Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Magic Flash Mobs in the Month of May

Last autumn I wrote a blog about the end of summer and the myth of Demeter and Persephone. I was thinking about the two of them today when I was out and about, on a day of just about perfect weather. Yesterday was beautiful but a little cool; today was just right. There was a bright blue sky, angelic white clouds, a warm (but not hot) sun, trees in full leaf, irises in bloom. To repeat an observation I made a few weeks ago, it was like stepping into an illustration in a children's picture book, one showing a perfect neighborhood with a smiling sun, children waving, and everyone from the mailman to the baker going cheerfully about their business.

So -- Persephone comes back in the spring. The melodramatic part of the myth concerns her leaving and Demeter mourning her loss in autumn. The story goes on to say, though, that a compromise is reached whereby Persephone is returned from the Underworld in the spring, to the general rejoicing of Demeter and everybody else. Persephone is spring personified, with violets entwined in her hair and daisies springing up where she walks. I think of the delicate beauty of April as characteristic of her youth. A day like today, when the promise of early spring has blossomed into something closer to summer, makes me think of her mother, Demeter, whose care greens the earth.

The nurturing and feminine aspects of May are reflected in several traditions. The name of the month probably comes from either Maia, a Greek nymph beloved of Zeus, or the Roman goddess Maiesta, who was associated with veneration and honor. In the Roman Catholic tradition, May is the month of Mary, the mother of God. Of course, May is also the month when we celebrate Mother's Day in the United States. Here in Kentucky, we run the horses on the first Saturday in May. I'm not sure what they think about it, but for the people, it's an occasion marked by showy hats, spring finery, mint juleps, and elaborately planned parties.

The birthstone for May is the emerald, whose stunning green seems like the perfect color for such a lush and opulent month. The flower for May is the Lily of the Valley. That seems quite right too, because if I were to assign a fragrance to the month, it would be the old-fashioned but unforgettable (to me, anyway) Muguet des Bois, which contains an essence of this delicate but lingering floral. If you took everything bright and beautiful about the month -- from the luxuriant grass to the shy flowers in the woods -- and distilled it into a bottle, it would smell like this perfume.

I live in an area with a lot of large trees that create an avenue of green this time of year. I have a fantasy about a "Dancing in the Moonlight" sort of reverie that I would like to make into a film someday. This vision came to me out of nowhere not long after I moved here and involves an empty street in the middle of the night. To the tune of either "Dancing in the Moonlight," "Looking Out My Backdoor," or "Moonlight Sonata," a group of people in formal attire appear casually from under the trees, assembling in the middle of the street. They all waltz together. As the music picks up, they start to dance faster, and then you begin to notice the presence of fauns, nymphs, naiads, and other minor gods and goddesses in the crowd (it's an ecumenical group). After a few minutes of kicking up their heels in fine mythic fashion, they all disappear into the trees again, leaving a silent street.

I don't know what it is about the neighborhood that gave rise to this fantasy, but I think now that if I were to film it, it would have to be in May. I've pictured it in autumn to the tune of "Moondance," and I think that would work. But May is really the time for this type of extravaganza. If I ever do commit this to film, look carefully at the faces in the crowd. Demeter and Persephone will certainly be there, as well as Maia and Maiesta and Hermes and Artemis and whoever else is up for a frolic. There might be a few jockeys in the crowd, some emeralds, silk, and boas, fancy buttoned shoes, and some really fine hats.

When the sun comes up the next morning on another beautiful day, it will be as if nothing ever happened -- but that's the way it is with these midnight flash mobs in the merry month of May.

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