As regular readers will know, May Morning is a big occasion here in Oxford, and for a number of years we've been going out with a bunch of fellow bohos and ne'er-do-wells - The Hurly Burly Band - playing rumbustious music at 6am, tickling the crowds and raising the spirit of summer.
Well, good magical practice dictates that whatever you summon up you must put back to bed again, so three years ago we started a new tradition, going out in the evening of November 2nd and playing for the Mexican Day of the Dead, to lay summer to rest.
Hold on a minute, I hear all the Pagans among you cry. Haven't we got our own, perfectly respectable festival of autumn and the dead, Samhain or Halloween? Why import someone else's?
Our reasoning was this: Halloween is hopelessly lost to us. What used to be a rather homely festival of roast chestnuts and ghost stories and apple-bobbing and fires has become just another great festival of consumption, dedicated to the forces of Mammon. I've always despised trick or treat, with its reified, kiddified, candy-coated extortion, and now for grown-ups Halloween is just a big fancy-dress party, another excuse to get mashed in the working week. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for dressing up. It's just that I'm looking for a festival with a bit more meaning. We dare not forget the dead.
So, yes, our Day of the Dead is an appropriation, but it is already something else. It is genuinely our Day of the Dead, and for the time being at least it remains untainted by the forces of capitalism.
And I particularly love the fact that no one is expecting it. We barely advertise, mostly rely on passers by, some of whom stop, join in, dance.
This year the music moved through distinct moods, from a kind of cold austerity, through grief (for many of us, this has been quite a tough year, and I'm sure people were remembering friends and relatives who've passed), and finally into a kind of defiant, upbeat effervescence. We pulled a large crowd and they were dancing. The magic was done. Proper.
(Thanks to Hafiz for this last, evocative photo. Says it all, I think).