Canon EOS 1000D | 50mm | f/3.5 | 1/200 secs | ISO 800. Edinburgh’s Beltane festival traditionally takes place on the 30th of April every year on Calton Hill.
Edinburgh’s Beltane festival originates in the Scottish and Irish Gaelic pre-Christian festival of the same name. The name itself is thought to have derived from a Gaelic-Celtic word meaning ‘bright/sacred fire’. It was held to mark and celebrate the blossoming of spring, and coincided with the ancient pastoral event of moving livestock to their summer grazing. It did not occur on any fixed solar date (the tradition of solstices and equinoxes is later in origin) but tended to be held on the first full moon after the modern 1st of May. Some sources suggest that the blooming of the Hawthorn was the primary signal for the event before the development of centralised calendars.
It was a celebration of the fertility of the land and their animals. The main traditional element which was common to all Beltane festivals was the fire which gave it its name. All the fires of the community would be extinguished and a new, sacred ‘Need Fire’ was lit by either the village head or spiritual leader. From this source one or two bonfires were lit, and the animals of the community would be driven through or between them. It was believed that the smoke and flame of the fires would purify the herd, protecting them in the year to come and ensuring a good number of offspring. The inhabitants of the village would then take pieces of the fire to their homes and relight their hearths, and dance clockwise around the bonfires to ensure good portents for them and their families.