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Beltane Festival & May Day

30th April 2018 by Scran | 0 comments

The term Beltane is thought to mean bright fire. The festival’s origins lie in Scotland’s distant past when people lived by herding animals. They marked the seasons with community celebrations. Beltane signified the transition from Spring to Summer.

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Before banks had holidays or even the advent of Christianity, there has been a festival held at the start of May to celebrate the first day of summer. Early agricultural peoples across Europe used seasonal indicators like the flowering hawthorn to mark the start of the summer in northern Europe. For the early farmers, summer was a time of warmth and plenty of food between the winter and before the hard harvest work, a great excuse for a party.

Paganism Plagiarism

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Minister conducting a May Day service, Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

When the first Christians arrived in Britain to spread their faith, they used many of the existing customs as a foundation. Major Christian festivals like Christmas and Easter fall near important dates on the solar calendar like winter solstice and spring equinox. By incorporating familiar holidays and symbols, Christian missionaries could encourage piety without asking their converts to stop their fun or completely change their society. Even today, services are held at the top of Arthur’s Seat as the sun comes up over Edinburgh on May 1st. Images of the pagan symbol of rebirth and renewal, like the Green Man who is particularly associated with Beltane, have been included in Christian gravestones for centuries.

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Green Man screaming in panic

Bring Back the Best Bits

This basic need for a holiday still holds true today. In our increasingly hectic world, people are becoming more curious about their ancient ancestors and customs. Revivals of pagan celebrations of the seasons are becoming popular, and sometimes spectacular events.

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Green Man in the Great Hall at Edinburgh Castle

In Edinburgh, a contemporary Beltane Fire Festival is held on Calton Hill on the evening before 1st May to mark the beginning of summer. This variant of the Beltane festival was started in 1988 by enthusiasts, with academic support from the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Since then it has become an immensely popular event in the city’s calendar, drawing on a variety of historical, mythological and literary influences including the Green Man and the May Queen.

Beltane celebrates fertility and the earth’s ripe abundance. Various rites were performed to ensure the fertility of nature and the fires were believed to purify and protect against plague and epidemics. Modern day Beltane festivals are mainly for public entertainment.

The Victorians

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Peebles First Beltane Queen – Friday 23rd June 1899

The Victorians also realised the value of a celebration for the whole community and began ‘reviving’ local customs in towns across Britain, like the Riding of Marches in Peebles to define the town’s boundaries. Here the Beltane originally celebrated the advent of the Summer Solstice in May and in folklore was a Celtic festival devoted to Baal, the God of Fire.

The modern celebration, marking midsummer, is primarily a children’s festival and incorporates the Riding of the Marches. In 1899, the first Beltane Queen was crowned with all due pomp and ceremony, moving the celebration to mid June. The Peebles Beltane Festival continues into the 21st century bringing tourism to the town.

Images © Scottish Media Group, National Museums Scotland,  Beltane Fire Society & Gerry McCann, Historic Environment Scotland, Collection of Bert Robb & Eric Stevenson  Licensor Scran

One Final Burst of Light!

28th October 2015 by Scran | 0 comments

Our final montage of all things from the Scran archives to celebrate the theme of light is now live.

lightfantasticThe Light Fantastic explores the light found in the magical worlds of fairgrounds, theatre, dance and film using archive material from the Scran collections of movies, music, poetry readings and still images.

All the films in this Archives for Inspiration series are available to view here.

Let There Be Light!

24th September 2015 by Scran | 0 comments

Scran celebrates National Poetry Day 2015 with a series of movie montages celebrating this year’s theme of light – tying in with the UNESCO Year of Light – and offering inspiration from the archives.

It’s National Poetry Day on Wednesday 8th October. This annual event celebrates poetry in all its forms across the country. This year the theme is light, marking the United Nations International Year of Light 2015.

To celebrate and provide inspiration for your own creative works, Scran has delved deep into its digital collections and found a range of material which explores light in interesting ways. Three two-minute movie montages have been created so far, using still images, moving images and sounds from www.scran.ac.uk. These are now available to view on the site.

Light and Dark layers rural landscapes, urban landscapes and seascapes with imagery of Scottish skies showing the changing light at different times of day. Human experiences are evoked through film and oral testimony and include torchlit processions and memories of wartime blackouts. Poetry and song add atmosphere to the piece.

Light and Dark

Man Made Light explores ways in which light is generated through a range of human activities, including domestic lighting, lighting for safety at sea and on the roads and light and heat generated through industrial processes. There are Oral testimonies from former factory workers and archive footage is juxtaposed with contemporary colour film.

In Light and Shadows, grainy black and white stills of early 20th century cityscapes are set against the wide open spaces of the Highlands. Human figures and forms in nature cast interesting shadows in their surroundings. Poetry readings echo themes of darkness and light.

There’s a fourth and final movie to come – watch this space for more information.

Watch all the Inspiration from the Archives movies on Scran

Try these other websites to find more resources to support teaching and learning for National Poetry Day 2015: Scottish Poetry Library | Education Scotland

Image taken from Sun being obscured by black clouds © Edinburgh Film Workshop Trust / Comataidh Craolaidh Gaidhlig (sync rights CoG): Copyright owner: Computerised Time-lapse Library. Licensor www.scran.ac.uk