Sunday morning, Beltane, the first morning of May…and we were in Glastonbury. After a leisurely breakfast, Alienora prepared for her role as Priestess in the morning’s proceedings. We would meet the others in the town for the start of the day’s festivities. By the time we arrived in the town, the place was already buzzing.
The morning began at the Market Cross, where the Mayor, Jon Cousins, Glastonbury’s Town Crier, David Greenaway and our friend, Morgana West would open the day. One of the first tasks would be to light the Unity Candle. The light is a representation of inclusive acceptance and its flame is lit by groups of all faiths, beliefs, paths and denominations as a symbol of unity in a divided world. It is a spark that echoes a greater Light that shines within all of us and, because of that, when you are asked to light that flame, there is a true feeling of reverence.
This year, the Unity Candle was lit by one of our friends, visiting from California. This was entirely appropriate, as this particular May Day was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Diana had been there…at the heart of it and living in Haight-Ashbury where it all began.
In 1967, Yana Zegri painted the Evolutionary Rainbow on a wall in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco that shows a stage of evolution in each color. It was a rainbow that was chosen as the symbol for this year’s May Day celebration, a perfect symbol for ‘unity in diversity’.
Once the candle was lit, there was music from the choir, Morris dancers and children, light and colour. Many people were in costume, had their faces painted or were wreathed in hawthorn flowers…May blossom. Morgy had left enough branches on her desk for me to weave a makeshift wreath too and her office smelled like heaven.
The flower has a double significance in Glastonbury, where the legends tell that Holy Thorn grew from Joseph of Arimathea’s staff when he planted it in the earth on Wearyall Hill. The story goes that Joseph, a wealthy metal-merchant, had a history of trading in these parts and had brought the boy Jesus with him on one trip, landing in the harbour at Pilton just a few miles away. After the Crucifixion, it was to the tomb owned by Joseph that Jesus’ body was borne. Later, the legend says that Joseph came to Glastonbury and was granted twelve hides of land on which to build the first Christian church.
For all the overtly pagan look to the May Day festivities, it seems rather beautiful that the two traditions entwine. The Green Man is, amongst other things, a symbol of rebirth and resurrection nd as such is often found in our churches. So too is the dragon, though in Glastonbury, the dragon has its own stories to tell that have more to do with the land, water and the unseen forces of nature.
The Maypole, carved with runes and symbols, was once more carried into the square before the procession set off up the High Street, heading for the slopes of the Tor. Alienora was with them in her office as one of the priestesses. There was, sadly, no way I would make the climb, so we remained behind in the town, watching the people and the costumes. But the day was far from over and there would be more to see that afternoon…