Samhuinn Fire Festival

Submitted by edg on Thu, 26 Sep '19 8.35pm
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samhuinn fire festival edinburgh calton hill beltane halloween
Neil Barton
Time & place

The Beltane Fire Society is best known for the Beltane Fire Festival in April, but it also hosts a Winter Festival - Samhuinn, which has turned out to be bigger than its rites of Spring event (see Samhuinn bigger than Beltane).

It's one of many fiery events that take place each year around Bonfire Night and Halloween.

In 2021, if Covid-19 restrictions permit, Samhuinn will be held as a procession through the Old Town. Details are still be worked out but it is not expected to have any static events, simply the procession.

The Samhuinn Fire Festival was originally held on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, but in 2018 and 2019, the Samhuinn Festival was held on Calton Hill to accommodate more folk. With more space to expand into, the volunteer-driven Beltane Fire Society scaled up its unique Halloween night celebration with a familiar mix of neo-pagan theatre, pulsating drums, fire-dancing, acrobatics, over 20 stage performances, and a large bonfire.

The Samhuinn 2019 ritual climaxed with a struggle between Summer and Winter Kings and the unveiling of the mysterious Cailleach, before lighting the bonfire as a symbol of renewal and turning to face the oncoming colder months.

The event introduced a fee in 2018, with discounts for a limited number of low-income tickets. In previous years it was a free event.

Tickets (TBC for 2021)

Suggested donation: £10 per ticket, £5 BFS members and low-income. Under-12s PWYF.  

What is Samhuinn?

The Beltane Fire Society describes Samhuinn as "A night where the veil that splits both worlds grows thinner, a night where spirits can touch the souls of the living. A night to reflect on the year gone by and to look forward to the one to come."

The Summer King leads a carnival of summer's last dance - accompanied by the season's final vibrant beats of the summer musicians, the ethereal dance of summer nymphs and sylphs, fire performers and jesters.

Shudder from winter's fury, as the relentless force of drummers, hunters, and wolves, sweep up the last of summer's light and unleash the hollowing force of the Winter King.

Be one of the few to witness the true all power form of the Cailleach.

Beltane Fire Society take the blows of the Winter, setting a dramatic, dark, and hunting performance that will evoke the last dance of the Summer before the land takes its winter gown.

Background to Samhuinn

Samhuinn (Samhain) for ancient Celts was the time of the year to bring the cattle in from summer pastures to lowland fields for protection. Considering the signs of approaching winter, the trees were bare and the land was barren. Nature itself seemed to be dying.

Outside it is dark for most of the day and the weather is harsh and unrelenting. Black energy grips the land and life struggles to survive in small sanctuaries.

Samhuinn is also the time when the rising of the Seven Sisters (Pleiades) proclaims the triumph of darkness over light. Many ancient cultures celebrated this changeover time from the old cycle to the new. It is believed that peoples as diverse as the Polynesians, ancient Egyptians and Greeks looked to the dawn sky for rising of Pleiades marking the end of the old year."

The Beltane Fire Society

BFS events are a unique opportunity in today's fragmented Society for the whole community of Edinburgh to join in a celebration of the country's ancient heritage. The Beltane Fire Society is managed by a voluntary committee, and all the performers are volunteers.

The process of developing the events each year has also proven to be a valuable catalyst for community development. All the performers are voluntary, and many are previously inexperienced in performance skills. They either join by word of mouth or by attending one of the advertised open meetings held early in the year. Under the guidance of professional performers and community artists, the volunteers are trained in the technical aspects of event production, prop construction, in character performance techniques, team building, percussion skills and the safety considerations of outdoor events.

Many of the participants have since gone on to develop careers in community education and performance art as a result of their experiences with Beltane.

Information for Spectators

Come dressed warm, but also be creative in Halloween/Samhuinn inspired cloaks, masks and costumes.