Today – a timely snippet about the traditional joys and perils of milking on the first day of May … The season of Beltane has always been a time to celebrate abundance and fertility, with the newly released cows full of the joys of spring, the new milk flooding in and the fields sporting fifty new-budding shades of green. But amongst the abundance and plenty, May Day itself seems to have been a tricky boundary to navigate for the dairymaids. A time when the veil between worlds was thin, the known and the unknown jostling together, and the cows in the early morning meadow and the maids going to milk them were susceptible to mishaps. A lack of vigilance on a May morning (quite likely after the traditional night partying of Beltane Eve) could result in an abundant flow of milk being lost to a neighbour. A briar snagged on a milkmaid’s skirt and dragging behind her through the dewy grass at Beltane would draw the ‘milk luck’ with it, and if she passed through a neighbour’s field would leave the milk luck there, and there it would stay however hard she worked to increase the yields… But keeping your wits about you at the liminal times, and the first morning of May in particular, would go a long way to ensuring this didn’t happen.
Erica and Peggy
(text refs: Cattle in Ancient Ireland, A.T.Lucas 1989, Boundaries and Thresholds 1993, P. Lysaght, ed Hilda Ellis Davidson)