queen of the Universe, among other titles and epithets."

Prayer to Honor the May Queen

Make an offering of a floral crown, or a libation of honey and milk, to the Queen of the May during your Beltane prayers.

The leaves are budding across the land
on the ash and oak and hawthorn trees.
Magic rises around us in the forest
and the hedges are filled with laughter and love.
Dear lady, we offer you a gift,
a gathering of flowers picked by our hands,
woven into the circle of endless life.
The bright colors of nature herself
blend together to honor you,
Queen of spring,
as we give you honor this day.
Spring is here and the land is fertile,
ready to offer up gifts in your name.
we pay you tribute, our lady,
daughter of the Fae,
and ask your blessing this Beltane.