Calendar, Maius

(May, the month of fertility)

Maius, Was Thought To Be the Third Month of the Ancient Roman Calendar

No one seems to be sure what the origin of May is.

  • There are some scholars who say it comes from the Latin Maiores, which means “elders”, because they believe the month was supposed to honor the senior citizens of the population just, as they believe the next month, Junius, was to commemorate the iuniores, or “juniors” (young).
  • Another theory, which is more generally accepted, declares that May is derived from Maia, a name used by two different goddesses in ancient mythology.
  • The more important of the two goddesses was the Greek Maia, the oldest of the Pleiades, who were the seven daughters of Atlas and the Oceanid nymph, Pleione.
  • Zeus and Maia produced Hermes (Roman god, Mercury), who was known as the swift messenger of the gods and as the god of commerce, trade, and theives.
  • The Romans considered the Greek Maia as a vague Roman goddess of spring, known as Maia Maiesta, to whom the priests of Vulcan, the god of fire, offered sacrifices on the first day (Calands) of May.
  • May dances with children.
  • To make things more confusing, Maia Maiesta was sometimes connected with Bona Dea, the “good goddess” of fertility in both the earth and in women.
  • This confusion probably occurred because Bona Dea’s festival also fell on the first of May.
  • Bona Dea was variously described as the sister, daughter, or wife of Faunus, the ancient Roman god who was worshiped as the god of fertility.
  • Maia was also known as Fauna.
  • Bona Dea was a prophetic goddess who revealed her oracles only to females. All males were forbidden to attend her temple. Even her name was never spoken in front of a man.
  • At the festival of Bona Dea on May 1, a vestal virgin conducted the required rituals at night in the house of the current praetor or consul.
  • The Romans considered May as unlucky for marriages because the Lemuria, festival of the unhappy dead took place that month (May 9, 11, and 13).
  • The Lemuria was a private domestic observance to honor the lemures or larval, the ghosts of the dead.
  • Originally, the Lemuria was possibly a sort of expulsion ceremony to scare evil spirits away in the spring when demons were usually very active.
  • Later, the ritual became a private placation of the spirits who might not have received proper burial rites.
  • To pacify these departed spirits and to prevent them from returning to scare the living, the head of the family arose at midnight and after washing his hands, he went through the house barefooted, tossing black beans over his shoulder without glancing back and saying, “With these beans, I redeem myself and my family.”
  • He did this nine times. It was believed that the ghosts followed him and gathered up the beans. The head of the household then repeated the washing of his hands and loudly banged some brass vessels together.
  • In the final part of the ritual, he demanded nine times, “Ghosts of my fathers, depart”, and at last he was permitted to look back to see what had taken place.
  • Some Anglo-Saxons called May, Thrimilce, because the cows “could then be milked three times a day.”
  • Maius Calends (May 1), “May Day” ranks as one of the oldest of holidays.
  • Many primitive pre-Christian agricultural civilizations expressed their happiness and thankfulness to their gods for the arrival of spring and the renewal of nature.
  • The Romans, especially, held a joyous feast in honor of the flower goddess, Flora, and the coming of May.
  • With variations, the ancient Roman celebration became an integral component of Western European tradition, especially in the British Isles, where significant Celtic religious festivals were held on May 1 and its eve.
One realizes the importance of time only when there is little of it left.

Silence words. Sources of information for this page are located at this Calendars Bibliography Unit.

You may return to the main lists of calendar links from here.
FREE searches of words derived from Latin and Greek sources.
E-mail Form for comments or type in [email protected], if you prefer.