Oh, do not tell the priest our plight, Or he would call it a sin; But--we have been out in the woods all night, A-conjuring Summer in! And we bring you good news by word of mouth -- Good news for cattle and corn -- Now is the Sun come up from the south, With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn! - From A Tree Song by Rudyard Kipling
I travelled to Edinburgh on May’s Eve with two fellow witches to celebrate Beltane at the Beltane Fire Festival on Calton Hill. I was last there in 2009, and I couldn’t wait to be there again.
The Beltane Fire Festival of today is inspired by the ancient Gaelic festival marking the start of summer. The festival has been running since 1988 and now thousands of people attend it each year. The Beltane Fire Society also run a Samhuinn Fire Festival and I plan to attend that one later in the year.
Before the festival we stopped off at a nice little gothic pub called Jekyll & Hyde for dinner and drinks.
It was raining heavily outside, not the ideal weather for an outdoor festival lasting over 3 hours. So we put our witchy minds together and using a simple pub table candle and our intent we spent a few moments focusing on dry weather. The bar maid was standing nearby and must have noticed what we were doing, but she didn’t bat an eyelid. Well, she was wearing a t-shirt that said “Book of Spells” on it, so who knows? We got the giggles afterwards and joked about being the power of three, and both me and J joked how the bar maid could be our fourth. Yeah, I think we can quote The Craft word for word 😉
We walked a little tipsily to the Beltane Fires, and lo and behold the rain had stopped. As we queued to get in I could feel the excitement building up in me. All sorts of people were here, old and young, of all races and genders and walks of life. We followed a line of petrol fueled flames and animal masks onto the hill.
We walked to the acropolis which was already surrounded by hundreds of people, so there was no way of getting close to the front. However we managed to position ourselves so we could at least see some of what was going on. The hunting horn sounded, and the neid fire was lit, then came the beat of the drums and I felt the hairs on my arms stand up and the feeling of joy and excitement wash over me.
The May Queen’s procession had begun followed by dozens of blazing torches and we all scrambled to see her, and follow her procession line. The three of us linked arms so as to not lose each other in the crowd. We followed the torches and the drumbeats to a fiery archway guarded by a huge fearsome red dragon, who gave way to the May Queen. The lusty red spirits represent the embodiment of desire and they performed as the rest of the procession moved on ahead.
We watched some of the dancers perform, some using fire poi and lots of drumming. Some of the dancers represented elementals and others resembled animalistic earth spirits. The May Queen had her white painted shieldmaidens to protect her on her procession. The red spirits seemed to be everywhere, performing, dancing, playing with the fire, building up the desires of the crowd. The story line goes that the Green Man is kidnapped by the reds before he can be wed to the May Queen.
We caught up with the procession as the white shieldmaidens free the Green Man. But he must die first as he sheds the last of his winter self. The May Queen revives him, with the heart’s beat of the drums and the warmth of the flames, one, twice, third time is the charm. He springs up as his youthful self. He dances and rejoices with his new found vitality, and then he see’s her once more. His saviour. Then they dance together and she crowns him. They are reunited with a kiss.
They both lead the procession to the lighting of the Beltane Bonfire to herald in the summer.
We decided to leave after that as we were frozen and the rain had come back on again. It was such a perfect night, and I can still feel the beat of the drums. My photos aren’t so great but here is a link to the photos taken by the Beltane Fire Society.
I hope you all had a lovely Beltane,
Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh!