About Beltane Fire Festival

Our festival is a living, dynamic reinterpretation and modernisation of an ancient Iron Age Celtic ritual and is the largest of its kind. Having been resurrected as a practice in 1988 it has become a central focus for our community, bringing many many people together to acknowledge and revel in the birth of the Summer and the fertility of the land.

For a full description of what you can expect to experience at Beltane Fire Festival, read this page.

What is Beltane?

One of the four quarter day festivals, Beltane saw members of communities come together to celebrate the return of the summer. The observance of this hugely important time in the turning of the wheel of the year was characterised by a celebration of the return of the fertility of the land, and would have been a time when livestock would have been put out to pasture.

The word ‘Beltane’ roughly translates as ‘bright fire’ and, as such, one of the most important rituals, which survives today in our modern festival, concerns the lighting of the Beltane bonfire. Fire was seen as a purifier and healer and would have been walked around and danced/jumped over by the members of the community. Farmers would also have driven their cattle between bonfires to cleanse and protect them before being put out into the fields.

In ancient communities, all hearth fires would have been extinguished and a new neid fire lit which would have then been used to relight people’s hearths in their own homes. In this way the community was connected to each other by the sacred fire which was central to all. The festival would also have been a time of courtship rituals and a celebration of our own fertility!

The important point to note when thinking about our own festival is the joy and the revelry that is fostered in the ritual. It is about casting off the darkness and celebrating the light. It is a time for celebrating fertility, both in the context of our biological functions as well as our own creative energies, the fertility of our creative community.

Historical background

The modern Beltane Fire Festival is inspired by the ancient Gaelic festival of Beltane which began on the evening before 1 May and marked the beginning of summer. The modern festival was started in 1988 by a small group of enthusiasts including the musical collective Test Dept, with academic support from the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Since then the festival has grown, and now involves over 300 voluntary collaborators and performers with the available tickets often selling out.

While the festival draws on a variety of historical, mythological and literary influences, the organisers do not claim it to be anything other than a modern celebration of Beltane, evolving with its participants. The purpose of our festival is not to recreate ancient practices but to continue in the spirit of our ancient forebears and create our own connection to the cycles of nature.

For a more detailed history of Beltane both as a historical tradition and as a festival, please read this page.

Modern festival

The festival takes place on Calton Hill. It is a procession, which starts at the National Monument (known to Beltaners as the Acropolis) and proceeds anti-clockwise around the path meeting various groups along the way. The procession is driven by the beat of drums which urge it inexorably towards summer.

Copyright Gordon Veitch for Beltane Fire Society. All Rights Reserved. http://www.beltane.org / http://www.facebook.com/beltanefiresociety

At the procession’s head is the May Queen and the Green Man, followed by a cavalcade of characters who are intrinsically linked to them and their journey. Their destination is punctuated by various groups who either help or hinder their progress towards the Green Man’s fate and the May Queen’s destiny.

After a dramatic stage performance signifying the inception of summer the May Queen and Green Man spark the birth of summer by lighting a huge bonfire. The performance then moves into its community phase. All the participants congregate in a place called the Bower. From here the finishing movements of the festival are played out in a dance of reds and whites. This is also where the home comforts of warmth, food and drink are provided to the tired and often very cold performers and crew.

The boundaries between performers and audience then fades and the festival, performers, music and audience drift off into the night, taking away the memories of a unique and special event.

For a full description of what you can expect to experience at Beltane Fire Festival, read this page.


While Arthur’s Seat was, in times past, the location for Beltane celebrations, at the time of the planning of the new Beltane Festival a location was needed that was more accessible and central, while still maintaining an association with nature and the environment. Calton Hill also at that time had a bad reputation relating to sex and drugs and was a ‘no go’ area of the city, and part of the aim was to ‘reclaim’ that space for the local community through our celebrations. That Calton Hill is now a popular park for all Edinburgh residents as well as tourists is evidence of the influence that our festival has had on this picturesque space.

practical information for those Coming to the event

Food & Drinks

You are welcome to bring your own food and drink to the event, and we only ask that you do not bring any glass bottles/containers. Also Security may refuse entry if you are bringing an excessive quantity of alcohol (e.g. a giant slab of lager).

We have a small range of food concessions run by local businesses and serving a selection of delectables to keep you going. There will be vegan options available.

Seating/Standing/Ground Conditions

We do not have any seating, but there are a few park benches dotted around the hill.

Attendees are welcome to bring camping chairs and picnic blankets, but please follow the instructions of the Stewards and Security, there are some areas which chairs/picnic blankets may not be appropriate at particular times in the evening. (full picnic and dining sets are not appropriate at this event. Please take your picnic equipment away with you.

The ground on Calton Hill is uneven and slopey (it is a hill). When its raining the grass becomes slippery

  • wear sensible shoes (good walking boots)
  • take your time moving around the site
  • bring a torch/flashlight
  • help others

For details of special access arrangements (including carer tickets and booking prearranged vehicle/taxi drop off to the top of the hill) please contact access [at] beltane [dot] org


We have a large number of portaloo toilets located on the hill (half way up) and we also have outdoor urinals (just next to the portaloos).

There is also a stewarded wheelchair accessible portaloo located in the welfare/first aid area on the flat paved area at the top of the hill.

Please use them considerately and leave them for the next person as you would wish to find them.

Do not urinate on trees/walls/bushes/doorways on the hill or in the city.


There will be additional waste bins on the hill for you to put in your waste. We have Dry Mixed recycling and general waste, and all waste is sorted, separated and and processed for recycling off site. Please help us minimize damage to the park by either binning your waste or taking it home with you.

Conditions of Entry:


  • Under 16s must be accompanied by an adult with a ticket
  • Parents and guardians please note – this event contains semi-nudity and uninhibited behaviour, your discretion is advised.
  • We will ask for the adults name and number at the box office, and children will be given a wristband to wear with your details on them.

Safer Spaces

  • Beltane Fire Society events operate within a culture of creating safer spaces built on mutual respect and consent. We expect all attendees to embrace this culture and to call out breaches – seek a steward if you see something which endangers our safer space.
  • BFS aims to provide a welcoming and celebratory atmosphere. Harassment of performers or other audience members will not be tolerated.

Being Around Fire at a Fire Festival

  • Help yourself by staying out of performance and production areas, which will be marked out with either ropes, barriers or fences with signs
  • The event does include a lot of fire, although there wont be any big fire works.
  • Follow the directions given by BFS Stewards and technical crew
  • Please avoid wearing synthetic clothes (but do wrap up for being on a hill in Scotland)
  • Please try to observe a 2 meter minimum distance from performers moving or performing with fire.
  • Familiarise yourself with where the medical assistance is (at the top car park).
  • Do not play with the fires, our volunteers have trained for months to be here this evening..

Use of Camera’s and Smart Phones

  • Flash photography can be very distracting for performers, we ask that you switch off the flash on your phone or camera.
  • Please do not hold your phone or camera in the faces of our participants, they are volunteers and do not enjoy close proximity interactions with phone and camera lenses.
  • Drone use is not permitted on site and the police will be called should a drone come into the airspace above the festival.
  • We would much prefer it if you kept your devices in your pockets and celebrated the festival with us with your hands free to clap and your eyes free to watch
  • Do not walk backwards holding a camera/camera phone, the ground is uneven and you wont be paying attention.

Prohibited items

We do not permit members of the public to bring or use the following items on our event site;

  • Large Bags/airport luggage please no bigger than an A3 piece of paper: we do not have a cloakroom/left luggage.
  • Glass
  • Drums
  • Loud instruments
  • Fire Props
  • BBQs, Fire Pits or Fire Wood
  • Flammable Liquids
  • Dogs (Except Guide Dogs)
  • Drones

Random Search Policy will be in effect; the event safety team reserve the right to refuse admission .

Featured image by Prem Shah for Beltane Fire Society