Recently I was asked to contribute my memories of the Beltane celebrations that I have attended in the past at the Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering in Central Victoria, Australia. As a yound magician I was attracted to this yearly pagan Sabbat and was active in the organizing committee for several years. I have again been called in to help these witches with Beltane this year and so I have decided to re-post my memoirs here to reach as wide an audience as possible. Please check out the Mt. Franklin blog at http://mountfranklinannualpagangathering.blogspot.com/ .
My story of Beltane is one that few of the participants see. I became involved with the Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering in 1985 after moving to Central Victoria. Linda and Michele had become a part of my extended family and so I was eager to participate in their celebration of Beltane that Spring. When I came on board I found that the Beltane celebration was a thriving new pagan festival with many enthusiastic participants but lacking the support staff that such events always require. Because of the origins of the festival Linda and Michele had always shouldered the tasks of organizing the event almost entirely by themselves but after five successful events it had grown into something that needed more hands than just theirs to organize it and to clean up after it.
Although I am not a pagan, or a witch, I felt an immediate affinity with the gathering and offered my services as ‘support staff’- helping to prepare the site beforehand, arranging for a communal feast for the participants, cleaning up afterwards and lending a hand with all of the chores that make the event run smoothly. For the weeks prior to Beltane we worked on the preparations so that when the gentle pagan folk arrived to celebrate the Spring Sabbat they could settle in with a minimum of fuss and the maximum of enjoyment. Linda and Michele had set aside all of October to set up and we spent time preparing the banner that welcomes visitors to Beltane every year. We also slaughtered a lamb for spit roasting as a contribution to the communal feast and gathered up spare bedding and camping equipment in preparation for all of the less perfectly prepared visitors to the mountain that year. Of course all of the participants were keen to chip in and help with the chores that go with running Beltane every year and over the weekend I made many friends and established relationships within the pagan community that endure to this day.
One of my fondest memories of this weekend was gathering the ‘men-folk’ together for the manly chore of collecting the firewood and building the bonfire for the Sabbat celebration proper. Camaraderie was struck up that lasted, in many cases, well beyond Beltane that weekend, all through a simple sharing of a community chore. To me, these are the kind of things that are at the essence of Beltane at Mt. Franklin and a large part of the reason that it has endured as a successful pagan festival for such a very long time.
By Beltane 1986 the organizing committee had, under the watchful eye of Michele, grown to half a dozen or so willing helpers. I remember this Beltane for two reasons: the rain and the Christians. It rained. For the entire evening before the planned ceremony the skies poured down a torrent, and yet the spirits of the participants remained high and there was a feverish planning and re-planning and contingency planning session going on amongst the elder pagans as they tried to decide how they would work around the downpour. When the time came for the actual ceremonial performance the heavens gave us a respite for just long enough to have a magnificent Bell Fire and a joyous ceremony before pouring down again afterwards until the early hours. The next morning, sodden pagans turned out of tents and cars to share dry socks and hot breakfasts with all of their neighbors in the true spirit of pagan community. Again it was a coming together of kindred souls in a weekend of celebration that left the deepest and most enduring impression on me.
This was also the first Beltane that attracted the local Christians who arrived with songbooks and acoustic instruments to entertain us with songs about Jesus and whatnot. Whilst it was a novelty in the beginning they didn’t have much of a repertoire and on their third or fourth run through I popped up to have a chat to them. I still enjoy the memory of climbing to the top of Mt. Franklin, where they had set up their guitars and prayer books, and politely asking them not to disturb the good pagan folk below us with their pointless (and tuneless) sermonizing and to my astonishment they meekly packed up and went away!
Beltane 1987 was special for me as my sister and her husband were handfasted that year and so I was not only involved in the usual arrangements for Mt. Franklin but also for the wedding. That year the Beltane feast was my favorite as we spit roasted a goat that I had raised myself especially for the gathering. The handfasting celebration also attracted a number of guests from outside the pagan community and they all left impressed by the whole pagan experience. Many of them have recalled to me in the intervening years how much they enjoyed their weekend with the witches. That year we also had a display of fire walking and everyone had a go as well as the traditional jumping of the Bell Fire by all of the young single males in the crowd. These same young bucks then all organized a footrace to the top of the mountain which really sorted out the men from the boys. This was perhaps my favorite Beltane at Mt. Franklin when I look back at my experiences there.
I continued to help the organizers of Mt. Franklin over the following couple of years until my career took me away from Central Victoria and it became difficult to remain as active as I had in previous years- much to my chagrin. Still, I remember those years very fondly and I have always been proud of my contribution to what has become a widely respected and long lived pagan celebration. I have managed to pop into a few of the Beltane celebrations since, but even when I cannot make it in person I am always there in spirit. To me, Beltane is the beginning of my magickal year and so it will always hold a special place in my heart.