In the penultimate ‘Tales from Beltane’ guest post, Erin talks about taking a year off performing to experience the festival from an audience perspective…
One of the best, and I think, sustaining aspects of Beltane, is that you don’t have to take part in it every year, in order to enjoy it. To feel the connection to the community, or just the fun-tinged-with-a little-crazy of it all. Bear in mind that once you have tried it, you almost certainly will be queuing at the door for the next Open Meeting, for many years to come – but what’s lovely is that the Society, the decisions made therein, the festival itself, are as organic as the hill it takes place on. People come and go, try different groups, go behind the scenes, take on a purely cheerleading role for those involved, or, as I’ve recently done, disappear for a couple of years to the other side of the world. As a good friend, and a fellow member of the BFS pointed out, though, that community will still be there when I get back, and will offer me new challenges and frustrations and friendships, when I do return. It’s an attitude that means the festival always has a new influx of energy and ideas, and stops it disappearing up its own bum, frankly.
Before I took off, I attended my last Beltane Festival, at least for a year or two – but this time, as a member of the audience. I could have joined in – another incredibly useful aspect to the whole thing is that there’s a wide variety of ways to participate, catering for all levels of commitment – but I quite fancied experiencing it from the outside again, able to see the big picture at my leisure. It felt strange to step on to the Hill without a cloak, face and body painted underneath. Heck, there’s normally a drum hanging off me… Occasionally, as I saw a member of a group I’d previously been a part of, I felt a sudden ‘Bugger, have I got my earplugs/stick/burning ball of fire?’ before remembering I was here to be performed for.
I enjoyed it thoroughly, perhaps a little bit more than I was expecting to, actually. I thought I might feel a little sad, a little left out, but there just isn’t room for that emotion, when the actual night begins. There’s too much energy, too much joy – as well as a little idiocy, sure – coming from a bunch of people giving it their all, to do anything but smile and laugh along in delight. Whilst I wasn’t enjoying the rush of performing, I realised I had (almost) the best of both worlds; inside knowledge and connection of what was happening in front of me, and the luxury of simply being an audience member, to enjoy it. Needless to say, one way or the other, I’ll be back – there’s still nothing quite like that first hit of the drum skin, even when I’m not the one making it.
Photo of Erin at the Beltane 2011 after party, by Tina Greig.