Every year one of the highlights of the Beltane Fire Festival is our fire arch. The May Queen leads her procession through it, a huge structure that’s set entirely on fire, symbolising the move into a different world, where strange creatures and the elements come to life.
This year, to mark our thirtieth festival, our fire arch has been designed in a new way and will be bigger than ever before, by quite some way. (And by big, we mean BIG: as wide as a double decker bus is long, and tall enough to drive a fire engine through.) And as well as being of most unusual size, this year’s arch has an unusual story, and some highly unusual residents…
The Story of Fire Arch and the Aaarcadians
This year, at the beginning of the night, the arch isn’t an arch – it’s Aaarcadia, a hedge colonised by strange masked dwellers. These faceless forms have become a deeply unpleasant collective, that have grown to fear and hate all those beyond their own community. Their hatred will take the form of a three-headed dog-beast walked by a skeletal puppet – defending the Aaarcadian hedge from outsiders and ensuring that no-one will pass through.
In a nod to our festival’s roots in challenging establishment (and in response to what many in our community see as deeply concerning elements of current affairs), for some the dogs and their master – or mistress – will represent past and contemporary mindsets and policies that oppress the vulnerable, close borders, and encourage the mob to follow blindly.
Across Beltane night, the May Queen will force back the Aaarcadian beast and set its hedge alight, creating a great arch of fire so she may lead the procession through it and on toward Summer. The hedge-border may even be flung so far open that you – witnesses and members of the audience – could be invited to head through it (if the health and safety faeries smile upon us).
Once the arch is set alight, the Aaarcadians abandon their collective dog-form, presenting it as a scape-goat for their misdemeanours. Distraught without their hedge-home and collective identity, they set off wandering about the Hill, searching for redemption and a community that will accept them and take them in.
Will they find it? We’ll only know once the journey toward Summer is complete. Make sure you’re there to see the arch this Sunday…
So look out for the Aaarcadians this Sunday night, as a dog-beast defending the enormous hedge-arch, and later around the Hill in their masks, as they search for a new home and for a community that will take them in. And for now, take a look at some images of fire arches from the past few Beltane festivals:
and of Aaarcadia’s rehearsals:
Curious? You should be. Come see for yourself at Beltane Fire Festival 2017. Tickets are on sale now from Tickets Scotland.
Featured image by Dan Mosley for Beltane Fire Society