Sunday, 6 May 2012

Happy Bealtaine

Generally I don’t like to make New Year resolutions because A) I never follow them through so feel like I have failed with something and B) I don’t think changes can only be made at the new year, they should happen all year round. Having said that, this year I have tried to give myself a focus or aspiration which might be in line with a resolution;  to try new experiences and get as much as I can out of life! That includes doing things I would normally find daunting or hold back from for various reasons (hence this blog).  So far this year’s “resolution” has been working out and I have been opening myself up to situations I normally would have shied away from but the big test came this weekend; I went to the festival of fires.

A quick summary of FoF for those who have never heard of it before:
The ancient Celts had four main celebrations throughout the year; Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane (Beltaine/Bealtaine in Ireland) and Lughnasadh. Each represented the beginning of a new season and had different traditions accordingly. Beltain was a fire festival which took place at the start of May to herald the start of summer bursting with fertility and life. One of the ceremonial highlights of the festival was the lighting of a fire set on a hill in the centre of Ireland which was then carried to hilltops in every county in the land. This traditionally took place on the Hill of Uisneach in County Westmeath and there are many different connections between this site and ancient Irish lore. In the last few years, there has been a renewal of this celebration on the hill each May which is called the Festival of Fires

What attracted to me to the festival when I first heard about it was the historical aspect – I loved the idea that it is a tradition that took place thousands of years ago on the exact same spot. For as long as I can remember I have had a slight (huge) obsession with any ancient Irish history, my mam says it started when I was about 5/6 years old when I saw the Robin Hood movie (the one with Kevin Costner) and from then on I only wanted to be a medieval princess that lived in a castle haha. Now I know that was English but I think it was the imagery of that time what sparked it off. I clearly remember learning about Irish history in primary school – the Fianna, Cu Chulainn, about how the Vikings came and even things like the fulacht fia. I had books as a child about the sagas of Ireland which told of the Children of Lir and the Tuatha De Dannan, we often visited the heritage centre just outside Wexford where they brought you around mock villages and ruins - I apparently stood with the tour guide the entire time questioning him on everything (I was probably about 8/9 at this point?)… the list goes on and on and on, going right into my teens. I was always told I was born in the wrong century and when asked, I always wanted to go back to that time if I was given a time machine haha. 

So you can see how this was right up my alley but not only that, it called to me from a spiritual point of view too. I don’t have a tendency to discuss my belief system with people, I am pretty private about what I grasp as the core truth to how I live my life and why I am here on this earth. I don’t know why I am quiet about it… maybe it is connected to growing up in a strong catholic household or because people don’t really discuss things like religion any more. I know a lot of young people don’t bring it up in conversation anyway. I am slowly trying to change that though and open up about it. I feel it is important for people to talk about these things because it is through sharing or debating ideas that you can challenge yourself to find the answers. You might not even know what it is that you do believe in – or not as the case maybe if you’re an atheist. Anyways, my beliefs are pagan in origin and the closest term for what I believe in is known as pantheism which is the concept that through all life runs an energy or divinity and that everything is connected through it. I have always felt an affinity to the earth and the more I read or study the natural or holistic approach to the world around me, the more reinforced I feel about my beliefs. Having said that, I have never actively done something that expresses my spirituality which only dawned on me while I was at the festival. Being there yesterday felt natural. Everyone around me was there for different reasons; there were pagans of all sects, Druids, Christians, people who were just out to enjoy the music or the fire, families who were just out for the day. But there was a feeling that everyone accepted each other and acted however they wished openly. 

The biggest leap into the unknown for me with this weekend was the fact that I went to the festival on my own. Over the years there has been loads of different things that I have wanted to do, traveling, festivals, classes, parties etc., which I ended up never doing because I had no one to do it with at the time. When I saw the website a few months ago, I instantly had the feeling that I had to be there this year but then it crossed my mind; who would I get to come with me? I knew I needed to apply for the time off with work early enough so that I got it so the commitment to go was there but I didn’t know who else would enjoy it or would have the time/money to do it. After a lot of hmm-ing and haw-ing I thought screw that I’m old enough and bold enough to just go without someone holding my hand, so I bought my ticket and didn’t think about it again. The last week leading up to it though I was starting to think would I be ok with it when I’m actually there. I was a little apprehensive about what I would do for the entire day and would I be able to sustain my own interest without someone to share it with. Boy was I wrong!

At the festival I never once felt on my own, everywhere I went people were interacting with each other and sharing ideas with each other. Even if you were shy and didn’t want to initiate a conversation, if you stood still long enough someone would come over and talk to you! At one point I was standing reading a sign (the one below) and a girl standing beside me started to talk to me, just about the day and how was I finding it etc. We talked for all of 5 minutes or so but it was if we were catching up having not seen each other in ages. Then as she turned to leave she wished me a good day and gave me a hug as if we were old friends. Later, I was sitting on a log seat writing (I had brought my writing book with me in case I got inspired, which I did…A LOT) when someone sitting near me asked me what I was writing. I talked to her for a while and then she had to go, so I returned to my thoughts and 1 min later I had another girl sit down beside me and again asked me what I was up to! Within a few mins all her friends came over and I sat there for about an hour laughing with them. I’ve never had that happen before… it feels like it takes me ages to pluck up the courage to talk to people and I spent the day talking to people from all walks of life which was a new thing for me. And what’s more, I loved every second of it.

Here are some more pictures from the day:

The festival itself was fantastic; the positive attitude was refreshing, the art and creativity there was inspiring, the atmosphere was welcoming and open. I felt a real calm about the place and it was small enough that you never got lost. I didn’t see any fighting and though people were drinking, it wasn’t a drinking festival and there were no overtly drunk people that you would associate with festivals. My favourite part of the whole thing was the fire parade and the fire itself. The sun had just gone down and on top of the hill it was starting to get rather cold as the wind blew in. Then came this glorious huge fire which was so bright in the dark and the heat that blasted out of it was unreal. There is something very hypnotic about watching flames flicker and dance over wood… People stood watching the flames for a long time, cheering whenever the pyre broke and crumbled.


I cannot wait until next year, I am definitely going again.

Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.”  Buddha


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