The arts are kinda odd sometimes. We separate them into categories, like fine art, music, theater, dance. More and more though, as more tools become available to artists (no matter what their official title or focus might be) the more they branch out and the lines become blurred as artists adapt to new ideas, concepts, & ways of communicating and expressing what they feel needs expressing. Ritual can be like that, there can be a blur between artistic exploration and expression, performance, theater, and something that is perhaps unnameable. You may think that artists are always in control over their creations, that we have a precise plan and we create our art/music/whatever to those exacting plans and woah, aren’t we a genius. There are a few artists that work that way I am sure, but most artists and performers I’ve known or read about that I like experiment, play, leave part of their work to chance (or as Bob Ross would say, ‘a happy accident’). This combination of art and ritual, control and chaos, seems to manifest itself wonderfully in the Beltane Fire Society’s Beltane Festival that takes place in Edinburgh Scotland.
I heard about this group back in 2006. I saw a photo of the Red Men charging down a hill with torches lit (not unlike the photo you see above) in National Geographic. I hadn’t seen anything like that outside of Burning Man, and while that festival does some some very interesting things with created community and has a set theme every year, it’s not dedicated to putting on a specific festival. The Beltane Fire Society was created in 1988 by a group of artists & enthusiasts including the musical collective Test Dept as a community arts project, and has academic support from the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Today the Beltane Fire Society is a registered charity, and they put on festivals for Imbolc, Lughnasadh, and Samhuinn, as well as take part in other local events. All their festivals use archetypes specific to Celtic mythology and the region but do not stick with traditional guidelines, meaning this isn’t a re-constructionist festival & creative liberties are taken. The people who take part are volunteers. Artists & performers that have taken part in the past help create and put on workshops to help new-comers, and they actively encourage new participation. The festival itself has been free and open to the public in the past, although this past year they issued tickets that were used to control number of people who attended. If you want to know more about the specifics of the Beltane fire ritual and to see more photos check out this blog that covered the event in 2010. This particular festival takes place on April 30th, & if you want to know more about the event, or to see more photos and find out information about the Beltane Fire Society please visit their website at http://www.beltane.org
I really dig what they’re doing, offering up an artistic/performance/spiritual experience that’s open to everyone, not just Pagans, and doing so in a way that can really move and inspire people. Oh and footnote, search for them on Youtube, lots of interesting video shot of their events as well.