There’s so many interconnected links with same-sex romance and the May blossom that a whole thesis could be written about it. I’ll do my best to condense it all into one article.
Let’s begin by defining
“May blossom”. The ancient hedgerows of England are in full bloom at this time
of year. This is May blossom, the flowers of the hawthorn. The hawthorn is a
sacred tree in many European legends and mythologies and much folklore has built
up around it.
In medieval England May
was also the most popular traditional month for weddings, the month in which
the original celebration of romance on St. Valentine’s Day on May 2nd
was held. This has its own gay origin, of course, in the writings of Geoffrey
Chaucer and his friend Sir John Clanvowe, the partner of Sir William Neville,
Constable of Nottingham Castle.
The hawthorn was sacred to
the Greek goddess Maia, after whom this month is named. She was the origin of
the Roman goddess Flora and her sacred festival of Florana which was celebrated
during this week in the Roman Empire. The false belief that St. Valentine’s Day
in February is based on the Roman festival of Lupercalia at that time of year
still has believers.
In Greek mythology the hawthorn
was also sacred to Hymenaois, the god of the wedding ceremony. At every wedding
in Greek mythology, whether it was of Zeus to Hera, or Orpheus to Eurydice,
Hymenaios was always present with his lyre, singing songs to accompany the
bride. He must have been a very dextrous god, because as well as his lyre
Hymenaios was always supposed to carry a flaming torch made of hawthorn
Hymenaios was one of a
group of deities which the Ancient Greeks associated with love. The most famous
of these is Eros, and together the deities are called the Erotes. The
association of Eros with the athletic gym and male same-sex is discussed in
several previous articles. In fact all of the Erotes, Hymenaios included, had
very gay lifestyles. I’ll return to the Erotes as a group next year. For now
let’s concentrate on Hymenaios with his lyre and hawthorn torch.
The origins of Hymenaios
come from the bridal song of the same name. He became its patron deity and was
given its name. The hawthorn became associated with him because Greek brides
wore garlands of hawthorn around their heads. His name is often shortened to
Hymen. The earliest written reference to Hymenaios is in a poem by Sappho, the
lesbian poet of Lesbos, in the 6th century BC.
Across the ancient Greek
states various legends developed which gave him a personal and family history.
They give many different names for his parents, but most often his father is
named as Apollo and his mother was one of the Muses of art and science. This
was the reason for Hymenaios’s prowess in music and song. Other legends
relating to his membership of the Erotes state that he and his fellow love gods
were all hatched from eggs.
This latter legend seems
more appealing considering others tell of a sexual relationship between Hymenaios
and his supposed father Apollo. In these other legends Hymenaios is not a
winged god but a mortal youth. He was of such exquisite beauty that Apollo
wouldn’t leave Hymenaios’s home and lived there for some time, drooling over
the boy. The mortal Hymenaios also caught the eye of several other male gods.
Dionysus fancied him as well. So did Zeus, king of the gods, who was so jealous
that he killed the young man. Dionysus brewed up a tonic which brought
Hymenaios back to life.
Among the other myths of this
mortal Hymenaios is one in which he played on his androgynous beauty. He fell
in love with a local young maiden who refused all his amorous advances.
Undaunted, Hymenaois disguised himself as a girl and followed the maiden to an
all-female religious festival. Because of his beauty no-one suspected he wasn’t
a real girl.
At the festival they were
attacked and kidnapped by pirates. On the pirate’s island Hymenaios organised a
revolt among the maidens and they killed their captors as they slept. Hymenaios
then promised to get them all back home again if he could marry the girl he had
fallen in love with. They agreed, and he revealed his true identity. On their
successful return home he was made patron of marriage.
This is one of the later
myths which were attempts to humanise some of their gods and give earthly
reasons for their patronage and for Hymenaios being associated with marriage.
This marriage of the
mortal Hymenaios to a maiden is the only heterosexual romance associated with
him. As one of the immortal Erotes he had no female love interest at all. In
fact, all his partners were male, including the god of the Evening Star,
So, if you’re planning to
marry your same-sex partner this month, or in any future May, why not celebrate
Hymenaios, the god of weddings and marriage ceremonies, what could be more
appropriate than to decorate the venue with sprays of May blossom.