The Blues uphold the ancient traditions of our society, drawing all the strands of Beltane together to tell the time immemorial story of the May Queen and her summer consort, the Green Man. We welcome Kate, Josh, Rob, James, Caroline, and Gav to this essential role.
My first experience of BFS was back in 2005, when a friend persuaded me along to a rehearsal for this thing called “Samhuinn”. I quickly found myself as a member of the Storm Hags and loved every moment of the lead up and performance. At the time I was in the midst of studying at university and told myself that one festival was “enough”. That was until I went along to a Beltane Open Meeting … Despite knowing almost nothing about the festival, I knew I had to be White and the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the last decade I’ve been involved in festivals as a both a group member, a group
organiser and member of the Board. From early days as White and Bower, Storm Hags and Cailleachan; I went on to lead Fire Arch and Winter Fire; build a wish tree for Hillusphere and have spent the last few years discovering a love of drumming with the Beasties and Aether.
I have learned so much from the collective knowledge of the community; from basic
costume making, running groups, fire spinning and eating, to devising and performing entire performances from scratch in the space of a few days. The community has gifted me with play, joy and challenges beyond any that I could have found by myself and I am incredibly grateful for that.
When I think of all those who have come before, I am humbled by the invitation to Blue. I hope to honour the traditions, rituals and stories of our community that I hold close to my heart.
At these early stages, I’m already feeling the tingle of anticipation for the next few months as we begin to shape this year’s Beltane.
Photos by ©Laurence Diver (CC-BY) (left) and Vince Graham (right)
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)
When I first got involved with Beltane Fire Society, I had never seen it, had never experienced it, had never done anything like it before in my life. I started out in Fire Point, as one the guards in 2010, and was immediately drawn into the lovely atmosphere of it all. What followed was a journey through various different groups, performing at both Beltane and Samhuinn festivals as time went on…
Fast forward seven years, and here I am, Blue, protector of the story, guardian of the ritual, call it what you will, I’m part of a team of individuals responsible for making sure that the festival goes ahead, that the story is cohesive and accessible to the audience.
It was a real honour being chosen, I hadn’t thought of myself as that highly regarded within the community. Working as a tour guide in my day to day life, stories are very important to me, so being given the opportunity to learn more about the history of the festival and society is fantastic. I’ve been a group organiser in the past, so was already aware of a certain amount of the “behind the scenes” organisation, but Blue is a whole new level- you’re not just responsible for your own group anymore, you’re looking after everyone in all of the groups. Whilst I might not know everyone personally, through the other GO’s, the Blues and I are helping to shape the festival into the spectacular show that it’s going to be!
I’m always up for chats, so if anyone has any questions about the festival, or about the Blues, please do get in touch!
Photo of James by Richard Winpenny
When asked about my history with Beltane my mind casts fondly back to my very first experience as an attendee 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! J). 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 land, to create sacred space in it, 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, 13 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 of our celebration stand strong and the celebration 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 Neil Barton (left) and Martin McCarthy (right)
Photo of Caroline by JR Peterson
There was an old Beastie and red
Who span fire and hit drums till he bled
But one day, he knew
It was time to be Blue
And was so happy he stood on his head.
Photos of Gav by Maria Gonzalez (left) and Neil Barton (right)