If you’re in Edinburgh during the autumn season, you must not miss the Beltane Fire Festival. A mega event with layers and layers of tradition and modernity imposed upon each other, this one is for the true worshippers of fire!
Founded by the Beltane Fire Society, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1988 to oversee the running of the festival, the Beltane Fire Festival does not accept donations from public funds at all, choosing to run on ticket sales and its membership scheme.
Legend has it that in the olden days, the Gaelic Beltane Fire Festival was celebrated in the evening before May 1, to commemorate the beginning of spring. Some enthusiasts decided to start a modern-day version of the festival, some of whom included musical collective Test Dept and the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh for academic support.
The modern Beltane Fire Festival has grown in size ever since its inception in 1988, now involving over 300 performers, collaborators and volunteers every year, and the number just keeps growing by the year. It was a free event, but owing to the expansion in size and number of attendees, it has since become a ticket sales-based event.
The festival itself is more than a visual spectacle. Emotive performances, lots of fire showcases and loads of body paint dominate the Beltane Fire Festival. Drummers, physical theatre and bonfires only add to the magnificence of this festival.
A staggering 12,000 people come every year to experience the festivities at Calton Hill. Originally supposed to be at Arthur’s Seat due to historical reasons, the festival was moved to Calton Hill for practicality.
Apart from running the festival, the Beltane Fire Society also organises a lot of fundraising events related to art and music. Every member of the society is encouraged to contribute to the festival’s progress, and senior members help out with art installations and the production aspect of the festival.
There is a lot of storytelling involved in the performances, with performers incorporating their own culture and folklore into their acts. Every act at the festival has a story to tell. The festival has only increased in diversity, as more and more performers make their presence felt each year. Though, three key elements have remained throughout the duration of the festival: the procession of the May Queen, the death and rebirth of Green Man, and the lighting of the bonfire.
So, if you’re in the UK on the 30th of April, make sure you go for the Beltane Fire Festival. It’s one event you do not want to miss!