It was only a week after taking part in the Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations in Cyprus that we found ourselves at something rather more primal up on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill – the annual Beltane Fire Festival. For anyone who doesn’t know Beltane is a pagan festival that marks the passing of winter, represented by the Holly King into the summer, the time of the Oak King. And it just so happens that Beltane is around the time of Easter making it dead easy for the Christian church to assimilate the pagan festival into it’s own, but that’s another story.
About 12,000 gathered on Calton hill to watch the ceremony kick off from the Scottish National Monument (designed by William Henry Playfair as a monument to Scottish soldiers who fell in the Napoleonic Wars, but never completed due to the money running out in 1829).
Accompanied by the massed processional drummers and torchbearers the May Queen’s Court assembled ready to depart and visit the elemental points around the hill before arriving at the domain of the Reds.
The spirits of misrule who attempt to disrupt the procession with lewd behavior.
The old year’s Holly King (note his walking stick which denotes his aged state) is tempted to join the Red fire dancers
as they cavort around to the hypnotic beat of the Red Beastie Drummers.
Eventually the Holly King sheds his winter garb and stick and is reborn as the Oak King bringing new fertility and light to the land after the winter, however as we were unable to get close enough to witness that part of the show here is a shot from last year.
It’s a great show and all the performers are volunteers who design and create their own costumes or lack of them!
Tickets were £6 in advance or £8 on the night.