2016 Edinburgh Beltane Festival

**Disclaimer** These are my personal experiences and thoughts about this event. Other attendees probably have a different opinion so do further research if you’re thinking of attending. My word is not the gospel**


This backpacking trip has been in the works for six years and during that time, I was specifically planning to attend one event that was date dependent. This was the well-reviewed and oft exclaimed over Edinburgh Beltane Festival, which is known as a very large and amazingly well done pagan celebration. Some of you may know that I celebrate the pagan sabbats, and so the opportunity to attend this festival was something I could not pass up. In fact, I built my trip itinerary around it very meticulously.

And I was thoroughly and heartbreakingly disappointed.

Beltane is celebrated with music, dancing, storytelling, feasting, and of course plenty of fire. It would have been an all day or even several day event traditionally, with every villager being involved. It was a joyous event that celebrated life returning to the Earth, fertility of crops and livestock, and hope for the coming year. The veil between the land of the fae and that of the living is thinner, so many customs involve honoring them and asking for blessings of good fortune. If you were to do the opposite though, and cause them to feel slighted, they may very well cause some mischief!

Another huge part of Beltane is the courtship of the May Queen and the Green Man. These roles were usually taken on by a couple who were trying to conceive a child and were considered a great honor. As this is a fertility holiday, many aspects of it symbolize sex, such as the May Pole dance, the pole representing the Masculine God and the wreath representing the Feminine Goddess. As a fertility holiday, nudity was often accepted and encouraged.


I have hosted a handful of Beltane celebrations over the years. Every time, I have had attendees who knew nothing about the holiday. They come out of curiosity and as a way to learn about the path I follow. I welcome them wholeheartedly and do my best to make sure they can follow along with the stories and understand the symbolism. I think it is important for everyone at this type of celebration to feel included, regardless of their initial level of knowledge. This I do with verbal storytelling, and emailing articles about Beltane to attendees a few days in advance. Before any performance, we try to explain the intent and the story being told. Food and drink is shared, and everyone is encouraged to join in with merrymaking.

That precisely was a big part of my disappointment with the festival in Edinburgh. While a small sheet was handed out with the times and names of each performance, there was no explanation of each. I spent more than half of my time there explaining to curious strangers what the holiday even was about. While I have no problem teaching when the opportunity presents, I found myself exasperated that so many people were clueless. It seemed to me that the organizers of the event did not make a big effort to educate or share. This may have been an oversight because it is possible they expected people attending this event to inherently know what it was. However, many that I spoke to only knew there was fire and dancing topless women, they hadn’t a clue the reasoning or traditions behind it. In the five hours I was here, I did not meet a single other person who was of the Pagan persuasion. I am a social person, so this greatly surprised me. I know they were around, so this may have been just a unique anomaly. But having expected to be surrounded by like-minded individuals and instead being the odd one out, simply because I actually celebrate this holiday, was very isolating.

Additionally to this, the location, while beautiful, was not ideal for such a large crowd. Most of the performances were entirely impossible to see due to the hilly landscape. The crowd was continuously shifting to follow the acts, so no one was bothering to sit down, which meant if you were more than two people back, you would not see. I was disappointed by this for the performers sakes. The bits I saw were beautiful, talented, and passionate. But only a small handful of the huge crowd were able to see each one. The work the performers and artists put in to each aspect largely went to waste.

Now, this all aside, I enjoyed watching. The artistry and passion put into each performance was brilliant. The rhythmic drums drew through your body even if you couldn’t see the stage. The fire arches were ingenious and oh the costumes! So I can say that I am glad I made the trek up Calton Hill to watch this. However, once was enough for me, and in future, I will stick with celebrating Beltane in my own fashion.

***Again, this was my personal experience and should not be considered a reflection on the artists, musicians, dancers, and organizers of the event. Please let me know if you had a completely different experience here. I would love to hear about it.***


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