On the morning of the 1st May we dropped off our costumes at the Assembly Rooms and went to the White Spring early to make sure it was ready to receive hundreds of visitors. I opened the doors, went round to the back doors and found it flooded!
The persistent rain had filled the chalk aquifer and it was spilling out like an overfilled sponge, the flow into the well house had increased dramatically. The water was pouring over all the walls of the pools, and it had backed up at the back door to mid calf height. The rate of the flow changes the feeling and sound of the place dramatically, especially when the water runs this fast and wild. I love it! It creates a raw excitement, makes my heart beat stronger and faster … sometimes it expresses the energy of a natural waterfall in a rugged windswept mountain pass.
A third of the building was flooded, with all the expected visitors, we had to pull up the drain covers, get the rods out and start pumping. It was not long before the blockage was cleared, yet it would take some time for the water to drain away fully, so we had no choice but to trust that it would be clear when the Beltane/Mayday procession arrived at 1.30pm. There was no guarantee that it would clear of course, there is always a chance of it blocking again whilst the gallons of water held back finally flow through. However, we were short of time, so had to leave it to get ready for the celebrations. I realised I would just have to ‘wing it’ if it was still flooded later.
Rushing to the rooms, we got ready as fast as we could. By 11pm we managed to get to the Market Cross, hopefully managing to appear graceful and un-hurried. Deep breaths!
Hundreds of people gathered at the Market Cross. More than last year? I couldn’t tell; the market was on the same day, meaning we had much less space to work with. Nevertheless, we managed really well with the space we had. I had cut some red and white ribbons to give to people so they could tie them around their arms and feel a part of it all – I had about 250, and I only managed to give them out to less than half of the crowd.
Before I knew what was happening, there was in a dragon dance. There are two dragons which were made at Beltane 3 years ago. A red one and a white one. In the story that was played out that year, the dragons were battling, so they had to be strong enough to take it. They chased each other around the small arena to much merryment and laughter.
The Winter King arrived, as consort, he accompanied the Queen. To warm her heart there would be entertainment and fun. So a local singing group came forward to sing a selection of beautiful chants that everyone could join in with. It was a joy to be with the community and visitors all singing together. Another group was asked to sing Jerusalem … And did those feet in Ancient times ? … everyone joined in, with particular aplomb when it came to the lyrics, ‘I will not cease from Mental Fight, Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand: Till we have built Jerusalem, In England’s green & pleasant Land.’ I can’t possibly convey here how moving and powerful it feels to sing that song right here in Glastonbury along with hundreds of people.
A fabulous performance by the Town Crier, the Arch-druid of Glastonbury, the graceful May Queen, the Summer King, and the Winter King … and lots of ooohs and ahhhs from the crowd, followed. It had been a grey and chilly morning, with a chance of rain. At the very moment when the Summer King stepped forward, the sun broke through the clouds!
The king led a flower dance, which was chaotic and fun, then it was time to walk to the waters. Chalice Well would be opening the Monks gate on Wellhouse Lane, a representative from the gardens would be bringing a blessing from the red waters, and I would be bringing a blessing from the white waters. I knew that Chalice Well would hear the procession coming so they would be ready in time.
The doors were still locked at the Spring when we arrived; all of the keepers wanted to be part of the procession, so we had planned for this. Max created a diversion (by jumping up on the wall and using his powerful voice to let everyone know what was happening) whilst I opened the doors and slipped inside with the May King and Queen, and the Winter King. Then there were a few moments for them to rest whilst I jumped around the walls lighting all the candles, probably faster than I had ever done it before. There was just enough time for me to offer a private blessing before the doors were opened.
It wasn’t exactly flooded any more, but the water was still a little deep in places and it was very wet. Still we managed to find a dry place for the King and Queen to stand whilst everyone poured in to the building.
How wonderful it is to see The White Spring, Chalice Well Gardens and Wellhouse Lane filled with people enjoying the waters and celebrating together. The story of the Summer King and Winter King was told, locally expressed through the living mythology of this land. Then the call went out – The King is dead! Long live the King! The cue to call everyone back for the blessing of the maypole. There were such cheers!
Alison and I offered our individual blessings from the red and white springs, then the waters were mixed and Merlin talked about the symbology of the mixing of these waters and how this is potent and relevant to us today. The May Queen stepped forward to give her tender blessing upon the pole, before the Summer King called on the Green Men to lift it up and lead us out onto the land.
Max and I held back to clear the wellhouse before joining this last part of the procession. It would be open again later, but for now we needed to get up to the coombe, so we cleared the building and encouraged those inside to go and join the celebrations. When we arrived at the circle, the directions were called and it was opened by the Arch Druid. Wonderful celebrations followed, we witnessed the marriage of the King and Queen, the maypole was lifted, and everyone joined in the dance.
I felt the warmth of our community, and the joy of the visitors and I loved every minute of it. Singing, dancing, playing all over the field. It is remarkable that this happens here – we are so blessed to have such a vibrant and talented community, and such a rich landscape to play in.
Later, when we returned to The White Spring, it was full of people bathing, singing and enjoying the water. Ria, another keeper had been taking care of the place whilst we were at the coombe, and it was so busy. We stayed open for a few more hours; people just kept on coming to bathe in the healing pools!
Now we were at the end of the town celebration, we could shift our focus to The White Spring celebration at Lunar Beltane. For the Love of It! From dusk to dawn, we would hold the place open and see what people would bring. The only thing we ask of visitors is that they leave the modern world behind for a night, no cameras, mobile phones or money … just an invitation to share and celebrate their inspiration, their love of the land, and of the season. Beltane was quickly coming to a climax, and with the full moon rising, I could feel the pulsing energy of the season as we prepared for the following Saturday.
You can read about that in the next blog – Beltane Climax