Continuing our series of photo essays, we wanted to provide a bit of a guide to the strange and beautiful characters you might encounter on the Hill. If you’ve been to Beltane before and wondered about the Blues, Reds, Whites and other characters, this should help explain things. If you’ve never been, then read on for an invaluable guide to who’s who at Beltane.
It must be added that this is not a complete list. Earth, Air, Water, and Fire are all represented in different points with different groups that the May Queen must bless. Fire Puppets bring incredible creations, and this year we have the all new group, the Evergreens, not forgetting the impossible-to-forget Aaarcadia – Fire Arch and the Dystopian Hippylgrimage. Bower, too, is one of the most important places, a home for the performer at the end of the celebrations. There will be more info to come on all of these groups and what they’ll bring the celebration. But, for now, we wanted to introduce you to some of the more recognisable characters that you’ll encounter on the night, from both our performers and our production crew. For more information about all our groups for this year, see this page.
Click on any of the photos below for more details and to begin the slideshow.
The Blues are the guardians and preservers of the rituals and traditions of our festivals. On the night of Beltane, they open and hold the space in which the May Queen comes to life, serving as guides and protectors of Her procession as She leads the Green Man to his death and rebirth, and the lighting of the Beltane Fire. | Photo by Dan Mosley for Beltane Fire Society.
The May Queen is a Goddess representation of summer. There is a Scottish tradition that tells of the Cailleach turning herself into stone at the end of her winter reign and then on Beltane Eve, she awakens in her maiden form. She rises from the Earth and blesses the elements and welcomes the audience. She has gone through a major transition but her counterpart; the Green Man is still in his winter guise. Beltane Eve is a liminal night as both deities are discordant with each other. The May Queen embarks on a journey around the hill to gather the new season while the Green Man must cast off the residues of the past winter. Only when he is ready will she accept him as her consort and this culminates with the death and rebirth cycle of the Green Man. | Photo by Dan Mosley for Beltane Fire Society.
Whites: We are strong, sure footed, serene and confident beings. We know there is change in the air, trials to face and lessons we must learn. We choose to put our complete faith and trust in the May Queen. She is our guide and we are Her companions as we travel together around the hill. We rise with Her from the Earth and survey the barren landscape, knowing we must journey to create fertile lands once more. Her intentions work through us to help protect the procession from the forces that threaten and test it. In turn She gives us purpose and shows us where our destiny lies. | Photo by Daniel Rannoch for Beltane Fire Society.
Processional Drummers are the fanatical drummers driving the procession around the hill, unrelenting, air-tearing rhythms. We devote all our energy and focus into drumming at the exclusion of all else. We will be playing Basses, Toms, Snares, High tension snares and assorted percussion. | Photo by Jon Kendrew for Beltane Fire Society.
The Green Man begins the night in his winter guise, of which he must be stripped before Summer can be brought in. | Photo by Gyorgy Papp for Beltane Fire Society.
The crucial aspect of the Green Man’s role is his death and subsequent rebirth, which provides the centrepiece of our ritual. The May Queen, having gathered the many elemental forces around the hill, spins them into a vortex, creating the right 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. The Green Man then presents himself to his Queen – if he is worthy, she will accept him as her new consort. | Photo by Milan Chudjak for Beltane Fire Society.
Reds are elemental creatures of chaos and misrule, representatives both of summer and of the Green Man’s love for the May Queen. We are born on the night of Beltane, and we come to maturity by the end of the ritual, where we are united with the Whites. Along the way we wreak merry havoc, playing with audience members, putting up human pyramids, charging with fire, pranking the main procession and generally revelling in our irrepressible spirit of beautiful pandemonium. | Photo by Milan Chudjak for Beltane Fire Society.
The Beasties are a force of nature, drumming so strong you can’t help but break through the drone of mundanity and tune into deeper, sacral frequencies where all who hear can connect and revel in the magic. We draw our energy from the earth and seize the spectators’ minds until they are dancing, finally in the present moment, with us. We build fierce, cathartic rhythms, creating a communal consciousness; our breath and heartbeats aligning as one big, pulsating vibration. Our fiery groove will fuel the Red energy bursting through the night, flooding the veins and quickening the hearts of everyone on the Hill; drawing them into the contagious awakening of Summer and alighting their own personal fire inside. | Photo by Milan Chudjak for Beltane Fire Society.
Tech: In the run up to Beltane we build fire sculptures and props for groups, preparing everything to be taken to the Hill. In the days immediately before and on the day, we prepare Calton Hill for the festival – building stages and preparing the Hill. During the event, as well as looking after the safety of our audience and performers, we run the neid fire to the key points, making sure all the performers have the light and toys they need and maybe even fire some pyrotechnics. At the end of the event and on the day after we take it all down again. | Photo by Mark S Taylor for Beltane Fire Society.
Torchbearers stand between the darkness and the light allowing the audience to see through the veil and witness the festival. Torchbearers are the physical representation of the veil between worlds. We provide the light that allows the audience to see the performance and are a visual barrier between the audience and the performance. In the beginning we light the Neid fire providing all fire on the hill, then carry that fire in our torches along the procession and into performance spaces in order to provide light. | Photo by Felix Hartsuiker for Beltane Fire Society.
Stewards are the friendly human face of the Beltane Fire Festival. We work with the production crew, emergency services and the performance groups to make sure everyone has a safe and joyful Beltane. We are not a performing group but we will interact heavily with the audience, telling them about the significance of the celebrations and about some of the things they will see so that they can make the most of their experience. | Photo by Neil Barton for Beltane Fire Society.
Photo Point create a high quality photographic, and possible video, record of the festival, the preceding events and rehearsals, and the people involved. We hold photography workshops specifically aimed at preparing our members for photographing the Beltane festival. We photograph preparations leading up to the festival as well as the festival itself. | Photo by Neil Hodgins for Beltane Fire Society.
For more photos, taken by our incredible Photopoint volunteers, see our newly unveiled Photo Archive.
If you don’t want a miss a chance to encounter any of the above (just watch out for those Reds!), book your ticket for Beltane Fire Festival 2017 now, and secure your place by the fire.