Ritual aspects

We have noted that the solar festivals are characterized by imitation on earth of what happens in heaven. The sun is held aloft, transported by horse or ship, rolled down from hilltop to water. Certain features of the mythology surrounding the Daughter of the Sun also have their counterpart in seasonal festive custom. But here, perhaps, it is not a matter of imitating phenomena observed in the sky, but rather of projecting earthly sports into the sky, with myth reflecting ritual.

127 Rhesa (1825), 92, 282; Schleicher (1857), 215 nos. 1-2, cf. no. 3. Cf. Jonval no. 301: Saule (var.: Perkons) clove the Moon with his sword because he had abducted Auseklis' fiancée.

128 Rhesa (1825), 220-2; Schleicher (1857), 216 no. 4.

129 RV 7. 75. 5, where Suriyasya yosa 'Sürya's young woman' and Usas stand in parallel.

130 Asvins: von Schroeder (1914-16), ii. 445-7; Oldenberg (1917), 209-13; contra, Hillebrandt (1927-9), i. 39 f. Dioskouroi: Stat. Silv. 4. 6. 15 f.; Serv. Aen. 6. 121; F. G. Welcker, Griechische Götterlehre (Elberfeld 1857-63), i. 606; Mannhardt (1875), 309; von Schroeder (1914-16), ii. 451-3; Ward (1968), 15-18.

Several of the Latvian songs describe how, when the wedding of the Sun's Daughter is celebrated, the Sun or the Sons of God decorate the trees with green cloth, gold rings, and other ornaments.131 This reflects the practice, widely attested across northern and eastern Europe,132 of decorating the May-tree with coloured ribbons, garlands, eggshells, and trinkets at the beginning of summer—just when, as we have seen, the wedding of the Daughter of the Sun was supposed to take place. Another stanza runs: 'The Sun's children (or in variants the Sun's maidens, or maid, or Saule herself) have made a ringdance at the edge of the forest: put a golden girdle on me, mother, so I can run and join the throng.' It is plausibly argued by von Schroeder that these Sun maidens are not mythical creatures but the mortal girls who take part in the sun-dances.133 Other songs describe the Sons of God and the Daughters of Saule dancing hand in hand, or the Sons and Daughters of God (var.: the Sun's Daughters) dancing in the moonlight by a spring; again, perhaps, projections of, and sung at the time of, terrestrial dances.134 The story of the birth and marriage of Salme, the Estonian version of Saules meita, was told in songs for swinging, an activity, as we saw earlier, associated with spring and midsummer and symbolic of the sun's cyclical changes of declination.135 Here too myth is linked to ritual.

Helen's wedding was a recurring event at Sparta, celebrated by a company of girls who sang and danced before dawn, hung garlands on the goddess's holy plane-tree, and poured olive oil on the ground at its foot. This is securely inferred from Theocritus' eighteenth Idyll, which after a narrative introduction presents an epithalamium supposedly sung and danced by the original girl chorus. Helen will be Menelaos' bride 'from year to year' (15). Her beauty is compared with Dawn and spring (26 f.). The girls are going to the meadows before first light to gather flowers (39 f.); they will return at dawn, when the bridal pair are due to awake (55-7). The girls who celebrated the festival in historical times identified themselves with Helen's friends and coevals, much as the girl votaries of the Leukippides were themselves called Leukippides (Paus. 3. 16. 1), and the Latvian celebrants of the Sun maiden's wedding became Sun maidens themselves.

In Rhodes the story was told that Helen was seized there by a group of women dressed as Erinyes and hanged from a tree, in memory of which there

131 Mannhardt (1875), 77 nos. 13-15, 85 no. 83; LD 33802 var. 1, 33804 = Jonval nos. 359, 358.

132 Mannhardt (1905), i. 156-82; Frazer (1911-36), ii. 59-70.

133 von Schroeder (1914-16), ii. 122-4. My rendering of the song is based on his German translations of versions communicated to him by 'Frau Direktor A. Feldt in Libau'; they are variants of LD 32865 = Jonval no. 165.

134 LD 33758 = Jonval no. 375; Schleicher (1857), 221 no. 12.

was a shrine of Helena Dendritis, Helen of the Tree. We recall that Erigone, 'the Early-born', hanged herself from a tree, and we divined that this corresponded to the practice of hanging images from trees. The Rhodian myth is to be understood in the same way.

Another common decoration of the May-tree, May-branch, or Maypole consists of eggs or painted eggshells.136 This is not the only part that eggs play in the springtime festivities. Often they are collected from householders by a begging procession.137 We still associate Easter with eggs. They make an obvious symbol of rebirth or of the reborn sun. The births of Helen and of Salme from eggs make sense in the light of the seasonal customs.

The wedding of the Daughter of the Sun has its counterpart in the widespread custom of choosing a May Queen or May Bride and a young man to be her royal consort, the two being then celebrated as a newly-wedded pair.138 In the story of Helen's wedding suitors come from all over Greece and offer what they can by way of a bride-price. She goes to the highest bidder—in fact to a pair of brothers, who, as we have seen, take the place of the ineligible Dioskouroi. This auctioning of the bride does not correspond to normal procedure for arranging a marriage. But in various rural parts of Germany it used to be the custom on May Day or Easter Monday to auction the girls, starting with the prettiest: each one in turn became the 'May-wife' of the young man who bid most for her, and she remained his dancing-partner throughout the summer.139

The Asvins got Surya as their wife not in an auction but by winning a chariot-race, with the sun as its goal. This too makes sense as a reflection of seasonal custom. In Germany at Whitsun there were races on foot or on horseback to the Maypole, which was adorned with flowers, ribbons, a crown, etc., and the winner became King of the May. In some places he could then choose his queen, or was provided with one already selected.140 The Maypole, about which circular dances take place, has often been seen as a representation of the world tree or world axis, and as connected with the sun. Mention was made earlier of an Indian ritual in which a wheel-shaped cake was fixed to the top of a sacrificial pole, and the sacrificer 'reached the sun' by climbing up and touching it.

136 Mannhardt (1905), i. 156 f., 160, 165, 169, 177, 181, 241, 245, 271; A. Dieterich, Kleine Schriften (Berlin 1911), 324; Frazer (1911-36), ii. 63, 65, 69.

137 Mannhardt (1905), i. 181, 256, 260, 263 f., 281, 353, 427, 429; Dieterich (as n. 136), 327 f.; Frazer (1911-36), ii. 81, 84 f., 92, 96.

138 Mannhardt (1905), i. 422-5, 431-40; Dieterich (as n. 136), 331 f.; Frazer (1911-36), ii. 87-96; iv. 257 f.

140 Mannhardt (1905), i. 382-9; Frazer (1911-36), ii. 69, 84, 89, iv. 208.

Finally, there is some Celtic evidence for the ritual abduction of the May Queen. In the Isle of Man there used to be a mock battle between the Queen of the May, with her maids of honour and male supporters, and the Queen of Winter with her followers. If the May Queen was captured, her men had to ransom her. Arthurian legend tells of an ambush and abduction of Guinevere on the morning of 1 May, when according to custom she went into the woods to gather birch branches and bring the Summer in, attended by ten knights 'all rayed in grene for maiynge'. She was carried off by Mellyagaunce or Melwas to his castle, and rescued by her lover Lancelot. A. H. Krappe has plausibly argued that a parallel ritual lies behind the mythical abduction of Helen.141

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