One of the more recognisable symbols of Bealtaine is the May Pole, and its subsequent dance which is said to encourage the return of fertility to the Earth.
The pole itself is not only a phallic symbol but also is the connector of the Three Worlds. Dancing the May Pole during Bealtaine is a conduit of energy, connecting all three worlds at a time when the gateways are most easily penetrable ... a magickal experience, indeed. The energy created by people dancing around the May Pole penetrates down into the Earth bringing about Her full awakening and fruitfulness.
The May Pole obtained its status as a phallic symbol owing to its coinciding with the worship of Germanic phallic figures such as Freyr. Other possible meanings include symbolism relating to the Yggdrasil; a symbolic axis linking the Underworld; the World of the Living; the Heavens and numerous other realms. A reverence for sacred trees can also be found in surviving accounts of Germanic tribes, and are probably also related. For instance, Thor's Oak, Adam of Bremen's account of Sacred Groves and the Irminsul.
Originally, the festivities began on May Eve (in the Northern Hemisphere), when the young people of the villages would go off into the woods or forest in search of the perfect May Pole. Throughout the night, they would sing, dance, and make love, to hasten the arrival of Summer. At dawn, they would return to the village, bearing with them a living tree. This tree was then erected in the center of town, in hopes the Tree Spirit would come forth to make fertile the women and animals. The people would join hands and dance around the tree to call forth its Spirit, which would make them fruitful.
One did not simply erect a May Pole at Bealtaine, the pole was draped with ribbons and flowers and danced around. In days long gone, it was the young children who did the dancing. Long ribbons, attached to the top of the pole, usually in pastel Spring colours, were taken up half by the boys, and the other half by the girls. The boys then go clockwise around the pole, and the girls counter-clockwise. They raise their arms and duck under alternately, so as to weave the ribbons tightly around the pole. The children did not just run about, willy-nilly. Quite often they would have a rehearsed dance so that the ribbons, when wound round the pole, would form a pattern. The belief was that the better the pattern, the better the harvest would be that fall.
Sometime later, most villages erected a permanent pole, some of which still stand today. Barwick in Elmet, in West Yorkshire, boasts the tallest surviving May Pole. Standing 86 ft tall, this is painted according to tradition, with red and white spiral stripes; red for generative life, and white for new beginnings. Bealtaine; celebrated as New Year's Day in England from the 12th to the 18th century was outlawed in 1664. All May Poles were ordered taken down and all future setup of the poles was prohibited within the Kingdom of England or Dominion of Wales and an ordinance was passed forbidding 'the Profanation of the Lord's Day by May Poles.' One would imagine it safe to assume that the Maypole's true meaning had at least partially disappeared by that time, since a reusable, dead pole would hardly serve the same purpose as a living tree! Very few old May Poles survived this time but the Poles returned with the Restoration and Pepys' described the beginning of King Charles’ reign as "the happiest May Day that hath been many a year in England."
Source: Dark Wing