Right now, British Pagans are still in the middle of their Beltane celebrations, coinciding with the May bank holiday, with a red and white dragon parade having taken place in Glastonbury on Sunday May 6 and Beltane celebrations across the country on May Day itself. The national press have not been slow to realize that traditional celebrations are once more becoming popular, after a period of decline in the 1980s and 1990s. This year, Morris dancers met across the country to dance in the dawn (there are estimated to be around 13,000 Morris dancers in the U.K.). There are also plans to erect a modern maypole in London’s Strand; it will be similar to the 130-foot-high pole that was put up by Charles II to celebrate the restoration of the monarchy in 1661.
Members of the various Pagan communities have been meeting over the last week to undertake private and public Beltane rituals at sacred sites, like stone circles such as Stanton Drew near Bristol.
Ronald Hutton, at the University of Bristol, states that May Day used to be “more like Christmas, Easter and Whitsun, one of the great turning points of the year….It was the English version of the feast which opened the summer season, across northern Europe: when the grass was growing again and so livestock could be put into the outfields or summer pastures, which often involved a lot of movement. In agrarian societies, the crops had all been sown and were sprouting, and a break could be taken before the weeding really began.”
May Day celebrations have changed over the years, with maypole dancing as we know it today (with colored ribbons) being a relatively recent phenomenon, introduced by John Ruskin at Whitelands College in 1881. It became a tradition in British schools throughout the 20th century (this reporter remembers maypole dancing at infant school in Gloucester in the 1970s). However, the maypole itself is a much older phenomenon, dating from the 16th century if not before, with a hiatus during the Puritan period.
Beyond Beltane, a number of Pagan events have been publicized for the coming weeks in the U.K. Following are some highlights.
- Witchfest Midlands will be taking place in Rugeley, as reported on the Wild Hunt some weeks ago, but that the event is now being advertised as ‘sold out.’ This is obviously good news for the Witchfest organisers, and perhaps bodes well for the future of the national Witchfest gathering.
- On 19-20 will be the Shamanic Lands, a two-day ceremony in mid Wales dedicated to working with the ancient spirits of the land. It’s described as a healing journey through wisdom teachings, story telling, practical exercises, art, live music and performances, featuring Anglesey Druid and Llewellyn author Kristoffer Hughes and writer/musician Carolyn Hillyer among others.
- Tarot author and expert Mary K Greer, along with Linda Marson and Jamie George, will be leading a U.K. tour of southwest sacred sites.
- While May Day is a festival celebrated by many people in the British Isles, not just Pagans, a more exclusively Pagan festival will take place in six weeks’ time, at the summer solstice. This is perhaps the celebration with which non-Pagans are most familiar, due to the interest taken in it by the media, and focusing on the festivities at Stonehenge. However, many Pagans prefer not to engage with the crowds and the often challenging energy of the Stonehenge gathering and will be seeing in the dawn privately from places such as Castlerigg, Callanish, and Chanctonbury Ring. The Pagan Federation will be running an open ritual at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square in London (7.30 p.m. start) on June 21 .
- The solstice is not the only Pagan event taking place in June – a busy month for Pagans across the country.
- The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids will be holding their bi-annual gathering in Glastonbury on June 2 and 3.
- Chaos magician Julian Vayne will be the ‘magician in residence’ at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle from June 4 to 8, undertaking one-to-one consultations and tarot readings. Also at the museum, from July 3 to 5, will be an AI-based version of the spirit familiar of 18th century Yorkshire cunning woman Anne Latch. This is a digital installation presented by author and computational artist Rob Sherman.
- From the seventh to the 10th of June is the Oak Spirit Gathering in Unstone Grange, Derbyshire. With an elemental theme, this year’s gathering will focus on the element of air.
- The Pagan Tribal Gathering will take place in Nuneaton from eighth to the 10th of June, and there will be a Green Man Walk on June 17 in Arunde, in which visitors can search for various pieces of Green Man artwork hidden in the woodland.
- On second to the sixth of July, the Wild Women’s summer retreat will be held in Dorset (details are on the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids website.
- The Eastbourne Lammas Festival will be held in Sussex the 28th to the 29th of July; it includesa Lammas ritual and a John Barleycorn dance.
- The annual Goddess Conference will be held in Glastonbury from 31 July to 5 August this year. This international event is now in its 22nd year, and is a highlight for the goddess-worshipping community.
Looking ahead, there are a number of Lammas festivities planned throughout August, and the late summer period is likely to be as busy for the nation’s Pagan community.