This information is about the 2016 event and is here for reference only. The site will be updated for 2017’s festival early next year.
The Wild Hunt performers at Samhuinn 2006 was my first ever festival experience; finding myself clambering as a wild beast across the Meadows public park with stilts attached to all limbs within a week of moving to the city! I instantly fell in love with the society and have performed in every Beltane and Samhuinn (bar one) festival since. In my time I have had the chance to drum, stilt walk, clown, fire spin, dance, stage fight, do acrobatics, puppetry on epic scales, story-tell and create powerful personal and community rituals. I have had great fun in coordinating various groups and facilitating their creative process. It has been a colourful 10 years as a part of the such a welcoming, inspiring and creative community.
Some of my favourite memories to date have included the first strike of a drum in unison with a powerhouse of drummers… bowing before a huge firey beast born of the wild imaginings of 14 dear friends… stepping over the acropolis to the sea of faces witnessing Beltane… and finding a deep strength, power and peace in the eye of a storm that was my personal manifestation of the Cailleach.
My experience of first meeting the Blues all those years ago was my first powerful connection to the deeper aspect of the festival. They are elders within the community; one foot solidly in the here-and-now, present in the veins of the festival and community whilst they also keep our history, traditions and rituals alive. For me Blue is the formative memory of the society- the part which seeks to keep the spirit of the festival alive by supporting, guiding and connecting its members to the rich history, traditions and knowledge we continue to accrue as an ever evolving society and which sit at the foundation of what we create. I am so excited and honoured to support the community that has given me so much in my role as Blue.
Photos of Becky by James Illing (left) and Mark Taylor (right)
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I first performed with BFS at Beltane 2005 when I was White. Since then I have done pretty much every festival apart from a short break when I was highly pregnant (my son was born on 5th May!).
I have been White on 2 other occasions, and have also been in, and organised, numerous other groups at both Beltane and Samhuinn including Fire Arch, Stewards, Ice Maidens, and Elementals. I have also been a techie, and worked closely with our present, and previous May Queen.
Last Samhuinn I had the absolute honour of being chosen to be Callieach; it was a wonderful opportunity to work with the Blues, and interact with everyone in the society, and I loved every minute.
To have been asked to be Blue for Beltane is so exciting! I have always admired the Blues, and having many close friends who have been Blue, have seen up close the work they do and the dedication to the Society, and the incredible ritual that we create.
To have the opportunity to give back to a society that has been such a big part of my life for so many years is both an honour and an incredible challenge. I look forward to working with everyone: we are an amazing society full of inspiring people, and I hope I can bring my own talents into the Blue mix to help create the best festival possible.
Photos of Liza by Raini Scott (left) and Dan Mosley (right)
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When asked about my history with Beltane my mind casts fondly back to my very first experience as a audience member back in 1999. Back to the days when tickets were unheard of and up to 20000 folk would come together on a hill in the centre of the capital city to take part in a Bacchanalian celebration of the coming of summer. The party lasted all night, the drums pounded until the sun came up and I was young, inebriated and curious about the anarchic event I’d heard of. Fire! Drums! Nudity! I was sold. Back then I had no idea that there was a procession, I didn’t see the unveiling of the May Queen on the Parthenon and the gathered hordes stopped me getting very close to anything else. But the drums beat an insistent rhythm into my very core and I wanted to dance. The only nudity I experienced that year was my own, as I was compelled to strip off and dance unabated, lost in a swirling eddy of unadulterated joy. Those standing around me were not so moved however, probably wondering who the drunk naked guy was. Ah well…
Fast forward 6 years and I had discovered African drumming, and was finding my feet as a djembe player. My drum teacher mentioned he was running a group for an event up Calton Hill which was a lot of fun and I should come along. BELTANE! This was my in! And so I found myself taking my first tentative steps on my journey as my Beastie was born. The next two months flew by in a flurry of facefuls of soft mud, gloriously swollen, blistered and eventually calloused hands, cuddle puddles, and flowing, tribal, earthy rhythms as I enveloped myself in this new world I had discovered. Friendships were forged which endure to this day across oceans and continents. And then there was the night… Everything that immature drunken little 18 year old had thought about Beltane was turned to dust as I lost myself in a maelstrom of ritualistic chaos, truly becoming my Beastie and adding my energy to that of the gathered masses, feeling a sense of connection I had never experienced before. This was what my life had been leading up to, this is what my heart beat for.
Over the course of the next few years I honed my skills both rhythmically and as a performer. When my drum teacher had to make the decision to step away from the Beasties to concentrate on family responsibilities I seized my chance to give something back and became Beastie leader. As a first year primary school teacher at the time I had no business committing myself to something so huge, but Beltane has always inspired and driven me by way of compulsion. This was something I had to do. Life in Beltane was life with the volume turned up (to 11!). Everything else could bend and be shifted, but the sense of community, of creating something truly special, of surrendering my energy to facilitate the achievement of a shared goal, of building something not only for ourselves but as a gift to the wider community of Edinburgh was a drug to me, something I needed in my life. An unfortunate symptom of growing up is that we forget that child-like awe of the world, the joy of running, jumping and rolling in the mud; of climbing trees, singing, playing games, and hugging your friends; of playing make believe and therefore exploring our deepest inner selves through play. Beltane gave this back to me. It also taught me to observe the turning of the seasons, the budding of the trees, the opening of the Spring flowers. This joy of revelling in nature and my connection to it led me to answer the call to be Green Man, as well as the Winter King for Beltane’s sister festival Samhuinn. And again I was offered a new perspective on the deep sense of ritual that runs through Beltane, the deep impulse within the human spirit to connect to our surroundings, to celebrate and revel in nature’s bounty, to ritualistically cast off the shackles of winter and bound into the sunshine to feel the glow of new promise, to acknowledge the continual flux and flow of life, the peaks and troughs, the continual cycle of death and rebirth.
And so to present day, 11 years after I first stripped myself bare to ritually daub my body with red body paint, I now revel in supporting and facilitating other people’s journey to that moment of ethereal bliss as they realise their Beltane potential. The festival has moulded and morphed over the years as the membership of the Society has changed and the energy that is brought to it has changed too. But the core elements stand strong and the event that we put on is still recognisable as the one that has been celebrated in this city upon that hill, as a beacon to the people of Edinburgh, since its inception in 1988. Beltane for me is a journey of a collective vision which echoes that of our Neid Fire; it wends its way from the spark of inspiration to the raging inferno of community celebration. I take joy in finding the balance between ensuring that held traditions are respected within the festival and making space for new energy and ideas to flow through.
Dear friends, my name is Rob and I am one of your Blues.
Photo of Rob (right) by Martin McCarthy