A shadowy figure, covered in Winter’s overgrown finery emerges over the acropolis. The Horned God has arrived to witness the lighting of the neid fire.
He remembers the days of old, when all other flames were extinguished, the winter fires doused! Just as then, this neid fire, the wild-fire, is made anew by the friction of one piece of wood on another…
He hears the rhythmic squeak of hard wood on soft, on the breeze. Shortly after that, the same breeze brings over the scent of hot charcoal. There’s a metallic clinking, and a slow whooshing rises and falls. It gets faster, louder, the smell of charcoal turns to that of burning, and a circular trail of smoke turns to fire. A couple more turns and the spinner stops, so that the first firebrand can be lit.
From this brand, tonight, torches are lit – each of which is used to light another, while the brand is taken on a journey over the rest of the hill, so that wherever Fire is needed it will have come from here.
This is the new fire for the year. It is passed from torch to torch bringing light and warmth back into the world, allowing the world to be cleansed and protected.
Meanwhile the acropolis has become rather more crowded: the Processional Drummers have taken up their places, while the neidfire and court Torchbearers take their positions ahead of the steps.
The May Queen comes over the acropolis huddled down in her grey mountain stone, her skirt up all around her, holding her like a seed in her Callieach refuge. Her Court emerge around her.
The Call Horn is brought to the warrior’s lips and blown 3 times, and fire leaps up the fire sculptures atop the Acropolis, illuminating the scene.
A huge big cheer goes up and the drums start their solemn mighty beat. The May Queen awakens and rises into herself – becoming her Summer Transformation. The world stills as the vision of the May Queen enters people’s hearts and as one, Her honour guard and attendants, the Whites, move, as She moves, marking the Elements and all those gathered, with clarity, attentive intention and purpose.
As the drums rise, the procession leaves the acropolis and head westward. At Choice Point, the May Queen could continue to go clockwise, to go back into the darkness of winter, back to the way things were. Instead, She chooses to go widdershins, anti clockwise, against what has always been. She begins the thrice wittichens enchantment. She chooses a new narrative; one of wisdom, love and action. Collectively we are facing a rite of passage and this is the first step.
As She reaches Fire Arch she prepares to enter the otherworld, to go into the realms where rewiring can take place. Her Whites prepare to use their voices for the first and only time of the night.
The intention of the Whites’ Keening has evolved over the decades since Beltane Fire Festival began. Where once the Whites keened as both a prognostic mourning for the future death of the Green Man and as a mark of respect and acknowledgement for the spirits on the other side of the veil, the Whites now keen to grieve for the community and the witnesses who gather together on the hill for Beltane night. The practice of keening at the Fire Arch began in 1995, with the addition of the arch itself. Collective community memories recall the White women keening on the path down the slope towards Earth point, now the location of Air, until 1994.
The keening is no mad, uncontrollable wail; it is steadily held, a channelled expression of grief, anguish and sorrow, practised as was done by the wailing women of Scotland and Ireland at wakes and funerals; practiced to release that energy, which lies heavy upon the bereft.
The fires are blazing, the earth is shifting; drums echo from the corners of the space, and the masked beings stand together, waiting.
Featured image by Vince Graham for Beltane Fire Society. All rights reserved.