The ancient tradition behind the Beltane Fire Festival

The ancient tradition behind the Beltane Fire Festival

Photo: Ove Hansen

The annual ceremony takes place on Edinburgh's Calton Hill

Fire, processions and rituals – all sounds a bit Wicker Man, right? Beltane Fire Festival, however, is not remotely cult-related and Christopher Lee (nor Nicolas Cage, ahem) will not be anywhere in sight at this annual celebration of changing seasons and Celtic culture.

2012 marks the 25th year of the carnival of light which now attracts over 12,000 revelers, keen to see the spectacular fire display on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill. The event, run by the charity Beltane Fire Society, begins with over 300 performers leading the crowd on a procession, performing a traditional narrative used to welcome summer.

Matthew Richardson, chair of Beltane Fire Society, explains: ‘The performance has two main characters – the May Queen who represents the mother earth, and the Green Man who represents nature and the energy of summer. The festival takes the form of a procession around Calton Hill following the Green Man in his winter form, meeting various groups along the way, such as the Red Men and their Beastie Drummers. It ends with a ritual killing and rebirth of the Green Man, stripped of his winter guise and resurrected in his spring form. We then light the bonfire on the hill, representing the heat and light of the summer.’

‘It was an old Celtic tradition where people at this time of year would build two large bonfires and they would drive all their livestock between them, believing the heat and smoke would purify the animals and get rid of any parasites.’

The Caves will host the special 25th anniversary Grand May Day Ceilidh after-party, with traditional ceilidh tunes as well as reggae, dubstep, drum’n’bass, house and techno from Riddim Tuffa, Bass Alliance, Anonymi, Covalent, Nisha Pannu and C.H.I.L.L.Y & P.J.

Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Mon 30 Apr. Advance tickets available from The Hub, Ripping Records and Ticket Scotland (£6), as well as a limited number on the night (£8).

Grand May Day Ceilidh

An alternative ceilidh as part of the Beltane celebrations in association with the Beltane Fire Society, featuring 'AYE' Margaret Bennett & Company, RURA, New Urban Frontier, Reel Time Ceilidh Band, Anoymi, Riddim Tuffa and more in a mix of trad music, dancing, dub and electronica including a five hour drum 'til dawn…

Beltane Fire Festival

A modern interpretation of the ancient fertility festival of Beltane housed in the spectacular setting of Calton Hill. Beltane Fire Society performs the story of the death of winter and the birth of summer via dance, drumming, debauched acrobatics, giant puppetry and, of course, fire.

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