Dear community, ye creatives, visionaries, revellers and mischief makers! It’s getting close to that time again when we start to collaboratively form the basis of our Beltane Fire Festival. To begin this process, we would like to invite Group Organiser applications.
We are looking once more for a band of intrepid volunteer Group Organisers to help tell our story of Beltane. As a GO, 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 experience, learning new skills, meeting new people, and making a difference to others by helping them on their journey to celebrate the start of Summer.
To help guide and shape your ideas, this post will present an outline of the processional narrative of our ritual celebration, a story told in one form or another by hundreds of volunteers over the years since we began in 1988, along with suggestions for some performance groups that we’d love to see making an appearance and production groups that are also vital to existence of our festival. The groups mentioned below are ones which have been part of the event before, but there is always scope for fresh interpretations of those groups, as well as completely new and different concepts. Bring your creativity and your unique vision to help us build something incredible together!
Please read through the following information carefully, then download the application form, example form and guidance information linked at the end of this post.
The deadline for Group Organiser applications is 10pm on Thursday 21st January 2016.
There will be a pre-application meeting for prospective GOs from 7pm-10pm on Tuesday 12th January 2016 at the White Horse Bar (266 Cannongate, Edinburgh, EH8 8AA). This will be a working meeting with structured discussion. If you would like to come and hang out socially, please feel free to come along afterwards, but we ask that only prospective Group Organisers attend the meeting itself. You can find more information in this post and are welcome to register your attendance on the Facebook event page. If you’re thinking of applying to run a group but you can’t make it along to the meeting, please get in touch with the Blues at blues[at]beltane[dot]org and the Board of Trustees via festival[at]beltane[dot]org to share your ideas as they’d really like to hear from you before applications start arriving.
Our processional narrative…
At its core, this sequence of events sees the May Queen rise from the Earth and reveal Herself in Her maiden aspect. She is accompanied by Her former consort, the Winter King (or Horned God), who has become old and decrepit before his journey toward rebirth as the Green Man. The May Queen must make a choice to travel through the Fire Arch, the door between the worlds, and catalyse the turn of the wheel; a process which necessitates the sacrifice of the old God, in order for Him to be reborn anew.
Along the way the May Queen passes through the elemental points, awakening each one as She goes and gathering their energies. She is accompanied on this journey by the Whites, who represent an extension of Her maidenhood and an outward expression of Her new fertility and strong maternal nature.
The procession encounters many characters which have been seen in different manifestations over the years. One of these groups has been the Reds who are extensions of the Green Man and offer a contrasting energy to the Whites.
During this elemental journey, the Reds are birthed and, as they explore their new bodies and the world they find themselves in, their energy grows in strength. Upon the awakening of the Fire element, the passion and vigour within the Reds overcomes them; attracted to the Divine light of the May Queen and the beauty of the Whites, they launch themselves at the procession. The chaotic flow of their charge threatens the momentum of the processional ritual and so their advance is fought back and they are repelled, running off into the night to regather their energies. The Reds make one more stunning display to entrance the witnesses and pique the interest of the Whites. But still, they are repelled and they recoil once more into the night.
Thus, the procession moves into the centrepiece of our ritual: the sacrifice and rebirth of the Nature Godhead, the masculine aspect of the Divine, our Green Man. The May Queen, having gathered the many elemental forces around the Hill, spins them into a vortex, making right the conditions for the Green Man’s return. Witnessed by both our own community and the wider community of witnesses, this powerful death and rebirth sequence binds us together in our hope and desire for renewal. He presents himself to his Queen – if He is worthy, She will accept Him as Her new consort.
The first responsibility for the newly joined God and Goddess is to complete the journey of the Neid Fire and light the hearth of the Hill, our bonfire. This has been seen to symbolise the marrying of the community. They then lead their court to the Bower as the Reds continue their revelry around the fire. At the Bower the ritual comes to a close, but not before the Reds and Whites have concluded their seduction, both accepting one another as their King and Queen have done. The only thing left to do from here is to dance and revel in the joy of the newborn Summer as we invite our witnesses to dance with us.
In previous festivals, the following groups have played a role in the processional narrative, the journey of the May Queen and Green Man, and the traditions our Society has created together…
Sparking with unbound chaotic energy needed to unleash towards the procession, witnesses and Hill, this is a high commitment group and core to the processional narrative.
The Reds are the ‘Lords and Ladies of Misrule’. Having been newly birthed into the world, they are awed by what they have been awakened to; every little detail is a thing to be explored, tested, tasted, clambered on, or similarly conquered. These innocently mischievous newborn beings know no boundaries and so they are free to whirl and dance and express themselves in whatever fashion pleases them.
They have so much power but no idea of what to do with it, and are enveloped in the myriad of earthly delights and sensations that they have discovered. In seeing the Whites for the first time, they experience a maddening and heady mix of desire and confusion. They know not what these delectable creatures are, and sense great strength and power in them, driven wild with a passionate need to be with them. Their sexual awakening has begun…
The Whites are extensions of the May Queen and embody inner strength, serenity and focus. Another high commitment group, core to the processional narrative, they express as creative and intuitive spirits. Unlike the Reds, they are aware of their purpose and fulfil their obligations towards the Court before responding to the insistent whispers of their own desires.
The Whites know that their energy is equally as fierce as that of the Reds, but they bestow it towards powerfully protecting and shielding the ritual from the unbound chaos of the Reds. Once the May Queen and Her consort present their courtship at the bonfire, the Whites freely and gladly choose to dance with the Reds thus extending the union of the God and Goddess to the community.
As the May Queen wends Her way around the Hill, She must renew and be rejuvenated by the elemental forces, weaving each one into the alchemy of Her purpose.
We would like to invite 4 separate groups to embody each elemental point of Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Each group is encouraged to create a performance around an elemental offering to the procession as well as a second performance for the witnesses. Alternatively, this second performance may involve a joining of forces with other elemental groups to create a bigger piece of all four elements. We call on groups to take the elements to ritual, explore them, express them as BIG as you can, use the Hill in new and exciting ways, and let your imaginations run away with you!
Our procession is nothing without the pounding beats of our drum crews, Beasties and Processionals alike. Be it the carnal chaotic Red heartbeat or the insistent and unstoppable beat of nature, or be it another drum group adding to the spirit of the night. You know how it is – come forth and make us move!
Our Torchbearers have always been an integral part of our ritual adding ceremony and protection as well as the creation of the sacred fire. They start the Neid Fire that sparks all other flame on the Hill and they create a liminal boundary between the outside world and those within the procession. Please come forth if you wish to embody this character…and carry fire on a stick!
The home of our Hill, our community and the May Queen, the Bower is the sacred space where the final ritual between Red and White is played out, a place of nourishment, safety, rest and joy. We’re calling for your vision to create our Sacred Hearth on the Hill through creation of a magical space and facilitation of the final aspect of our ritual and a warm welcome to all.
Each year, Beltane is renewed and refreshed by performance groups which fill the rest of the Hill with excitement and beauty, forming an important part of the festival experience and bringing entertainment and interaction to witnesses outside of the procession…
In the past, we’ve seen all manner of wonderful beasts, faeries, sprites and spirits, for example, No Point, The Gadjadillos, The Aerie, Random Points of Kindness, Storytellers and Bonfire Point, whose unique characters have become part of our weaving narrative offering their own interpretation to the central story and creating stunning points of interest to light up the dark, fill the air with glorious sound and capture the imagination of all who encounter them.
With groups who choose to have a presence outside of the procession, there is great scope to create more intimate and interactive experiences, inviting witnesses to feel a personal connection to the event that they will carry off the Hill with them and hold close in their memories of an incredible evening. If you have a fantastic idea for a group like this, we encourage you to consider how you might use available spaces within the landscape of the Hill, whether travelling your own path or adopting a static area for part, or all, of the night.
You are invited to take inspiration from the over-arching narrative of Beltane, the spirit of casting off the darkness, of revelling in the joy of a newly birthed Summer, from fertility and celebration. Let us make our Beltane a wild Bacchanalian rumpus to drive the community of Edinburgh wild! Bring your beautiful visions to the night!
Our unique festival couldn’t happen without the wonderful production groups which are an essential presence for the event…
From the Stewards who facilitate the movement of performers around the Hill and dedicate their energy to the safety and happiness of all, to Contact Point who offer information and guidance, Tech who are responsible for creating the impressive structures and pyrotechnics that form the background and backbone of the event, and Photopoint who capture our creations and memories in beautiful pictures, we are looking for Group Organisers to bring their dynamic personalities as well as practical knowledge and experience to build these important foundations.
These groups offer a very special and valuable opportunity to experience the event from a non-performance perspective, which is perfect for people who want to take part in Beltane but don’t feel drawn to performing. If you’re considering applying to run one of these groups, we invite you to think about how you can build a team of volunteers to work together with the Event Coordinator to create the well-oiled machine that powers the festival!
Photo of Beltane 2015 by Mark Taylor