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A Pagan Gathering for Australia and the world

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Paganesque Moveable Feast - The Pagan Pride March of London

A run-down of the pagan gatherings and pagan-like festivals from other parts of the world.
I wrote this article June 2006 for 'Screaming Mandrake' zine, but it was never published. I never kept a copy of it and the zine editor did not send it back to me until over 5 years later in December 2011 - now its here for publication!

The Pagan Pride Parade & the Beltane Bash

London, May 2006: Two Days of Merriment

by Tania Poole

The Pagan Pride Parade

On the morning of Tuesday 23rd May, I immediately jumped onto the computer to check when the Pagan Pride Parade was on in London. Thanks to some back-issues of Pagan Dawn, I noticed it always seemed to be held on the final weekend of May, and sure enough it was. So it seemed perfect timing that I was travelling down to London from Leeds that day. Not only that, but the Pride March was being held on 28th May - my Birthday! 

I emailed a fellow pagan, Gemma, whom I was planning to meet in London, and we organised to meet on Sunday morning. It had been her birthday the previous day, so I gave her a toy wombat. We made our way to Red Lion Square and Conway Hall, and saw two large Giants standing by the Park garden with men in Green with drums. Excitement set in! In the hall were some fantastic stalls, and the stage was covered in more Giants. 

After I purchased a Wicker Man badge, we gathered outside for the parade. The sun was out and glaring, and we could suddenly hear drums. Around the square came drummers followed by the two Giants we had seem earlier, Herne and Selene. They danced to the drums while the other Giants were carried out of the Hall. People all around us held banners, representing their towns or pagan groups. There were people covered in foliage, painted green faces, Green Man masks and antlers crowning them, people all smiling in their array of pagan greenery. Drummers wore top hats or bowler hats with ribbons and badges all over them, and they wore tattered tunics.  

Out came the main banner – a black one titled 'A Merry May Pagan Pride Parade' with a green man face on it. And behind the banner came Jack-in-the-Green. Years earlier I had seen a picture of this very Green Man and wanted to make my own! He was covered head to toe in laurel and ivy leaves, and crowned with antlers.  

The Giants were the Morrigan, dressed in green with a white veil and crowned in a wreath of flowers. She was accompanied by two tall raven giants. Herne was horned and wearing a brown tunic and hood.  Selene was blue skinned and in a blue dress. She had a green shoulder cape, a white veil and flowery wreath, also crowned with a silver cresent. Both Herne and Selene came from the Eastbourne Pagan Group.

Old Man Thunder had red hair and beard. He wore a red cape and a flowery wreath with gold stars. To me, he looked like a Yule King. Old Dame Holda had grey plaited hair and a leafy wreath on. She wore a black dress, Viking necklaces and a blue cape. Bran was bearded and wearing a green tunic and dark green hood. He wore a huge golden sun amulet. All the Giants were accompanied by drummers.
We began the march – we let the Jack-in-the-Green walk first with his followers – the Green Lady, a woman who had a fantail of peacock feathers behind her head. There were also the Bogie drummers covered in green tatters, and the Naughty Fairies. We let a few of the Giants pass before we joined the march ourselves. 

I was ecstatic and having so much fun! Gemma was likewise, both of us were so glad we found out about this weekend. I wore my orange felt witch’s hat, and realised I was the only one with a witch’s hat on. The Parade proceeded to head into the Bloomsbury area. The police were out and blocking the roads for us – I was not sure how long the march was – perhaps under 1km long. People in the traffic stared. I recall waving to people on red double decker buses, and even saw some of our Green men twirling and dancing with shop owners who had come out to see what was happening.  

We soon reached our destination – Russell Square Gardens. The procession was still led by the Jack and he headed straight for the centre of the Park to the fountain – and walked right over it! Soon all the Green men and Bogie drummers were walking through the water. I joined a spiral dance, and with the drummer playing, we circled the fountain, sometimes running through it. Youths were volunteering to get pushed into the fountain by Green men. People were drenched everywhere. I saw someone in the crowd twirling poi, so I pulled mine out of my bag and joined in. 

At about midday, we turned back to leave the park and walked around via the British Museum. Crowds of people still gathered on the side of the road and stared, looking a little perplexed at what they were viewing, the drummers still playing, and the Giants walking as if they owned the streets. Arriving back at Conway Hall, we let the Giants walk in before we all piled in. Thus ended the Pagan Pride Parade of 2006.

The Beltane Bash

The rest of the weekend was the Beltane Bash. The hall had five rooms for traders, stalls and lectures. The foyer was named the Earth Hall, and had stalls selling cloaks and aura photographs. The Water Hall had tarot and rune readers, and the Air Hall was a small room for lectures. The Spirit Hall was upstairs where lectures were held, and Gemma and I attended a Rune workshop, mainly to avoid a terrible band that was playing in the largest hall – the Fire Hall, where the entertainment and main stalls were. 

Wendy Rule was arriving to perform at 5pm, and I found her in the foyer setting up her CDs. She was surprised to see me there, asking me what I was doing on this side of the world. She, her son, and her boyfriend had just flown in from the US, so had missed the Parade. Gemma and I found seats on the upstairs level of the Fire hall and watched her sing, feeling our weary bodies relax. 

On the way home on the Underground, we met a grey bearded pagan named Ian who, after calling out to us from the other end of the carriage and pushing his way through, asked us how our day had been. He must have recognised us in our pentacles, green jackets and badges. He was carrying two Irish drums, wore a huge pentacle, and a large black hat.  (A week later, we met him again at the Ealing Pub moot.) 

On the Monday, the event did not begin until midday, so we took our time getting there, window shopping in Covent Garden, and meeting a friend near Holborn station. On the way to the Hall, we saw Ian walking along with friends, waving and calling out to us. We were back for Day Two. In the Fire Hall, there were a fantastic drumming group called 'Barking Bateria.'  I recognised Ronald Hutton sitting two rows ahead of me, watching the performance. After a little while, Gemma and I, grinning like Cheshire cats, approached Ron and asked him to sign his books for us. I had bought his book, 'Stations of the Sun' the previous day, so was very happy to have my favourite Hutton book signed. We then waited to hear him talk about 'Love, Sex and Death', which was an all-round enjoyable talk. 

The popular place for guests and lecturers to end up was 'The Dolphin' pub, down the side lane. Later, we went for a drink, and perhaps to chat to Ron. I didn't stay long, as I had something I wanted to do before he left. I went back to the Hall and bought one more of his books, then went back to get him to sign a book for my friend David. When I told him Dave's name, he said instantly that he knew him and wrote the loveliest message in the book for him. It made my day - I couldn't stop grinning. We spent the next few minutes discussing mutual friends.

The Ritual

At 6pm the ritual was about to start. The theme this year was the jovial play/ritual of 'The Land of Oz' and the 4 quarters were elemental Munchkins. Dorothy and a person in a dog suit – Toto - came into the circle and travelled to each quarter to meet the Scarecrow, Tinman and the Lion. Even the Wicked Witch appeared with a 4 year old kid dressed as a winged monkey. Jack-in-the-Green had a small role in the ritual, there was a brief appearance of the Wizard himself, and even a woman dressed exactly like the Good Witch, directing Dorothy's path. At the end of the rite, Jack was stripped of his foliage to die for the following year, and we all got to take home a branch of laurel. 

On my way home, the Central Line was closed for maintenance, and while waiting for a bus to North Acton station, a rail worker who was directing passengers asked me what the laurel was for. I simply announced that it was “a part of the Green Man”, ready for his perplexed reply. It was then that he told me he was a Morris Dancer! It’s amazing who you meet in the City of London. 

All proceeds of the Beltane Bash go towards the conservation of Ravens Wood, a 25 acres area of woodland situated in the hills of the Chilterns. The forest is made up of Oak, Ash, Beech and Hazel, and foxgloves and bluebells carpet the forest floor in spring. The organisers of the annual Beltane Bash and Halloween Festival purchased the forest by putting their house up as collateral, and every year, money from these events goes towards the upkeep of the woods. 

The highlights of my weekend were the Pride Parade, meeting new pagan friends, surprising Wendy Rule, meeting Ronald Hutton, and making a new friend in Gemma, who I moved in with for the summer. This was a wonderful birthday!