Tiggs, one of the Group Organisers of Torchbearers for Beltane 2015, talks about vulnerability and self-discovery as a volunteer with BFS…
So, I’m a GO (Group Organiser) for the Torchbearers (AKA Torchies or Fire on a Stick) for Beltane 2015 along with the fantastic Ellie Stewart. Ellie’s done this craziness before a few years back, but this is my first year GO-ing. It is a bit of an adventure to be honest, not just in terms of getting stuff done and the interaction with the other GOs etc, but in terms of self-discovery too.
The biggest adventure so far has been the GO weekend. Getting together with the Blues and the other GOs to get to know each other, bond, learn ways to help our groups bond and generally enhance the whole experience of Beltane for group members and the audience alike. One of the biggest discoveries is that I’m far more of a “hippy” than I’d realised.
I suppose a little bit of the background behind this would be useful. My involvement in Beltane (and it’s sister festival, Samhuinn) has mostly been in the capacity of one of our volunteer Stewards with a couple of Samhuinns as a Torchie. I got involved in October 2011 with Samhuinn and this will be my eighth festival with BFS. Having spent so much of my time stewarding means that the ritual element of the festivals that I’ve been involved with has largely been overlooked. Stewards (and often Torchies too) tend towards the practicalities of the festivals, things like managing large crowds of people and the health and safety element of having fire in amongst those crowds. The GO weekend was a step outside of my comfort zone of the box of “Little Miss Practical” that I often reside in.
Being at the GO weekend and experiencing the mutual connection and support, and the liberation from constraints within that practical role… WOW. It was mind-blowing in the best possible way. I’ve always had a spiritual side and an appreciation of the ritual elements of both festivals, but the ritual workshops that weekend gave me a different perspective on how much more it could be. It is really hard to describe. Our 21st century vocabulary and the tendency for the spiritual and the religious to be conflated makes a lot of the terms that I’d use to describe it sound a bit hokey. I think the best way to describe it is the realisation that you are surrounded by people who share a purpose, who are there, being themselves, barriers down, happy and content to be open and vulnerable in the company of those present and that you yourself are also content to be open and vulnerable in that space.
I use the term vulnerable deliberately as any creative venture is inherently vulnerable. I am used to the vulnerability of the creative process, but I am not used to the feeling that everyone else in the room is also being their unguarded selves. It was an utterly humbling and distinct privilege being part of that collective endeavour. The honour of being trusted enough by the others present to be allowed to see them in that state of mind was profound. It was in that space that I feel that I truly got something that I’d been missing about the ritual elements of Beltane. The ritual elements, they are there to create a sense of connection, not just within groups or within BFS, but between BFS and the wider community, and between those there on the Hill and the wider world. In the past I had been focused so much on the changing of the seasons and the connection with the earth that I’d missed the importance of the connection with other people, and vulnerability was the key to understanding that.
That experience left me invigorated and buzzing with ideas, not just the practical stuff of how to make the vision for Torchies that Ellie and I share happen, but on how to allow what is often a group concerned with the practical, to become more connected to the ritual on the Hill, and with each other, without losing sight of the practical elements. It is going to be a challenge, but it is one that I fully intend to rise to. In many ways, that vulnerability, that willingness to be open, is key to so much of what BFS hopes to achieve.
There is a fantastic researcher, Brené Brown, who has a fair bit to say on both vulnerability and shame, especially in relation to creativity. She uses the Theodore Roosevelt “Man in the Arena” quote to fantastic effect and from the experience of the GO weekend, I think that the quote has a place in the spirit of Beltane.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
That is what it means to be part of Beltane, to dare greatly, to be part of something larger than you are yourself because you had the courage to try. And if you aren’t selected for the group you most want to be part of, you still dared to try. There, on the night, giving every ounce of your essence to the performance and the ritual, even if it doesn’t go perfectly – perfection doesn’t matter, daring to try, daring to do, accomplishing something, opening yourself up to the risk of criticism that creating something beautiful entails – that is what counts. The willingness of every single volunteer who is part of BFS to “dare greatly”, that is, in the end, what makes Beltane work.
Photo of Tiggs at a Torchbearers rehearsal by Raini Scott.