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.

Video from Travel Stories

The lovely people from Travel Stories sent us this video from Beltane 2015 to share with all of you. For the German-speakers among you, there’s also a blog post to go along with it!

Prospective Group Organiser Pre-Application Session for Samhuinn 2015

Samhuinn 2014 by Gyorgy Papp

Prospective Group Organisers for Samhuinn 2015, including those of you who are still at the “Hmm…I might perhaps want to do this” stage of planning.

7pm – 9pm, Monday 20th July 2015

The White Horse Bar, 266 Canongate, Edinburgh, EH8 8AA

If you’re considering applying to run a performance or production group at Samhuinn 2015, you are invited to come along for an informal chat with Trustees, Blues, experienced Group Organisers and each other. This is an opportunity to ask for help with your application, run your thoughts past people who can act as sounding boards for you, find a second GO to work with or talk about the process of Group Organising (especially helpful if you’ve never done it before!). While you are welcome to share your ideas and see who is planning to apply for what, it’s also totally fine to keep your plans under wraps at this stage if you feel more comfortable doing that.

You are welcome to register your attendance on our Facebook event page.

Photo of Samhuinn 2014 by Gyorgy Papp.

Samhuinn Fire Festival is requesting that its Summer King and Winter King make themselves known

The Kings at Samhuinn 2014 by Mark Taylor

With Midsummer past, our thoughts turn to the celebration of Autumn and the festival of Samhuinn on 31st October. Beltane Fire Society is looking for the Kings of Summer and Winter to help us tell this festival’s tale: one of the turning of the seasons, and of leadership and guidance for the coming months.

Our Summer King
Bounteous provider, giver of life, nourishment and fertility, and celebrant. They remind us of hot, lazy, Summer days, ripe fruits on the trees, and endless nights of feasting and merriment. Waning since Lughnasadh…

Our Winter King
Bringer of the cold, dark nights of winter; the decisive frosts, gales and snow. Their instinct is to clear away the weak and overripe, to cleanse the land with their icy breath, and to challenge. The waxing power…

How do you see these characters, these rulers of nature, leaders of the seasons, and brothers-in-conflict? Which would you like to be? How will you fend off, or welcome in, the Winter?

We are looking for a coordinated story-line between Summer and Winter and would therefore encourage prospective Kings to apply in pairs, but we are also happy to meet individuals who are willing to work with others.

How to apply
The deadline is 7pm on Sunday 9th August 2015.
Interviews will be held the following week.
Please send your applications, notes of interest or questions about these roles to blues[at]beltane[dot]org

Photo of the Kings at Samhuinn 2014 by Mark Taylor.

Selection of the Cailleach

The Cailleach at Samhuinn 2014 by Mark Taylor

The process for selecting the Cailleach differs from that of the Kings. The Kings are big presence, with the character often built on ego, their first step in their journey is self-nomination.

The Cailleach on the other hand, is not a role born of such ego, as such. She is instead chosen from amongst the Society. Essentially, everyone is a possible candidate. A group consisting of the Blues and other experienced volunteers, including Trustees, is formed. A brainstormed list is created, without judgement, from what these people have been observing and hearing. As this happens, feelers are put out, names are put forward by other people and enquiries are made. This list is then discussed in detail until 2 or 3 names remain. The Blues then use this shortlist for further discussion. Their preferred candidate is put forward to the Board for approval.

Ultimately, the reason She is chosen is many-fold, but the primary one is the same reason the Kings are asked to come forward, that is: it is part of the nature of the role.

Photo of the Cailleach at Samhuinn 2014 by Mark Taylor.

Angus Farquhar: For luck and reconnection

Photo of Angus Farquhar at a Beltane 2015 walkthrough by Neil Barton

At the end of one of the full cast walkthrough rehearsals for Beltane 2015 on Calton Hill, the gathered crowd of volunteers were lucky enough to share an experience that helped us to feel more deeply connected, not only with each other but with the history of our event and our community, and the people who started it all. Angus Farquhar, Beltane founder and member of pioneering industrial musical collective Test Dept, spoke to us about how it all began and shared an excerpt from his diary from 30th April 1988 – the first Beltane Fire Festival on Calton Hill.

As he explains in Total State Machine: A Definitive Test Dept History (available in hardback and paperback, published by PC Press, reviewed on Bella Caledonia, text republished here with permission, all rights reserved)…

Yes, starting Beltane was a new chapter for me and the band. After some years of fighting political battles during the Miners Strike and then onto battling with Murdoch at his Wapping Fortress, I was looking for something beyond that black/white narrative and researching Beltane released some deeply held beliefs about the need for public ritual and not losing touch with our surroundings even it a city setting. The beauty of Edinburgh is that you never lost a sense of topography and place in the wider natural landscape. I’m immensely proud of the continued flourishing of Beltane, it has always been bigger than any individual who takes part, we found on some small level, our common humanity and work together to release something intangibly beyond our separate lives.

Angus’ diary: Beltane, 30 April 1988
Steaming on the train North, whisky and beer, straight off at Waverley and into the arms of Hamish Henderson in the Station bar, we are both happy but a touch the worse for wear. A stumbling reconnaissance of Calton Hill follows, with me blowing a big animal horn to get a feel for things. A £500 budget already gone, the next two days are spent in a riot of organisation with co-conspirators Kevin Anderson and Gus Ferguson. Everything has to be begged for as in-kind or sponsorship. I visit the School of Scottish Studies, Hamish plays some great archive material: Summer comes wi’ warm shooers. I meet Bob Burtram singing ‘when I was a lad in auld reekie toon’, and invite him up to the first Beltane, his reply: ‘I’ll be beltin’ up the hill and beltin’ back the whisky!’ A pinned up notice in Hamish’s office: Great things are done when men and mountains meet. Things are not done when jostling in the street.

It is his support that led to us doing the re-initiation on Calton Hill, righting the wrongs of centuries of bad associations as so-called witches had been hung there. It is the proper place to bring back the fire, as it is the people’s hill and is not sullied by its relationship to royalty such as the original site on Arthur’s seat, now controlled by the Crown commission. I push him to write a piece on the history for us, his last words: ‘Angus you’re like a terrier.’ I am in manic pitch – 30-40 musicians contacted by phone. We find out that the wood to be provided by the council amounts to one white vinyl three-piece sofa, now on the hill, and providing a perfect respite for wandering tourists and jakeys.

We seek wood from the forestry commission and a lead makes a consignment of logs from Braemar sound possible, till they realise who we are and what it’s for. They are a government quango and pull out, perhaps mindful of fantasy headlines like ‘Thatcher sponsors pagan fire festival!’ I ring Dalmeny estate, remembering childhood fireworks nights staged on the Forth shore by Lord Roseberry – a slightly eccentric pyromaniac. He acquiesces immediately, offering five tons of firewood, a truck and driver.

Everyone arrived from London, Test Dept, sundry members of the London Samba Band and Liz Ranken, our brilliant dancer and white witch, who I had first worked with in Goldsmiths days on my degree production A Litany to Satan. Over 6 feet of unstoppable energy with waist-length flaming red hair – who better to be the first May Queen! On the final Saturday we woke early and worked intensely through the day. Help from many different people, a council sawmill was specially opened to pick up more logs.

We practised endless drum patterns in the pouring rain, sheltered at times by the imposing columns of the Acropolis. As the day wore on the weather worsened, at 6pm there was talk of abandonment, but a fighting spirit shone through and I said ‘Fuck it, we’ll do it in a snowstorm with three Lithuanian dwarves if we have to!’

I had asked Lindsay John, a brilliant contemporary Butoh dancer, to be a completely red devilish scapegoat figure, but he had been ill recently and couldn’t comply. Instead in one day he made Liz the most beautiful Queen’s costume with a high headdress fanning out in a criss-crossing pattern, each cross decorated with a daffodil. The dress resplendent with greenery, half inched from the hill and Princes Street gardens.

At 11.30pm we made manic final arrangements for torchbearers and to get the drummers into a rough processional order. As a force 6 gale blew in off the Forth, the May Queen was rung with hand bells up onto the steps of the Acropolis, the column bulks dark against the sky. Torches were lit and held aloft between each pillar, the wind carrying sparks of fire over the heads of the crowd below. A big slow regimented rhythm commenced and we walked off deiseil (southward) around the hill.

Liz, now completely transported into the spirit of the May Queen, turned slowly, her eyes unfocused, with extended hands on short poles. (The hand placed upright is a medieval symbol for the start of an anarchic local festival.) Test Dept piper Alistair led with a slow air. Reaching the fire, we walked around it three times blowing animal horns and conch shells. I remember laughing more than playing at this point, at the absurdity of it all in the driving rain, at the madness of what we were doing. Then we tried to light the fire, which of course, now damp all the way through, took ages. A skinhead boy leapt out from the crowd and like a teenage arsonist coaxed the smoke into flames, which at first grudgingly and then excitedly leapt into action. The fire raged high, the lights of Edinburgh blanketed all around, I jumped up on the trig point and then shouted the first Beltane toast:

‘On this great Beltane night
Raise your glasses high and toast
To the fire our lively friend
And the earth beneath our host!’

Faster pipe tunes commenced, led by Martyn Bennet, the rain continued to pour down, you could toast one side of yourself from the heat of the fire while the other got soaking wet and then turn round to repeat on the other side. Angus McNicoll read a Beltane poem from innumerable scraps of paper. A bottle of Grouse was cracked open. Test Dept played a storming set on a small stage – ‘Nadka’, ‘The Bugler’ and ‘Siege’ – with howled shouts punctuating thundering rhythms, thrown out to the skies, then screamed back to us by the jigging audience. Hamish sang ‘Freedom Call All Ye’ and the ‘Padstowe May song’ from Cornwall. Margaret Bennet sang two beautiful gaelic songs, holding people’s attention as the elements raged all around them.

Then, in the small hours, a canopy of wild and drunken oblivion. Snatched memories of wild drumming coalescing and then falling apart. The May Queen propositioned again and again for marriage. Arguing with the police, ‘If you try and stop this you’ll have a fight on your hands’…, with me being the only one left drumming! A friend stops me falling into the fire at least twice throughout the night.

Finally the Queen and myself handed out quartered Beltane bannocks from a bag to the last of the crowd on the hill, with the exhortation to break off the point of the biscuit, throw it over your shoulder into the fire and wish yourself luck for the coming year. Liz is holding me up and we walk in circles offering the same 20 people bannocks over and over again, me falling over again and again saying ‘Isn’t life beautiful’ Gray and Teresa carry me off the hill, I exhort Gray to go back up, he says there are only five people there, but I say again ‘You’ve got to look after them, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’

Something magical did happen on that hill, restarting a great fertility festival in modern times, for luck and reconnection if not fruitfulness of food and crops. We put plenty of sparks out into the ether, a simple honest celebration. Braving the elements and even shaking a bit of Edinburgh out of its bourgeois comfort.

Photo of Angus at a Beltane 2015 walkthrough, by Neil Barton.

Group Organisers wanted for Samhuinn Fire Festival!

Photo of the Beastie Drummers at Samhuinn 2014 by Gyorgy Papp

The harvests are about to begin, marking the start of the descent to Winter. The call of the Cailleach is growing louder, and the chill of winter is an ever present threat, even on the warmest summer days. Samhuinn is a time of conflict and strife – of the battle between Summer, as it revels in its last passionate throes, and Winter, as it vies for control with the harsh, cold finality of its ice and snows.

Midsummer may have barely past but preparations for Samhuinn are beginning. Beltane Fire Society is looking for driven Group Organisers to help bring together a vision of Summer’s waning or Winter’s waxing…depending on your perspective! We want to know your plans for a group – it could be the return of an old character or aspect of our story, something completely new, or a re-imagining of the old into the new.

We’re looking for those of you that can commit time, effort and ideas to shaping this year’s festival – to bring your plans for this event to the table, and help lead and guide others in celebrating this festival. Your role will involve organising volunteers, developing your story and key moments with the rest of the Society, making props and costumes, choreography, music or rhythms, and giving a body and voice to our event. In return, we can offer you an amazing journey, learning new skills, meeting new people, and making a difference to others by helping them on their journey to celebrate the start of winter.

The application form is at the bottom of this entry, along with some guidelines on filling it in, and an example. But don’t let the paperwork put you off – the questions are straightforward, and there are no tricks – we just want to know as much about you and your plans so that we can get a feel for how the festival will fit together this year. You don’t have to have been an organiser for a BFS event before to apply, but we do want to know you’ve thought out your plans!

The deadline for applications is 10pm on Sunday 2nd August 2015
Applications should be sent to festival[at]beltane[dot]org

We will be having an informal gathering in the coming weeks for anyone who is interested in organising and wants to ask questions, try out their ideas or needs help applying. The Blues, past Group Organisers and Board Members will be there to help you along. Details to follow soon.

We look forward to seeing your applications!
The Board

The application form is slightly different this year, so please ensure that you download and submit the new one rather than recycling last year’s!

Photo of the Beastie Drummers at Samhuinn 2014 by Gyorgy Papp

Planning Session for BFS at the Jazz & Blues Fest Carnival

Photo of BFS performers at the Jazz and Blues Festival Carnival 2014 by Winpenny Media

7pm on Monday 29th June 2015

The Safari Lounge
21 Cadzow Place, Edinburgh, EH7 5SN

Existing BFS members who are available to perform, banner-carry or otherwise take part or assist at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival Carnival this year on Sunday 19th July.

A planning session to organise who is doing what, when, where and how. Input about your involvement is important to make sure everything runs smoothly and looks awesome on the day! If you’re taking part as a group, please ensure that at least some of you are at the planning session. If you’re in “I can do something but I’m not sure what” mode, please come along as well and we’ll find a place for you.

Please note…
This is NOT the Samhuinn open meeting, a social gathering or an opportunity to join the Society if you have never taken part in an event with us before. It’s a planning session for existing members, relating to a specific event.

Please take a moment to register your attendance on the Facebook event page for the planning session so we have an idea of who, and how many of you, to expect. Thanks!

Photo of BFS performers at the Jazz & Blues Festival Carnival 2014 by Winpenny Media.

Drumming with Pride!

Photograph of the Beastie Drummers at Pride Edinburgh 2015

Photograph of the Beastie Drummers at Pride Edinburgh 2015

Photograph of the Processional Drummers at Pride Edinburgh 2015

If you were in Edinburgh city centre yesterday, it would’ve been difficult to miss the glorious explosion of rainbow and awesome that was Pride Edinburgh 2015! It’s likely that you’ll have run into some BFS members who were volunteering as stewards or perhaps recognised some other familiar faces in the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

Chances are you’ll also have heard, or felt vibrating through the ground, the epic rhythms of our Beastie Drummers (top two photos) and Processional Drummers (bottom photo), bringing their musical majesty to the parade and beyond as part of our city’s fabulous celebration of every shade of the LGBT+ spectrum!

Big thanks to BFS Trustee, Lila, for taking these lovely pictures to share :)

Invitation to submit poster and flyer artwork for Samhuinn 2015

Samhnuinn 2014 Procession by Gyorgy Papp

With preparations for the Samhuinn Fire Festival 2015 beginning (already!), it’s time to invite you to submit your beautiful artwork for consideration for the Samhuinn 2015 promotional material. The chosen submission will be on posters and flyers all over Edinburgh and will also be used in our online promotion and press advertising in the run-up to the festival. Anyone is welcome to enter, so if you have arty friends please feel free to pass this on to them!

Photo of Samhuinn 2014 by Gyorgy Papp.


Samhuinn is a time of the changing of the seasons, of the battle between summer and winter and of the Celtic new year – a time when the veil draws thin and the spirits draw closer to us.

Our Samhuinn festival has its roots in medieval street theatre, the traditions of all Hallow’s Eve. The Summer and Winter courts battle for control of the seasons, overseen by the Cailleach, whose grief and sorrow at the death of Summer brings forth the darkness and storms of Winter. It is a time for celebration, Summer’s last gasp of opulent decadence, but also a time of icy bleakness – the finality of Winter’s arrival and the hard months ahead.

Our event is a community celebration of this changing of the seasons – and our poster should appeal to the wider community in Edinburgh and beyond. It should reflect the story and characters highlighted above to appeal to draw in those who know the Samhuinn story, but also attract those who are newcomers to our festivals.


– You MUST submit one design for the poster (A2 size) AND both a front and back side for the flyer (A6 size), at the same time and using the same artwork and colour scheme to keep a uniform look.

– The size for A6 flyers is 105mm x 148mm

– The size for A2 posters is 594mm x 420mm

– Remember to leave any text or important visual elements at least a couple of mm from the edges for printing.

– You should save your full-resolution files at 300dpi.

– Please ensure that all files are in CMYK colour format, NOT RGB!

– Make sure that you save a copy of your work WITH LAYERS, preferably in .psd format, for easier editing.

– Alternatively, if creating a completely digital illustrated image, saving the file as a vector graphic is helpful as it will scale better and be easier to work with if changes are needed before sending to print.

Please download THIS ZIP FILE for all the text and other elements that must be included in designs. Minor changes to text will be required before going to print (for example, location info), but it is absolutely essential that all text etc is in place when submitting your design. When you click the link to the zip file, it may appear that you have to sign in to DropBox or have a DropBox account to download it – you don’t.

– Everything in your submission (apart from the downloadable elements provided) absolutely must be your own work or created with elements that you have permission to use. If you use any stock imagery, free or purchased, you must be able to provide evidence of legitimate sources if asked. Please check the relevant licensing for any fonts that you use and be able to provide this information if asked.

– We will accept submissions from pairs of artists/designers. For example, if you’re an amazing illustrator and you have a friend who is great at layouts, feel free to work together and submit under both your names.

– Don’t forget to sign your artwork! We appreciate that you’re offering your creations on a voluntary basis, so we’d like you to have your signature(s) on there somewhere.


Your submission should include THREE separate files: A2 poster, A6 flyer front and A6 flyer back.

– When sending your designs for consideration, please make them 1000px on the longest side and send in jpeg format. You do not need to send larger versions or files with layers at this stage. In fact, absolutely DO NOT submit larger versions or files with layers at this stage. Really. Thanks.

– You can submit more than one entry if you like, but please submit each only once! There is no need to send a draft or sketch first, and there’s no advantage to submitting early. If it takes you right up until the deadline to complete your work, then please take that time. All submissions will be posted for voting at the same time in August.

– We will only accept FINISHED DESIGNS. This means that all the text and additional elements absolutely must be included. Please do not send image-only submissions.

– EMAIL your submission to festival[at]beltane[dot]org



The winning design set will be chosen by public online vote in August 2015, with voting by email and on Facebook via Likes on individual posts made on the BFS Facebook page. Just as anyone from anywhere in the world can enter, anyone from anywhere in the world can vote. Tagging people in the comments of the Facebook posts to try and garner votes is absolutely not permitted and may lead to disqualification. Any comments with tags contained will be deleted immediately.

Here are some of our past Samhuinn posters to help kick your muse into gear!

Samhuinn 2014 Poster

Samhuinn 2013 Poster by Phil Obermarck

Samhuinn 2012 Poster

Samhuinn 2011 Poster

Samhuinn 2008 Poster

Samhuinn 2006 Poster

Samhuinn 2007 Poster

Samhuinn 2005 Poster

Samhuinn 2004 Poster

BFS preparing for Pride Edinburgh 2015!

Pride 2015

BFS is a diverse Society, open and welcoming to all. We’re very excited about Pride Edinburgh 2015, not only because it’s an opportunity to support our LGBTQIA+ members and wider community, but because Beltaners will be involved in performance and support roles again this year!

If you’ll be in Edinburgh with some free time on Saturday 20th June and would like to volunteer to help out at Pride, volunteer organiser and Beltaner, Tiger, would love to hear from you. Check out the Pride Edinburgh 2015 Volunteers Facebook group for more information and to get involved.

See you there!