Beltane Festival

Beltane is an ancient Gaelic holiday celebrated around 1 May, historically celebrated in Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. It is a fire festival that celebrates the coming of summer and the renewed fertility of the coming year.The festival survives in folkloric practices in these nations (and the diaspora), and has experienced a degree of revival in recent decades, not only in the British Isles, but also in countries further afield such as the USA. The word Beltane is thought to have derived from a Gaelic Celtic word meaning ‘bright/sacred fire’. Across Scotland (and elsewhere in the UK), fires are lit and private celebrations are held amongst covens and groves (groups of Pagans) to mark the start of the summer.

The largest Beltane celebrations in the UK are held in Edinburgh on Calton Hill. Fires are lit at nightfall, and festivities carry on until dawn. Every year since 1988, on 30 April, thousands of people (up to 15,000) come together for a huge celebration on Calton Hill in the city centre to mark the coming of summer. The festival is organised by the Beltane Fire Society, which was created in the late 1980s as a community arts project, celebrating the seasonal quarterday festivals through street performance theatre. The evening begins with a procession to the top of the hill led by the May Queen and the Green Man (ancient God and Goddess figures representing fertility and growth). The May Queen crowns the Green Man, in a ritual similar to that carried out by Wiccan Pagans (who follow a structured set of rituals). The winter ends when the Green Man's winter costume is taken from him and he is revealed in his spring costume. A wild dance takes place and the Green Man and the May Queen are married.

In terms of costs and benefits, the Edinburgh Beltane Festival costs £40,000 to put on. This excludes an estimated £15,000 that performers spend on rehearsals, props and costumes. In addition, an estimated 10,000 voluntary man hours are put into rehearsing, and making props and costumes. Some of the costs of production are recouped through a small entrance fee (£3–5) for members of the public. As yet, no research has as yet been done on the precise economic impact of the event. The Edinburgh Beltane event is a relatively recent revival, but appears to be a robustly supported event that transmits knowledge of ICH practices. It is true that it is unclear precisely what connection these events have to the ancient festivities of which Beltane is perceived as a revival. However, as a reflection of the intangible ‘here and now’, it is a strongly supported practice.


Beltane Festival
Beltane Festival

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