Hello. My name is Rosa, and I am grateful and awed to have been entrusted with the role of May Queen for Beltane. In this post I would like to bid you welcome round the fire. I would like to share who the May Queen is to me, speak about my intentions for this year’s festival thus far, and introduce myself a little.
So come on over, in from the cool air of this young and unusual year. Feel the warmth of the fire spread across your brow; take a seat.
I feel profoundly aware that we each have our own relationship with the May Queen, be it through lived experience, portrayals we have witnessed, or through our understandings of Celtic mythology. What follows is a blend of lore and personal reflection on this archetype that I am standing suddenly close to.
The May Queen is an aspect of the Triple Goddess often described as mother-maiden-crone. To me she is mother-lover-death bringer. This name speaks to me for its visceral nature. In its abstraction too I prefer it, distancing the goddess from our culture’s obsession with virginity and the trap of ageism, against women in particular. To me the Triple Goddess is not a virginal and pure maiden, but a fierce lover; a powerful and wise death-bringer rather than the oft pejorative crone (in saying this, I do love the word crone, especially when reclaimed and used as an empowering title by the people who choose it).
As winter is coming to a close the Cailleach, our crone or death-bringer aspect, casts her staff to the earth and becomes a mountain, stone itself. On Beltane night as we prepare to usher in the warmer months, the May Queen, the lover, is born of the mud itself. She rises and guides the changing of the seasons, uniting with the Green Man in a celebration of cleansing fire, vitality, and new life.
The May Queen is undoubtedly a female figure – but what does this mean to us now, as performers, creators, and humans of the 21st century? I am feeling excited by the duality of this role – a character who radiates a calm, collected certainty and yet is also filled with fire, passion, and life. What does it mean to be the May Queen, and what does it mean to be a woman? An uncountable number of contradictory things. To be able to subvert and also embrace the different aspects of being a woman in this traditionally feminine role is something I am holding a strong awareness of.
But why are you here? Kindle the fire until something sparks, and stay awhile.
If you have been part of BFS, you will most likely have experienced the magic that we create in our modern celebration of Beltane; the beautiful collaboration that brings wild and powerful creative projects to life. We get a chance to remember rituals and also create them anew. Rituals and rites exist to ground and connect us to the world we inhabit, providing a framework to make sense of and honour significant events. A ritual may be so small, it exists only for you. Ritual equals connection. Connection to ourselves, to the creatures around us, to the landscape we exist in, to our ancestors.
So in our current situation, as we sit amidst a worldwide pandemic, ritual and celebration feels so incredibly important. As we emerge from a time that has been isolating and scary, finding connection and joy in this community feels paramount to survival.
As the fire burns on, shadows cast perform a flickering dance and perhaps a story or two is shared…
This year I am hoping to portray the May Queen’s very physical journey as she moves through a landscape we know and love in her fated turning of the wheel. I would love to engage with the elements as she passes through all manner of places, gathering the energy needed to bring seasonal change to fruition. When we can’t be celebrating together in the city, we take our rituals and our revelries to the wild (or not so wild) areas around us – and perhaps it is a joy to experience these varied settings. I would like to portray the May Queen moving though a world that is as much a part of her as she is of it. To embody the idea that we exist as a complex, dynamic entity rather than disparate parts. What does she gather to her being as she walks the season round? As she tramps across forest floors, do snowdrops erupt in her wake? As Beltane night draws closer does her excitement rise like yours, birch sap on an upwards journey? How many midgies get caught in her hair? What does she see, when her eyes meet yours in welcome? Let’s feel the journey, this long, heavy procession upon which the May Queen embarks, that we all go on, as the wheel turns. How can we feel the world we walk through?
As the embers begin to die, we can prepare the hearth for a new flame.
I’m honoured to begin this journey with you all….
In my life, I spend the days working at a wholefood co-operative in Edinburgh, getting passionate about good food and workers’ rights. Otherwise, some things I’m feeling inspired by (not a comprehensive list) are: the Scottish Rewilding movement, the artistry of Drag Queens, learning about and re-connecting to our menstrual cycles, landscape poeticism by the likes of Robert Macfarlane and Nan Shepard, and delicious fermented foods. I’ve been taking part in Beltane Fire Society festivals since 2015, on and off. As for many reading, the motion of my year has often sinuated with the celebrations of Beltane and Samhain, the fullness of collaboration, community, and celebration as peaks through the seasonal changes. I can’t smell the crisp air of an April morning without thinking about the thrumming energy of a first walkthrough on Calton Hil, or travel through dark autumn streets without remembering journeys to Samhain rehearsal rooms, be it to drum or dance. I look forward to these things being a reality again, and for now feel immense excitement about what we can create this year.
Title image: Sean Bluestone
Image 1: Martin McCarthy
Image 2: Rosa MacKay
Image 3: Duncan Reddish