On the 31st of October the cobbled alleyways of the Old Town will reverberate with the cries of battle. The Prince of Winter is coming. The Summer King, on the throne since May-Day’s eve, has weakened. He must be drawn to fight his perennial foe for one last time.
In the falling darkness a steady beat will rise, the drummers of the two courts making audible the quickening pulses of their champions. Flames dance, crackling in the cold, dry air, shapes formed by the human fire-flies that guide them.
Strange creatures stalk the gathering crowds as the opposing factions approach the chosen ground. Here are the elemental spirits, the guardians of the ritual, the wild hunt, the Reds and the Blues. Overseeing all the Cailleach, or Divine Hag, and her attendant priestesses.
We all know how the fight will end. It is a story as old as the world itself. The Prince of Winter will be victorious, ruling his icy realm for the short days and long nights to come. But, as surely as the sun’s strength returns, the Summer King will have his revenge.
Samhuinn, the Gaelic forerunner to Halloween, is celebrated to mark the end of the harvest. It falls half way between the autumn equinox and winter solstice, one of four ‘quarter’ festivals, together with Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh. On these nights, it is said, that the fabric of the worlds thins and the inhabitants of both sides can more easily reach out to each other. Edinburgh’s celebration is produced by the Beltane Fire Society and is a spectacular mix of acrobatics, dance, music and performance. It is free to watch and the majority of participants are volunteers.
This October other communities will also be returning to their own traditions as autumn fades in to winter. There is more to All Hallow’s Eve than sweets and broomsticks. Scratch below the plastic pumpkin coating and you never know what you might find.