San Diego Scottish Highland Games

2024 Highland Games June 22-23

2024 Highland Games June 22-23

Beltane Fire Festival

Beltane Fire Festival

Beltane Fire Festival is a living, dynamic reinterpretation and transformation of an ancient Iron Age Celtic Ritual. It was resurrected in 1988 and became a central focus for the Scottish community and revealed the birth of summer and land fertility.

What is Beltane?

One of the four quarter-day festivals, Beltane saw community members together to celebrate the return of the summer. This was a hugely important time in the turning of the wheel of the year and characterized by a celebration of the return of the fertility of the land and a time when would have been put out to pasture. Beltane means “Bright Fire” and is one of the essential rituals still surviving in Scottish culture and concerns the lightening of the Beltane bonfire. The fire was seen as a purifier and healer and walked around and danced by community members. Farmers drove their cattle to the bonfire to cleanse and protect them.

In an ancient community, all hearth fires have been extinguished, and a new neid fire lit to relight people’s hearths in their homes. This was the way to connect the community through the sacred fire. Beltane is the festival of joy and festivity fostered in the ritual. The Beltane Fire Festival is about casting off the darkness and celebrating the light.

Historical Background

The ancient Gaelic festival of Beltane inspires the modern Beltane Fire Festival. The modern festival was started in 1988 by a small group of devotees, including the musical collective Test Dept, with some educational support from the Scottish school at the University of Edinburgh. Since then, the festival has grown and includes more than 300 voluntary collaborators and performers. As the festival draws on historical, mythological, and literary influences, its organizers do not claim it to be more than a modern celebration of Beltane and developing their participants. This festival aims to recreate practices to continue in the spirit of ancient forebears.

Modern Festival

The modern festival takes place on Calton Hill. It is a procession which starts at the National Monument (known as the Acropolis) and proceeds anti-clockwise around the path. The drumbeats drive the procession to urge it inexorably towards summer. AT the procession’s head are the May Queen and the Green Man, followed by a cavalcade of characters who are intrinsically linked with them and their journey. Their destination is scattered by several groups who either help or hinder their progress towards the Green Man’s fate and the May Queen’s destiny.

After the stage performance indicating the inception of the summer, the May Queen and Green Man spark the birth of summer by lighting a huge bonfire and then moving into the community performance phase. All the participants gather in a Bower and, finishing their festival movements, are played out in a reds and whites dance, followed by warmth, food, and drinks to the tired and cold performers. The boundaries between the performers and audience fade and drift off into the night, taking away the unique and special event memories.

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