Beltane Fire Festival: Green Man to be played by a woman for first time as Edinburgh's summer celebration goes virtual

Organisers of Edinburgh’s world-famous Beltane Fire Festival have appointed a woman to play the pivotal role of the Green Man for the first time in the event's history.

Rosamund McCormack, a long-time volunteer with the Beltane Fire Society, has been appointed to depict one of the two main characters in the annual celebration of the arrival of summer in the city.

The Green Man is the character who must die and be reborn again to shake of the last remnants of winter so he can join the goddess figure of the May Queen as her consort.

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She will appear in a coming virtual version of the celebration, which is due to be launched on April 30 – the night the festival is normally staged on Calton Hill – and the next in-person Beltane, which is hoped to go ahead in 2022.

Inspired by the ancient Gaelic May Day traditions, the modern-day festival was launched on Calton Hill in 1988. The May Queen and the Green Man traditionally lead a procession of characters around the landmark before the pair take centre stage in a dramatic performance.

McCormack and Rosa McKay, who will play the May Queen for the first time this year, have filmed scenes separately for the online incarnation of the festival, which will get underway at 7:30pm on April 30.

McCormack has been appointed after the society agreed to make it clear that all roles were open to all members.

When applications to become the Green Man opened in January, the society stated: “We now invite those who feel an affinity to the role to step forward and express their interest.

"You don’t have to fit an image/profile of previous Greens. Potential candidates sometimes self-deselect because they don’t feel they fit the profile based on who they’ve seen take the role in the past.

"This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as we can only select from those who step forward or are nominated.

"We welcome applications from people of all gender-identities, physical abilities, ages and socio-economic statuses.”

Ms McCormack said: "The role of the Green Man appeared to me like a snowdrop in December – surprising, exciting and somewhat daunting, an opportunity for fresh growth.

Rosamund McCormack will be the first woman to play the Green Man. Picture: Scott A Winchester / Beltane Fire Society

"Just before meeting with the Blues and the May Queen, I was awash by a wave of emotions.

"Struck by the lack of the loving, supportive and grounded divine masculine energy that I (and somewhat ‘society’) can neglect to cultivate in the self, I’m hoping to explore this aspect through my time in this role, expanding it to the land and further, taking the joyful, bold, vulnerable and protective nature of the Green Man as my measure.”

Ms McKay said of her role: “The May Queen is undoubtedly a female figure – but what does this mean to us now, as performers, creators, and humans of the 21st century?

"I’m feeling excited by the duality of this role – a character who radiates a calm, collected certainty and yet is also filled with fire, passion, and life.

The May Queen and the Green Man on Calton Hill. Picture: Duncan Reddish / Beltane Fire Society

"What does it mean to be the May Queen and what does it mean to be a woman? An uncountable number of contradictory things.

"To be able to subvert and also embrace the different aspects of being a woman in this traditionally feminine role is something I’m holding a strong awareness of."

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Neil McIntosh

Volunteers who normally stage the Beltane Fire Festival on Calton Hill have been filming scenes for the virtual celebration over the last few months. Picture: Sofia de la Fuente / Beltane Fire Society


Asier Goikoetxea / Beltane Fire Society
Rosa McKay will be playing the May Queen role for the first time in the new film. Picture: Anna Chaney
The Beltane Fire Festival is usually held on Calton Hill in Edinburgh to herald the arrival of summer. Picture: Kasia Sowinska / Beltane Fire Society

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