Symbols of Spring: Mother Dance Archetype Reigns Over Merry May

Of all the symbols of spring, the May pole dance best illustrates the reign of Mother Dance in the month of merry May.



Older woman dancer, Shiva dancing istockphotos

Mother Dance unites in her archetype the sacred and profane, the erotic and unearthly, the visceral and the transcendental.

The May pole dance brings together two symbols of spring of innocence and the erotic. In this ancient Celtic rite, virginal women spiral colorful ribbons around a pole, in a delicate dance that brings them together and apart.

According to the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia (6th ed., 2009), “The Maypole dance derives from spring rituals glorifying the phallus,” (n. p.) It suggests that maypole dances are a relic of ancient Greek rituals that celebrated the life-death-rebirth mystery of the Isis-Ishtar-Iananna story.

May Pole Dance Unites Elements
Of Sacred and Erotic

This vivid description of the Merry Month of May festivities includes a depiction of a may pole dance.

Today, pole dancers in men’s clubs carry on the profane use of the phallic prop.

Judith Lynne Hanna reminds, “Dance and sex both use the same instrument -- namely, the human body -- and both involve the language of the body’s orientation toward pleasure.

Thus, dance and sex may be conceived as inseparable even when sexual expression is unintended” (p. 212; Dance and Sexuality: Many Moves. Journal of Sex Research, Mar-Jun 2010).

Ecstasy, Ephemerality Characterize Dance as Symbol of Spring

Mother Dance, regent of merry May and symbols of spring, is the archetype of ecstasy of body and spirit reaching towards the unknown – spirit using body, body stretching beyond physical limits.

Dance is all about image, movement, and rhythm.

Much ritual dance is related to the hypnotic pulse of drums. As Anthony Tomassin wrote in the New York Times (April 7, 2010):

“For thousands of years groups of people around the world have played music on percussion instruments -- for rituals, dances, ceremonies, and just for fun” (p. 5).

It is impossible to capture the appeal of the Mother Dance in words. Of all the symbols of spring, she best signifies the ephemeral: A dance exists in time, experientially, then -- like youth, like life itself -- vanishes into the mystery.

Antinomies Abound in Mother Dance Archetype

To think of Mother Dance is to think in opposites:

  • virginal women and a relic of phallus worship in the May pole dances of merry May.

  • the ghost dance that signified revitalization for Native Americans, yet produced extinction. Notes the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia,"Although a nonviolent form of protest, it ended with the massacre of over 200 Sioux men, women, and children by the U.S. army at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1890.”

  • bare feet stomping on the earth to tribal rhythms versus the legend that the ballet dancer Nijinsky defied gravity and managed to fly for a few seconds when he jumped.

  • the erotic give-and-take of tango dancers viewed in counterpoint to the the stately steps of medieval court dances that strictly kept the sexes several feet apart.

Myths of the Dancer Archetype

The archetype of Mother Dance is encoded into mythic traditions from around the world. For example:

“Hawaiian myth ascribes hula's invention to Hi'iaka, sister of the volcano goddess Pele, and its safekeeping to the goddess Laka," notes the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia.

"Originally part of religious ceremonies, it [the hula] was danced by groups of specially trained women who illustrated the various accompanying texts (mele), which were chanted by men.”

Terpsicore is the muse inherited from the mythology of ancient Greece, according to N.S. Gill.

In India, Shiva is the god who dances the World into being.

Female Dancer in red polka dots



What Magic Does
Your Dance
Call into Being?

"Dancing is an ancient form of magic," writes Heinrich Zimmer in Philosophies of India, quoted by Atanu Dey.

"The dancer becomes amplified into a being endowed with supra-normal powers.

"The dance induces trance, ecstasy, the experience of the divine, the realization of one’s own secret nature, and, finally, mergence into the divine essence.

"To work magic, to put enchantments upon others, one has first to put enchantments on oneself. And this is effected as well by the dance as by prayer, fasting and meditation.

Dance Is an Act of Creation

"The dance is an act of creation. It brings about a new situation and summons into the dancer a new and higher personality. It has a cosmogonic function, in that it rouses dormant energies which them may shape the world."

Thus, Mother Dance is one of the most profound symbols of spring.

The mystic appeal of dance among the symbols of spring is universal and invariably linked with the process of birth, never stronger than in the fecund conditions of merry May.

You are, at this very moment, dancing atoms expressing the movement of your life. What is your dance calling into being?

Archetype of the Month Celebrates
Your Inner Life

Fashion After 50 celebrates the creative, spiritual, and inner life of older women. Archetype of the Month (2010 feature) explores the symbolic patterns of life as they relate to aging and women. Feature uses photographs, poems, references to myth, literature, and popular culture [Read more]

Croning Ritual Celebrates Third Phase of a Woman's Life -- December 2010

A croning ritual celebrates a woman’s transformation. These culminate efforts to recuperate the word crone as a positive characterization for aging women.

This is the third of three articles that turn out attention from symbols of spring to the winter of our lives and its values. [Read more]

Archetypal Characters, Therapeutic Uses: Why the Crone Matters – November 2010

All of us are archetypal characters in the stories we tell ourselves and others about our lives. Life would be chaos if we did not organize our diverse and diffuse sensory experiences in some way. [Read more]

Maiden-Mother-Crone & Reinvigoration of Wise Woman – October 2010

The crone face of the maiden-mother-crone triple goddess faded from reverence to an object of revile as the warty wicked witch. Postmodern women are reinvigorating their role as society’s wise women. [Read more]

The Between, Liminal Space, & Fall Equinox – September 2010

The between is a luminal space filled with the potential for magic and alchemical processes for transformation.

The autumnal equinox, when day is as long as night, marks the season between summer and winter, the extremes. It occurs around September 20-21 each year. It counterposes the spring equinox and feminine symbols of spring. [Read more]

The Truth-Seeker – August 2010

The great quest of the truth seeker in late life is to find meaning. This often requires discovery of the uncompleted parts of the self.

Many myths and legends illustrate the hero’s journey, which always starts with the truth seeker character-archetype answering a call to do something. [Read more]

The Storyteller – July 2010

The value-of-storytelling is embodied in the archetype of the Griot or Storyteller. This character archetype transcends months and seasons.

Mythic stories embody hero archetypes that convey cultural values. Understanding your character archetypes can help heal the spirit and bring wholeness that unleashes creativity. [Read more]

Feminine Makeover, Archetype of Transformation -- June 2010

The popularity of feminine makeovers has its roots in the ancient, perhaps even prehistoric, search for alchemical transmutation.

Feminine makeovers can make us feel good. These have become contemporary symbols of spring never-ending physical beauty, but it is appropriate to question whether outer change can achieve the inner transformations that nurture and nourish us.

Read More


Mother Rain -- April 2010

Mother Rain is another of the symbols of spring. Her persona embodies the two faces of Nature – the all nurturing, birth-giving potential and the unrelenting strength of annihilation of world drought.

This archetypal antinomy is embodied in the lyrics of a song that celebrates getting caught in the rain. Bored by each other (an emotional dought), a couple each secretly sets up a meeting using personal ads [Read more]

Hope Symbols – March 2010

Hope symbols and hope quotations are embodied in ancient myths as the goddesses Elpis and Spes. All religions and cultural are buoyed by this uniquely feminine archetype. It is often older women who offer words of hope to those who falter [Read more]

Mother Light -- February 2010

The Christian Candlemas ritual coincides with the pagan holidays. of Imbolc and Lupercalia. The archetype of Mother Light has been celebrated in seemingly every corner of the globe since ancient times. Diwali in India [Read more]

The Winter Mother – January 2010

The faces of the Winter Mother are the Snow Queen and Mary swaddling the infant Jesus. The Snow Queen seduces boy-children. The masks of Carnivale translate ice crystals and snowflakes into bejeweled and feathered art on faces as frozen in perfection [Read more]

Return from Symbols of Spring to Jungian Archetypes

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