“As darkness falls and the fire torches are lit, our drums will thunder and the May Queen will awaken.”
From the description of Beltane Fire Festival 2018
Come with me to the ancient times, to celebrate the festive of light and fire, nature and life!
We’ll go along with the May Queen, to meet all the strangest creatures from myths and legends. We’ll see the Green Man being reborn and then we’ll dance around Beltane bonfire, joyfully celebrating the coming of Summer!
Few words about Beltane
For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, Beltane is one of four Celtic/Gaelic seasonal festivals (the others are: Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh). Historically, it was widely celebrted in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Held in the night between 30 April and 1 May, it marked the beginning of summer.
The word ‘Beltane’ originates from the Celtic God ‘Bel’, meaning ‘the bright one’ and the Gaelic word ‘teine’ meaning fire. Together they make ‘Bright Fire’, or ‘Goodly Fire’ and traditionally bonfires were lit to honour the Sun and encourage the support of Bel and the Sun’s light to nurture the emerging future harvest and protect the community.
More on The Goddess & The Green Man
During that time poeple gathered to light special bonfires and take part in Beltane feasts. Flames, smoke and ashes of bonfires were believed to have protective powers. Another tradition was to decorate houses, byres and cattle with yellow May flowers. Quoting Wikipedia:
Beltane marked the beginning of the pastoral summer season, when livestock were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were held at that time to protect them from harm, both natural and supernatural, and this mainly involved the symbolic use of fire. There were also rituals to protect crops, dairy products and people, and to encourage growth. The aos sí (often referred to as spirits or fairies) were thought to be especially active at Beltane (as at Samhain) and the goal of many Beltane rituals was to appease them. Beltane was a spring time festival of optimism, during which fertility ritual was important, perhaps connecting with the waxing power of the sun.
More on Wikipedia
Bonfire at the end of Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh.
Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh
First Beltane event in Edinburgh took place in 1988 and was organised by a small group of people with academic support from the University of Edinburgh. Now Beltane Fire Society involves over 300 voluntary members, who recreate ancient Celtic traditions in a modern way. It’s more like a theatrical performance, with references to some traditions of original Beltane. It takes place on Calton Hill (one of the most distinctive spots in Edinburgh) and centres on the procession of the beautiful May Queen, who leads her court around the hill and through a great arch of fire, into the underworld. Encountering strange creatures and the elements, she turns the wheel towards summer. Her companion, the Green Man, is stripped of his Winter guise, killed and reborn. And then, after the Greenwood Marriage at the end of the journey, they light the traditional Beltane bonfire.
The May Queen leads the procession at Calton Hill. Picture taken by my friend.
The May Queen and The Green Man light the Beltane bonfire. Picture taken by my friend.
What is the Beltane Fire Festival for me?
I am fascinated by Celtic mythology and celebrations for many years and Beltane is my favourite of them (along with Samhain, but more about it another time). I love its connection with nature and my beloved season, as well as beautiful symbolic meanings. I’m not a Wiccan nor a neopagan, but I feel connected with Celtic traditions somehow. Last year I attended Beltane Fire Festival for the first time and was absolutely enchanted by it. Despite a huge amount of tourists, it’s a beautiful symbolic event, full of astonishing performances and amazing costumes. I know it’s not as deep as it could be, but I still can feel a bit out of reality thanks to it, even if just for a while 🙂 This year I dressed up for Beltane for the first time and it helped me feel connected with the celebration even more!
You’ll find some photos from Beltane 2018 below. Unfortunately, my camera is not good enough for taking photos at night (besides, I preferred enjoying the festive rather than walking around and taking pictures). Therefore, all photos below are from the Facebook page of Beltane Fire Society – if you’re interested in seeing more, you can find them here or here.
Hope you enjoyed that little trip to the Celtic world! Let me know, what do you think about Beltane Festival 🙂