After Hogmanay, the Beltane festival is arguably the biggest party in Edinburgh's calendar. It began life in the mid-Eighties as a re-enactment of an ancient fire festival on the top of Calton Hill in the heart of Edinburgh.
EdinburghGuide.com talked to Chloe Dear, a Blue Man and "elder stateswoman" of the society, and one of the most respected members of the Committee that comes together each year for Beltane.
EdinburghGuide.com. What is Beltane?
Clo. It celebrates the marriage between the earth (female principle) and the sun (male principle). Beltane is one of the original pre-Christian festivals and it has been celebrated almost continuously up until the start of this century. What you see on Calton Hill is a modern re-incarnation.
We don't actually know the details of what Beltane celebrations were like. What we are doing is something that has meaning to us, to those involved. There are lots of elements based on Beltane traditions, like the Bonfire, the breaking of bread, the washing of faces in the dew, and the May Queen, but other elements are of our own creation and understanding.
EdinburghGuide.com How pagan is it?
Clo. Most of us do not follow the modern pagan faith. Beltane does have great significance to us, but at a deep primal level and not because we have read about it in a book of spells. However, everyone's understanding is different and the interpretations I put on Beltane may not be held by everyone.
EdinburghGuide.com How did you get involved?
Clo. I was aware of Beltane right from the word go and always wanted to be involved. It captured my imagination totally. I also knew people who were organising it, though it was very different in those days... only a handful of performers and an audience in the hundreds. 1990 was most special because it was the night before I left for Nepal where I was to work for two years.
Beltane somehow lodged in the consciousness of a whole network of people, including almost everyone I knew... I gate- crashed the drumming, so was right in there the whole way and spent the night with friends admiring the view, listening to marimbas, contemplating my place in Edinburgh. I felt at long last rooted to a place and to people after years of feeling adrift. It gave me a very positive grounding for my time in Nepal - I felt as if there were rituals and celebrations with meaning in my life and I didn't have to look on in envy as the Nepalis celebrated one crazy holiday after another... for now Beltane had a place in my life and somehow I knew it would grow!!
EdinburghGuide.com. Have you taken part in the ritual itself?
Clo. I first performed in 1993 as a White Woman which completely blew me away. I was a creature transformed. Talk about a cathartic episode: it was one of my most life-changing experiences, and eventually led to me leaving my job as a drugs worker and becoming a full-time producer for te POOKa, the performance company which has grown out of Beltane.
EdinburghGuide.com. What is a White Woman?
Clo. White Women are warriors, defenders of the May Queen and the orderly passage of Winter into Summer. Although the May Queen is the catalyst for the transition, she is dependent on her entourage to see that she carries out her role.
EdinburghGuide.com. So what happened to you that first time as a White Woman?
Clo. We had had lots of prep and a very ritualistic warm-up... I felt quite
calm until we were on the way up the hill in the truck and then the tension started to rise. I did feel safe behind my White Woman exterior and we had been well prepared in how to deal with crowds. Thousands of them. Lots off their faces too! There is a lot of tension (good not bad) built into the event: the slow build-up to the killing of the Green Man and then the dancing with the Red Men...
I had mucked about before as a performer, but it was nothing compared to Beltane that first time. I came away quite different... it wasn't just being up all night dancing, it wasn't the intensity of a two hour performance... there was something quite powerful about remaining focused and intent on carrying out a ritual in front of so many people. I was not myself which is what gave me that power to see it through... and people did not recognise me, or if they did, recognised I was in a different state that night - I was a White Woman, not Chloe. And all without the aid of any drugs whatsoever - just the whole joyous spirit of Beltane.
EdinburghGuide.com. Sounds pretty wild ?
Clo. No seriously, I am very down to earth, pretty damn skeptical, raised as a non-believer of everything. My father is a fully-practicing atheist who hates any form of non- scientific thought! I don't describe myself as a hippie, new- ager or anything like that and nor do I call myself pagan, but Beltane is probably one of the most important elements of my life.