The sun sets over the Feast of Beltain. We roam through the crowds, through painted faces, ivy torcs and clay figurines on sticks. The mummers call and trumpet, the daughters of Ishtar shimmy and sway, the hawks hop between delighted children. A group of Morrismen warble a cappella, an old English drinking song. Woodsmoke fills the air, the odours of pig roast and burgers. We nibble at honey fudge and sip tea from polystyrene cups.
Buzzards soar aloof in the dusky Hampshire sky above as we make our way to the enclosure, to where the Wicker Man stands proud, his sword cleaving into the soil, his posture relaxed as he towers over the revellers. The Druids chant their blessings, the expectant crowd dotted with the small bright screens of mobile phone cameras, the drummers beat their rising tattoo from the climbing gradient to our right, and the torch is cast.
The flames climb slowly at first, his feet enveloped in heat and smoke, and the hungry tongues of amber creep up his legs, to his wickerwork ribs, to his innards of packed hay.
With a surge of victory, the flames fill him, burst through him into the darkening sky and the crowd gasps, roars with delight at the conflagration. His head boils with fire and slumps, as if to acknowledge the awesome power consuming him. His ribs open and his innards spill into the night with a belch of sparks and rolling heat. The crowd is ecstatic, whistles, trumpets, drums, cheers vying with the crackle and rumble of the blaze. As he succumbs to his destruction, his limbs crumbling and his sword finally bursting into a pillar of fire, the ancient pact with Nature is complete, and the gods of the fields are sated for another year.