Midsummer Rocks! Part 2

Back in the Green Room, The Mechanicals were getting worried. They expected Nick’s anger to blow itself out relatively quickly, as it normally did, but after an hour, he still hadn’t returned.
‘Does anyone know the area? Where can he have got to?’ Nuggie asked. Bill raised his hand coyly, before saying, uncertainly:
‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, with sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.’
The Mechanicals just looked at him, perplexed, until Petey broke the silence.
‘Yeah, okay, Bill. Whatever. Just go out and have a look around the festival for him, yeah?’ Bill turned to go, declaring:
‘I’ll put a girdle round about the field in forty minutes’ and raced out.
There was a pause.
‘Girdle?! Does anyone have the faintest what’s he on about?’ asked Frankie.

*
As it turned out, Nick was now deep in the heart of the wood, and totally and utterly lost. He was exhausted after the performance and his anger-fuelled ramblings, which had led him to walk round and round in circles. Despite his desire to either eat or return to the Green Room, he found he really couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. Overwhelmed by sleep, he yawned and stretched demonstrably, before muttering:
‘I think I’ll crash out right here.’
And he did, falling flat into a soft, dense bed of cow parsley and rolling straight into sweet dreams.
However, his choice of bed turned out to be Weaver’s third mistake of the night.
What he hadn’t noticed was that his cow parsley bed was circled by a ring of hemlock. This brought him a disturbed and suffocating sleep that tempted nightmares out of the darkness.
It was in that ring of hemlock that the faeries found him, fresh with pranking instructions from Robin Goodfellow. They gathered around his head and prepared to create terrible mischief. Arrowhead took out the sheet of instructions, rubbed out the creases, cleared his throat and was about to begin, when Bogbean announced:
‘My faewie lord, this must be done wiv haste! For night’s swift dwagons cut the clouds full fast, and … ‘
‘Stop thy quail pipe, Varletess!’ Arrowhead snapped. ‘Here I have scrippage to enact our device! Let me recite!’ With a quick cough to clear his throat, he spoke to Weaver:
‘Out of this wood do not desire to go: thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no.’
The rest of the magic he whispered so quietly into Nick’s ear that not another soul heard it. After a short while he said ‘It’s done!’
‘Serves the plum right, if you ask me. Comin’ round sticking his frackin’ hoof in our gates without so much as a David Bowie.’ Newt mused.
Frogbit hiccupped.
‘This is exci-tingly!’ Bogbean squeed as she jumped up and down, clapping her hands.
‘Let us repose unto yonder tree and watch the metamorphosis of our quarry!’ Arrowhead suggested. So the four faeries trotted off and sat in the branches of a nearby oak.
The magic they performed had been used in Warwickshire before. In fact, Shakespeare himself had seen the outcome of it one Midsummer morning when he was a boy, and ended up using it in one of his plays. Good job the faeries hadn’t heard about it, otherwise the Sweet Swan of Avon would have been subject to what Newt referred to as ‘a snorter up the bracket’ and literary history would have taken an altogether different turn.
Anyway, it wasn’t a Donkey’s head that our band of faeries had attached to Nick Weaver. It was something far more wild. Slowly the shape of Nick’s face started to change. His jaws and nose cracked and creaked until they were elongated. His eyes seemed to slide round to the side of his head and his ears shot outwards. A thick reddish brown fur began to ooze from every pore and two long, sharp antlers ripped their way out of his scalp.
And as his face changed, so did his thoughts and dreams.
Lost in the darkness of his nightmares, the world seemed to twist and transform around Nick’s very being. With no idea about his physical transformation, Nick’s dreams saw him change from one animal to another.
In his dream he found himself underwater, swimming against the current, when he saw a worm wriggling seductively in front of him. Nick was still hungry for meat so thought he’d eat it. But, as he bit down on to the worm he felt the sharp stab of a hook as it pierced through his lip. It was agony. He tried to pull against it but, suddenly, he felt himself being jerked upwards and out of the water. For a few seconds, as he flew towards the bank, he couldn’t breathe. He gasped and gasped but just could not catch his breath…
The hook was gone and, in the next dream, he was flying freely, gasping in great lungful’s of fresh air. He seemed to have – don’t be ridiculous, how could he possibly have feathers? But he did; he was nervous in his heart and didn’t know why. He just knew he had to fly as quickly as he could and get away, so he beat his wings hard. Suddenly, there was a sharp cracking sound. It sounded like a gun? Why would someone be shooting at him? Slam, he felt the hot, sharp pellet puncture his breast and he was falling, falling to the earth. He closed his eyes in terror but the smash into the floor never came…
Instead, he opened his dreaming eyes and found himself in a cage, a cage so small he couldn’t even lift his head up. Beneath his feet were cold, hard bars he couldn’t balance on properly. And it stank, smelled terribly of chicken poo and- it was noisy. His ears filled with the low clucking of thousands of chickens. He panicked. He needed to peck his way out. But he couldn’t; he didn’t have a beak. Why didn’t he have a beak? What kind of a person would cut off a …
And then he dreamed he was in a queue, waiting. Terror gripped his heart again and he smelled blood. The stench of it was overpowering. How could he get out? He had to get out. A man came for him but he knew he didn’t want to go with him. And yet, he couldn’t go backwards because of the … cows. Why was he surrounded by cows? The man pulled him and tugged him towards another metal cage and his head was put into a harness. What were they doing? Why were they pulling his head up? He felt the deep, hot agony of the blade slice through his throat and he couldn’t breathe again. He tried to cry out but couldn’t and …
He was in a forest. But was this the real forest of the dream one? He felt the weight of antlers on his head. He knew there was a man behind him with a gun. But why were all these people trying to kill him? When the answer came it was terrifying but undeniable:
They wanted to kill him because he was an animal.
But this was a dream! He wasn’t an animal! If only he could wake up. If only he could …
Nick sat bolt upright in his cow parsley bed. He was awake! His ordeal was over! “It’s fine” he said to himself. “It was all a dream!”
At least that’s what he tried to say to himself, but instead of his voice, the deep, booming bellow of a stag echoed up his throat. He brought his hands up to his face but – it didn’t feel like his face at all. In panic, he wobbled to his feet and grabbed at his features in disbelief. There was no mistaking it – somehow or other he now had a stag’s head where his own head should have been. What if there were people around? What if he was seen? It appeared it wasn’t only his head which had become deer-like but his heart too. In sheer panic, Nick charged deeper into the woods, bellowing pitifully as he went.
Arrowhead, Frogbit, Bogbean and Newt laughed hysterically!
‘Let us after the interloper and execute sweet vengeance!’ Arrowhead chortled. They flew after Nick as fast as they could, buzzing round his already addled head, chanting:
‘We’ll follow you, we’ll lead you about a round,
Through bog, through bush, through brake, through brier:
Sometime a horse we’ll be, sometime a hound,
A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;
And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,
Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn!’
*
Bill had long since returned from ‘girdling’, or whatever it was he was doing, and still there was no sign of Nick. The Mechanicals had become more and more concerned as the hours skipped by. As it was now approaching sunrise, the band decided to take matters into their own hands and head into the woods to find Nick themselves. Pete announced he would stay in the Green Room, in case Nick reappeared there, and he asked Bill to stay with him, just in case fans tried to get in. Unlikely, he admitted, but potentially quite serious. And so Rob, Nuggie, Frankie and Tom pulled on their gilets and headed out into the woodland.
In those dark hours before the dawn, the band struggled bravely through the branches and stinging nettles, calling quietly for their friend. They didn’t know why they were afraid, but something was making them very wary.
Eventually they found something.
‘Look!’ Frankie cried out ‘All of this – green stuff has been crushed down. It looks like someone was sleeping here!’
‘Nick?’ Nuggie called tentatively.
‘WEAVER?’ Tom yelled.
‘Shhhh.’ Rob silenced his friends. ‘Can you hear that?’
A deep moaning echoed all around them, as did the sound of rustling of vegetation.
‘Something’s coming.’ Nuggie quailed. ‘Something’s coming quickly!’ and it certainly seemed to be.
The moaning was now more like a bellow. The sounds of movement were more violent – twigs snapping, ground scraping.
The Mechanicals started to panic.
‘Run!’ yelled Rob.
‘Run where?’ Frankie asked. ‘The noise is everywhere!’
‘That way!’ Tom pointed (although quite why he had chosen that direction no one knew).
They ran as fast as they could, but the sound seemed to get closer and closer. It was behind them, in front of them, all around them.
The band burst into a small clearing and stopped, dead. Surely they couldn’t be seeing what they thought they were seeing. There, in front of them, was a creature with the body of a man and the head of a stag. Around its head flitted four little flies, which the stag-man-thing was trying to swat away. As they watched, the sun rose between the creature’s antlers.
‘It’s Herne!’ Nuggie gasped.
‘Who?’ asked Frankie, gently.
‘Herne the Hunter! He’s the god of the forest!’
There was a single, peaceful moment as The Mechanicals soaked up the mystical scene.
‘Erm, I’m sorry to bring this up, but the Herne man doesn’t look very happy with us!’ Rob noted. And he was right. The creature had turned its attention in their direction. Suddenly, it stretched out its arms, bellowed the loudest sound the band had ever heard and charged across the clearing in their direction. Rob, Nuggie, Frankie and Tom screamed at the top of their lungs and ran back into the wood.
*
Poor Nick. What a night he’d had. Lost in the woods, taunted by terrible dreams and little fly things buzzing round his head. If it even was his head, because he was still convinced something funny was going on. And now his friends had run away from him. He dropped to his knees and began crying. Hot, round tears ran through his fur and, as he cried, he lulled himself to sleep. Arrowhead, Frogbit, Bogbean and Newt landed on his snoozing carcass.
‘Did you spy his compatriots? Oh, how terror gripped them and they did’st flee!’
‘Lord!’ laughed Newt, ‘What numpies these mortals be!’
Frogbit hiccupped in agreement.
‘Oh wook,’ Bogbean began ‘The sun is bouncy bouncing in the sky! Time for us to go beddie-byes!’
And she was right. Sunrise meant it was time for them to head home. They took one last look down at Nick. Their magic was fading and his head started to morph back into his own features. The faeries flew off, giggling gleefully about the prank they had pulled that night.
Now back to his old self, Nick started to stir from his sleep. He momentarily forgot the horrors of the previous night, but they soon caught up with him. He sat bolt upright, looking around him in panic.
‘I have had – I have had a most rare vision.’ He began to himself. ‘I have had a dream, beyond any explanation to say what dream it was. I thought I was—well, I couldn’t even say. I thought I was – and I thought I had-’ He reached up to feel what he thought were his antlers, but they weren’t there. ‘I’d be called a fool if I said what I thought I had.’ He paused ‘I will write a song about this dream! It shall be called Weaver’s Dream, because it will be spun on decks across the world!’
With that, he leapt to his feet and ran back towards the Green Room.
*
The rest of The Mechanicals had arrived back in need of a sit down. Petey had arranged for some sweet tea to be delivered and was listening carefully to what the band were saying, but didn’t believe a word of it. Deer headed gods? Near Waitrose? He didn’t think so. He turned to Bill and whispered, quietly: ‘This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard!’
Bill nodded in agreement, before adding: ‘In the night, imagining some fear, how easy is a bush supposed a bear.’
Petey didn’t really know what he was going on about, so turned back to the band.
The door burst open and in swaggered Nick, dishevelled but triumphant!
‘Where are these lads?’ he cried ‘Where are these hearts?’
The rest of The Mechanicals jumped to their feet and hugged their friend joyously. Where had he been, they wanted to know? They’d been looking for him, they told him! They started to tell him about their adventures when Pete interrupted.
‘Erm, Nick, listen. Are you still hungry? It’s just I’ve been talking to a man, who knows a man who’s been able to get you a saveloy.’ He whipped it out of his pocket and held it up in front of the lead singer. There was a pause.
‘No thanks, Pete.’ Nick mused ‘I’m thinking of going vegan.’
Chaos erupted in the room.
Was rare meat eating Nick Weaver really thinking of going vegan? What had happened to him in the woods?
Nick shushed them all. ‘Never mind that. Listen, I’ve got an idea.’
*
Moments later, The Rude Mechanicals were in their places on the main stage, instruments at the ready. Nick turned to face his friends.
‘Let’s rock the ground whereon these sleepers be!’ he yelled, and the opening chords of ‘Love in Idleness’ reverberated across the field. Those who had camped over at the festival awoke, bleary-eyed but buzzing, to an early morning concert by their favourite band. It was just as awesome as the one the night before but, somehow, it seemed more magical.
At the back, just within the fringes of the woodland, four little figures stood watching the gig on a giant dock leaf. Three of them were dancing vigorously to the sweet sounds coming from the stage. The fourth, dressed like a little Victorian gentleman, started at the magnificent sight.
‘I am amazed,” gasped Arrowhead “and know not what to say!’
And, with that, he joined his faerie friends and the field full of humans, dancing a welcome to that most perfect of Midsummer mornings.

Photograph by Karin Brown at Imbolc Photography (https://brownkcd.wixsite.com/imbolc)

Midsummer Rocks!

Warwickshire, as the road signs proudly boast, is ‘Shakespeare’s County’. That may be true for 364 days of the year: but there is one magical night when the county does not belong to Shakespeare – Midsummer’s Night. For a few hours at least, the county belongs to the headline act of The Greenway Festival.
Everyone said that a global music festival near sleepy old Stratford-upon-Avon wouldn’t work, but it did. Held on the longest day of the year, The Greenway quickly grew into one of the biggest and best festivals of the summer. That night, the heart of England always beat a little faster than normal. And people complained about the traffic.
Anyone who was anyone, or anyone who wanted to be someone, played The Greenway. The biggest names in music travelled across continents and oceans just to be there, but the buzz was always around the headline act. The music press normally started the rumour mill in January and by March there was always someone in Wotton Wawen who knew someone whose friend knew someone on the committee and had found out which act it was going to be. And they were always wrong. You just had to wait for the announcement.
No announcement was bigger than the one they made last April. After several years of homogenous American acts, the organisers pulled off a massive coup, headlining not only a British act, but a local band made good – The Rude Mechanicals.
The Mechanicals had been gigging around the Midlands for a couple of years before they met their new Manager, Petey Q, who had talent spotted them when they performed a gig in London. Petey had refined their sound and they soon broke into the charts with ‘Occasionally Gleeking’, the most downloaded album of the decade. While many in the business credited Petey with the band’s change in fortune, for the fans (and the tabloid press) it was the band’s charismatic lead singer, Nick Weaver, who was the focus of attention. Girls loved him, boys wanted to be him, and parents wanted a restraining order against him. He was dubbed ‘Dipstick Nick’ by journalists because of his sheer arrogance. The papers were full of pictures of him stumbling out of nightclubs after a punch-up, dragging different celebrities back to his ‘sex pad’ and giving two fingers to the camera. Weaver was proper old school rock and roll – and proud of it.
Countless interviewers tried to get him to confess to a drink or drug habit, but Weaver was having none of it – he credited his wild ways to his love of red meat. He consumed little else, and it had to be rare and bloody. He didn’t care what it was, as long as it was dead and he could eat it.
Tickets for The Greenway sold out in record time last year. Midsummer rolled around and Warwickshire was, as always, invaded by young people wearing welly boots and fairy wings. Even the weather behaved. Under clear blue skies, The Greenway festival kicked off with an amazing set by The Centaurs. The crowd sang, danced and cheered enthusiastically as big name after big name made the stage their own. There was a bit of a lull mid-afternoon when Thrice Three Muses brought their retro-goth sound, but The Tipsy Bacchanals soon got the audience going again. However, all of the acts knew who the audience were really there to see – hell, most of the acts had only agreed to play so that they could stand and watch The Mechanicals after they had finished.
Nine o’clock came. The sky flushed red and pink as the sun, reluctantly, set. Multi-coloured flags billowed gently in the warming breeze and a chant ‘Dipstick Nick’ started up at the back.

A pause, and then —
‘Are we all met?’ Nick screamed into the mic. The crowd went wild as the opening guitar riff of their latest tune, ‘Love in Idleness’, crashed out of the speakers. Light exploded into the eyes of the audience and there, suddenly, were The Rude Mechanicals, doing what they did best – owning the stage. Weaver may have been strutting and fretting at the front, but the rest of The Mechanicals had spotlights of their own. Rob, on Lead Guitar, was legendary for his epic riffs and his tendency to moon the audience, while the enigmatic Bass man known only as ‘Nuggie’ gave the whole thing depth and grime with his dirty strings. The only woman in the group, Frankie, played the flute on most of the tracks, but did veer off into other wind instruments for different tunes. Finally there was Tom, the band’s awesome drummer and percussionist, known as much for his full sleeve tats, as well as keeping the whole thing together with his energetic style.
It was an hour and a half of pure music bliss, culminating in three encores and a sing-a-long version of their biggest hit, ‘Sweet-faced Man’. It would have gone on longer except the locals were concerned about the noise (and it was Warwickshire, so everyone was stressing about the parking). Although it had been live streamed around the world, everyone in the field agreed that you had to have ‘Been There’ to really appreciate it. They made their way back to their tents.
Backstage was buzzing. The set had been a triumph. Everyone was looking for The Mechanicals, but they had locked themselves away in their contractually provided Green Room. They didn’t want to be disturbed.
‘I could kill for a joint’ Weaver moaned to the rest of the band.
‘What sort?’ Tom asked ‘Beef or Lamb?’
‘Ahhh, you know, I love it when Nuggie cooks a joint of pork’ Frankie added. ‘He wraps it tight in pancetta before cooking it so it’s all snug. He really is a snug jointer.’ Nuggie winked at her.
‘Oh, I don’t care, as long as it’s bloody.’ Weaver shifted uncomfortably. ‘And what’s going on with these sofas?’ he asked. ‘I thought we asked for leather? This isn’t leather. What is it? I don’t even know what this is -’
‘It’s a durable chenille weave’ Rob replied, knowledgably, ‘with integrated back buttoning, applique scatter cushions and a seven year Scotchguard warranty.’
Silence. Before Rob had chance to explain how he knew so much about sofas, the door burst open and Petey Q bounced in, followed by a burly young man, slightly balding with a goatee beard.
‘Is all our company here?’ Petey asked. ‘Guys! What a set! You nailed it, totally! That was awesome. And you broke the internet too – billions of viewers. Everyone’s on the phone – New York, Beijing, Athens -’
‘Who’s the brick wall?’ Tom asked, pointing to the large man behind Pete.
‘Him? Oh, this is Bill. He’s on Green Room security tonight. Say hello, Bill.’ Bill gave a fey little wave to the room. ‘He doesn’t say much’ Pete added. None of them wanted to say it but there was something odd about Bill. They couldn’t put their fingers on it. He just seemed – different.
‘Listen, Pete,’ Weaver started ‘what’s going on? We asked for food and there’s no food, we asked for leather sofas and we get these …’
‘Durable chenille weave’, Rob interjected.
‘Thanks, durable chenille weave ones. I mean, this just isn’t what we asked for. Didn’t we have a contract?’
‘Ahh, yes. Look, the chap who organises it, he’s a bit of a …’
‘Of a what?’
‘A bit of an animal rights type. You know, hates hunting, animal testing, that sort of thing. So the whole festival is … sort of, well … kind of ..
‘Kind of what?’
‘Vegan.’
‘Vegan?’ Nick exploded. ‘What am I going to eat?!’
‘I could send Bill out for some falafels?’ Pete replied.
I don’t eat falafels. I’ve got a reputation, man. Red meat only. You know that. Just go and get me a burger. Rare.’
‘I would, Weave, but you just can’t get the stuff onto the site. They’ve got Bull Mastiffs trained to attack if they so much get a whiff of minced beef. If you’re caught bringing the stuff in then the penalties are severe.’
‘How severe?’ Weaver challenged.
‘You get a warning from a homeopathic nutritionist and sent to a three day course in textured vegetable protein.’
Nick stood up, angrily. ‘Well, to hell with it. We’ve just given the gig of the century out there and I want some meat, red raw and wobbling!’ He turned to his band mates to rally support. ‘Come on guys! Who’s with me?’
No one moved. And then, quietly:
‘I quite like falafels’ confessed Tom.
‘You want to make an ass of me!’ Weaver shouted petulantly ‘But I won’t let you! I’m off. Which way’s Stratford?’
‘Kind of through the foresty bit.’ Pete answered tentatively. ‘What are you going to do?’
‘I’m going to the greasiest kebab shop I can find and get them to cook me a burger, extra rare. And if they’re closed by the time I get there, I’ll kill something in the woods with my own bare hands and it eat it raw. You see if I don’t!’
With that, the door of the Green Room slammed closed and Nick Weaver was gone.
He elbowed his way through the backstage area, pushing poorly paid, non-union technicians and ASMs out of the way. He quickly saw the fringes of the ‘foresty bit’ Pete had told him about, so barged straight through the undergrowth and into the woodland.
And that was Nick Weaver’s first mistake of the evening.
As the rock sensation kicked his way through the stinging nettles and long grass, as he bent and snapped the branches of the oak and hazel trees, he singly failed to comprehend just how dangerous Warwickshire’s woodland actually is.
As all sensible people know, Warwickshire is overrun with faeries. No, not fairies; not the sweet little Tinkerbell type, simpering ickle creatures who inspire children of all ages to pop on a pair of wings, but good, old fashioned English Faeries. And they are mean, prickly and downright dangerous. They love playing tricks on humans who wander through their woodland homes. And, unfortunately for Nick Weaver, faeries are particularly mischievous on the shortest night of the year. Not for any wyrd, arcane reason, but mostly because they are narky from lack of sleep.
Weaver ploughed deeper and deeper into the wood on his quest for a burger. He soon lost his bearings and, in his meat-deprived anger, started stumbling around randomly, looking for a way to the kebab shop. But, as he did, he just became more and more lost.
Suddenly, his foot splashed down into a small, stagnant pool and his winklepicker filled with water.
‘Oh, for the love of chutney!’ he exclaimed, kicking more water out of the pool in frustration before stumbling onwards through the trees.
And that was Weaver’s second mistake.
He didn’t realise he had just put his foot in a pool of Dark water. Dark water isn’t like normal water. It’s more much more magical and a lot more troubling. And this particular pool of Dark water was the home to an especially vindictive gang of faerie folk. As his footsteps faded away, four faeries rose, spluttering and shocked, from their watery home.
Their names were Arrowhead, Frogbit, Bogbean and Newt.
‘A foot! By Oberon’s grey beard, it was a foot!’ declaimed Arrowhead, the leader of the gang, who was kitted out like a little Victorian gentleman. ‘What kind of blackguard comes a-traipsing through our woodland home at this hour of the clock?’
He turned to Frogbit, who was really more of a pet than a fellow faerie. Frogbit was pulling himself out of the pool with his tendrils and merely hiccupped in reply. Bogbean responded instead:
‘I was fast asweep in my ikle, tiny acorn-cup snoozle pocket when – splosh – I was awakening lickedy-split! And me so tiredy me think me might cwy!’ And with that, Bogbean started to wail, although no tears fell from her eyes. She had suffered an identity crisis recently. She gave into pressure from the media to behave more like a storybook fairy. As such, she had started speaking in a stupid, cutesy way and had taken to wearing short, pretty dresses – although she still had to keep her wellyboots on, because she had to wade through mud so often. Her friends knew that, deep down, Bogbean was still as mischievous as she had always been. Frogbit wrapped a tendril around her and patted her gently on the shoulder.
‘The scoundrel to whom that foot belongs has defiled the very heart’s blood of our inner-sanctum. I call for vengeance! Vengeance on the defiler!’ Arrowhead announced. ‘Newt? What is thy reckoning?’
‘I fink we ought-ta give that nonce a right old slap in the la-las’ Newt replied. Quite how a wide-boy, cockney Newt ended up in a pool of Dark water in Warwickshire, no one knew, but no one asked too many questions. Newt was as hard as East End tap water and pretty handy in a fight too.
‘Then let us cogitate on this conundrum until an exactitude for our mischief presents itself.’ Arrowhead decreed, although none of the others really knew what he was talking about. Bogbean was still fake-crying, Frogbit was still patting her shoulder, and Newt was cracking his knuckles in case it came to fisticuffs.
After a few moments of strutting around, flicking his cape and twiddling his moustache, Arrowhead exclaimed:
‘I have it! An escapade of such magnificence that we shall pursue it indefatigably. By my ken, tis the very solstice of summer this e’en. Why do we not recompense that rapscallion with a jest of historical magnitude, re-enacting a jape of yore?’
Silence.
None of the others had the faintest idea of what he had said.
After about 15 minutes and a Powerpoint presentation they eventually cottoned on that Arrowhead wanted to play a trick on Nick Weaver that hadn’t been attempted in over 400 years. However, there was a problem. He needed to contact someone to find out exactly how to perform the magic.
‘Peradventure, I could but converse with that knavish sprite called Robin Goodfellow, albeit momentarily, I would grasp the phonemes and lexicon required for such an act’ he sighed. ‘But, alack, it is not to be. I know not where he resides.’
‘Look, mush, we ain’t got the foggiest what ya peddlin’. Who’s this Robin geezer you keep blah blahin’ about?’
‘Wobin?’ Bogbean recovered. ‘Luvvly, wuvvly Wobin Goodfellow? Pucky-wucky-poos? I know him! He’s my fwend on Twitter.’
‘You have means of communing with the fantastical Hobgoblin? Then proceed! Ask the fellow to imbue us with the modus operandi of his Athenian noggin swapping knavery! Forthwith!’
‘I shall tweet him wight away’ Bogbean beamed, before beckoning a passing Nightingale, whispering in its ear and sending it off into the woodland.
And so they waited…

(To be continued!)

Photograph by Karin Brown at Imbolc Photography (https://brownkcd.wixsite.com/imbolc)

Summer Solstice Writing Prompts

Wow – doesn’t time fly! Since the last blog, “The Ritual of Writing” has finally come out and I hope you are enjoying reading it. If you are following my suggestions for writing a festival tale then the next one, the Summer Solstice, is fast approaching. It’s time to begin planning!
Before I begin planting some seed ideas for your tale, I’d like to point you to the lovely banner for this blog. Since my last post, I have met up with Karin Brown of Imbolc Photography who is a very talented landscape photographer. I’m only going to be using her pictures on my blog posts now. We have a shared love of trees and folk horror and I love the way she brings an other-worldly atmosphere to the landscapes in her work. Keep an eye out for more of her work here or visit her website: https://brownkcd.wixsite.com/imbolc
So, what sort of themes could you write about for the Summer Solstice, known in Druidry as Alban Hefin (or Light of the Summer / Light of the Shore)? Some people also call this festival “Midsummer”, although other consider this to be a few days later (personally, I tend to use the terms interchangeably). Well, it’s the longest day of the year, the day with the most amount of light. As such, it’s possible you may want to focus your story on light, sunshine and fire. I deliberately wrote my festival tales to reflect the amount of light in the amount of words, so the Summer Solstice tale is by far the longest, at a whopping 5,000+ words! And, while we are defining terms, the word Solstice literally means “Sun stand still”, although it is the sun’s movement over the horizon that is the key to this festival.
Perhaps the most iconic image of Alban Hefin is of the energetic dawn celebrations at Stonehenge. This seems to have become an annual TV event, with pictures beamed around the world of attendees partying among the stones. The actual Druid ceremony is a bit more textured, with a night long meditative vigil preceding the dawn celebrations, and a final ritual at noon. However, the sense of celebration as the dawn arrives is a tempting denouement for any story. Setting this at an ancient monument or stone circle could add additional potency to your tale.
As this is a festival of the sun, it is generally associated with male deities and male energy (not exclusively, as Danu Forest points out in her excellent book “The Magical Year”, with explorations of the sun goddesses Áine, Gréine). As such you may choose to focus on the sun-child, the Mabon, who reaches his peak at the Solstice. A similar figure, the Oak King, is also at the height of his potency but, traditionally, the Summer Solstice sees him fight and lose to the Holly King, who rules the waning half of the year. This sense of being at the height of power but beginning to decline is a key feature of the day – celebrate now because the darkness is coming. There is also an association between Herne the Hunter or Cernunnos and this time of year, with the Great Stag being the symbol of the south in Druidry, and therefore the summer. Of course, Curnunnos, the Lord of the Beasts, will be wandering the forests during the shortest nights of the year to make sure his kin are protected, so make sure you keep an eye out for him!
The translation of Alban Hefin as “Light of the Shore” invites us to explore the spirit of place in our stories. While its name refers to the “shoreline” of the year, the height of Summer may take us out to the physical shoreline or beach. Personally, I normally dress my altar in yellows and oranges at the solstice to celebrate the sun, but this year I am going to create an altar celebrating the beauty of the water surrounding us. A summer story may call for a holiday setting, and while the seaside is a great focus, don’t overlook what is on your doorstep. As “The Ritual of Writing” states, get out into the countryside near you and see what is going on. Our forests and green lanes are abundant at this time of year, so go and see what is growing on your doorstep and try including that in your tale. Living in Warwickshire, we seem to have a lot of Cow Parsley, which always lets me know it is summertime! I also love insect spotting, seeing the little people crawling and buzzing around me. Maybe they have a place in your tale.
And don’t forget that the Summer Solstice is one of the three spirit nights of the year, so maybe you’ll see something magical hiding in the shadows!
One of the more modern associations I have with this time of year, which seems to fit the Solstice incredibly well, is that of music festivals, particularly Glastonbury. Music festivals have really grown in popularity over the last ten years and I love the carefree festival vibe, being outside all day and sleeping under the stars at night, after having spent the day dancing! I even try to replicate this at home by putting the Glastonbury festival on TV, stringing bunting across the garden and flinging the back doors open! There is something so freeing, so euphoric and celebratory about festival season, echoing those ideas of the Mabon and the Oak King – celebrate the sunshine because winter is coming…
So, there we are, a few ideas to help you explore the Summer Solstice in writing. I hope this has prompted some ideas or motivated you to go and find some new ideas of your own. Normally my next post would be on solstice day itself when I post my tale. However, as mentioned above, this story is a whopping 5,000 words long and so I have decided to cut it in half and post it in two parts, on the day before and the morning of the Solstice itself. I’d really like to start sharing work from other writers, so, if you’d like to contribute do get in touch at ajanderson72@yahoo.co.uk.
Until next time, happy writing!
Picture credit: Karin Brown at Imbolc Photography

Beltane Commentary

I promised you that after I published every festival tale I would give you a commentary on how I created the story, listing the influences and processes I went through to pull the text together.

My Beltane tale, “Merry-Begot” was by far the most difficult of the eight tales to write, going through significant changes and rewrites over the course of many months. I wanted to explore the idea of Beltane fires in this story. Traditionally two fires were lit and cattle would be driven between the fires to bless them for the coming year. I had also discovered stories of young maidens “going a-maying”, collecting hawthorn blooms from the forest, as mentioned in my first Beltane post. The young women were often followed by young men and the couples would have their first sexual experiences together in the forest on Beltane Eve. I decided to mix together the elements of fire with a passionate story of a young couple lost in the forest.

I always put a “twist” on these traditional tales and, for Beltane, I decided to give a twist to the story about the sexuality of the God and Goddess. I had read an interesting article about how gay people can struggle to connect with Beltane because it is primarily a celebration of heterosexual love. By making the God and Goddess more open to different types of sexual partner, I hoped to make my approach to the festival more inclusive.

As I began writing the tale I knew something wasn’t working. I’d opted for a third person narrator, which made the narrative feel somewhat impersonal and distant, not ideal for such an intimate tale. Often, at points of intimacy, the narrative voice skipped over the action and moved the tale on. I was reticent in presenting the more sexual elements of the tale, not wanting the piece to be a pagan version of 50 Shades of Grey (although that is what the story seemed to demand). When I read the story aloud as part of my Beltane ritual I was disappointed. For a story initially called “The Fires of Beltane” the piece lacked any warmth or passion. I went back to the tale and tried to develop some of the imagery, even trying writing drafts of sex scenes to see if there was any way I could integrate them without it becoming too explicit or “cringey”. Neither worked.

I left the piece and returned to it in late June, when I undertook further research. Going back to the stories of the young people “a-maying”, I discovered the term “Merry-begot”, a child born nine months after May Day, the product of a passionate Beltane liaison. What would happen, I wondered, if I made the Merry-begot my narrator? I felt it would give the narrative voice more character, more warmth and explain why they really didn’t want to dwell on the more sexual elements of the story – well, would you want to think about what your parents were doing during your conception?! I put the original draft to one side and started writing the piece afresh. This time, the elements came together more successfully. My Beltane story ended up being as much about the narrator, an older figure reflecting on a tale they were once told, as it was about young lovers in the forest or the fires they ignite.

Well, that’s it for Beltane. See you in June when we will begin considering our tale about the Summer Solstice!

Picture Credit: Olga Miltsova

Merry-Begot

Has anyone ever told you about the village that feared the God and Goddess?
No?
Well, I suppose it was a long time ago, but I think you should hear their story, particularly the tale of that bright Beltane Eve when everything changed.

The village was on the far side of the Greenwood, next to a small, still pond which lay in the shade of three enormous yew trees. Those yew trees had a terrible effect and kept the village the in shade all year round. A great chill settled on the village which, slowly but surely, crept its way into the hearts of the people. They became as sluggish as the water in their pond and as hard and cold as their cottage walls. Fear grew in the villagers; fear of the Greenwood, fear of the God and Goddess but, most of all, fear of themselves.

Why would they be afraid of themselves, I hear you ask. Well, a lot of people are and simply won’t admit it. Those villagers became afraid of their very feelings and emotions, so gave them complicated names.

If they wanted to sleep they called it “laziness” or “slothfulness”.

If they were hungry they called it “gluttony” and “greediness”.

And if they felt any kind of desire for another person they called it “lust”!
And lust was the most dangerous feeling of all.
They didn’t think their urges were a normal part of life; they saw them as dangerous, dirty.
And who did they blame?

Not themselves …

They blamed the God and Goddess, who they heard moving through the Greenwood in spring time and who, they believed, cursed them with their unclean thoughts. Over time, the villagers became so paranoid that they banned sex all together!

I know! What a stupid thing to do! But, in the depths of their fear, they failed to see the consequences of their actions. They failed to see that, without sex, there would be no more children and, eventually, there would be no more village.

And so, as the final children grew up, the frightened villagers created a pious ceremony whereby, every Beltane eve, a lone maiden would set off into the Greenwood and collect branches of sharp Hawthorn. Those branches, covered in virginal white blossom, were laid around the village boundary in protection against the lustful God and Goddess.

The last girl born in the village was a beauty, but was different from all of the other children. Yes, she had the milk white skin of those born beneath the three yews but she also had flame-red hair which caused constant chatter around the village: where had that girl’s flame red hair come from? Was it a sign that her parents had committed sinful acts of lust? Was it a sign that the child herself was full of fiery, dangerous passions? Eventually, her poor, harassed mother hid the child’s hair under a milky white bonnet, but the villagers gossiped about the child all her life.

And then, after eighteen years, the villagers faced a dilemma.

That year, they realised that most of the maidens had taken their turn collecting the Hawthorn branches for the Beltane celebration. There was only one who hadn’t – the flame-haired young woman.

What should they do? Should they risk sending her out into the Greenwood?

Some of them thought that it was far too risky. “That red hair is a sure sign of lust” they cried. “She will tempt the God and Goddess towards our village!”
There was much muttering and murmuring and shaking of heads.
“She may have red hair” added the eldest man in the village “but she still has the cold, milk white skin of those of us born beneath the three yews. I say we send her, and may her beauty bring us luck.” There was some agreement with his words, the most vigorous coming from his charcoal haired grandson at the back of the room.

And so it was decided that the flame-haired young woman would be sent into the Greenwood on Beltane Eve to collect the Hawthorn branches for the village ceremony.

It was not an easy journey she had to make. Over the years, the coldness of the village had crept into the fringes of the Greenwood. The trees were leaden and lifeless, their naked branches cracking in the gentle breeze. Although it was spring, there were no flowers carpeting the floor, just moss and lichen shrouding the stony ground. Giant fungi jutted out from failing, fallen tree trunks. The flame-haired young woman had to push further and further into the heart of the Greenwood, much further than she had ever been before and much further than she wanted to go. The Greenwood was a scary enough place in the daytime, let alone at night when she only had the moon to light her way. It was full of unfamiliar smells and noises …

And she was certain that something was following her.

Slowly,
Very slowly,
The moonlight began to reveal signs of spring around her. As she walked deeper into the Greenwood, and further away from the village, she found that the ground beneath her feet softened and soon she was walking knee deep in a river of bluebells. The trees were budding, bursting, blossoming all around her and every corner of the Greenwood seemed to vibrate with the buzz of new life. So she pushed on.

And on,

Until,

Eventually,

She found a solitary Hawthorn standing in the middle of a moonlit glade, bright with pure white blossom.

Quickly, the young woman set about her work, cutting and gathering the blossom covered branches. Because she had walked much further into the Greenwood than she had intended, the hour was much later than she liked. It was approaching midnight now; the darkness was at its deepest and the old stories said that midnight was the time that the God and Goddess …

Snap. A twig broke behind her.

She span around

And standing there, bathed in moonlight, was the charcoal haired grandson of the village’s eldest man.

It was only then that she realised that, in turning, she had caught her hand on a long, sharp thorn, which had ripped a deep red valley in her palm.

Oh, what a sound filled that moonlit glade!
The young woman wailed at the pain in her hand.
The young man apologised for giving her such a shock.
She, tearfully, asked him why he had followed her.
He, awkwardly, tried to explain he had wanted to protect her.
She pointed out he hadn’t done a very good job of it.
He apologised, again.
She cried some more.
And then,
In an attempt to ease the pain in her palm,
The young man planted a warm kiss on her cool, white hand.

Silence.

Absolute silence gripped that moonlit glade. It was as if, in the moment of that kiss, the stars had stopped moving across the sky! She had never felt anything as warm against her skin as his lips; he had never felt anything as warm on his lips as her skin. They just stood, staring at each other, not able to find the words for what they had experienced.
She couldn’t say that she suddenly noticed how beautifully his blue eyes glittered in the moonlight, or that his jawline seemed so perfectly strong, or that she could feel the roundness of his muscles beneath his tunic as he moved in to hold her, although parts of her body certainly seemed to be crying out …

And he couldn’t say that he suddenly noticed how beautifully her green eyes glittered in the moonlight, and how her red hair was cascading invitingly from underneath her bonnet, or how beautifully her breasts moved when she breathed so deeply. Words may not have been able to express it, but his body certainly could and something grew so very quickly between his legs that even she noticed!

I’m not going to go any further with that – it’s not that kind of a story! You just need to know that the pair ended up rolling naked through the bluebells, banging heads and … other things in an innocent, clumsy attempt at expressing their desire for each other. And let’s leave it there.

Because, suddenly,
Crash!
Into the glade charged two ENORMOUS figures. They slammed into each other so hard that every last blossom on the Hawthorn tree slumped to the ground.
The young man and young woman were terrified! Who or what had made such a noise? Were they in mortal danger? And, more importantly, had anyone seen them doing what they shouldn’t have been doing?!
They scampered behind a fallen tree so that they could see without being seen.
Oh, what a sight met their eyes! The first enormous figure was large, hairy and muscular, naked except for a red deer pelt pulled tight around its waist. There was something bulging beneath that deer skin which the young woman recognised; she had just seen such a thing popping up between the young man’s legs! “Yours is much smaller than his!” she whispered. The other enormous figure was shapely, smooth and beautiful, naked except for some strategically placed woodland flowers. The young man was entranced by how the figure’s enormous breasts moved so beautifully; “Hers are much bigger than yours!” he babbled!
It was then that they realised exactly who they were looking at –it was the God and Goddess.

Guilt and fear gripped their passion warmed hearts. The young man and woman knew they had to get out of the glade quickly before they were seen, and before they were crushed under the rolling, molten lovemaking of the deities. They decided to creep away quietly like frost and return later for their clothes and the Hawthorn branches.

But they were not as quiet as they intended. In fact, the young man snapped another twig underfoot causing the God and Goddess to spin around.
“Who dares to disturb our sacred lovemaking?” bellowed the God.
The young couple froze.
“It has been a year since my husband and I last met, and you dare to disturb our reunion?” cried the terrifying Goddess.
“Turn and face us” the God commanded.
Slowly, very slowly, the young man and woman turned to face the giant couple. They shivered with terror and embarrassment, awkwardly trying to cover their nakedness with their hands.

But neither the God nor Goddess spoke; they just stared at the young couple with blossoming warmth. When the God spoke, his anger had melted.
“You are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen” he said.
And then the Goddess echoed his words:
“You are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. Step forward into the moon light, both of you. Take away your hands and let us see your bodies.”
The young couple were so embarrassed! But what else could they do? If they didn’t do as they were told, the God and Goddess would squash them like insects! So, slowly and reluctantly, the let their hands fall away and revealed their naked bodies.
Smiles spread across deities’ faces like sunrise.

“Wife” the God began “I know we have not met for a year and this is the night when we traditionally make love, but, for this one year only, would you agree to let me have a different partner on this first night of summer?”

“I will” the Goddess replied “as long as you grant me the same request.”

“I will” replied the God. “Now, I will take this beautiful creature to the highest mountain in the Greenwood and there I will kindle our passion until morning. I will teach it all I know about the nature of love.”

Now, I suppose you think you know what is going to happen next, but you’d be wrong.
No, really, you’re a long way off.

Because when the God moved across the glade, it wasn’t the young woman that he led away into the Greenwood, but the young man.

Oh, the poor young woman was left standing, alone and naked, in the middle of the moonlit glade.

“Don’t be afraid, beautiful one. Take my hand and follow me. I will help you feel warmth greater than any you have ever known.” And so the Goddess led the young woman deeper into the Greenwood, down a path she had never trod before. Soon they were by the banks of a fast-flowing chalk stream, which giggled playfully as it rushed past.
“Shall we go in?” asked the Goddess.
But the young woman was too afraid. She feared that she would be swept away by the force of the stream and drown as she tumbled under the clear waters. And so the Goddess lifted the young woman onto her back and waded deep into the stream, showing her how to keep a sure footing against the torrent. The pair pushed on against the current and were soon at the source of the stream, a small silver spring which bubbled gently between the grasses in a beautiful meadow. And it was there that the Goddess started to share what she knew about lovemaking. The young woman surrendered herself to the Goddess and was immediately carried away with pleasure. However, soon she started to become more assertive and dominant, guiding and pleasuring the Goddess. And as they made love, the Goddess and the young woman began to sink slowly through the water and stone, and into the warm ground beneath. Deep within the fires of the Earth they made love until the morning.

And what had happened to the young man? The God had led him deeper into the Greenwood, along a path he had never trod before. Soon they were at the foot of an enormous mountain which dominated the landscape all around.
“Shall we climb it?” asked the God.
But the young man was mightily afraid. He feared that he would lose his grip on the crumbling stones and fall to his death from a great height. And so the God lifted the young man onto his back and began climbing the stony, rocky paths, showing him how to keep a sure footing on even the most perilous ledges. The pair pushed onward and upward, and were soon at the summit. And it was there that the God started to share what he knew about lovemaking. The young man initially tried to dominate the God to show how skilful he was at lovemaking, which, we know from his clumsy fumbling in the greenwood, he was not! However he soon got carried away with pleasure and began to surrender himself, becoming more passive and receptive of the God’s affections. And as they made love, the God and the young man began to rise into the clear night sky so that by morning, they were joined together in the blazing heart of the rising sun.

Back under the three yews, the villagers were becoming anxious. When the young woman failed to return to the village with the Hawthorn branches, fear began to spread. How would they be able to protect themselves against the God and Goddess if they couldn’t surround their village with the sharp spikes of purity? And, as often happens, from fear came gossip:

“I told you we shouldn’t have sent her! I knew she’d fail us!”

“That red hair was a sign she was untrustworthy!”

“She’s probably guiding the God and Goddess to the village as we speak!”

The young woman’s parents were questioned to see if they had knowledge of their daughter’s mischievous plans. When it became known that the Elder’s grandson was missing too, cries of “Lust!” echoed between the cottages.

In their panic, the only way the villagers could think to protect themselves was by using fire to ward off evil spirits. And so, as the sun rose on that May morning, they ripped apart their homes, the thatch, the doors, the furniture, and built two enormous bonfires, one at either end of what remained of their village.

And then, through the early morning mist, the villagers saw a bright figure emerge from the Greenwood, on the path that led from the stream.

It was the young woman, but she was not as she had been when she left. In horror the villagers saw her clothed immodestly in jewels as bright as her hair and holding a flaming torch.
“Last night” said the young woman “I met with the Goddess in the Greenwood. I come to tell you that we need not fear her, nor the emotions which burn so brightly in our hearts. As proof of her love, I bring this flame from the heart of the Earth to light a Beltane fire.”

As she finished speaking the villagers saw another figure emerge from the misty Greenwood, but this time on the path which led from the mountain. It was the charcoal haired young man, clothed immodestly in the pelt of a red deer and holding a flaming torch.
“Last night” he said “I met with the God in the Greenwood and I come to tell you that we need not fear him, nor the fires of passion which burn within us. As proof, I bring this flame from the heart of the Sun to light a Beltane fire.”

And with that, the pair lit the enormous bonfires at either end of the village. Those were the brightest Beltane fires that ever burned in this world and, the heat of them warmed the villagers’ icy hearts. Rather than the pious ceremony they had planned, the villagers celebrated May Day with a riot of feasting and drinking, singing and dancing. Love lit up the village that day and those roaring Beltane fires fanned the flames of passion as the sun went down. The couples who had abstained for years found that their passion for each other hadn’t dimmed, and new couples met in the light and warmth of the dying embers.

In fact, the villagers were so consumed by their lovemaking, they didn’t notice the young woman and young man creep back into the Greenwood. There, under boughs of blossoming Hawthorn, the couple rolled through the bluebells like wildfire, sharing the lessons the God and Goddess had taught them on that magical first night of summer. They were far less clumsy that time round and even managed to …

Let’s leave it there, shall we? I told you, it’s not that kind of story! All you need to know is that, after that, the villagers left their cold homes under the yew trees and built new homes in the pasture around the Silver Spring. They learned to love the God and Goddess, and their own feelings and emotions. Nine months later, a new bunch of merry begot babies bounced into the world, who grew up to spread the story of those first fires of Beltane.

And how do I know?

My flame-haired mother told me.

Picture Credit: Arpad Radoczy

Beltane

 

Over the next year I will be writing a regular blog to lead you through the eight Pagan festivals that make up the Wheel of the Year. My intention, rather than to cover the whole festival in depth, is to explore elements which you could use creatively, to tie in with my forthcoming book “The Ritual of Writing”. In the book, I guide readers through the process of creating short pieces of writing, stories which explore the themes of each festival in a personal way, selecting ideas and themes they find most appropriate and turning them into a tale which resonates with their own beliefs. Just before each festival I will present some of the ideas connected with the celebration and, on the day itself, I will be sharing my own festival tale. I will also share a commentary to explain how I went about writing the tale and the influences I used in my work. There will also be a chance to share your festival tale with me so that I can share it with others through the blog
Hopefully, you will be inspired to find out more about each of these special days. There is plenty of information out there, both on line and in books. However, I can strongly recommend Danu Forest’s amazing book “The Magical Year” which is an on-going source of information and inspiration for my seasonal work.
So, let us begin with Beltane, the festival of 1st May. Personally, I find this quite a difficult festival but then I am more of an Autumn / Winter person than I am Spring / Summer – and Beltane is very much a festival about spring and summer. In fact, because of the way the Wheel of the Year works, Beltane is the final of the three spring festivals and also the first of the three summer festivals. That sense of it being a liminal time, in between two seasons and also both seasons simultaneously, is very important. There is still the potential of spring but also the flowering of summer at the same time. It is also one of the few Pagan festivals which is still marked within the British calendar (although its status as a Bank Holiday is more to do with socialism than paganism). There may not be as much dancing around a maypole as there used to be, but there is still a May Day Bank Holiday so people can enjoy a long weekend at the start of the month!
One of the key features of Beltane is fire. This was the time of year when cattle were driven in between two fires to purify them and bless them for the year ahead. That’s not just a superstitious idea; driving cattle close to a fire could make some of the nasty bitey pests on their skin drop off with the heat. And if you are looking for heat, you really should experience the spectacular Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh where the May Queen transforms the Green Man into his summer form so they can rule the summer months. It really is an incredible theatrical experience. With the Sun almost at its peak and the warmer months ahead, Beltane feels like a very firey festival indeed – and not just literally.
There is another fire burning at Beltane – the fire of sexuality. It is the festival of the union of the God and Goddess, celebrating their fertility and virility. Yes, those maypoles really are exactly what you suspected they were; huge phallic symbols representing the virility of the Green Man planted slap bang in the middle of our village greens! What would the WI say?! Over the next few months, with plants blossoming, chicks hatching and young mammals being born, we will all see just how virile, how fertile the Goddess and the Green Man were on Beltane!
And what’s good enough for the gods is good enough for us humans too, because Beltane is also a time for celebrating human sexuality. This obsession can still be seen in the crowning of the “May Queen”, the prettiest girl in the village. In days gone by, young, virginal girls would traditionally “go a-Maying” in the woods, collecting May or Hawthorn flowers to decorate their homes. Of course, many young men would follow them into the woods and not all of the young ladies would return being as quite virginal as when they had left. Nine months later, a child born of their parents Beltane union would be called a “Merrybegot”, an illegitimate child conceived in the merriment of May morning!
Hawthorn blossom is an important part of Beltane, used as decoration in the home and for magic. The importance of hawthorn blossom can be seen in the old phrase “cast ne’er a clout ‘til May be out”, which was still used regularly when I was young (although that’s quite a while ago now!). The phrase warns about losing too many layers of clothing before “May be out”, in case the winter winds come back. May, in this sense, means hawthorn flowers, not the month! And while we are in the forests picking our May, it’s well worth sparing a thought for that beloved outlaw, Robin Hood. May Day was the traditional day for telling stories about Robin and his merry men.
If, like me, you’re not really a fan of this abundance, greenery and unbridled sexuality and are longing for Halloween, Beltane has a very special gift for you! The festival of Walpurgisnacht, also known as Hexennacht, on the last days of April is a festival of witches and sprites from central Europe that we certainly need to celebrate more. We are a bit too early for pumpkins but light a bonfire to keep the witches away (or to summon them over for some witch’s brew, if you prefer!). If you are looking for the perfect horror film to accompany your Beltane celebrations, then it has to be the 1973 classic “The Wicker Man”, which gives us an outsider’s view on the preparations for Beltane on Summerisle, worth seeing to witness Christopher Lee dressed up as a woman and the iconic final scene, where I’m always far more concerned about the animals than the policeman.
And, of course, 1st May also celebrates International Worker’s Day, or Labour Day as it is sometimes known, celebrating the struggles of workers around the world. At a time when workers’ rights seem to be under threat, lighting a fire underneath our sense of social conscience is important.
I know I began this piece by saying I wasn’t a particularly big fan of Beltane but I’m a big advocate of Thoreau’s advice that we “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth” so I always try to celebrate it as much as I can. This year you may well find me dancing round a maypole while setting fire to some May flowers and shouting about bastard children and workers’ right. And if you do, now you’ll know why I’m doing it!

Picture credit: Found on https://parliamenthouse-hotel.co.uk/news/visiting-the-beltane-fire-festival/ . If anyone knows who this belongs to, please let me know so I can update this credit!