• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Dazed and confused by festival's big appeal

HOW enchanting to read in The Herald about the pagan Beltane Festival in Edinburgh.

It brought back memories, as I twice covered it as a reporter.

I thought it had been banned eventually on safety grounds. Certainly, I recall burly, fierce-faced fellows swinging great balls of fire. I've a head of iron after years of using sensitive shampoos, but even I felt a strong inclination to duck.

The pagans were celebrating the start of summer, so they must be working on a different calendar from mine. Looking out the window, I'm convinced mine is right. Then again, mine is a crass calculation based on equal numbers of months.

Hence: June, July, August (summer); September, October, November (autumn); December, January, February (winter); March, April, May (spring). It makes sense meteorologically, even if none of it aligns with the Moon and stars, which I could see far enough anyway.

Wednesday night's festival drew 12,000 spectators, which is more than the average Hibs game (match sponsors: the Samaritans). But all the gods have deserted Hibs. Even Buddha was heard swearing at the last game.

The pagan event featured the May Queen, red men, a Green Man, and the lighting of a big bonfire. What I remember most was the drums. I loved going to stuff like this, because it allowed me to play my favourite role: the observer. It's the secret to a happy life: never get involved.

The pagan event also made me feel dead straight, a conventional person caught up in an orgiastic fiesta, with writhing, gyrating bodies all around, and that neverending sound of drums, Carruthers, the drums, the drums!

These people were right unrestrained, ken, and, one year, I was trapped amidst the heaving mass on the slopes of Calton Hill. Most newspaper deadlines are woolly ("teatime" is often as specific as it gets) but, on this occasion, I was tellt 12:23am to make the final edition.

Since the event didn't start till midnight it was always going to be a bit tight. And here was I stuck amidst the frenzied mob as I tried getting back to my car to compose a few notes and phone in some scintillating copy. The heaving mass was snaking forward (others were snaking backwards) and, at last, I saw a space amidst the bodies. I know: I should have been suspicious.

But I made a dash for it and, unlike everyone else present, did not see the massive boulder, into which I bounded, upending myself spectacularly and landing on my rearward protuberance.

Dazed, I looked up to see two starlit hippie girls asking if I was all right. I lied that I was and hobbled back into the heaving mass, eventually crawling through legs to get to my car.

It wasn't my first encounter with pagans. I'd interviewed a witch once in a cooncil hoose and, on another occasion, sat up drinking whisky into the wee small hours with a tattoo-emblazoned high priest.

They were my kind of folk. Don't judge me. Put it another way: I'd rather have sat down and yarned with these outré pagans than with hard-nosed stockbrokers or, you know, Alastair Darling.

Ultimately, though, they still worshipped in a kind of religious sense, which isn't for me. In the end, I stick by the wisdom I've acquired based on observations over the years: never trust anyone in robes.

I like paganism's ecological feel and the reverence for nature, but there's no point in worshipping the sun, moon or trees. They never listen.

And, despite loving Tolkien and all, I'm not really one for Celtic flapdoodle, even if it is more warmhearted than dodgy Nordic tomfoolery (usually promulgated by Celts rather than Scandinavians, oddly enough).

All the same, Beltane is a fine spectacle and has value in lifting folk above the mundane and marking the changing of seasons (however inaccurately).

To this seasoned observer, though, the madding crowd is for those and such as those. It's for rampant types prone to whooping.

Me? I will not gyrate to set my soul free. Without looking out of my window, I can know the ways of heaven. My house is a one-man monastery, my shrine the television.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

230449