As Autumn approaches and we steel ourselves to bid the warm months goodbye, we know many of you will have some questions about our next fire festival.
We’ve been having lots of very big conversations over the summer about what Samhuinn Fire Festival might look like this year. We’ve talked about why we do our festivals, who they are for and what the most important elements of them are for us. Words like “ritual”, “community” and “connectedness” have come up again and again, and will guide us as we move forwards into Winter.
Friends, there will be a Samhuinn celebration this year, just not in our usual manner. The future is more uncertain than usual at the moment, and we want to make sure that we can create something that is both meaningful and safe for our community to participate in and witness.
We have tried to think up a festival that all of us can take part in, regardless of your location, tech savviness, or whether or not you are shielding. There will be options for connecting both physically and digitally. Read on to find out what we’ve got up our sleeves this October.
Journeying again into the virtual realm
We’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with the internetz this year, and seeing the amazing digital art and rituals that our volunteers have come up with has been especially rewarding. We’ve decided to do it again for Samhuinn.
There will be a digital broadcast on the night of Samhuinn, combining pre-recorded and live footage to depict Winter’s ascent over Summer. The festival will be free to access, although we will sell pay-what-you-can tickets to help financially support our charity until we can return to Calton Hill with our physical festivals.
So, how will we make this festival?
The idea is to have a mixture of groups (which we’re calling “pods”) working either remotely or in-person to embody part of the story we usually tell on Calton Hill. This mix should allow people to find a place that suits their comfort levels – whether you’re shielding or aching for some human contact.
You might choose to film a socially distanced performance together, do some fire spinning, puppetry, an animation, or a song – anything that we can share digitally and that communicates our Samhuinn traditions.
In-person pods that meet outside will be restricted to five households (max 15 people) in line with Scottish Government restrictions. If pods prefer to meet inside, then they will be restricted to three households (max 8 people).
We have been thinking a lot about what we’re calling “COVID consent”. We want our volunteers to be able to make informed choices about which group they will take part in based on how socially distanced that experience will be. Our pod organisers will have a duty to consider how much interaction there will be between their members from the off, and whether their meetups will take place indoors or outdoors.
Remote pods, meanwhile, will allow people who are shielding or living abroad to be part of our festival. If you’ve been burning to be part of our festivals for a while but couldn’t because you live abroad, consider this an invitation from us! Group numbers will not be restricted, though pod organisers may wish to consider their members’ digital welfare (the Zoom fatigue is real, folks).
Our Cailleach, Winter King and Summer King will form their own Court pod, which will drive our digital festival’s narrative. We’ll release more details about this year’s Court in a callout later this week, and we’ll be looking to hear how you think your creative vision could fit into our new socially distanced festival.
Keeping the fires burning
All of this means that, for the second time this year, there will not be a bonfire on Calton Hill. But what kind of fire festival would we be if we didn’t promise you even a little spark?
Don’t worry, we’ve got that covered too. As part of our digital broadcast, you’ll see us passing the torch using some mysterious magical camera trickery between several green spaces across Edinburgh. Much like how our Torchbearers transport the Neid fire across the Hill at Samhuinn, with added social distancing.
Of course, you’re all invited to light your own fires too! If we can’t gather around the bonfire in Edinburgh, let’s make sure we’re lighting hearths together across the globe.
Meeting you in the community
That’s all very exciting, and we’re looking forward to meeting each and every one of you again in the digital realm. But we also know that the internet isn’t for everybody, and some of you will be looking for a way to connect offline.
The best art is interactive, so let’s create art together in little pockets across the city. Rather than gathering in one centralised point on Calton Hill, we’re arranging to have some blackboards placed around Edinburgh where we can leave messages and Samhuinn blessings for each other. We hope to have one placed in Glasgow for our West Coast Beltaners too.
Treat it like a ritual. As you chalk your message, you could reflect on the transformations that are coming your way this Winter, or mentally check in with yourself and how you’re feeling about the cold days ahead.
Read other people’s notes that have been left before yours. Maybe you’d like to reply to one, or ask a question for the next person to answer. In this way we can stay connected, even if we can’t gather in our thousands on Calton Hill.
That’s it for now, folks
More details will emerge over the coming months as our volunteers begin to weave their magic, but we wanted to make sure you all know that we have a plan.
So, there is a plan. It is socially distanced, rooted in community, and you don’t have to book a plane to see it. We hope that you like it.
Featured image by Sean Bluestone for Beltane Fire Society. All rights reserved.