We’re doing things a little differently at Samhuinn Fire Festival this year. Where before our Winter festival took the form of a straight procession, this time we are going fully immersive with our performers waking up all over Calton Hill at the same time. This means that you can choose which season to align yourself with from the start. Are you a sucker for Summer revelries or do you prefer the drama of Winter? Where you start your night on Calton Hill is decided by that.
Summer’s Court is still partying when they arrive at the festival on the South side of Calton Hill. They haven’t stopped since Beltane, which kickstarted a glorious season of revelry in the sun, coming together with friends, and celebrating an unexpected heatwave. It may be October, but the Beasties and Reds are in a little bit of denial about the new cold temperatures – they’ll keep up their summery merrymaking until forced to stop.
The Summer King starts the festival in the form of a tree, which the Beasties, Reds, and Moncai dance around in a giddy formation. But as the energy from their partying builds up and up, he begins to stir until at last he shakes off all his leaves.
In the distance he spots a hare and, distracted from the festivities, runs after it. The hare is emblematic of Spring and reminds him of his past, which he chooses to pursue rather than turn to face the future. What he doesn’t realise is that this is the Cailleach in her animal form – the crone goddess come to see over the ritual changes in the air.
The Summer King gets distracted by the frivolity of the Reds and Beasties. From within the chaos an old Winter King emerges and ceremoniously hands him the sword of Summer Kings gone past. Summertime’s ruler is momentarily disconcerted – being handed his predecessors’ weapon feels slightly ominous.
No matter. The hare is on the move again, and the Summer King gives pursuit, this time in a more sombre manner as he slowly acknowledges his responsibility as ruler. He turns a corner into the Dell, only to realise that the hare has vanished. In its stead is a barn owl, another manifestation of the Cailleach come as an omen of his mortality. The Cailleachan show him his destiny, and an old Summer King approaches him from the shadows, handing him the Winter King’s sword.
The penny drops. This is the sword by which our Summer King will meet his end. He realises that his time in the sun is fading, and he must choose a trustworthy successor to lead the community through the colder season.
Who better than his best friend and ally, who until now has followed him faithfully amidst the Torchbearers completely unaware of his looming ascendance to power? The Summer King knows that we will all be safe in the Winter King’s hands, in which he places his rival’s sword.
Now the creatures on the Hill turn their attention towards Winter. The Reds and the Beasties are nervous and do their utmost to put it off. But the Moncai are more adaptable – they switch their allegiances and gather around the newly appointed Winter King.
Each season’s followers begin to find each other and gather, creating two walls of otherworldly creatures until each king suddenly finds himself at the front of an army. At the back of the Acropolis, where the festivities at our sister Springtime festival start, Summer and Winter now face each other and bristle in anticipation of battle.
Is this the time for a face off? It certainly feels like it, except that both sides are suddenly interrupted by a disturbance in the air. The Cailleach’s full form is near our world, and her approach prompts each army to part and regroup elsewhere. The time is not yet ripe for the final confrontation between Winter and Summer. That comes later in our story.
Featured image by Ashley Erdman for Beltane Fire Society. All rights reserved.