As a true nerd of all things obscure, especially Celtic culture, I was tremendously excited to be able to join in on the ancient rituals concerning Samhain (Samhuinn in Scottish Gaelic). And I was not alone – it was sold out, meaning about 7,000 people would light up windy, cold, and dark Calton Hill for the second appearance of Samhuinn Fire Festival in that location.
The organisation is in hands of the Beltane Fire Society, who manage the Samhuinn and Beltane version every year. Two months in advance performers come together and weave together a story that reflects Scotland's Celtic past and ensures the old ritual practices will continued to be used for years to come. These ancient celebrations include the lightning of the sacred Neid fire, which was believed to be purifying and relit the hearth in each home. Tiny details like these are abundant in the festival, where all the fire presented is also lit from one single flame, which this year will symbolise community and together in uncertain Winter times.
Witnesses who have been paying attention to big, and small, symbols enacted by the hundred of volunteers will recognize the changing of the seasons by reinterpretation of Celtic traditions. Stories borrowed from Scottish folklore are shown in a dazzling max of fire play, interactive theatre, acrobatics, and drumming. Both the performing groups and the witnesses are free to move all over Calton Hill to assigned areas whose placement play a role as well in the story.
During a time when the veil between our world and the Otherworld is thinnest, who knows what kinds of creatures may fall through. Such as the beasties, Valravn and others. They aid the Winter King and the Summer King in their struggle for the seasons, eventually decided by the Cailleach, a mysterious crone goddess aligned with Winter. After the Winter king has won for this year, they all come together at the Hearth to enjoy the Samhuinn fire.
The location, the atmosphere, and if you carefully ignore the flashing cameras all around, you can almost imagine yourself 500 years in the past. Standing in the exact same spot, holding the exact same hot tea being mesmerized by the skills of the performers who become otherworldly beings. Though we live in an era of modern laws and requirement, it is great to see a historic event being able to be performed in an almost traditional setting – the whole of Calton Hill was (almost) only lit up by natural fire. It is a shame that not everyone has the ability to allow their imagination to wander and simply be amazed by the amount of love the Beltane Fire Society has for their rituals and traditions. As much as I enjoyed being swooped up in the festivities, people reeking like alcohol and others blatantly shouting their version of Wonder Wall through a stunning performance of traditional Scottish Gaelic songs did ruin it a bit for me.
All in all, visiting the Samhuinn Fire Festival was the best decision for celebrating Halloween I've ever made and I will most definitely return for Beltane in the Spring. Perhaps even as a volunteer myself.
The Beltane Fire Society returns for the Beltane Fire Festival in Spring 2020, and Samhuinn Fire Festival in Autumn 2020.