The Blues are the guardians and preservers of the rituals and traditions of our festivals. On the night of Beltane, they open and hold the space in which the May Queen comes to life, serving as guides and protectors of Her procession as She leads the Green Man to his death and rebirth, and the lighting of the Beltane Fire.
During the festival preparations, the Blues likewise have a foot in both worlds ~ holding the ritual, myth and traditions that form the core of our festivals, and guiding the development of the performance that tells those stories anew each year. We act as bridges between the Court and the many groups that make up each festival, helping to weave the stories and visions of 300 performers into a single, spectacular tapestry that is more than the sum of its parts.
The Blues are a year-round group, composed of members with a broad experience of performing and organising elements of our celebrations of the four cross-quarter days. In that sense, we are like ‘elders’ of the Beltane ‘tribe,’ drawing upon our knowledge and experience to guide each festival’s participants as they create a performance that is fresh and new while nevertheless rooted in the heritage of both our own and wider Scottish seasonal traditions.
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Since settling in Edinburgh, Beltane (and Samhuinn, Imbolc and Lughnasadh) have been the cornerstones of my life, rooting me in a community that is rooted to the earth and her rhythm of the seasons. The festivals (and more importantly, the preceding months in which we co-create them) have given me some of the richest experiences of my life, and greatly deepened my connection to life, nature, and community—culminating with last year’s Beltane, when I had the honour to embody the Green Man. Following that, I was called to join Blue, and it has been immensely rewarding to help other folks find the experiences I’ve had, and to have a close-up view as our rainbow community learns to dance together.
I believe that what makes our festivals so fulfilling is that they are not mere performances or art projects, but living rituals that seek to awaken a sense of connection, magic and wonder that persists in the lives of everyone involved, far beyond the event of the festival itself. I see the role of Blue as guardian of that ritual element. We act as bridges, with one eye on the past and one on the present, to help preserve the traditions without their becoming stale. We act as conductors, helping the Court and the different groups to see themselves as part of a bigger whole. And we act as elders and guides, drawing out of that river of stories that make us who we are.
Photos of Josh by Bleu Hope (left) and Martin McCarthy (right)
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I first joined BFS in Samhuinn 2012 as a White. I remember watching both Samhuinn and Beltane the year before and being amazed by and drawn to these otherworldly creatures that dared to embrace wildness, focus and order, playfulness and power. It was then that an ember started glowing within me, telling me this was something I wanted to be a part of.
Since then, I have explored the wisdom and strength of White, the mystery and darkness of Cailleachan, the wilderness and chaos of Red and the promise of the changing seasons. I have been a part of groups that quickly became my pack, and I have led groups that soon became my port of call.I have found in BFS the opportunity to explore the self in the different archetypes, to challenge myself and expand that which I believed then to be the limits of me.
Beltane has always enticed my heart and mind to embrace new beginnings. New challenges. It is the season when we awake from the slumber and darkness of Winter to find that Spring is coming back and, with it, life will once more spring from death. The season brings the chance to renew that fire that we have been trying to keep alive during the cold season.
It is my honour and pleasure to give back to this community and family that helped me – and keeps on helping me – grow. It is my goal as a Blue to dive deeper into the realms of ritual and heritage. It is my goal to build a bridge between that which was, and that which will be, whilst creating a space for everyone in our community to challenge and develop themselves: to grow together.
May I serve this community well.
Photos of Sara by Gordon Hamilton (left) and Martin McCarthy (right)
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Since then I’ve had the opportunity to immerse myself in many groups, exploring our rituals and becoming part of a loving community. At Beltane, I’ve been involved in White, Fire Arch, various Elements, No Point, Random Points of Kindness and Tech. I ran many groups and was even on the Board for a few years. With each group I was involved in, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, always learning, challenging and developing myself along the way to become the person I am today. My involvement in our society has given me back the chance to play that is so often lost in modern life, a chance to connect to nature and build a community.
I am honoured to be Blue at our 30th anniversary. I hope to continue in the footsteps of Blues before me. Passing on our history, traditions and rituals that have become so important to me and giving people the chance to grow and develop themselves within a safe space.
Photos of Kat by Sue Kane (left) and Martin McCarthy (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.
Photos of Rob by Martin McCarthy (right)