Last week, hundreds of Australian Pagans came together to march through the city of Brisbane. The Wildwood Faery Parade and Beltane Ritual is the largest gathering of its kind in the Sunshine state—an annual, family-friendly event that sees locals and interstate travelers gawp on as the celebrations unfold.
Beltane is derived from the Celtic "fires of Bel", and marks the end of darkness and the coming of a fertile Spring. Ancient Celts drove cattle through bonfires to commemorate the festival, and in 2016 witches both young and old carry the mantle forward in a display of Pagan pride.
We spoke to community member Jae Llewellyn about the significance of the festival and the appeal of coven life.
BROADLY: Hi Jae. What does this celebration mean to you?
JAE: For me, it's the opportunity for absolutely everybody to get together no matter which individual group or coven they belong to.
It's the chance for solitary witches to come out and express themselves; they dress themselves in the most incredible garbs to find their inner magical selves, and allow that to surface in all its glory. We gather and walk through the city, singing and chanting and drawing in everybody around us.
Why do you think this ancient celebration has become so important again?
People are becoming more and more disconnected from the natural world, so the only way you have to rebel in life now is to head back towards nature-based theology and traditions.
That's why the witch movement here in Australia is growing so exponentially. There are over 39 covens in Brisbane alone. They range from 16-year-olds to the EarthWorm [group], who have been together for 30 years and average 65 or 70 years old.
In your experience, have young people in covens tended to feel excluded by society?
Oh yes, [for some] that would be the primary reason for joining a coven. The feeling of belonging and the feeling of connection is the primary reason for anyone. The feeling of being part of a group for the very first time—especially when some may have felt teased by their peers for talents like predicting the future, or intimately seeing into a person's intent.
How do you believe covens facilitate an atmosphere of self-exploration?
Well, people are coming into a dynamic experience: Each coven has an inner circle of high priests and high priestesses, and they're usually within the coven for three years onwards—and then you have an outer circle. They are the [new] ones, who are ready to learn the processes of the coven.
Read more: The Trials of Being a Witch Today
The inner-circle has a responsibility for those outer-circle people, to make sure they feel safe. It's very much a mentoring situation, as well. It can be more invigorating and enlivening that anything else.
Tell me about the inspiration behind modern-day Beltane Marches.
It's the need to get out after hibernation; the need to get the energy and the juices rising. You jump the fire with people you have close relationships with, to rebuild bonds together. The fire represents our struggles and we jump over it together in loving support.
And the drink the witches prepare, what is that?
It's usually mulled wine. What's in it is old mulled wine from years and years and years of these rituals, and what's left is collected up into a heritage bottle to be added into the next year's brew.
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Before the ritual, they'll spend days and days loving for it, caring for it, and giving it energy. It's the most beautiful sensuous thing to watch, and you cannot help but be drawn into that seasonal air and flow of life.