Friday 1 May 2015

May Blossoms for Gay Weddings

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 branches.

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, Hesperus.

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.

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