We’re pretty well known for our spectacular fire displays at Samhuinn Fire Festival. The flames don’t just look good though. They also hold several symbolic meanings for our community. Fire is warming, healing, and lights the way for the creatures visiting Calton Hill from the otherworld. Carrying that torch around the festival are our stoic Torchbearers.
All the fire at Samhuinn is lit from one single Neid fire, once believed to be a purifying flame in ancient Celtic communities. At Winter festivals of old, all the hearths in the village would be extinguished and relit from that singular flame, uniting every home and offering protection against the colder nights ahead.
The Torchbearers spread the Neid fire across Calton Hill at our own Samhuinn celebration in Edinburgh. Carrying torches from space to space, they unite our own community and witnesses as we turn to embrace Winter together.
As Nightwatch, the Torchbearers occupy the liminal space, acting as a boundary between the sacred space of the festival and the profane world outside. They are the solemn guardians of the night, circling performance spaces and maintaining a barrier between the otherworldly visitors and their onlookers. They are a wall but also a window, lighting the festival’s rituals for all gathered round to see.
Featured image by Gilliard Lach for Beltane Society. All rights reserved.