Reviewed by Jacqui Woodward-Smith
Each year two wonderful events, the Beltane Bash and the Halloween Festival, are held in London, UK, with all profits going to the purchase and preservation of Ravens Wood, a wonderful pagan ‘owned’ wood in the heart of the Hertfordshire countryside, and a place where the Goddess, in Her guise as The Morrigan, is celebrated through the changing of the seasons.
The Beltane Bash was, in the words of my partner Colin, “face painting giant toting raven rousing fairy flitting flag flapping drum banging copper snogging wand waving clothes drenching leaf grabbing ring dancing ear splitting sword swishing saint slaying tarot reading cat trapping jewellery jangling lens pointing cake eating wine drinking merry making pollinating”! And if you don’t understand any of that then come along next year and find out.
The most recent Halloween Festival was held in central London, UK, on 21st and 22nd October 2006. As usual it was an event full of colour, life, creativity, and community (and shopping!), with a large and dedicated group (known as the Ravens) working hard behind the scenes to make the weekend a wonderful experience for everyone.
The opening ritual was performed by Wild Hunt Morris, who provided a perfect start to the event by dancing the quarters and celebrating the return of the Dark Goddess with tatters flying. The main hall was the venue for some wonderful music and dance acts throughout the weekend, including on Saturday, the wonderful TU who, to my joy, sounded like the Indigo Girls and sang, amongst many other things, the Dar Williams song ‘The Christians and the Pagans’. I also loved the sparkly, colourful, curvaceous Badra Egyptian Dance Group and Barking Bateria, who are the most wonderful, ear splitting, anarchic, joyful drumming group that you will ever see! On Sunday the Little Pixies children’s group performed the short play, ‘A Terrible Fright’, with only an hours rehearsal, and Khantara and Lara provided the most beautiful belly dancing with a magical ethnic musical background….and that’s only a taste of the amazing performances on the main stage.
Downstairs there were workshops and talks and I particularly enjoyed talks on ‘Shamanic Practice in the 21st Century’ by Caitlin Matthews and a stunning talk, ‘Using the Moon to Synchronise the Global Insurrection’, by Professor Chris Knight, of the University of East London and the Radical Anthropology Group, who spoke about the origins of human culture being found in women’s menstruation and understanding of lunar rhythms. There were also talks on subjects such as ‘Santeria and Wicca’ by Rose Morris and ‘Creating ritual and drama in a Pagan context’ by Ken Rees. This is a diverse and welcoming event with many different paths and points of view included and respected, something which seems to me to be central to a Goddess-centred way of being.
Which brings me to a more serious point; here in the UK it seems that many of the smaller community-based pagan festivals, no matter how wonderful, are being forced out of business by those who are, dare I say it, more ‘corporate’ and better financed, and who seem to concentrate on ‘famous’ faces and book signings, rather than on community building and nature-based spirituality. This is something to be resisted if we are to remain the diverse, creative, open and accepting path that we are. This event was, and is, an example of what a pagan event can be…joyful, co-operative, and amazing but it needs your support to stay alive. It’s well worth the effort!
If you would like to support Ravens Wood Conservation and come along to the Beltane Bash or Halloween Festival in 2007 you can find details on their website*, or just listen for the sounds of drumming and laughter!
©Jacqui Woodward-Smith, November 2006
*Website no longer active