Beltane Bash (Happy May Day!)

This is Beltane, Celtic May Day. 

In 2002 we were in London walking down Great Russell Street and we

 ran across the “Beltane Bash” held in conjunction with the “Pagan Pride March.” This is from a family letter written in May 2002.

Wherever we travel we find things that interest us.  Saturday we walked into the fifth annual Pagan Pride Parade.  The parade was to start of the Beltane Bash.  Normally Beltane is celebrated on May 1, but these pagans were late because of some bank holiday and a conflict in the venue, so they called themselves Orthodox Pagans and celebrated according to the Julian Calendar, two weeks late.

Two cops on motorcycles and a big bush that jumped around a lot led the parade followed by several giants representing different “pagan paths”. The parade was pan pagan, featuring traditional Morris dancers in their bells, tatters and ribbons, Indian pagans, two types, one type in saris and the other type in buckskin.  There were biker pagans in black leather with pentagrams and skulls on their jackets, intellectual pagans in tweedy jackets white beards and pentagram pendants (or perhaps they were Harry Potter pagans); Celtic pagans wearing wash off Celtic knot tattoos; Viking pagans with horned helmets; witches some in tailored velvet “power suits;” whimsical pagans with “t” shirts saying “Neighborhood Witch;” shady lady pagans in 1890s style dresses with floppy hats, vixen pagans in lace tights that showed more than they hid; and Egyptian pagans, dressed as Cleopatra with slinky yellow skirts and big feathered head dresses.  The effect was “Morris Men meet the chorus line at the Copa, led by the Mad Hatter.”

The parade marched to the rhythms of many drummers.  The Morris Dancers tried to beat out their steady rhythms so they could dance the parade route while the modern pagans beat out polyrhythms that sounded like Serbian turbo folk.  I saw drum heads with Viking ships and runic writings, with pentagrams, one with a polar bear, one that looked like Oklahoma’s flag, and one that said “Murphy’s stout.”

The unifying feature of the parade is that most people wore some kind of leafy or flowery wreath on their heads.  This looked especially fetching on the biker pagans.  This is one religion I could probably not follow because I would sneeze.  Suzi pointed out that most of the garlands were plastic, Reformed pagans.  It was colorful and drew puzzled expressions from the Moslems living in the neighborhood through which the parade passed.  It occurs to me that this parade is what Unitarians would do.

The parade ended at Conway Hall, the home of the “Ethical Culture” society.”  We had not intended to spend the entire day and evening at the Beltane Bash but had such a good time that we wandered around the different rooms of Conway hall sampling what the different “ways” had to offer.  Each room was named after one of the basic elements of pagan creation, the Earth Room, the Water Room, the Air Room, the Fire Room and the Tea Room.  These were, after all, English pagans.  Over the stage in the Fire room was the legend “To thine own self be true.”

Some of the festival was commercial, with jewelry and books on offer.  You could buy different ceremonial robes, hats, saris, oils, herbs, crystals, candles and Harry Potter stuff.

Tarot readers sat in the tea room.  I was particularly struck by a jolly looking one in a brown robe, hood, white beard, before him a Tarot deck, lighted candle and two jelly donuts.  There were tables where you could sign up to be a Pagan Pen Pal or e-Mail Mate.

Some of the people took it very seriously.  Some seemed to be flirting with it, or flirting with someone else who took it very seriously.  Others were there because it was a chance to have Halloween in May.  They also have a Samhain Celebration.  For some it was all business.  And some were there because, in reality, it was a folk festival.  We enjoyed the Morris Dancers, pipers, concertinas and hurdy gurdys.

In the evening there was a folk rock band which may be the only rock band I have ever seen with an electric hurdy gurdy.  When folk turned to rock some of the witches had a problem.  Is it better to dance with a guy than a broomstick?


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