Rituals and passages and rites provide anchors in cyclical time. Culturally or individually bound strategies of marking time in a place as expressions of the collective humanity in that place.
I volunteered myself to organize a maypole at the annual May 1st labor rally in Olympia. I helped make it happen for the first time last year, but the group I helped didn't seem interested. So, I brought it up in conversation with a new group, that put on a ritual I attended. In a fashion entirely typical to the community, by mentioning interest in the event, I ended up having it suggested that I make the event happen. So, I nominated myself to make it happen.
Here's a journal entry from just after last year’s event:
Yesterday, I participated in a rally in Sylvester Park that was arranged by the local IWW group and several other labor groups, including EPIC (The Evergreen Political Information Center). A combined plan between two campus groups, Common Bread and the new Pagan group my partner and I started, to create a maypole on red square was relocated to Sylvester Park to coincide with the May Day festivities. This created a space in which multiple groups from different "disciplines" met. Further, this activity is another example of crossing the town-gown division, as it involved campus groups and community groups meeting in the community. The maypole activity went well. It was well received and quite fun as part of the whole event.
It was also a darned nice day in the sun!
Bringing a maypole to the May Day rally is an action that does what I keep calling "crossing community thresholds" by bringing together people that don't normally come together, and is also a community ritual expanded to include more community members. May Day happens to be a very important nexus of events historically, and so it seems appropriate that this nexus be recreated.
On one level, the nexus of May Day is about the changing seasons. Certainly this has always been something I missed about my time on the east coast: real seasons. I have imagined that to have an experience of a place would require an experience of that place as it goes through a yearly cycle. So, some day, instead of just a few weeks, I want to live in a place outside the US for a full cycle of seasons. An action on May Day, bringing a maypole is an example of marking the passage of time in a collective way.
But, these markers are not just part of the response of nature, but also our own markers. For example, "in a place" means that Seattle has a way of marking time that is different than "Olympia" and "Antioch" has a different way of marking time than "Evergreen" just as examples ... In Seattle, there's the Sea Fair, but in Olympia there's the Procession of the Species. At Antioch, there's the World Market, but at The Evergreen State College there's Super Saturday. And Antioch occurs within the larger community of Seattle. And Evergreen occurs within the larger community of Olympia. Further, both Seattle and Olympia participate in larger contexts which connect and contain them both, such as Cascadia, the Pacific Northwest, the West Coast, etc …
To say that an event or action occurs "in a place" is open to interpretation in the same way that "Bio-region" or "Community" would be ... I remember having an extensive conversation about whether it is possible to be "in community" with our built environment and how many degrees of separation from the Soda machine on the first floor at Antioch were required to not be "in community" with it. This is an example o how the interpretation and context are important when discussing relationship and community and place.
In spite of this indeterminacy, the action of bringing a maypole to the May Day rally was a success. A group of friends and I constructed and took a maypole on May 1st.
We didn't get nearly as many people as I had hoped, but part of that is just simply the last minute nature of my planning. The previous year, the interfaith coordinator at The Evergreen State College had been in contact with the organizers and we were part of the actual May Day rally. This year, when I talked to people involved it became clear that there was a whole committee that had been formed this time and the schedule included a number of additional speakers ... so I felt uncomfortable inserting myself into the schedule at the last minute.
We didn't make a mention in The Olympian this year, like we did last year, but I noticed that there was an article on Portland Indy Media that mentioned our maypole this year:
“Hundreds Celebrate May Day in Olympia
Today in Olympia, WA, hundreds gathered to celebrate May Day and send a message to the government: Hands off immigrants, workers and families. The gathering started at Sylvester Park at 2:30 when a small gathering danced around a May pole. The crowd began to swell as music came on around 3:00 and continued to grow speakers began around 3:30.” (Portland Indy Media website, 2006)
Through this action I have learned specific practical skills, such as how to actually construct a maypole and also developed a greater understanding of the nexus of meaning to the event itself. If I can do the event again next year, I'll be able to build on this foundation, as a feedback loop through time. There is a deep and richly textured reciprocity in doing an action like this. Not only do I create a deeper connection with and experience of my place in the world, but I am also co-creating that place, as a complex that includes the physical landscapes as well as the mental and spiritual spacialities, with others. This is a wholistic feedback loop that I co-create with others.
The nexus of the action includes the maypole as a richly textured sign for the union of opposites. The meaning of the activity is iconic, indexical and symbolic. The crown and maypole are iconic representations of opposites that are united by the weaving of the ribbons. The activity is indexical of the generative act of love. And, the activity is symbolic of a story of divine union between feminine and masculine principles in nature. I also think that the maypole is a metaphor for healthy community, and suggests that when a community comes together, embracing diversity, great and creative energy is released. The diversity is not lost in this union but celebrated and ennobled. The whole becomes greater because of the distinctiveness of its parts.
Posted by John Bell on June 8, 2006
Tags: Putting Community In