If you happen to see a strip of hawthorn bush draped with May flowers and eggshells before a cottage door, you will know that this simple custom is a pardonable – and permissable – factor in the queer rites and customs that once characterized the first day of May, in olden times.
You may have heard the word ‘pistogues’. If you haven’t, I’ll tell you what they are/were. Pistogues are little acknowledgements of the existence of the supernatural and the embodiment of witchcraft that often accompanied it here: a kind of appeasement of the gods that ruled the destinies of earlier inhabitants, who themselves were past masters in the art of witchery and spell-casting – even hypnotism. Only last Saturday, outside the Craft Fair at An Cuan in Rostrevor, my friend Leontia Keogh befriended a practitioner who wanted to exercise his art. And exorcise some alleged demons. With what results, I have yet to learn!
If you want to see some such pistogues, pay a visit to St Bridget’s Well in the graveyard at Faughart!
It tempers one’s scepticism somewhat to reflect that maybe those old rite of May Day were the remnants of the art of the ancient peoples – transmuted somewhat by the ravages of centuries. May Day was a day when ordinary mortals could empower themselves with these forces of the supernatural to cast spells – and the like – on their neighbours. I was in conversation with an old fella of my acquaintace on the subject.
‘”Ye know, ye daren’t put the May Bush up on May Day itself,” he whispered, his sunken eyes leaving spirals of wrinkles on the eye sockets now gawping through dust and the exhaust fumes of a passing car. He peered as though into the dim centuries of mysticism, as a pronounced quietitude and peace gathered shadow over the bog.
“Why can’t I, if I like?” I asked, foolishly. I cannot interpret his withering stare.
“Sure man, you’d have the divil’s own luck if you done that! Man, sure , they used to say it wasn’t right to plack a May flower afore May Day.
Och, aye, t’was all right te pluck them to put on the May Bush. THAT was no harm at all. Not a bit.