Tales from the Road – Two Beltanes in one Year
I’ve been back from Australia for just two weeks but already the Sun’s warmth feels like a distant memory. Summer to Winter in 24 hours is a little weird to say the least, but at the moment I’m really enjoying the iciness of the air, and the dark womblike feel of the early evenings. I know that by Imbolc I will have had enough, but right now it’s a joy. But before I fully move on I have one more blog post to write about our stay in the wonderful land down under.
The Great Ocean Road drive was a dream. The scenery was incredible, and the quality of the Summer light was just breathtaking. We arrived in Adelaide ready for my special concert for the sponsors of mine and Cerri’s trip. This group of wonderful people donated to our flight costs and in gratitude I play a special concert just for them. So about 50 people gathered at the Wheatsheaf Hotel for an evening of music. Luckily the cold I came down with almost on the final chord of our Melbourne gig had mostly gone, just an annoying cough left over (this wouldn’t shift until about a couple of days ago!) just to test the old vocal chords, so I was feeling pretty good.
This was the first time on this trip that we’d seen a lot of our friends from Adelaide so it was so good to see everyone again. We had a great evening together and, as ever, the Wheatie let the Aussie beer flow as only the Wheatie can. I love playing there, and look forward to returning again in 2015. To our sponsors, thank you. Without you we simply could not afford to come over. We are blessed.
The next day was set up for the first ever South Australian Beltane camp. It was held in the most amazing scout centre, complete with dorms, kitchen, and meeting rooms, and the landscape in which it was held was wild. Friday night was a concert from myself and Spiral Dance, and by the end everyone was up and dancing. It struck me, as I joined Spiral Dance to sing with them for their version of Spirit of Albion that this was the last time it would happen this tour. It was good to recognise this as I was on stage, so I made sure to be right in the moment. I love this band. They went from fellow musicians, to good close friends, very quickly, and it’s always a joy to share the stage with them.
The SA Beltane camp came about after me and Cerri, at a Pagans in the Pizza Bar moot, spoke about our Anderida camps. It was obvious that people wanted to experience something of the magic of those camps, so plans began to bring the Anderida experience to Australia. So the morning began with a Sacred Skull workshop led by Cerri. It might seem odd to work with the skull at Beltane, but part of the energy of this camp was to bring together the European ancestry of those at the camp, with the land they have lived upon, some for generations, yet many still feel a little disconnected. The idea behind the skull was to make an ancestral connection, then at Samhain, to leave it outside to allow the clay to return to the earth. A couple of the attendees didn’t get it, but most did, and dived into the creation of their skulls with gusto.
In the afternoon we separated into two groups, one of women, the other of men. We gathered together in the main hall, then the women led us all out into the surrounding bush. The men gathered beneath the shade of a line of Gum trees, sat in circle, and tuned into each other. For many this was their first experience of a purely male circle. I’ve facilitated a few now, and am also in a group for Pagan men that meet monthly, and it is always a beneficial and powerful experience. I spoke for a short time about why we were there, and what we were going to do, then we passed the talking stick around, as each man spoke of what it meant to them to be Pagan men. As the stick travelled it didn’t take long for a real bond to begin to take place between us, as we entered the next activity.
I won’t go into details here other than to say we all reconnected with that male wildness that sometimes can be hard to express. We felt as hunter, and hunted. We also learned a movement chant that had been developed by the men’s group I work with in the UK. A series of lines, chanted to drum, each with a movement, like a form of the Haka we see chanted by the New Zealand rugby team. We had things to do for the Beltane rite later that day, so we headed back to the group meeting house.
After a short break it was time again to return to the site of our men’s meeting. There was the May Pole. On the other side of a hill, the women were blessing the hole. I walked to the top of the hill to see when they would return to a sacred circle just at the hill’s base. I heard them before I saw them. Singing a chant, their voices, like mist, snaking through the trees, then in bright colours they emerged in a line, to stop and form one half of a circle in the valley below. I signalled to the men, who lifted the May Pole and we appeared over the brow of the hill. We walked a little way down, then gently placed the pole on the earth and spread out, facing down the hill to the semi-circle of women.
I began to play the drum.
“I am the Life Giving Sun! I am the Tree on the Mountain! I am the Voice of my Ancestors! I run with Beast of Claw! I fly with Bird of Wing! I am Man! I am The God!”
Three times we shouted our chant. Three times we moved to the beat of the drum. Then, to the sound of the women cheering below, we lifted the pole and walked to form the other half of the circle.
Here was the surprise.
Two of their community, two very much loved members of their tribe, had asked to be handfasted. So embodying not just themselves, but also the God and the Goddess of the land, we held a beautiful wedding ritual for our good friends. In gentle misty rain they walked the circle, being blessed by the Elements, and saying their vows of love to each other. There were tears, and smiles, and laughter. Until the rite was done, and the ladies processed off to the hole.
We lifted the pole and approached. Hovering, teasing, whilst chanting and drumming filled the air, along with shouts of “Just put it in!!” Until finally the union was made. The pole was in place, and crazy ecstatic dancing fed ribbons in chaotic knots onto the shaft of the pole. Until we were all done.
It was an amazing afternoon.
Saturday evening was a Bardic circle where so many talented people sang songs, told stories, recited poetry. A glorious night.
Sunday I did a workshop on the Ogham, a tree alphabet, but once more with the aim of not just relocating the European tree lore to Australia, but also encouraging those present to go out into the bush and find correspondences with the native trees around them. A really vibrant and interesting morning.
The SA Beltane camp ended with a closing ceremony during which both me and Cerri were completely love bombed. It was overwhelming. It’s incredible that we have such amazing friends on the other side of the world, and the fact that saying goodbye took so long is testament to the depth of emotion felt by those at the camp.
It was amazing.
Monday was a day off, so we went on a road trip to some of the vineyards in Langhorn Creek. One of my favourite pass times in Australia.
Tuesday was my last gig. At McLaren Vale’s Singing Gallery, a converted church a with a real laid back folky atmosphere. I wondered how many would make the trip out after all of the other gigs I’d played but I needn’t have worried. As I sung The Dreaming for the last time this tour I had a tear in my eye.
This land fills me up. I affects me in ways I don’t quite understand, and the Australian people are a joy to be around. Me and Cerri have made so many really close connections here that it is getting harder and harder to leave, but leave we must, as Albion will never stop calling me home. So saying goodbye to friends at the airport was tough, and as I sit here writing this blog post I can still feel their hugs, hear their voices, and see them waving as we walked through security.
I know that I will never be able to stay away from Australia for long, so plans are already happening for another tour in 2015, when the Southern Cross will guide me to your shores, to hear you sing once more.