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.

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4 Responses to Mayday

  1. Doonhamer says:

    I have always worried about that giving your wealth to the poor so that you can save your soul.
    You are transferring your guilt to whomever you give the money to. Should that not cause you to worry? The sum total of food has not been increased.
    But at least you have a warm, smug, virtuous feeling. So long as you do not worry about the soul of the reciever.
    Better to spend the money growing more food, more efficiently and selling it at cost to the poor, maybe giving them a fulfilling job as well.

  2. Ian says:

    I have come to realise that the welfare system simply keeps the poor poor. There needs to be an empowerment, and an assumption of responsibility, so the cycles are not replicated through the generations.

    (I assume those who are poor in the Acts of the Apostles have suffered some misfortune rather than being caught in cyclical deprivation).

  3. Doonhamer says:

    There is poor and poor.
    In UK to be poor you, ( individual, family, household? I know not.) must “get” less than 60% of the median. (Before tax, including all benifits, after all necessities have been covered? I know not.) Do you just count income or also property? Access to free food, fuel, transport, accomodation? This sort of poor I have not knowingly seen.

    Other places to be poor you, only you, have to have less food, heat, clothing, and shelter required to keep you alive. This sort of poor I have seen. And it is not nice.

  4. Ian says:

    One of the lessons I teach Year 7 students is the difference between “relative poverty” (those at a certain percentage below a median line) and “absolute poverty”, the sort of poverty you describe.

    Having visited communities in East Africa half a dozen times, I find it hard to describe to classes what it means for a person to have absolutely nothing.

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