Back in the bad old days of the Inquisition, May Eve got a bad rap from the Church as Walpurgisnacht, a time when witches were believed to be abroad doing malicious mischief. But in actual Pagan practice in old Europe, Beltane was a benign and beneficent Cross-Quarter Day: the feast of the marriage of the God and Goddess, when lusty lads and lasses would scamper off to the woods before dawn to collect branches of may-blossom (hawthorn) and perhaps indulge in some mischievous fertility rites of their own.
Though the kids in the May Pageant enacted each year at the Center for Symbolic Studies (CSS)’ Beltane Festival carry artificial “flowering branches of May” as they file onto the stage to the strains of “Sumer Is I-cumen In,” all that adult subtext is carefully disguised. It’s a strictly family-friendly (and alcohol-free) event, whose rituals emphasize the defeat of Winter by Summer in the form of giant puppets.
Now, amazingly, in its 25th year, the Beltane Festival is a sort of small-scale Renaissance Faire, set in a meadow against the glorious backdrop of the Gunks at Stone Mountain Farm in Tillson, at the western terminus of River Road Extension. It’s loaded with music and dance organized by the Vanaver Caravan, roleplaying masquers, juggling buskers, knights and ladies on horseback, a fantastic dragon puppet requiring many small volunteers to carry its long tail in procession, foam-sword dueling for the kids courtesy of the Wayfinder Experience, food vendors and a splendid array of crafts for sale.
It’s always a lively event, usually blessed with fine weather (though Sunday is designated as the rain date, just in case), and a great excuse to shake the wrinkles out of your wench or wizard get-up as Faire season draws nigh – or maybe pick up a few accessories from the artisan booths to complete your medieval outfit. Dressing imaginatively is optional, but enhances the fun!
Good news this year for those who sleep in on Saturdays and tend not to arrive in time for the 12 noon opening: While music performances will get underway at 1 p.m. this Saturday, May 2, the Procession and May Pageant will not take place until 4 p.m., and then be repeated at 6 p.m. The customary bonfire and late-night hootenanny have been eliminated, though, and the gates will close at 7 p.m.
Admission, paid at entry, costs $15 for adults, $5 for seniors, teens and children over age 10; younger kids get in free. Parking is always a bit of a challenge, and attendees are urged to carpool – or arrive on foot or bicycle via the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, which passes right through the CSS property. There is a $15 charge for parking at Stone Mountain Farm, waived along with the admission fee if you purchase a $35 yearly membership in CSS.
Another way to get in free is to volunteer: Call (845) 658-8540 if you’d like to help out. For more information about the Beltane Festival, visit www.symbolicstudies.org.
Center for Symbolic Studies’ 25th annual Beltane Festival, Saturday, May 2, 1-7 p.m., $15/$5, Stone Mountain Farm, River & Springtown Roads, Tillson; (845) 658-8540, www.symbolicstudies.org.