May Day: The Curious Connection Between Paganism And Socialism

May Day is one of those odd pagan festivals that springs from spring fertility rituals, including sexual immorality (like dancing around the maypole, a typical phallic symbol) related to the fertility of one’s crops and animals, one whose roots spring to heathen Northern and Western Europe, especially the Germanic and Celtic cultures [1]. It is a traditional bank holiday for obscure reasons, and despite its obvious pagan roots it is a holiday that has not attracted a great deal of attention from those who typically rail against pagan festivals, perhaps because it seems less obvious than other pagan holidays, even if its customs are no less heathen.

So, how did an obviously pagan custom get turned into the International Worker’s Day, a socialist Labor Day holiday that is kept around the world (not in the United States, though), even in places like Thailand that have little connection to the heathen rites of the ancient Germanic and Druidic religions? As it happens, there is a very clear connection, but one that is rather unflattering to socialism, and one that (for whatever reason) is not often discussed by those who claim to hate both socialism and heathen practices. So, it is therefore my place to discuss this matter today, given that it has strong historical conclusions and relates to my strong interests in religious practices.

From its rites as a pagan fertility feast full of sexually immoral practices, May Day was a traditional festival for anarchy over the centuries. It was one of those days where people let their hair down and were freed from the usual moral behaviors. As a festival of anarchy it was rather like that of Songkram [2] [3], where fornication and small acts of revelry and chaos were seen as part of the fun. Without trying to sound too much like a Puritan, I can certainly understand why the festival was banned in the early New England colonies, because it is clearly pagan in nature, belonging to the anarchical side of heathen worship practices.

It was therefore unsurprising that anarchists among the left-wing labor movement in the late 19th century thought that the cover of general license given to anarchy for May Day would also provide a good excuse to agitate for worker’s rights. In 1886 in Chicago, the so-called Haymarket Massacre occurred when someone anonymously threw dynamite at the police and (unsurprisingly) the police fired back at labor demonstrators, killing a few demonstrators as well as police officers. As a result, seeing these anarchist hoodlums as some sort of martyrs, the workers’ Second International in 1890 declared the day International Worker’s Day [4]. As a result, the general attitude of a nation toward socialism can be judged by its feelings about May 1st as Labor Day. Thailand, along with most of Europe, China, and many Latin American countries, keep May 1st as Labor Day. The United States keeps Labor Day in September. That says all you need to say about the deeper cultural opinions of America about socialism compared to the rest of the world.

And it makes sense why anarchist, communist, and socialist elements would want to co-opt a heathen festival of anarchy for their own purposes. After all, they are all a part of that same strand of heathen ideals, in seeking to disrupt and overturn social orders (just as an equally strong strand of heathen ideals believes in crushing all liberty in authoritarian hierarchical rule). And we ought not to let our hatred of paganism and socialism, those twin scourges, lead us into the open arms of fascist demagogues either. Nonetheless, if one is opposed to pagan festivals, one needs to be consistent and to speak out against the heathen nature of International Worker’s Day, especially once the connection of anarchy as a link between it and May Day makes it a very popular and enduring worldwide celebration that pretends to honor the worker while instead being a cause for chaos and dissipation going back to ancient paganism.





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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19 Responses to May Day: The Curious Connection Between Paganism And Socialism

  1. Bill Wheaton says:

    Wow. Upon doing a search for Pagan Democratic Socialism I came upon this article. As a practicing pagan and a socialist, I am truly not sure if I should cheer, or jeer. On one hand I can’t think of why anyone would want to hate pagans or think that being one is somehow bad, or being called one, insulting. And so in that case, I must jeer. On the other hand, I think that the freedom we Pagans enjoy by being free in our sexuality, (on more than just May Day) as an inspiration to anarchists and socialists is spot on. So in that case, I cheer.

    Interesting article, and I’m inspired to write one similar, but from my Pagan perspective.

    The reason I was looking for that search term is that there is a Facebook group called “Christian Democratic Socialism” which I subscribe to. But being a Pagan, it is somewhat centered around a religious belief I don’t adhere to and I was thinking of starting my own.


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  3. GS says:

    Paganism is really diverse. Not all pagans are socialists. Nor are they anything else you describe here. Some may be, others maybe not. Do some more research.

    • I think you need to take some remedial reading coursework there. My point was not that all pagans were socialists (far from it–look at my post on the Statues of Omri, which shows that paganism has a libertarian side that is perhaps more congenial to you), but rather that socialists are themselves pagan, no matter what they may claim about being “Christian” socialists.

      • GS says:

        Everything in this article describes Wicca (or those claiming to be Neopagans whose beliefs mirror Wicca).

        Most socialist countries repressed all forms of religion. People who are socialists are usually either poor people who think they will benefit from it, or people in the government who will benefit from it. It has nothing to do with religion.

        The majority of people who are openly pagan probably have nothing to lose. Others live in fear of losing their jobs (or at least not getting promoted) if the Christian majority were to find out. So it may seem like a lot of pagans are both sexually immoral and socialists because that is what people are used to seeing.

      • That may be fair enough. My interest was more in why socialists would attempt to co-opt a pagan day involved with sexual immorality for the purposes of celebrating the common laborer, something which at least some pagans seem rather happy about.

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