Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Marsden Imbolc Fire Festival (MIFF)

The Green Man
I had the fortune to live in Marsden not long after I arrived in the UK in late 2011, although I did not know about the village beforehand, indeed it was just another village in West Yorkshire where a friend lived, but since I have come here I have discovered just what English village life is all about. There is an amazing sense of true Yorkshire community here, a pagan-friendly, open-minded, folk music driven hamlet in the south-west end of the Colne Valley and its festivals are revered and maintained annually. Every year for 20 years now, there has been an Imbolc fire festival held here.

This is the fire display I was a part of
I also had to fortune of participating in the 2012 festival – as a fire twirler. I met and had become friends with the original, and still present organiser, Angela Boycott-Garnett, who also runs our local Morris team, the Thieving Magpies. Angela appears to organise almost all the local festivals here in Marsden; from when I met her, she was organising the Imbolc festival, and the moment that event ended, it was straight into organising Cuckoo Day (held in April). Angela is a great lover of English folkloric festivals – attending morris and sword dancing events, Mummers’ plays, Rush-cart festivals and anything else where the traditions of Merrie England is possible.

The 2012 MIFF event was held on the 4th of February and on that day, perfect snow fell. Nice and crunchy underfoot. The festival starts in the village near the train station by the Railway pub. Drummers and people masked as foxes walked with lanterns, heading a procession towards the Imbolc festival location – the Standedge Visitor Centre. All the people follow in the procession – carrying homemade lanterns made of willow withy and white tissue paper. Along the road were several lanterns hanging from trees, glowing like little moons. When the procession reaches the visitor centre, they see down from the road, the sight of the fire twirlers on their hill, already performing their synchronized routines.

Earlier, all the fire swingers and performers, in their layers of black clothing, had gathered in the Visitor Centre where it was warm with heaters and a variety of hot soups. The Standedge Visitor Centre is on the canal, by a man made tunnel  - a canal tunnel that runs through the hills and is the largest and longest in the UK. The performance is held on a slope by the visitor centre. Along with the fire performance is a lot of fireworks and a battle between two giants – Jack Frost and the Green Man – and being Imbolc, you know the outcome – the Green Man always wins.

That is me on the far left, twirling my poi
At school, the children participate in an art workshop run by Angela every year regards to Imbolc. They make winter masks to wear to the event. They commented this year that they were sick of the Green Man winning and were planning to ‘cheer on’ Jack Frost. And indeed they did – from our position after our fire twirling show, we could hear the crowd cheering for Jack, especially the little voices of the children. But the Green Man won in the end, of course, because Spring is on its way and the proof of that was the snowdrops and crocuses that were beginning to grow.

The event was over quicker than it started, and was a huge success – the people loved the snow, they all felt that Jack Frost won this time – it seems he did, after the blizzard finished, which was going on during the entire show, it was a crisp, icy winter wonderland, and the moon was almost full upon the white landscape.
The parade, starting in the village of Marsden, was led by the Crow and
the Mr Fox morris team
What the parade of people saw as they came upon the road above
Standedge Visitor Centre
I am one of these people here waiting

Jack Frost and his retinue
Jack Frost
The Green Man
The fight between Winter and Spring
The Victorious Green Man

Fire displays

Jack Frost

The drummers of the event

My friend Paddy is the Crow

The Green Man and his retinue

Finale fire displays
Green Man now brings Spring.
(photos courtesy of Ali Smithie, Gary Stevenson, and the Daily Mail)

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