History of the Long Island Beltane Festival
The first Beltane festival was in May 1994. Prior to moving home to Long Island, I had lived in Tampa, FL and attended a couple of open Sabbats that were run by a group called the Pagan Allied Network. They were essentially a group of covens that would take turns hosting rituals and a lot of people attended. I found this impressive and wanted to recreate it on LI since I didn’t know any other pagans than Joe Propper and a couple of other people. I figured it would be a good way to get to know the other pagans in the area.
When we started, we didn't have the Internet. There were 3 new age/pagan shops on LI (that we knew of) and we placed small typewritten notices in them. We held the first event in a picnic area of Southaven Park. 35 people showed up and danced the maypole that we'd made out of a fallen branch. I danced around it with my daughter, who’d just turned 1 year old in a baby backpack on my back (not easy to duck ribbons with her!). People in the park were very respectful of our circle boundary and even sat on the picnic tables to watch. I distinctly remember one man calling out, “That looks like fun!” We responded, “It is!” We met two people at this event who later became part of the coven that would eventually become Aradia’s Children. The second year found us totally rained out, but the emerging coven still danced the maypole under the trees in a deluge, watched by the park rangers who were safe and dry in their truck.
By the third year, I had gone back to college at Stony Brook. There were the beginnings of a pagan student group on the campus, and I met more people. Some of these folks had computers and internet access, so our advertisements of the event grew. This time, 75-80 people came. That was the turning point for the event. People became interested in helping us, and wanted to make the event better. We moved first to Heckscher State Park for the 4th event, started a mailing list and took suggestions on how we could make the event better. It was still only a ritual with one maypole and a potluck afterwards at this point. The suggestion was made to add workshops, or talks or maybe even vendors.
Also at this point, the coven was growing and we had more people to help with the planning of the event. The years start to blur together in my memory, but as the festival grew, so did the community. The Huntington CUUPS group became active (now LIOC), and we held the next two events at the Huntington UU Fellowship. The Long Island Pagan Community Yahoogroup was created and allowed people from all over the Island to be in contact with each other.
For the 5th and 6th event, we added a couple of workshops, and I believe we had two (maybe three) vendors. After this, we’d outgrown the fellowship grounds and needed to find a place to host our festival that allowed vendors. State parks were out and Suffolk County Parks wanted too much money, but Nassau County was very cooperative and welcoming to us. It was at this point that we had to incorporate the coven as a non-profit organization and purchase event insurance. It was also around this time that we added live music to the event and found ourselves purchasing Maypoles (which are actually flag poles) and sound equipment. The little event we’d started had grown to attracting hundreds of people, multiple vendors, musical guests and presenters. We were honored to have Emerald Rose play one year and host a talk by Isaac Bonewits.
Due to the success of the Beltane festival, other groups started putting together open events. Pagans in the Pub began and then the NYC Pagan Pride Project contacted Joe and me for help getting their first event off the ground, and they're in their 11th year now. And, most importantly, many groups came together that were made up of people who found each other at these public events.
That last sentence is very important. People COME TOGETHER at these events, small and large. Solitaries who once felt alone now know they are NOT alone. People who are curious and unsure meet people with experience and knowledge who are willing to teach. So much grew out of the various events that the Beltane fest sparked. I think it's because once people saw that it COULD be done, they decided it SHOULD be done and DID it.
It's that spirit of community, of coming together, of DOING IT as a family of like-minded (although from different paths) souls making a difference for people they don't even know (yet). I will say that even after all this time, I'm still embarrassed to be recognized and have "fans". It was NEVER about me (my Goddess kicked me HARD in the ass and I did as she asked), or my coven. It was about the community at large. And I’m very lucky and honored that so many people came forward to help and participate in the events we produced. Joe and I had decided to retire from public paganism after the 10th Beltane Festival. We were tired and burnt out and wanting to dedicate ourselves to strictly coven work and let the “youngsters” take over. Unfortunately, Joe passed away before the tenth event. We held it in his memory and then the planning and organization of the event was taken over by Nancy Venus and Copper Cauldron.
I’m very happy and honored still to be a part of it again, even from a distance. And to see you all coming together like this, to support each other and work on continuing a cherished tradition....well, it just makes my heart proud and brings tears to me eyes. I know Joe is looking down and smiling from the Summerlands. THIS is what we worked and strived for and it can't be a better birthday gift to him.