May Day celebrated with fire festival

Image copyright Gladys Yelland

Thousands gathered to watch a fire festival at Edinburgh’s Calton Hill for the city’s May Day celebration.

Hundreds of volunteers at Beltane Fire Festival re-imagined the ancient Celtic holiday with a modern twist.

Image copyright Nathan Goodfriend

A procession of fire, drums, and otherworldly characters set off from an opening sequence on the National Monument to the lighting of a huge bonfire, watched by an audience of 7,000.

The festival tells the story of the transition from winter to summer, which can only happen when the Green Man, an archetypal figure in folklore all over the UK, dies and is reborn again.

Image copyright Andrzej Suchodolski

He does so in order to shake off the last vestiges of winter so he can join the May Queen, a mother goddess figure, as her consort.

Beltane traditionally celebrates human ties with the natural world, and some groups highlighted that environmental message.

Parts of the May Queen’s dress were made out of recycled materials and visually represented oil spills and deforestation.

Image copyright Kasia Sowinska

Inspiration for some of the performances also came from Scottish folklore, with a giant kelpie puppet and a new drumming group inspired by the Unseelie (the dark court of the faeries).

Beltane’s traditional roots as an agricultural festival also inspired some of those taking part – a singing group embodied the cattle who were traditionally driven between two bonfires to ensure prosperity for communities.

Image copyright Gordon Veitch

Brad Mcarthur, Beltane Fire Society trustee, said: “Last night was a wonderful celebration to mark the changing of the seasons and we want to say a big thank to all those that came to witness last night.

“Our volunteers put a massive amount of effort into creating these festivals and it’s really rewarding to have people from Edinburgh and around the world come to see it.”

Image copyright Ken Dunton

Callum Donald, Beltane Fire Festival’s event co-ordinator, said: “Beltane would not be possible without the collective effort of the hundreds of volunteers in our community and help from people across Edinburgh.

“We’re enormously grateful for the work that everyone involved has put in – from the performers and production groups that make the event happen, the venues across the city that host our rehearsals and socials, and to all our other partners – the City of Edinburgh Council, Police Scotland, our new ticket sellers Citizen Ticket, and so many others.”

Image copyright Mary Vanhelsing
Image copyright Gladys Yelland
Image copyright Vince Graham
Image copyright Asier Goikoetxea

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