It is said that the Mayday ‘Obby ‘Oss (hobby horse) possibly dates back some 4,000 years to celebrate the Celtic festival of ‘Beltane’ welcoming the return of the Celtic sun god ‘Bel’, thus marking the end of spring and welcoming the start of summer
“With the merry ring adieu the joyful spring, for Summer is acome unto day.
But the reality is that the true origins of the Padstow festival are in fact a bit of a mystery.
The raising of a Maypole on the first of May for instance was quite popular throughout Germany, and some folklorists have theorised that it is possible that our Maypole traditions could be linked to tree worship and Germanic paganism prior to Christianisation. There is some evidence of Mayday celebrations as far back as the 16 century, but the earliest mention of the Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss is from 1803.
The concept of the street procession is closely linked to Mayday celebrations, but why the ‘Obby ‘Oss? One of the most popular theories is that it is a symbol of fertility. The colour black has been associated with rites of fertility and the ‘Oss could be a celebration of the stallion, an animal of great virility. It used to be said that if a young women was pursued and caught under the skirt of the ‘Oss and marked by the blacking off the canvas, she would inevitably fall pregnant.
In ancient Europe, the symbol of a horse goddess was part of another Pagan cult where the sun was believed to be carried across the sky in a chariot pulled by a team of horses, so could it possible that originally the ‘Oss was a representation of this? However, the reality is that nobody really knows, so you are left to make up your own mind and just accept the true origins are lost in the mists of time.