Pagan Pride – Beltane Bash

Pagan Pride – Beltane Bash: From 2004 to 2010 most years I photographed an event in central London where neo-pagans held a procession to celebrate Beltane, though for some reason they did so on the last Sunday in May rather than at the traditional time of Beltane, on or close to May Day. Perhaps the date was chosen so that those taking part in the event had the following day, the late May Bank Holiday, to recover. The event was the public part of a day-long event taking place in the Conway Hall, which backs onto Red Lion Square where the parade assembled.

Wikipedia describes Beltane as the Gaelic May Day festival, and says that historically it “was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man” but “had largely died out by the mid-20th century” before being revived by Celtic neopagans and Wiccans in the late 20th century. Here’s some of what I wrote about the 2008 event which took place fourteen years ago today on Sunday 25th March.

Pagans – or rather neo-Pagans – place great importance on nature and the cyclical nature of the seasons. Women play a very important role in most pagan beliefs and Goddesses as well as Gods, all generally linked to nature are often involved in their ceremonies and women play important roles in them.

Nature seemed not to be too kind to them as the rain bucketed down as the participants were supposed to gather, with only a few braver members (and some with umbrellas) coming out of the hall, but fortunately for them and the photographers it soon eased off, finally almost stopping as the parade got under way.

The fountain in Russell Square could have been designed with them in mind, with a strongly phallic character in the water jets, which in normal use rise and fall, but were left to flow at full strength for most of the ceremony. At first the group danced around the fountain in rings with hands joined, but then many of them started to run through the centre, many getting soaked. Even the drummers, who at first stood on the edge providing a rhythm for the dance, eventually ran though the jets, and finally so did the Green Man.

Pagan Pride – Beltane Bash

I photographed the event for the final time in 2010, though I’m not quite sure why. Possibly the organisers made changes for the following year, or perhaps I looked through my pictures and found I seemed largely to be repeating myself each year. But my work was becoming increasingly political, thanks at least in part to the changing political situation with Labour losing the 2010 general election, and I was covering fewer cultural events.

It was also becoming more difficult to cover events of all kinds, as there was a huge increase over the years in the number of spectators at events such as this, with both more photographers coming to take pictures and many others with camera phones also getting in the way. Particularly those viewing a screen at arms length seem to be much less aware of others around them and in particular generally have no idea that it might be impolite to walk in front of others who are taking pictures!

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