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A Pagan Gathering for Australia and the world

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Paganesque Moveable Feast - The Marsden Imbolc Fire Festival (MIFF)

A run-down of the pagan gatherings and pagan-like festivals from other parts of the world.

As some of you know, just after our lovely Beltane at Mount Franklin 2011, I left the country to travel to the Uk to work for a year. Seeing I am observing many festivals while I am here, i thought I'd do a report on many of them. There seems to be so many amazingly organised events here in England and I have learned many things at these events that I plan to bring home.

I have had the fortune to live in Marsden since I arrived in the UK. I did not know about it beforehand, indeed it was just another village in west West Yorkshire to me, but since I have come here I have discovered just what village life is all about. There is an amazing sense of community here, a pagan-friendly, open-minded hamlet in the south-west end of the Colne Valley and its festivals are revered and maintained annually. Every year for 20 years now, there has been an Imbolc fire festival held here.

I also had to fortune of participating in this year’s festival – as a fire twirler. I met and have become friends with the original, and still present organiser, Angela Boycott-Garnett, who also runs the local Morris team, the Thieving Magpies, which I have also joined. Angela appears to organise almost all the local festivals here in Marsden – from when I met her, she was organising the Imbolc festival, and the moment that event ended, it was straight into organising Cuckoo Day (April). Angela is a great lover of English folkloric festivals – attending morris and sword dancing events, Mummers’plays, Rush-cart festivals and anything else where the traditions of Merrie England is possible.

The 2012 MIFF event was held on the 4th of February and on that day, perfect snow fell. Nice and crunchy underfoot. The festival starts in the village near the train station by the Railway pub. Drummers and people masked as foxes walk with lanterns heading a procession towards the Imbolc festival location – the Standedge Visitor Centre. All the people follow in the procession – carrying homemade lanterns made of willow and white tissue paper. Along the road are several lanterns hanging from trees, glowing like little moons. When the procession reaches the visitor centre, they see down from the road, the sight of the fire twirlers on their hill, already performing their synchronized routines.

(that's me top left!)

Earlier, all the fire swingers and performers, in their layers of black clothing, had gathered in the Visitor Centre where it was warm with heaters and a variety of hot soups. The Standedge Visitor Centre is on the canal, by a man made tunnel - a canal tunnel that runs through the hills and is the largest and longest in the UK. The performance is held on a slope by the visitor centre. Along with the fire performance is a lot of fireworks and a battle between two giants – Jack Frost and the Green Man – and being Imbolc, you know the outcome – the Green Man always wins.

The school children who participate in an art workshop every year at school in regards to Imbolc commented this year that they were sick of the Green Man winning and were planning to ‘cheer on’ Jack Frost. And indeed they did – from our position after our fire twirling show, we could hear the crowd cheering on Jack, especially the little voices of the children. But the Green Man won in the end, of course, because Spring is on its way and the proof of that was the snowdrops and crocuses that were beginning to grow.

The event was over quicker than it started, and was a huge success – the people loved the snow, they all felt that Jack Frost won this time – it seems he did, after the blizzard finished, which was going on during the entire show, it was a crisp, icy winter wonderland, and the moon was almost
full upon the white landscape.
photos courtesy of Ali Smithie, Gary Stevenson and the Daily Mail

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