For some of our members and witnesses, Beltane is a truly spiritual experience. In our final ‘Tales from Beltane’ guest post, Susan talks about how there’s more to being in the audience than simply watching a show…
I became part of the Beltane family about 10 years ago when I moved up to Edinburgh to study. I have watched and performed many times over the years and it has always felt like being part of a large family – fun, stressful, infuriating and loving. You meet people that will stay with you for the rest of your life and become the closest of family. There are many experiences that have stayed crystal clear in my mind over the past few years, some more meaningful than others.
One of the best was Beltane 2005, when I was watching with friend who didn’t really understand what was going on. We headed up the Hill early so we could get a good spot and enjoy the atmosphere. As the sky darkened, the Neid Fire flared into being and the drums started, pushing me into the veil between the worlds. Time seemed to disappear and I remember flashes of light, paper lanterns and puppets, the screams of the White women as they passed into the underworld.
I found myself at the front of the Acropolis, staring up at the fire sculptures. A new beat had started and people appeared between the columns. As I watched their story unfold the world seemed to contract and was only made up of them and the small group of watchers visible in the torch light. Everything else on the Hill disappeared as I was wrapped up in the sound of their drums and the shadows they cast in the flickering light.
Their story was of a village that cut down all their trees and did not listen to their mother earth. Almost too late they realised what they had done. They sacrificed one of their own hanging them from the last tree as traditionally shown on tarot cards.
I felt the ground shift beneath me as I realised, without any words or explanation beforehand that I had understood everything I had just seen and it had touched me. In that moment the rest of the world came rushing back and my friend trying to move me on to the next thing as the crowd was shifting around us with the sound of the drums on the other side of the Hill and the rest of Edinburgh below us. No one else seemed to realise that things had changed, that for me the world had shifted and my outlook and connection to everything had moved.
I spent the rest of the night I a daze, unable to reconnect until I came back off the Hill and went home. I was hooked and though I had been a pagan for many years I felt that I had made a deeper connection and had to be a part of this bigger community. Since then I have had many spiritual moments during the festival, and have felt honoured to share them with some of the most important people in my life. This is why being part of BFS and Beltane will always be special to me, whether I am just watching or actively taking part.
Photo of Susan (near the middle, in profile) at Beltane by Daniel Rannoch.