|by Caroline Lawrence
|A so-called "mast beast"
|Cernunnos the wickerman
|Dave the priest
‘Please!’ cries a latecomer to the ceremony, stretching his hand over the gate towards the priest. ‘I have a prayer to tie to the god.’ In his hand is a small roll tied with yarn.
‘I’m sorry,’ said the priest. ‘The gate is closed and that magic is closed.’
‘I can run up there very quickly,’ pleads the man.
‘No,’ said the priest, with firmness and dignity. ‘That magic is closed.’
Earlier, the haunting strains of music filled the dusky hillside. Now as darkness gathers, a troupe of long-haired drummers come thumping through the crowd. The gate is opened for them. Banging their drums, they mount the little rise and take their places around the great woven statue.
|face paint and garlands
And now,’ he gestures, ‘will the chosen one come forward?’
|8 year old lights the wickerman
In his book called the Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar wrote, ‘Some tribes have colossal images made of wickerwork, the limbs of which they fill with living men…’ Caesar then employs one of its most horrific examples of the ablative absolute ‘with these having been set on fire (quibus succensis), the victims are burnt to death.’
|One of the drummers watches the fire
The crowd cheers, the drums throb, the effigy sends forth billowing plumes of smoke mixed with sparks. Now heat from the burning man lights the rapt faces of the watchers and warms the chilly night.
It is the last day of April.
The festival is Beltain.
The year is 2016.
The venue is Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire and most of the people in the crowd have driven here in their cars. Some of them are ‘live Tweeting’ the ceremony, using the hashtag #standintheglow.
|One of the smaller roundhouses at Butser
|Outhouse and henhouse at Butser
Hands on activities for children include a live dig, ancient writing and bashing chalk. Adult workshops are designed to access not just the Iron Age but also Stone Age, Roman and Saxon eras and include sessions on daubing, clunching, sweeping, thatching, wattling, felt-making, cave-painting, sword-making, flint knapping, ancient apothecary and even coracle-making.
|Madeleine Alison & soapwort
|Programme for Beltain 2016
While waiting for the fiery main event, visitors can listen to live music, eat food and visit various stalls and activities. You can weave a garland, have a go at blowing a trumpet made of horn and listen to Jonathon Huet tell a story by the crackling wood fire in one of the roundhouses.
A lady selling faience told me which minerals add colour her faience beads, an early form of glass famous in Egypt but also known in Iron Age Britain.
A man selling flint arrowheads and blades told me how his dad would come home from military manoeuvres on Dartmoor with pieces of flint and how he would spend hours chipping flint blades in his back garden. (Imagine a child doing that today!)
|Beck Olja AKA birch oil is good against ticks & bugs
Caroline Lawrence is writing a series of books set in Roman Britain. The Roman Quests: Escape from Rome and The Archers of Isca are both out now.