So, as I said in my first blog, one of my ambitions this year is to perform as Bard at each of the Fire Festivals. I am happy to report that last weekend I fulfilled my Bardic office to my complete satisfaction and beyond that I found this Beltaine totally amazing, to the extent I have difficulty trusting that I can adequately convey what an extraordinarily magical experience it was.
All those years when I quietly and simply honoured the energies of the Fire Festivals, I dreamed of living in an Earth-loving community that annually re-enact the rituals of renewal and thanksgiving that made the practices of Paganism so appealing to me. It is the vision of the future that has fired me, that sustains me. The collapse of Capitalism is inevitable, challenging and scary but I’ve always known that what replaces the oppression and exploitation that we are so used to we imagine it is normal, is community. My fantasy has always been of a community in which the spiritual practices sustain and support us in finding right relationship to all around us. My inspiration for this vision came initially from studying Social Anthropology at Queen’s, Belfast (where we had the charismatic Professor John Blacking as a lecturer) and developed through my introduction to the teachings of Native American culture when I lived in North Wales. As this dream has lived in me, it has always had a somewhat unreal, futuristic, utopian, science-fiction feel to it but last weekend I had an experience that completely fitted with this long-held vision. Not only that but I played my part and lived true to the Awen.
So Beltaine celebrations in Glastonbury begin at the Market Cross. They are usually on May day but this year they clashed with the annual Fun Run so took place on Saturday. They began at 12 but I was late. I was late because I woke up with the conviction that I needed to show up as Snake and say the poem Snake Speaks. I hadn’t arranged anything with the people who organised the various events of the day but I trusted that if Spirit urged me to contribute in this way, it would work out. ‘Snake Speaks’ is a Council of All Beings poem so I did all the rituals that we do when we’re preparing to embody another Being for the Council, which included making a mask, dancing to tune into Snake energy, meditation and drumming to invoke Snake and covering my skin (it didn’t show but I knew I’d done it) with green eye shadow so I could go as Snake and offer Snake’s gift to the gathering.
Then I turned up at the Market Cross and claimed my privilege as Elder Bard to speak to the people. Those responsible for the ceremony could quite legitimately have said ‘no’ we’re all sorted here and have entertainers enough. I am delighted I was allowed to offer my contribution; that when in obedience to the Awen I followed the promptings to bring Snake magic to the ceremony, the offering was accepted. And it went down a treat. My short act was followed by the wrestling of the Green Men which was funny and engaging and visually powerful.
There was a great crowd gathered and we processed with the White and Red Dragons up the High Street and along Chickwell Street to the White and Red Springs were the Maypole was waiting to be blessed with the water from the two springs.
The one sour note for me was the way drivers harried the procession, impatient to get past the people. It’s five minutes once a year but they are so used to the idea that we honour the car far above our human needs, that they didn’t have it in them to wait the few minutes it’d take for the road to clear but continued pumping poison as if to do so is their divine right. Talk about pig ignorant!
Once we reached the Springs that clash of cultures ended and we watched the ritual blessing of the Maypole and then continued our walk up to Bushy Coombe. This is the first year since they started celebrating Beltaine by dancing the Maypole properly that I’ve been physically well enough to participate and marching up the hill I am exhilarated by being able to walk like this.
At Bushy Coombe we pass through an arch of greenery representing the passage from the mundane into the magical, form the circle, call in the directions, the Green Men erect the Maypole and then we dance it. It was a big crowd and it took all afternoon but whoa was it special! Lyn Lovell once again did us proud as High Priestess. Apparently she also was responsible for the overall structure of the rituals. There’s a woman who has come into her power. The Handfasting that was incorporated into the celebration was beautiful. In fact everyone who had a role within the overall ceremony played their part to perfection. As Ingrid’s photographs show, it was a colourful event but they do not fully capture what a wonderful piece of pageantry it was. Nor can they show how rich an experience it is to participate in a ceremony that connects us with our pre-Christian past. If you are curious about Pagan ritual, this is just about as good an introduction as it’s possible to find anywhere, in fact, it’s a spectacular show that I reckon just about anyone would enjoy. But me? I was flying. More than anything else I have ever known in this lifetime that was the fulfilment of my dream of a happy positive Pagan future.
To honour and celebrate sex is ultimately what Beltaine is about – fertility, the ecstatic union of Goddess and Horned God, the rising of the sap as we see it manifest in the world and experience it within ourselves. Intellectually I love all this – especially the idea that sexual union is the most sacred experience available to us and can wax lyrical about it but I’m still enough a child of Catholicism to find it emotionally challenging.
So my planned Bardic contribution – to tell the story of “The Spell of True Love’s Casting” reflects my romantic nature. It is my take on the story of Gráinne and Diarmuid where rather than Gráinne being an evil witch who sends all the company to sleep, it is the eternal nature of destined love that cocoons the lovers in a world of their own so no-one notices they have eloped.
The Bardic Bash at Bridie’s Yard on May day itself was a wonderful selection of offerings, a true Bardic Circle in which the contribution of each is honoured by all. The audience was simply wonderful, hanging on a pause, giving total attention in a way that lets the story tells itself.
Maybe for the first time since I started this blog to track how I manage to perform what I think of as my Bardic responsibilities I feel happy with how I’m doing. On the strength of that Beltaine I have more confidence in putting myself forward as a performer. Then one of the people who preformed on Sunday night is someone I’ve worked with, a graduate of my Opening to the Awen workshops. Her talent is all her own, yet watching her I am bursting with pride, feeling that I played some small part in fostering her creativity. Such a buzz!
Beltaine blessings to you all,