If I were a member of the audience at the Dark Gathering I would be in a bit of a dilemma when it comes to deciding where to be at dusk. Join the Torchlight Procession and escort the Mari Lwyds to the Museum – or wait at the Museum and witness the mighty Penkevyll call up the Maris with tribal drumming? I personally don’t get a choice because as organiser I have to stay at Base Camp so to speak! This has proved to be somewhat problematic in the past not knowing what was happening from one end of Boscastle to another – however we’ve solved that problem now by using walkie-talkies. These were carried by a small team of locals who took on the role of marshalling for the Gathering. They all did a simply splendid job and I thank you all and hope you will be available to repeat the experience next year. 🙂 Anyway, whichever choice folks make they all seem to enjoy whatever experience they go for, as they both have their own attendant magic. Here’s some photos and footage to get a flavour of each atmosphere.
After the joyous reunion of Cornish Penkevyll with her Welsh bone sisters, the Mari Lwyds, it was time for the traditional pwnco ceremony. This year, you’ll be delighted to know, I decided that it would be better not to inflict upon anyone else having to hear my voice mangling the pwnco verses! So instead Tia and Sue sang alone the riddles to each other first in Welsh with the responses in Cornish. They were brilliant, and judging by the cheers that went up following this performance it was well received by all, and the Mari Lwyds were successful in their endeavours to gain entry to the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic. Then it was time for some very strange creatures of the night to make their appearance…
A little bit of back story is required here. Back in the summer whilst I was searching around for a Dark Morris side to replace the now sadly defunct Wytchwood I was contacted via my website by the Artistic Director of Mr Fox who are based at Barnsley, Yorkshire. They described themselves as a Street Theatre & Dance Company who worked with fire and stage effects. Initially I wasn’t sure whether this would be suitable for the Dark Gathering but decided to invite them following discussion and perusing their videos. However this meant that there would only be two Morris sides for the afternoon as Mr Fox essentially could only perform in the dark. I was confident that Wreckers and Beltane were more than capable of fulfilling their brief of ‘Morris entertainment’ for two hours as they are both competent sides with many performers amongst them. When I asked for a bio from Mr Fox I received some prose in reply and the opening stanzas of this gave me a great idea of how the enigmatic Mr Fox could make their entrance (or prowl-up as they describe it) at their appointed hour. These were the verses concerned:
When eyes do see the naked flame
and ears do hear the brazen beat of drum
When two worlds meet
then twilight’s winding walk is begun…
Down from on high they come
skirting the undergrowth
and into the square…
Above the Museum is a green lane that runs the full length of the village and I thought Mr Fox could start off from there and make their spooky way down to the square in front of the Museum. It actually turned out even better than I had anticipated! The first the onlookers heard was the skirling of pipes which were joined by vibrant and pounding drums as slowly the performers holding torches made their way down the hill and into the performance space. It was truly magical and very atmospheric.
There then followed a bewitching performance with characters appearing and disappearing at will accompanied by special effects. What added to the haunting quality of this performance was there was no spoken word at any point. There was dance, gesture and movement all orchestrated and directed by the music(ians). Mr Fox were like a tribe as there were small children taking on roles as well and it was impossible to tell what gender anyone was because of how they were kitted out in their smocks and masks. All in all it was an eerie and deeply atmospheric experience – folks loved it! 😀
As the performance came to a close Mr Fox disappeared into the night as mysteriously as they arrived. Time for a change of pace and an acknowledgement of the Samhain energies and spirits that were abroad that night. Sarah and Paul took the stage and sang a beautiful, poignant and evocative song which was composed by Paul. In case you didn’t catch the words on the night, here they are now:
Gather the sticks and gather the stones
The part of the wind that whistles and moans.
Gather the water from out of the stream
And out of the wells where witches have been.
Gather the wheat, the barley and corn
The bones of the things that are yet to be born.
Gather the birds, the raven and rook
I will decide where they shall be took
Bring me the heather, the view from the bluff
The moss on the moors and the fragile stuff
The mid day of winter, the sun where it shone
Find for me this before it is gone.
(softly: before… it is…… gone. )
Gather the clouds from out of the sky
It will not be easy but please you must try
Gather the future and gather the past
And all of those moments that just did not last
Gather the words that no one has spoken
The well meaning thoughts, the promises broken.
Gather the many and gather the few
If they are unwilling, then gather them too
All that are present and all that are here
Stand and be silent, stand and draw near
When all this is done. When all this shall be
Set them before me. Then set them all free
It was now nearly time for Will Fox’s now traditional Samhain Blessing, but just to set the scene we decided to honour the genius loci (spirits of place) by utilising bullroarers. So three wisewomen were employed to achieve this; myself, Tia and Michelle (aka Selkie).
The time for the Ancestors was upon us and Will Fox took us on a journey to them honouring the darkness and the outcasts on his way. He can truly weave magic with his words and cast a spell upon the audience. 🙂
The Dark Gathering calls all sorts of people to itself. It attracts folks from not only all over Britain, but also from other countries. This year we had people from the Netherlands, Germany and even had a couple who travelled all the way from Maine, USA just to attend the Gathering! It was lovely to see this couple, Ken and Mary, in particular as we had handfasted them earlier in the year at the Men an Tol. 🙂
I had a word with our MC Steve who then had a chat with Ant from Beltane, and as a consequence, Ken was given the place of honour holding the centre torch in the now famous Beltane Fire Dance.
Normally proceedings would have come to a reluctant halt at this point but there was still something important to do. The much deserved thanks to all who helped so much to make this Gathering so successful.
Steve read out the list of people concerned:
The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic
Simon Costin – Owner
Judith & Peter Hewitt – Managers
Boscastle Chamber of Commerce
Also thanks to:
The National Trust
The people of Boscastle
All volunteers including: Nathan, Daniel, Claire and Dreads
John Isaac – Photographer
Kieran Sweederz – Videographer
Beltane Border Morris
Special thanks to:
Sarah Emery & Paul Sumner
All Mari Lwyds
Penkevyll the Lands End Oss
Also I would like to mention donations we received from Beltane Border Morris and Woody’s Pizza which we’re very grateful for and will put to good use in next year’s Gathering. So much of what the All Hallows Gathering is nowadays is reliant on goodwill and volunteers who give of their time and energy for free. I would love to be able to offer everyone something towards their costs but our funds are quite limited at present. We are always open to offers of help and donations towards this unique event though.
Kieran who has filmed and crafted our archive footage for the last few years is a case in point. At present he is a University student and he would love to be sponsored in some way for his superb work each year. So if anyone out there is willing to offer patronage to him then please get in touch – camera and editing equipment does not come cheap.
I feel it is crucial to any event like this to make sure there is adequate acknowledgement to the volunteers’ endeavours. I have in the past been part of various voluntary organisations where occasionally the volunteers have not been treated very well or have been taken for granted. I personally cannot understand this attitude as, quite frankly, without them you’d be stuffed! So much goes on behind the scenes that others are blissfully unaware of. Just to snatch an example out of the air – torches. They look great don’t they? However, someone has to bear the responsibility of creating them, carrying them, keeping them primed and so on and so forth. I know for a fact that Paul Sumner made the magnificent tall torches that light up the parade and performance space so well and his partner Sarah Emery helps with the management of them. Ant Veal I believe sorts out the torches for Beltane Border Morris. Let’s hear it for all the folks behind the scenes who help create the wonderful spectacle that is the Dark Gathering! 🙂
Before we knew it, it was all over and everyone wended their weary way to the welcome hospitality of the Wellington Hotel.
I end this post on a definite high knowing that this year’s Dark Gathering brought so much to so many people in spite of many setbacks. There was fabulous feedback from the many folk who came, and others who could not who watched the live footage. It was a great boost to the local economy as it was estimated that 1,200 people attended, and the Museum said they had their best day’s takings ever!
Now it’s time to settle back, make yourself comfortable and enjoy the next 2 hrs 40 mins of Kieran’s archive footage of the All Hallows Gathering 2017.
See you all next year on October 27th 2018! 🙂
Reblogged this on Laetitia Latham Jones and commented:
Another excellent post ☺
Loved reading part 2! It’s amazing how the event’s grown and the level of professionalism has grown with it. The volunteers were marvelous. Present, but never obtrusive, their confidence and competence really showed. I could see how the marchers were comfortable taking quiet cues from the marshals (the walkies were a great idea!) and the torch bearers were really sharp. Those things must be pretty hefty but the bearers didn’t fidget or shuffle about when they had to stand in place and knew their spots as if they’d been drilled to it. The quality of the torch heads was noticeable in the stills. I did wonder who made them and it was nice the way they appeared lit and vanished just as smoothly. I’m sure the photographers loved the beautiful flames too! Mr. Fox incorporated their torch lighting and dousing into their set really well so they could do it in plain sight as part of the performance. Thanks for including their prose too! Some lovely lines there reminiscent for me of Phil Lister’s work (he of Breignton Morris and the ultimate oft-imitated dancer Green Man). Thank you so much for including Paul Sumner’s lyrics too! I caught bits in the video and meant to ask you if you had the rest. I didn’t want to pester you though until I was sure you were over the event proper. It’s beautifully written and hits all the right marks! Chills and thrills and a gorgeous title, even! 😀 xxx
Thank you Chris for your in-depth and studied comments. Brilliant feedback! 🙂