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Page last updated at 11:07 GMT, Thursday, 28 October 2010 12:07 UK
Samhuinn festival celebrated
Samhuinn procession
The procession begins at Castle Esplanade and moves to Parliament Square

The Celtic festival of Samhuinn marks the divide between this world and the next.

The event will be commemorated in Edinburgh by Beltane Fire Society on 31 October.

The procession of dancers and performers move from Castle Hill, along the Royal Mile, to West Parliament Square.

The spectacle draws crowds of up to 5000 people and this year is expected to be no different.

Changing seasons

Kate Kirkwood of Beltane Fire Society said: "There are four quarter-day festivals, each one marking the change of the seasons and each with a special ritual and symbolic significance.

"The Beltane Fire Society holds events to reinvigorate these ancient festivals and re-establish the often forgotten link between ourselves and the seasonal passage of the year."

Each festival is tied closely to the seasons with Samhuinn on 31 October being the opposite of Beltane which is celebrated on 30 April.

The festival has its origins in the Celtic new year and signalled the end of summer and onset of winter, a time to bring animals in from pasture.

Supernatural influences

Stewards and performers are all volunteers

As the leaves fall off the trees, the barren landscape is a suitable setting for other worldly influences to come to the fore.

Kate said: "Thus it was believed that this was the night of the dead - a time for the spirits of the departed from the previous year to pay one last visit to their relatives before departing for the other world forever.

"Also taking advantage of this closeness between the land of the living and the dead were the mischievous and malevolent spirits of the underworld, and measures had to be taken to protect against their pranks.

"Thus evolved the tradition of modern Hallowe'en to wear masks - originally to disguise oneself against the unwanted attentions of spirits and fairies."

Autumn trade

Other traditions associated with the time of year involved the local market fair where livestock and the autumn harvest were traded.

There was a social element too as people met to catch up before the harsh weather set in.

Matthew Richardson of the Beltane Fire Society mentions the Goloshan Plays which told of the battle between light and dark, summer and winter.

Matthew said: "The two characters fight to the death, winter overcoming summer as inevitably as the seasons, but the mysterious healer steps in to revive the summer figure, thus ensuring the return of spring and light."

Tradition revived

Samhuinn revives the ancient battle between summer and winter

Beltane Fire Society's re-enactment of Samhuinn and Beltane draws thousands of spectators to Calton Hill and the Old Town.

Rob Sproul-Cran, producer of the Samhuinn spectacle, said: "It's spectacular, atmospheric and part of the very fabric of Edinburgh. Everyone has to see Samhuinn at least once."

It's not hard to see why as performers in costume and body paint take on the role of fairies, nymphs and sprites.

Drum beats and torchlight provide the backdrop for the the procession led by a dark hooded figure, her court and the Summer King.


In West Parliament Square, spinning fire and stage performers give way to the arrival of the Winter King.

The battle between the seasons begins with choreography and pyrotechnics leading to the Summer King's death.

He is revived by the cowled figure who is shown to be the Cailleach. Painted blue she represents the Cailleach Bheur or Queen of Winter.

The end of summer and the Celtic new year is celebrated with Samhuinn as winter descends.

Ancient heritage

The Beltane Fire Society aims to get the community involved in celebrating ancient heritage.

The society's committee, the performers and stewards involved on the night are volunteers.

The procession takes place on 31 October between 2100 and 2300, beginning at Castle Hill before making its way to West Parliament Square.

Entry is free though donations are welcome.

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