Oh, do not tell the Priests of LightThere wasn't an "official" (read Beltane Fire Society) Beltane on Calton Hill this year. By the time the Council had deigned to give permission, it was too late to organise insurance, security or any of the myriad things that need to be sorted before you can host a free event for 15,000 people. It wasn't entirely accidental, either....
For they would call it a sin;
But we've been up in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!
So, with less than two months to go and no site, what were the options? To go ahead, of course!
The major problem was that without insurance, there couldn't really be a public performance. A private event, on the other hand, on private land, with all participants having signed appropriate waivers and so on, was a possibility.
After an awful amount of looking around, the Beltane organisers managed to find a suitable out-of-town site where the Beltane performers and a small number of friends (playing the part of an audience) could camp overnight and carry out the ritual. This place will be referred to as the $Secret_Location for the remainder of this piece - we may want to go back there next year!
At this point I was pretty iffy about the whole thing - if the BFS becomes the sort of club that only grows as people's friends join, then we'll have lost something valuable, and as growth stops there'll be nothing but decay. On the other hand, half a loaf is better than no bread.
As ever, I volunteered as a torch-bearer -- I can't drum, and am ungainly when dancing (to say the least), but the role of the stolid torch-bearer acting as a barrier between the procession and the crowd while illuminating the performance is a good one - and of course you get the best view in the house!
There were a couple of dozen of us torch-bearers, but because everyone had different commitments we didn't always get to the same practices (mostly team games for confidence/trust building and name games to help us all to get to know each other - I'm still unsure of some of the names, to my shame) and building sessions (I got to a number of the torch-building sessions, but I'd nothing to do with the costume making).
On the night of the 30 April, there was an indoor Beltane event at the Edinburgh club "The Venue". Large numbers of Beltane people in costume, almost as many people in ordinary clothes, three incredibly well-decorated floors and appropriate live music (link to club flyer?). It was a good night, but the club chucked us out just enough after three that we'd begun to wonder if we'd a five a.m license after all.
Well, it was Beltane, and what do you do on Beltane in Edinburgh? That's right, go up Calton Hill - I should emphasise at this point that this was not an official BFS thing - just a few people staggering out of the club and deciding to investigate the defences that the Council had spent almost as much on as if there'd really been an event on the Hill.
We got to the usual entrance to the Hill, but it was barricaded off with a couple of security people behind it. A little further along, someone was lifting people up over the wall, but we'd barely got there when we heard cheering behind and turned to see the barrier lifted and a large body of people quietly passing the security guards. Back we went, and then up the steps to the top - passing another couple of security guards on the way and remembering to wish them a happy Beltane.
Contrary to the report in the Edinburgh Evening News (which said a couple of hundred people massed at the entrances to the Hill and only a dozen got in briefly before being moved on by Police), there were a good couple of hundred people sitting on the Acropolis and watching fire-performers dancing to the rhythms of the drums. We stayed for almost an hour before heading down the Hill, but apparently things were still going strong as the Sun came up.
We met up at nine o' clock on the Saturday morning for the buses to the $Secret_Location - I'm saying nothing about the mad packing frenzy that resulted from too many late nights in the previous week, except that when the buses arrived almost half an hour late, I mourned for the extra sleep I could've had.
The buses carried a lot more luggage than I'd expected - we'd been warned that excess baggage would be left behind - but I managed to get tent, rucksack, sleeping bag and overly-large shoulder bag on board the first bus, with a significant chunk of the torchbearers. The driver knew we'd been told little about the $Secret_Location and gave us the occasional fake clue to keep us guessing. I think it's safe to say we eventually ended up somewhere towards the western end of the Borders.
The weather, which had been predicted to be truly terrible (high winds and heavy rain all weekend) had stayed fairly good until we got out of the buses, so there was a fairly frantic rush to get the tents up and all luggage under cover. Next priority, food and a hot drink. Phil, who I was sharing the tent with, made up a batch of coffee with a camping stove, but it was rather windy so the coffee took very little time indeed to cool to my usual drinking temperature (later we found that the bar/cafe hut was providing hot water).
The next stage was to finish off the costumes, which entailed attaching ties to the sides of the front and back, so that they'd look like a cloak over a sort of surcoat. There were also head-dresses that consisted of a black headcover with a plume of red, yellow and orange cords to be built.
After this, we were shown around the course the procession'd be following later on so that we'd an idea of which bits would be problematical - this was very useful, as when we'd the real walk-through a little later, we were able to concentrate on interactions with the other groups rather than just trying to remember the route.
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Good news for cattle and corn
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!