Beltane Festival in the shadow of the Shawangunks

The 26th annual Beltane Festival happens this Saturday, April 30, at the Center for Symbolic Studies (CSS), located at the foot of the Shawangunk cliffs in Tillson. (Center for Symbolic Studies)

The 26th annual Beltane Festival happens this Saturday, April 30, at the Center for Symbolic Studies (CSS), located at the foot of the Shawangunk cliffs in Tillson. (Center for Symbolic Studies)

Knights and ladies ride horseback around a circle of standing stones. From across a broad meadow, a gaily clad procession approaches singing “Hal-an-Tow” and “Sumer Is i-Cumen In,” bearing giant puppets representing the Winter King, the Green Man and a dragon. Dancers wreathed in leaves pound the soil rhythmically with their staves to awaken Spring. The May Queen and King arrive for their coronation, accompanied by a train of children bearing branches of may. It must be Beltane, clearly; but where are we? Some remote, tucked-away corner of the British Isles where the old Pagan seasonal festivals are still remembered? Some parallel universe?

No, we’re right here in Ulster County: at Stone Mountain Farm, home of the Center for Symbolic Studies (CSS), located at the foot of the Shawangunk cliffs, at the western end of River Road Extension in Tillson. This Saturday, April 30, the Celtic Beltane Festival magically reappears for the 26th time, bringing live music, dance, storytelling, pageantry and fun.

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As usual, the Vanaver Caravan Dance Institute and Youth Dance Company conduct the mythic theatrics retelling – with a multicultural spin – the ancient saga of how Summer reliably manages to overcome Winter. This year’s roster of musicians is quite eclectic, including a special drone performance by It’s Not Night: It’s Space; Sodom’s Monkeys and the God Electron promise a combo of Butoh, “devotional metal,” punk and the “twisted roots of American song.” Also onstage will be In the Kitchen, Peter Hack, Mamalama, Seven Swords and Madárka. Carl Welden is the master of ceremonies. Jongleurs, jugglers, fools and conjurers wander the grounds as well.

Besides Maypole-dancing and an epic tug-of-war between the forces of Summer and Winter, this year’s Beltane Fest unveils a new participatory activity: the Stocks, where for $15 you can have a friend arrested, and for $1 a throw ($3 for five, $5 for ten) you get to pelt the malefactor with something rotten. “Any parent that loses their child will be put in the stocks; the person who returns said child is awarded one free throw,” say the rules. There’s plenty of fun stuff for kids to do at this family-friendly festival; games of Capture the Flag and dueling Wayfinder-style with foam swords are especially popular.

Alcohol and drugs are prohibited; festive and fanciful dress is encouraged. Public activities go on from 1 to 7 p.m., followed by a bonfire and song circle for CSS members and volunteers only. Admission costs $15 for adults, $5 for seniors and teens; children age 10 and under get in free. Parking at Stone Mountain Farm is limited and costs $15 per vehicle, so do carpool – or hike or cycle in via the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. For more info, visit www.cssfestivals or www.facebook.com/cssbeltane/?fref=ts.

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