Welcome to Beltane.org

Beltane 2010 by Neil Hodgins

Formed in 1988, Beltane Fire Society is a community arts performance charity that hosts the Beltane Fire Festival and Samhuinn Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.

For more information about the Society, our world-famous festivals and how you can get involved, navigate using the menu on the left. Scroll down for our latest news and updates.

Beltane Fire Society is a not-for-profit registered charity in Scotland. Charity Number SC040137. Company Number SC341753.

Photograph by Neil Hodgins, taken at Beltane Fire Festival 2010.

Samhuinn Fire Festival 2014

Samhuinn 2014 Poster

9pm, Friday 31st October 2014

Starts on High Street, then down Cockburn Street, on to the stage at the Mound Precinct.

The festival begins on High Street with the lighting of the Neid Fire, the flame which is carried through night by the screaming, cloaked Torchbearers. The Cailleach, our dark goddess, awakens like a winter storm with her wolf familiar, heralded by her priestesses, the Cailleachan. Led by the Blues, the guardians of our ritual, the procession of the seasonal elements of Cearcall Ur Nadir, the stalking terror of the Wild Hunt and the decadent energy of the Reds, winds its way down Cockburn Street, buoyed by beats of the boisterous Beasties and the pulsing rhythms of the Winter Drummers. The procession’s arrival at the stage at the Mound Precinct heralds the beginning of an epic fight for supremacy between the reigning Summer King and the harsh chill of the Prince of Winter.

As the battle rages through fire and scenery created by our Tech team, the audience is safe in the hands of our very own friendly Stewards. If you notice bursts of light flashing from dark lurking figures, don’t worry – that’s Photo Point, our team of photographers capturing the event in pictures to share with the world. BFS events are self-funded and created by volunteers. There are no tickets for Samhuinn and attendance is by donation, so please take a moment to give a contribution to our lovely Bucketeers!

See the Facebook event page for Samhuinn 2014 here
Follow us on Twitter @beltanefs and #samhuinn2014

For press and media resources, please visit this page
For non-press enquiries, please email festival[at]beltane[dot]org

Rehearsing in the rain

Last weekend we had our second full-cast on-site walkthrough rehearsal and Winter reared its head to give us a taste of the season to come. Never to be put off by the changeable Scottish weather, performers took to the streets for our final rehearsal together before the big night on Friday.

Walkthrough #2 by Gyorgy Papp

Walkthrough #2 by Mark Taylor

Walkthrough #2 by Neil Barton

After the walkthrough, we thawed out and dried off at Old St Paul’s to practice the stage performance.

Indoor stage rehearsal by James Illing

You can see lots more photos on Facebook of our walkthroughs and other rehearsals.

Photos (from top) by Gyorgy Papp, Mark Taylor, Neil Barton and James Illing.

A story of seasons, kings and deities

In the midst of the drumming, dancing, acrobatics, pyrotechnics and blazing flames of Samhuinn, a tale of a goddess and royalty unfolds as the seasons turn. Our Cailleach, Becky, would like to share the Samhuinn 2014 Court story with you…

The Cailleach, the Crone aspect of the goddess is the bringer of the dark and cold of Winter. She is the storm hag whose journey across the land and to the seas brings the winds and the ice as she washes her white plaid in the waters and covers the mountains with her destructive gift. She brings death to cleanse the land; without the silent purge of winter there is no room for new life to grow. Carrying the seed of summer’s remains, she preserves that which must live on for the Maiden to grow when the Crone’s time is over.

The Cailleach awaits the coming change, breaking from her stony form in which she lay dormant during summers reign. The earth, the mountains, the sea and sky speak to her and rouse her from her rest. The once green and lush vegetation is now tired, the soil baked and the seas swollen with life which threatens to suffocate itself. Animals grow old beyond their physical capacity and weakness creeps in- too long protected and sheltered in Brigid’s light. As the eternal Crone, the Cailleach knows this pain as she strains to reanimate from her sleep as deep and cold as the grave. Her power, her grace and her season will return in full when the time is right- for now she moves slowly through the landscape (represented by her journey through the procession), leaving subtle signs of her ever growing influence. The world will decay without her touch which brings harsh relief from the unrelenting demand and greed of summer. For many it will mean their end. Death is her gift and although veiled, her presence is felt most acutely by those ready for winter’s cull. She moves amongst the herds, watching and waiting; looking for the weakness that if not laid to rest will burden their kin in the coming dark time. Marking the afflicted with a tender caress she takes count of the harsh task ahead of her. Like a shepherd she must protect the collective and often that requires harsh choices to be made in light of winter’s coming. The weak must perish when she dances the storms across the sky and covers the land in white. Only the strong can survive Her time.

As a goddess who’s protected or totemic animal is the deer, it seems strange that she should take a great wolf as her familiar as so many stories describe. Winter is predatory, feral and visceral. The wolf, a well known predator of deer reflects this wild and frightful aspect of the goddess and Her season. He reflects the balance which Winter maintains in the culling of the weak, sick and old prey. Her control over him demonstrates the power and influence the Cailleach exerts over life and death… Her choice.

As the Cailleach moves through the Summer Court, She looks to its King- for none are exempt from her gift, not even he. She acknowledges a strength in him, the wisdom of his years and experience, yet his physical strength dwindles like the Autumn sun. His colours are fading, replaced with the golds and umbers of the change. He does not seem to have noticed his gradual transformation, basking in the delusion of an eternal summer. The memory of his days courting and dancing with the Maiden and the Mother sustain him. Surely their love and power will never leave him if he remains loyal? It is no longer their time however and their light is leaving the land. In the Cailleach’s time of darkness, a strong leader is necessary for his subjects to survive. Just as the weak of the herds are marked, the King, the stag whom they follow through the land must be too. The Cailleach wishes to test his strength to determine whether Summer’s reign is ended. A challenger is required to examine the balance of power at this liminal point in the year; a young buck to lock antlers with the King and potentially displace him, replacing the Hart of Summer with darker presence.

The ego of youth is powerful if influenced, corrupted and fuelled to a purpose. It has the power to tip the balance and the Crown. The Prince has moved through his father’s realm as he journeys to gain a wealth of experience to match that of his fathers. A process of coming of age. He has learnt more than the King’s paternal shelter could offer and far from the revelry and merriment of His court, the Prince can see much more of the changes of the seasons. The wind speaks of Her return and he feels the Cailleach’s distant footsteps grow closer with each day. The distant mountains are already white and the great grey wolf pelt covers the skies as the storms approach. She is moving through lowlands and on meeting the sea, washing her white plaid of ice… silence will fall. The Summer king was blessed with the power of fertility, bounty and the sun’s light by the Goddess. A different and ever growing power influences his son. The Winter Prince with skin touched by the encroaching frost and mind bathed in the ever growing darkness, feels another Goddess’ favour upon him. It drives him to accept the truth; his father is ill prepared for the coming winter and someone with the strength to reign over the harsh Winter kingdom must take the throne before it is too late. He moves upon his father’s court fuelled by the icy resolve of a focused young buck and the subtle influence of the Crone.

The Prince is strong but whether he can match his father in challenges of mind and spirit is yet to be seen. The Cailleach watches over the conflict and must make her choice. Who shall reign and what qualities of the defeated must She gift in bestowing sovereignty, as strength and wisdom must both survive this ordeal.

Samhuinn 2014 busk photos

Last Sunday, Samhuinn performers busked all afternoon at the Mound Precinct. Here are just a few of the photos from the day. You can see (literally hundreds!) more on Facebook.

Samhuinn 2014 busk by Bleu Hope

Samhuinn 2014 busk by Gyorgy Papp

Samhuinn 2014 busk by James Illing

Samhuinn 2014 busk by Mark Taylor

Samhuinn 2014 busk by Michelle Linnane

Samhuinn 2014 busk by Neil Barton

Photos (from top) by Bleu Hope, Gyorgy Papp, James Illing, Mark Taylor, Michelle Linnane and Neil Barton.

Samhuinn 2014 walkthrough #1 in pictures

Beltane Fire Society took to the streets last Sunday for our first full cast on-site walkthrough rehearsal on our new route. Here are just a few of the pictures taken that evening. You can see the rest (all one hundred and fifty-something of them!) on Facebook.

Walkthrough #1 by Neil Barton

Walkthrough #1 by Neil Barton

Walkthrough #1 by Mark Taylor

Walkthrough #1 by Mark Taylor

Walkthrough #1 by James Illing

Walkthrough #1 by James Illing

Walkthrough #1 by Gyorgy Papp

Walkthrough #1 by Gyorgy Papp

Photos (from top) by Neil Barton x2, Mark Taylor x2, James Illing x2 and Gyorgy Papp x2

Samhuinn 2014 busk this Saturday

Beltane 2014 Busk by Mark Taylor 02

Saturday 25th October

The Mound Precinct, Edinburgh

Want a preview of Samhuinn 2014 in our beautiful new location? Come to the Mound Precinct this Saturday afternoon and experience our drumming, acrobatics, fire spinning and dance as Beltane Fire Society performers give you a taste of the characters you’ll meet on Samhuinn night. Our friendly Bucketeers will be there too, so if our performance makes you happy we’d love it if you could make a donation to help fund our volunteer-run festivals. See you there!

You can find the Facebook event for the busk here.

Beltane 2014 Busk by Mark Taylor 01

Beltane 2014 Busk by Mark Taylor 03

Samhuinn 2013 Busk by Richard Winpenny 01

Samhuinn 2013 Busk by Richard Winpenny 02

Photos (from top) Beltane 2014 busk by Mark Taylor x3, Samhuinn 2013 busk by Richard Winpenny x2.

Some pre-Samhuinn press

If you don’t already follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you might have missed some of the press Samhuinn 2014 has been receiving. Here’s a selection of lovely articles about our up-coming festival…

The Wild Hunt don’t take prisoners

Courtesy of Gyorgy Papp of Samhuinn 2014 Photo Point

If you go down to the woods today,
You’re in for a big surprise,
If you go down to the woods today,
You’d better close your eyes.

For every soul that wanders here,
Is doomed to darkness, death and fear,
Because the Hunt is out,
And today they’re here to taaake you.

Courtesy of Mark Taylor of Samhuinn 2014 Photo Point

A group of photographers visited some nearby woods to practice taking pictures in the dark. What they experienced was not something they will soon forget.

Surrounded by darkness amongst the trees, strange noises could be heard. At first they were ignored…normal parts of the woods. Then something laughed maniacally near by; a rustling in the bushes.

Courtesy of Neil Barton of Samhuinn 2014 Photo Point 1

They looked around them only seeing the blackness of the woods and occasional glint from the stars in the sky. They took pictures with their flashes to light up the area around them. Sudden movement was seen and strange noises started all around them. Heavy breathing, soft growling, clicking and even a blood curdling scream.

You could hear their footfalls as they ran passed, so close but yet unseen. Cameras flashed everywhere trying to glimpse the creatures around them. The noises grew louder. They were surrounded. As the beings moved in for the kill a loud roar arose from the group before they and their target were gone.

Courtesy of Neil Barton of Samhuinn 2014 Photo Point 2

Some members are still missing from that night. The Wild Hunt don’t take prisoners. You are either prey or you become part of the Hunt. If you see them about, try not to stare directly at them or you may become their next target.

Courtesy of Neil Barton of Samhuinn 2014 Photo Point

Photos, from top, by Gyorgy Papp, Mark Taylor and Neil Barton x3

A glance behind the scenes of Samhuinn

When you think about preparations for a fire festival, chances are you imagine performers spending long hours rehearsing the fantastic dance, acrobatics, drumming and stage fighting that you’ll see at the event. You might think of costumes being designed and created, puppets and props being built and pyrotechnics being planned. Chances are, unless you’ve been involved in an event like this, it won’t even cross your mind that hours upon hours are spent behind the scenes negotiating with the council, ensuring that every single aspect of the event complies with detailed health and safety legislation, completing the necessary paperwork and documentation involved in running a charity and a company, booking rehearsal spaces, fielding emails at all hours of the day and night, communicating with press and media outlets both locally and further afield, handling the often huge administrative tasks involved with organising groups of volunteers and planning planning planning.

Group Organisers meeting
Volunteer Group Organisers, Court, Blues and our Event Coordinator finalising processional and stage cues at one of our weekly planning meetings. Photo by James Illing.

The community of people who dedicate hundreds of hours every year to creating the shows that you enjoy embrace this labour of love and we know that the outside world will rarely be aware of the late nights, early mornings, long days and incredible amount of work that we pour into making breathtaking public ritual celebrations happen. We do what we do because we’re passionate about it and we get to share it with each other and, of course, with you.

Lanterns made from recycled materials
Lanterns being made from recycled materials by Alan Howse, our resident creator of beautiful and interesting props. Photo by Jackie Burrell.

Elemental motion with Cearcall Ur Nadir

Photo Point attended a Cearcall Ur Nadir rehearsal to photograph the elemental characters doing their thing. To see more photos from that day, and lots of other Samhuinn 2014 group’s rehearsals and meetings, check out this album on Facebook.

Cearcall Ur Nadir by Bleu Hope

Cearcall Ur Nadir by Gyorgy Papp

Cearcall Ur Nadir by James Illing

Cearcall Ur Nadir by Mark Taylor

Cearcall Ur Nadir by Michelle Linnane

Cearcall Ur Nadir by Neil Barton

Photos (from top) by Bleu Hope, Gyorgy Papp, James Illing, Mark Taylor, Michelle Linnane and Neil Barton.