Samhuinn Through the Years: Fenland’s Story

First taking part in Samhuinn as an accidental Steward 11 years ago, Fenland has been an entirely intentional member of BFS ever since. Here, he tells his story…

Fenland in White Hunt Samhuinn 2010 by Graham Butler
Fenland in the Wild Hunt at Samhuinn 2010, photo by Graham Butler

After stepping in to a gap at the back of the procession 11 years ago to help an actual steward (who was my friend and re-enactment medieval sword teacher at the time) helping guard the rear of the Procession, I’ve been stepping to help and take part in the BFS ever since and not once regretted it. My background has been a mixture of both front of house and behind the scenes; A mixture of initially being a Steward, then being co-GO of Stewards three times, then moving on to be part of the different Hunts – Wild, and then the original White Hunt – for Samhuinn.

Then I went behind the scenes to be part of the Tech crew for a couple of years, before getting the urge to jumping back out into the front; helping to make the wonderful amazing creations that have sprang from Becky Salter’s crazy inventive mind:

• Samhuinn 2013 – Winter Riders – 4 individual puppets built around 4 different people, each one on power stilts
• Beltane 2014 – Guardians of the Veil – The 40 foot Actual Fire Breathing Dragon Point, known in the group as simply The Guv’nor
• Samhuinn 2014 – Háta, The Calliaech’s Familiar – The (2 person) Giant Wolf Puppet.

As well these things, helping in my own way with others to help the Society as a whole connect more with the Witnesses at each event, through direct interactions with Beltane’s The Tellers of Bel’s Fire storytelling group (2013), and The Random Points of Kindness (2015).

Over the years, Samhuinn Fire Festival and this time of year, have come to mean many things for me. At the very beginning, of a quick and less intensive way of getting a real chance to see up close a myriad of strange fantastical costumes, almost otherworldly performers and a sense of being a part of performance but just slightly and safely removed. Since then with an increasing involvement, it is now about belonging to a strong, rich, diverse culture and closely linked family, which keeps bringing to new life and giving new interpretation the different stories of the European mythology and lore with different and strong spirituality. Samhuinn has also come to mean, with loss of several my own personal family members in recent years, a time of reflection and remembrance of all that they were and meant to not just myself, but to those who knew them as well.

Fenland in Winter Riders Samhuinn 2013 by Mark Taylor
Fenland in the Winter Riders at Samhuinn 2013, photo by Mark Taylor

My memory of my first (official) Samhuinn is a complete blur of fragments. The weird and slow gather of people up on the Castle Esplanade. Seeing and feeling the heightened anticipation of everyone. The gathering of the diverse and very odd looking groups separately (many of whom I hadn’t ever seen before). An introduction to concept of the Beltane Circular Circle (neverly knowing circular when the groups gathering around). Then the almost frantic rush of each group gathering into processional order close to start and finally hearing that first powerful beat of the Processional Drums from down at the front. The shiver that ran through the procession as people stopped being individuals to being part of something unique given actual life with a strong sense of rhythm and energy. The realisation that, after everything during the months of preparation, this was IT! After that things become a blur, as we processed down the Royal Mile, and then it being over so soon.

Samhuinn has certainly grown and developed over the years, but each time it is fresh and new, but with a degree of unspoken continuity go back to something rich and strong that once was. Each time, Samhuinn Fire Festival seems to be exploring different avenues, stretching in varying different directions with stories and lore, seeing new interpretations as well unique performances by individuals and groups. Certainly the size and scope of public interest has grown through the efforts of people, the idea that it is possible to put on, in different ways of expression, through an almost entirely voluntary organisation.

Watching the focus of the groups building up to the climax of the event is always something. Seeing how the procession interacts with the public, will be, as ever, interesting and fun.

Fenland in Winter Riders Samhuinn 2013 by Richard Winpenny
Fenland in the Winter Riders in Samhuinn 2013, photo by Richard Winpenny

In the 10 years that I have actually been a member of BFS, I have through curiosity, interest and interaction with so many different people, taken part and helped in a number of amazing events and adventures. I would never have done this if it hadn’t been for a simple invitation to come and watch 11 years ago.

Simply watching Samhuinn is an amazing breath taking experience. Taking part to whatever degree you personally want to, and being open to trying something slightly different, is something else far more rewarding and experiential, something that continues to sustain you for years afterwards.

The knowledge that with stitching, or glue, tissue paper or fabric, with wire or willow withies, you can create amazing creations, working with a group made of people from all different walks of life, put on a performance that is truly and utterly unique? It’s PRICELESS! It gives you the absolute knowledge and certainty of Yes, you can. You can go on and do better, you can do something that is extraordinary, because you already have! You have taken part in one of the most exceptional distinctive performances there is, on your own, but together with others, in front of several thousand people in the middle of Edinburgh.

The bonds it has helps forge, that I have with the people within Beltane Fire Society as a whole, are some of the strongest, richest and most precious I have ever had, and I am both honoured and privileged to know and count so many as good and close friends. For those who have never taken part or seen Samhuinn, I would say this: Do come and see it. Come and enjoy this spectacle in the heart of the one of oldest Scottish Cities (we most certainly do!). And go knowing that you have, in your own individual way, taken part in something rich and amazing, that you will never see the likes of which again.

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