It hardly seems possible that it is already a month ago that we were waiting in a place between the worlds for the rites of Beltane to reach their culmination. Glastonbury…the fabled Avalon… is a place where the veil between realties always seems thin, and in this case, the geography aligned itself with legend as we congregated in a field, high above the town, yet far below the summit of the Tor.
It was a perfect location; an impromptu sanctuary, enclosed by trees, poised between the valley and the heights. The tower of the church within the town below an echo of the ancient tower on the Tor…and it was here they would raise the maypole that would marry the worlds.
Children ran and played in the sun, introducing themselves to grand old trees, families and friends gather, laughing and smiling in the perfect weather. No-one was a stranger, even though hundreds were there for the first time.
The rainbow theme of the festivities was evident everywhere and a perfect symbol for the coming together in laughter and harmony that was happening in the field beneath the Tor. Colour, flowers and May blossom were everywhere… even the dogs were included.
Hundreds of people held hands to create the circle in which a symbolic shelter of withies was constructed for the May King and his Queen. When they arrived at the head of the procession, the festivities began in earnest.
They were followed by the rainbow dragon that would be safe, this time, from the spears of the saints. The tower on the Tor is all that remains of a church dedicated to St Michael, the dragon slayer. The earlier church of St Michael was destroyed by an earthquake in 1275… something of a rarity in this country. The tower is all that remains of the building that replaced it, itself destroyed during the Dissolution. High on the tower is a plaque carved with an eagle… the symbolic transformation of serpent to eagle is not so very different to the more colourful symbolism we were there to witness.
In Christian iconography, the dragon represents evil…and the depictions of the dragon-slaying saints if often thought of and a depiction of the triumph of Christianity over paganism. In the old lore of Albion, though, the Dragon represents the forces of nature and life itself. In Glastonbury, the twin sacred springs, red and white, are often shown entwined as dragons; their union bringing something new to birth.
The rainbow of colour spread across the field as the symbolic marriage of King and Queen was celebrated. Rainbow threads were bound like bracelets around the wrists of all who were there…a tangible reminder of a fabulous gathering.
The ritual began, calling upon the elemental Quarters of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, calling upon the heavens and the earth and on the inner Light that permeates all.
A multitude of traditions were included…and none were excluded, so that all could freely participate in the rite without conflict… and that carried its own beauty.
A rainbow of perspectives, which, light the colours of the spectrum came together with a purity of purpose and a desire for peace. It was, by far, the biggest ritual gathering I have ever attended, and to feel that intent as hundreds turned to face each quarter was very moving.
The Maypole was carried in to be blessed, crowed with a garland, woven with ribbons and planted as a bridge between the worlds. No-one really knows the origins of the Maypole. There is an obviously phallic imagery, especially with the floral crown it wears, and it may be no more than a remnant of ancient fertility rites or the celebration of the return of the sun.
It may be an echo of the Saxon traditions, carrying elements of the veneration of the sacred trees, or a representation of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, or of the Irminsul the sacred pillar that unites earth with heaven. Beneath the tower on the Tor, it seemed to be all of those things…and perhaps it is.
For us, though, it meant that the celebrations were almost over and it was time to leave. As the age-old dance wove the ribbons of lie around the maypole, we gathered our companions, saying a reluctant farewell to some and carrying others back down into the town for a final hug.
A final call on Alienora and Jumble to say thank you for a stunning weekend and a few more hugs… and we left Glastonbury behind…feeling the magic fade back into the mists as it always does, yet knowing it remains in a place beyond time and our everyday reality.
We stopped again at Avebury for refreshments and to walk briefly amongst the stones once more, thinking it the last act of a magical weekend. But the day had a final and most appropriate gift As the curve in the road brought us back into my village at dusk, the sky was lit by a rainbow… and it was still there when I raised the camera on my back doorstep. The message was clear…no matter where or how far you may go in quest of magic, you always find it by going back to where you began.