Walking around in the rain for seven hours at work today, it was very easy for me to remember the one and only ritual our Grove has postponed because of rain since I joined. It was Beltaine of 1998, and after spending Fire Watch in the rain and the Dawn Rite in a downpour, and the forecast saying no end to the rain all day, it wasn’t a hard call to make. The problem was, we had scheduled the rite for May 8th, and so we ended up doing it on May 9th – Mother’s Day, as I would have known if I’d ever worked in the floral industry at that point! Since everyone already had Sunday plans, we ended up with a grand total of ten people showing up, and this was back when we had ninety members, and forty was a small turnout for us.
If you can’t learn from other people’s mistakes, you can at least learn from your own, and so we’ve never scheduled a Beltaine on Mother’s Day weekend since. Since we try to schedule it on the first Saturday in May, this is really only an issue one year out of seven, when the first Saturday and the second Sunday of May happen to be on the same weekend – like, say, in the year 2011! So this is one of our “have Beltaine in April” years. As much as I hate having Beltaine in April and separating the holiday from its May associations, I hate the thought of a rain delay and a five-person ritual on Sunday even more.
And so, a few weeks ago, I was preparing to call Don Botsford to reserve the site for the ritual. He’s always asked us to give him two weeks’ notice before we need the site, and this was three weeks ahead, so plenty of time, right? Only I got an odd e-mail from someone saying she’d gotten an invitation to a reggae festival on the 30th at the Preserve, and was wondering where/when we’d moved the ritual to accommodate it? Er, we hadn’t, and a call to Don confirmed that the site was booked all day on the 30th. He hadn’t even thought to call us to see when we wanted to do Beltaine, since he knew that this was our Maypole ritual (correct) and so obviously we were doing it in May, not April (oops). Obviously I’m glad that Don is getting more paying business, and obviously we need to start calling him at least a month in advance, but what to do now?
The thought of doing the ritual at the same time as the reggae festival was tempting. Even with the concerns about having that many people on the site at once, it had the potential of being good public outreach for us, giving us a chance to demonstrate our ways to people who would never ordinarily come to a Druid event. But this was when I thought that the music would be confined to the area around the trampoline building, and only heard faintly (if at all) from the nemeton. When their organizer clarified that they would be using a BIG sound system (designed to be heard all across a Jamaican mountain valley) and they would be playing it loud enough for everyone in the preserve to hear clearly, my opinion changed quickly. Any High Day rite we run, and Beltaine more so than most, will have new people in attendance. These are not trained ritualists I’m working with here, and that kind of distraction would destroy any kind of ritual flow for us, even for a relatively chaotic holiday like Beltaine. And even if we were working with super-experienced ritualists, why give ourselves the extra challenge? It’s not like we’re on a liturgical game show of some sort, although that might be fun!
So even though rain and reggae don’t have too much in common, we’ve decided to treat their festival as a rain-out, and we’ll be doing the main ritual on the 1st instead. Hopefully we’ll still have a good turnout. (Those of you who always tell me you would come to our rituals if they were on Sunday instead of Saturday, now’s your chance to prove yourselves right!) Fire Watch and the Dawn Rite will still be on Friday night and Saturday morning, as they would during a rain-out, since trying to do Fire Watch in the middle of the reggae festival wouldn’t be much easier. Nothing against reggae, of course, which I love, and will probably be stopping by the festival for part of Saturday, and also helped me figure out what song parody to write for my praise offering on Sunday. (Speaking of which, does anyone out there know how to play Buffalo Soldier on any instrument? If so, let me know.)
Whether you’ll be with us on Sunday or not, have a happy Beltaine season!
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF