The Beltane Fire Festival Welcomes Summer With Flames, Nudity, Masks, And More

Celebrating the Beltane Fire Festival in Calton Hill Park

Fire protective power
Forget buying a new bathing suit; each year, performers in Edinburgh, Scotland’s Beltane Fire Festival welcome summer with flames and nudity.

Beltane, in case you weren’t up-to-date on your ancient Gaelic history, is a Pagan holiday celebrated on May 1, halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. The Beltane festival marks the beginning of summer, and celebrates the fertility of the coming year. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals—along with Samhain (more commonly known as Halloween these days), Imbolc and Lughnasadh.

Fire plays an important role in the Beltane festivities: Historically, flames, smoke, and ashes from bonfires kindled during the festival were thought to have protective powers. All household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire.

During the Beltane feast, food and drink would be offered to the aos sí, the faeries. Homes and cattle were then decorated with yellow May flowers, another invocation of fire.

In modern times, the Beltane Fire Society has revived these ancient traditions by celebrating the Beltane Fire Festival on April 30 in Calton Hill Park:

A procession of women in white dresses perform on the National Monumen, called the Acropolis by members of the Beltane Fire Society, at the beginning of the festival.
Fiery drawings representing the journey of the Green Man and the May Queen light up the Acropolis.
Performers dressed in white form a procession through Calton Hill Park.
Members of the Beltane Fire Society take part in Samhuinn which tells the Celtic story of the overthrowing of Summer by Winter, with a stand-off between the Summer and Winter Kings.

A procession marches through Calton Hill park while holding torches during the Beltane Fire Festival.
Women wearing leafy green crowns and white robes make up part of the ceremony's opening procession.
The procession down the Acropolis is followed by drummers.
Members of the public wait to watch performers celebrate the coming of summer by during the Beltane Fire Festival on Calton Hill.
More drummers, this time wearing black body paint, follow the procession away from the Acropolis.
Beltane Fire Society performers celebrate the coming of summer.
Members of the Beltane Fire Society celebrate the end of winter in white dresses and flower crowns.
Revelers brandish torches at Calton Hill.
Wielding torches, Green Man and his female companion, the May Queen, light a bonfire during the festival to signify the start of summer.
The May Queen takes center stage during the festival.

In Edinburgh, a member of the Beltane Fire Society painted himself blue as part of the Beltane Fire Festival on Calton Hill.

A cloaked man wearing an ominous white mask complete with antlers takes part in the Beltane Fire Festival.
Torches abound at Beltane.

A masked performer gazes into his torch during the Beltane Fire Festival.

A member of Beltane Fire Society dances near the fire during the festival.
Fire dancers paint themselves red and wield torches during the raucous Beltane Fire Festival.
Festivalgoers dance amid the flames.
At the end the festival, the performers dressed in red and white dance on the part of the park the Fire Society calls the Bower.


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