Beltane Fire Festival – Edinburgh

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).

Fire Festival kicks off at the Scottish National Monument

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.

Red Fire Dancer

The spirits of misrule who attempt to disrupt the procession with lewd behavior.

Red Fire Dancers

Some lovely lewd behaviour

The old year’s Holly King (note his walking stick which denotes his aged state) is tempted to join the Red fire dancers

The May Queen and the Holly King arrive

as they cavort around to the hypnotic beat of the Red Beastie Drummers.

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.

The Green Man is reborn

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.

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One thought on “Beltane Fire Festival – Edinburgh

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