The first day of May, and in a normal year a trip to the Somerset town of Glastonbury would have brought an encounter with a large crowd gathered to mark the pagan festival of Beltane.
Faces painted green, head dresses woven from ivy, outlandish clothes, many of those who would have gathered might have stepped out a scene from JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It would have been an occasion of celebration, laughter, joy.
At the Market Cross, proclamations by a man in the costume of a town crier would have been loudly acclaimed. There would have been the sound of drumming and chants followed by a procession down the high street by musicians and a group carrying a large wooden pole.
Reaching the Market Cross, the procession would have moved into the middle of the crowd, where there would be a loud declamation, before the whole assembly moved off, making slow progress back up the street, with the pole in the middle, followed by those carrying a long dragon made from fabric and held aloft on sticks. The pole would be a tree trunk into which various symbols had been carved; when the procession reached its destination, it would be erected as a maypole.
It is a gathering that radiates energy and enthusiasm, people of all ages come to participate in the Beltane ceremonies, but also to enjoy themselves as they do so.
Attending the celebrations one year and posting on Facebook, a couple of dozen photographs of those gathered for the procession, a friend from an evangelical church in England immediately posted a comment saying “heathen.” Further discussion had ensued, including the suggestion that most of those present were probably anarchists or libertarians and were probably not so far removed in their attitudes from the apostles in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, who regarded even personal property as something that could be sold to help the poor.
Undoubtedly, if one had talked to the “hippies” who had comprised the majority of the crowd, the values of some of them would have been very far removed from those of a bourgeois bystander, but others would have been there for no reason other than it was an enjoyable occasion.
Mayday, Beltane, is the first day of the quarter when the days are at their longest, when the sun shines and the crops grow and the roots of the old pagan ways are discernible.
Like much else, Beltane was prevented by government restrictions. There are some who would probably prevent even the light evenings if they could find some way of doing so.