Although Beltane is known as a joyful celebration with fire, a narrative does guide events. Amongst a cavalcade of characters, and set to the beating of the drums, the May Queen leads Her court around Calton Hill to begin the journey toward summer; her counterpart the Green Man is stripped of his winter guise and reborn. Together they light the traditional Beltane bonfire in celebration of the life and warmth ahead in the summer months.
While these core elements and traditions are respected and retained, each year the volunteer community that brings Beltane together introduces new characters into the mix. Away from the main procession, other storylines are played out as different characters and groups emerge, interacting with each other and audience members – brought to life with giant puppets, stunning costumes and – of course – fire.
Rather than spoken theatre or music performed entirely on stages, Beltane takes a more investigative theatre approach, with few barriers between audience and performer, and performances taking place all around the hill and among the crowd.
In this photo essay we wanted to take you through the guiding narrative of the night, the core elements that always form part of our festival. Click on the photo of the call horn sounding to be guided on a journey of the night. For information on the processional route and timings for #Beltane2018, see this post.
First, the Neid Fire is lit, using the traditional friction method. | Photo by Daniel Rannoch for BFS. All rights reserved.
Then, the call horn sounds, marking the beginning of the night. | Photo by Neil Barton for Beltane Fire Society. All rights reserved.
The May Queen awakens. | Photo by Dan Mosley for Beltane Fire Society. All rights reserved.
She begins her procession around the Hill. | Photo by James Illing for Beltane Fire Society. All rights reserved.
The May Queen must choose whether to head right (clockwise around the Hill) to stay as we are in the throes of Winter, or left (to head around the Hill anti-clockwise) to begin turning the wheel of the seasons toward Summer. | Beltane Fire Festival 2012 – Photo taken by Danny WilliamsCopyright Flashmunki Photography / BFS
The procession passes through the fire arch, into the underworld, where she begins to gather up energy for the push toward Summer | Beltane Fire Festival 2012 – Photo taken by Raini Scott. Copyright Raini Scott / BFS
She greets groups, some representing each of the elements at various points around the Hill. Some represent Earth… | Beltane Fire Festival 2012 – Photo taken by Danny WilliamsCopyright Flashmunki Photography / BFS
..Air… | Photo by Dan Mosley for Beltane Fire Society. All Rights Reserved.
..and Fire. | Photo by Pascal van der Meiden for Beltane Fire Society. All rights Reserved.
The Reds then perform at Red Slope – often in the form of Red pyramids | Photo by Asier Goikoetxea for Beltane Fire Society
The Green Man dies and is stripped of his winter guise | Photo by Neil Barton for Beltane Fire Society. All Rights Reserved.
But he is reborn and dances to celebrate | Photo by Dan Mosley for Beltane Fire Society. All Rights Reserved.
The May Queen accepts him as her consort and crowns him | Photo by Laura Wallace for Beltane Fire Society. All rights reserved. http://www.beltane.org
Together they light the Beltane bonfire | Copyright Martin McCarthy for Beltane Fire Society. All Rights Reserved. http://www.beltane.org
Beltane Fire Festival’s founder makes a toast to Beltane | Photo by Neil Hodgins for Beltane Fire Society. All rights reserved.
The May Queen and Green Man lead the procession away to the Bower, and eventually the Reds and Whites dance and the whole community celebrates the coming of Summer | Photo taken by Raini Scott. Copyright Raini Scott / BFS
Beltane Fire Festival returns to Calton Hill on April 30th. Tickets are selling fast, book in advance to avoid disappointment.