What Makes Beltane Special? Jay’s Story

Jay (The Aerie) by Mark Taylor

Jay joined BFS as a Torchbearer at Samhuinn 2014 and has since organised The Aerie at Beltane 2015 and again this year. In our seventh What Makes Beltane Special? article, he talks about seeing Beltane as an introduction to Scotland, meeting personal challenges head-on and sharing a beautiful experience with other volunteers and our audience.

Beltane to me is like mysterious flames luring you into the Faerie’s dance. My first experience of the festival is quite interesting in the sense that it happened in the week after my arrival in Scotland. It created a certain sense of eerieness that made me quite curious. Apart from a few primordial key points, the performance itself seemed like a mystery to me, a story written in a foreign language I needed to learn in order to get a better grasp of it. Joining the Society most definitely helped in that regard.

I was shocked when I first learned that such an audacious and intricate festival was indeed the result of what is mostly volunteer work. That in itself is the most wonderful aspect of it all, to see such raw passion taking shape during a single night. Beltane is an incredible experiment, a beautiful attempt to explore the hazy area of storytelling where ritual ends and performance starts. That’s the reason why I’m so fascinated by it and by the work of the many people who are a part of it. Every year feels slightly different and yet the motions remain essentially the same. It is more than just theatre, more compelling than a fun fair. It’s a festival, an open invitation to any who might wander in to come and partake in its many wonders.

Before my encounter with Beltane, I would have found it very difficult to believe that I could take part in something like that or even successfully lead a performance group of fifteen people. As a person suffering from a mild case of social anxiety, putting myself forward in such a manner had always been something of an ordeal. And yet it worked. My ideas were welcomed with open arms and the story that I had in mind ended up finding its place in the festival’s narrative as if it had been waiting for it the whole time. This is a small, personal satisfaction to know that on that Beltane night last year I managed to go beyond my impairment, to be a part of something much bigger than any of its participants.

My favourite memory is from that time, during the performance of my group, The Aerie. We were wearing bird costumes and masks, using noise makers as a way of conveying our own storyline. At one point we were supposed to meet the Procession as it left the Acropolis, and meet briefly the May Queen. At this point our characters had woken up in a completely different area of Calton Hill and most members of the audience weren’t even aware of us, so to see a flight of birds suddenly race past them to meet the heart of the festival was quite the delightful surprise for them. I will treasure for a long time that brief moment when I could see amazement and delight in the gaze of so many people. It was a treat, for us as well as for them.

Want to come to Beltane Fire Festival 2016 on 30th April? Book your ticket HERE.

Photo of Jay’s group, The Aerie, rehearsing for Beltane last year

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