Beltane Fire Festival, Edinburgh
Living on the island on Britain is quite interesting, it has a long history dating all the way back to the days when the Celts practiced paganism as their primary religion. Paganism was practiced in many different forms, this festival comes from the Gaelic festivals that celebrate the four seasons from Samhain (Halloween), Imbolc (Spring Equinox), Lughnasdh (Harvest Festival) and Beltane which is known as May Day which marks the beginning of Summer.
Beltane is celebrated as Winter was finally coming to an end, making Summer was just around the corner. That mean the land became in bloom again, crops would be able to grow, cattle was taken into the summer meadows making it just a important time for growth all around. To encourage the fertility for the upcoming season bonfires were created, with the belief that the flames, smokes and ashes had powers of protection and to cleanse. The date of the festival is held on the 30th April as the sunsets and welcomes the night time that will follow into May Day as the sunrises in the morning.
Today in Edinburgh this is the best place to part take in the Beltane Festivities. The Beltane Fire Society host the most incredible experience to partake in every year in the heart of Edinburgh on Calton Hill. The festival includes many food and drinks stalls on offer to feast on, then moments to watch the sunset over Edinburgh which is spectacular, but the highlight of the evening is a procession that begins at the National Monument which is set alight with fire in Gaelic symbols as we welcome the Green Man through the portal followed by wee beasties and many other creatures who partake in either stopping or aiding the new season. We then welcome the May Queen who symbolises the end of the cold and the earth sleeping, she is covered in blossoms as we follow her around Calton Hill welcoming the new season.
There is opportunities to follow the procession or join in other places on the hill to watch the creatures perform, from the Blue Keepers who help guide us through the ritual to the White Beings who are companions of the May Queen to the wee beasties painted head to toe in red playing drums and causing mischief and many dancers, torchbearers and singers that we follow and frolic with ending up in the Bower where these faerie folk go to rest after welcoming in the new season.
It is best to get to Calton Hill early enough so you can get at the front of the queue when the gates open at 8pm, this way you can enjoy walking around the hill, partaking in the feast of food and drinks and finally getting a good spot to witness the beginning of the festival at the base of the National Monument. The ritual festival begins at 9.20pm as the fire is lit on the National Monument with all the characters climbing over and up to show themselves to us, then the procession around Calton Hill begins around 9.30pm, with the procession ending around 12.15am as the faerie rest in the Bower. During the procession there will be different moments and performances as they reach different point of ritual such as a Fire, Air, Earth and Water Arch. At 11.45pm the Bonfire is lit that welcomes in the new season and allows May Day to dawn.
This is an incredible experience to partake in. I have always been interested in old rituals, festivals and paganism making this the perfect time to experience all these moments at last after spending years wanting to learn more. I absolutely loved every moment and would happily go back time and time again to partake in this ancient festival.
The Festival is held every year on the 30th April on Calton Hill. The event is now ticketed due to the large number of visitors wishing to partake, tickets are on sale every year from February on Tickets-Scotland, so check their website closer to the date to get early bird tickets.
You can keep updated with the Beltane Fire Society’s events via their Facebook page as they showcase all the wonderful festivals they produce every year.