Nothing gets people in Victoria to participate more than a family friendly pagan festival conducted into the darkness. It’s called Luminara and a delayed soft-pop version of the midsummer night festivals (long celebrated by wiccan and other pre-christian worship groups). This was a night of wonder; the traditional brushing of the mortal and the more than mortal worlds; celebrated with fire and dancing.
In Victoria, Luminara was celebrated July 22nd in the large city-central Beacon Hill Park with tens of thousands of candle lanterns lighting the grounds, lakes and ponds. Scattered around were dozens of costumed performers, musicians and dancers along with standing lantern illustrated art, sculpture and floating art. Everyone is invited to bring non-flammable fuel lanterns and candles. Starting at 5pm the mask making, lantern making and face painting started for children in the adjoining orchards of the 140 year old St. Anne’s Academy (originally priory of the grey nuns).
It coincided on the hottest day of the year, making the evening turnout gigantic (30,000-50,000). Where do you take kids too hot to sleep? To Luminara! Linda and I didn’t go in costume this year but took with us our trusty camping candle lantern and our teak Laos candle lantern we bought together in Chatuchak Market, Bangkok. Everything looks better in the soft light of candles, even us!
We wandered through the park, my eye wandering to the many girls in fairy wings and some with glowing devils horns. Glow sticks were turned into earrings, hair sticks, and jewelry. While going over a bridge, I caught the eye of a fairie princess, travelling with winter fairie court. Our eyes lingered on each other in the lantern light before we passed into the darkness. Following the sounds of drumming Linda and I came to a open space filled with belly dancers of all ages. I spotted a 6’1” woman with flaming red hair belly dancing. Linda agreed, yes, she would make a great epeeist.
Down by the central lake were a series of floating sculptures, mostly made from paper mache, there were floating boats and peacocks. There really was something magical about wandering around in total darkness following the edge of a lake illuminated by candle lanterns on the ground and passing people carrying the hundreds of different candles and lanterns brought and created for this event.
Further on we ran into a complete five piece swing/jazz band, playing entirely in the dark. This was Luminara’s seventh year and I have to hand it to the person who not only pitched it to the city counsel but managed to get so many local sponsors. How exactly do you start out: “Okay, during the driest part of summer, I want to put up tens of thousands of open flames in paper bags in the central park. And then we will invite everyone to bring some more! No, wait, I haven’t told you about making paper mache sculptures and putting candles inside of them, wait, wait, there’s more…” (noise of being dragged out by security)
We stopped to listen to the jazz band before moving on to a sacred ring, which in the UK would be full of standing stones. Linda says, “I think it is a Celtic circle.”
“Uh, I don’t remember authentic Celtic circles having a mural of the original cover of the UK first edition of the Hobbit on them.” I pointed to one large and vivid mural. In typical Victoria fashion, this was a ring of murals done by local J.R.R. Tolkien enthusiasts. Of the murals read in Elfish: "May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out."
We pass a lit Japanese pagoda set up in the Japanese Gardens and then moved on to the magnificent Lion set up outside the park's children’s play area. It stood at least 8 or 9 feet tall and was always surrounded by little girls in fairy wings holding magic wands staring up with open mouths. Little boys ran around it making “Grrrrr!” sounds. Moving toward the Chinese Gardens we came by the Luck Gate as well as the Dragon Wall where people could tie their wishes for the year on the illuminated lines stretched between the trees. One woman shyly approached me. She wanted her wish tied as high as possible. Was this a secret wish? I obliged by standing on my very tip toes and tied her wish so high that no one but the gods would read it.
A little further on, by one of the other lakes, was a Chinese musician playing a stringed Chinese lute, probably a Jing-Hu, with his bow. Again, he did this entirely in the dark. I play the double bass and I can tell you, playing for hours entirely in the dark and hitting the notes on an instrument when you can’t even see your hand position (or bow) is quite the skill level. Behind him floated a river boat, with the silhouette of the traditional fisherman inside.
As children were present, no alcohol was allowed, and no pot. It was an example of the wonder that people can accomplish and experience together. You might want to put it on your calander for next year if you are neo-pagan or wiccan (wiccan being the second most popular religion of Victoria). We drifted back home and sadly, for another year, blew out our lanterns.
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