Beltane 2013

Beltane is the Celtic May Day festival. It marks the midway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice Its traditions date back into prehistory. The celebrations now held on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill however are modern re-interpretations of what might have taken place. They may be inspired by the folklore associated with the old Beltane; but this event is much more of a cultural one which blends the myths and drama from a range of world cultures.

In this photo-essay, the photographer, Thomas Haywood, has captured the spirit of the evening. His pictures can be purchased from his website.

The Revellers Gather at Dusk
The Revellers Gather at Dusk

The event now attracts thousands of people from around the World. Even some of the actors have travelled long distances to be in Edinburgh for this one night.

The Costumes help create the Atmosphere of the Evening
The Costumes help create the Atmosphere of the Evening

The main show starts at the Scottish National Monument, otherwise knows and Edinburgh’s Parthenon (and in older times, “Scotland’s Disgrace”, so named because it was never completed).

The Beltane Fires are Lit at the Parthenon on Calton Hill
The Beltane Fires are Lit at the Parthenon on Calton Hill

The revellers are led by the May Queen in a procession around the hill. She is aided and abetted by a large number of “helpers” and guided by fire.

The May Queen makes her way around Calton Hill
The May Queen makes her way around Calton Hill

The Beltane Fire Society is a charity run by a Board of volunteers who oversee the year-round operation of the organisation. The society is funded entirely by donations through its membership, from Beltane Fire Festival ticket sales and merchandising. We receive no donations from any public funds.

The Fires chase away the memories of the harsh winter
The Fires chase away the memories of the harsh winter

The modern Beltane Fire Festival was created in 1988. Today, the whole event is managed by the Beltane Fire Society, a charity run by volunteers. The Society’s stated aim was to create a sense of community, an appreciation of the cyclical nature of the seasons and a human connection to the environment – something that is often overlooked in our modern urban life.

Red Devils give the whole event a mischievous tone
Red Devils give the whole event a mischievous tone

The Society encourages every active member to take a role in its development and the events that it organises. Each year every position on the Board is available by vote and those positions are open to any member of the Society — all very democratic.

The whole event is a spectacular celebration of Spring
The whole event is a spectacular celebration of Spring

In keeping with celtic tradition, the history of the Festival is maintained mainly through storytelling. Beltane lore is held by the Blues, a respected group of the society’s ‘old hands’ who build the stories through their considerable experience in participation and involvement in the Beltane Fire Society.

Our thanks to Thomas Haywood for these excellent pictures.

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David Calder has been a broadcast journalist for over 30 years. Before moving to the Caledonian Mercury, he worked for the BBC (national and regional) as well as parts of ITV and the World Service. He worked for prestigious programmes such as The Money Programme, You & Yours, Today and The World at One. He spent two years making mini-documentaries for Radio 5 Live and was a regular correspondent for CBC (Radio Canada). He was a regular reporter on various news and current affairs programmes on BBC Scotland as well as producing or presenting (sometimes both) science, legal affairs and arts programmes. As well as his contributions to the Caledonian Mercury, he is also a freelance producer in Scotland for the satellite channel, Al Jazeera.