Marsden is a small town on the Yorkshire side of the Pennines which mounts a fire-festival at Imbolc. It's a modern tradition going back about 15 years. They have a torchlight procession along the canal tow-path and fireworks and guising. I went about ten years ago with Jax- who was a member of our coven and an RE teacher- and wrote this poem a year later.
Round about now- late January-
With the cold in my head still being a bitch
And the weather cold and dank and grey,
I start to be thinking a lot about spring.
Last night I dreamed I was pushing a wheelchair
Up a steep hill in a strange town,
Looking for where my grandparents lived
(They're dead of course) and I'd lost the address.
And that's why Candlemas is so good;
It punctuates a dead time of year
And gives me an image to carry about
Of a girl with an evergreen crown on her head
With candles in it. One year we plaited
A crown like hers from wire and leaves
And one of the girls in the coven wore it,
Candles ablaze. It teetered a bit
And so did she, but the look of the thing
Was fine. Last Candlemas Jax and I
Drove over the hills to the festival
At Marsden. What a show they put on.
There was old Jack Frost- a nine-foot contraption
Moving with little, little steps
(Like Beverley with that crown on her head)
Receiving a challenge from equally delicate
Jack in the Green. They had a fight,
Bumping carefully into each other,
Till bad Jack left and good Jack did
His victory twirl. Then guisers masked
As spry young foxes danced in formation
Each with a flaming torch in her paw.
Low in the cloudless sky the moon
Hung full and poured her influence
On the black waters of the canal,
As in the Tarot card of that name,
Where the crawfish struggles out of the pool
And two odd, fox-like, dog-like things
Howl to left and right of a path
That winds uphill between two towers
Into the country of wicked illusion
Or cheerful illusion- you tell me which-
Where grandpapa and grandmama
Are sitting up to be visited
In their penthouse flat in the comfy chairs
We sent long, long ago to the tip.