IT'S the day after May Day and perhaps you’re feeling you’ve missed out on a good, sweaty Scottish pagan spring ritual of the type done particularly well at Beltane on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill, though not in a year of quarantine. Never fear. There are still ways of channelling the fertility rites of spring, the chief one being, of course, the folk horror classic The Wicker Man. Put on a goat mask, get in touch with your inner Wicker – or even Wicca – and revel in a bit of self-isolation weirding from the comfort of your sofa. After all, even in these times, Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle has something to offer. Not least, his classic line, “Do sit down, Sergeant. Shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent.” Useful at this time of strange shocks.

What to watch

If you want, you can wick out on the full Wicker Man trilogy of Robin Hardy’s 1973 cult classic, the Hollywood remake starring Nicolas Cage, and Hardy’s bizarre follow-up, The Wicker Tree. For purity of oddness and overall eccentricity, though, there’s no doubting the original is best. It’s also set on a Scottish island, filmed mostly in Dumfries and Galloway, and has a special place in our history in terms of altering tourist perceptions of what might be going on behind the scenes in our remote rural areas.

Of course, Robin Hardy’s film wasn’t based so much on rituals that Scots were doing then, but on wider British paganism and folklore history. Hardy reportedly set his movie Scotland because of its enduring Calvinism, rather than its wild paganism. That cultural setting ramped up the tension – and it’s all there to be seen in the blustering incomprehension of Edward Woodward’s Wee Free-like policeman. However, since The Wicker Man, we in Scotland all gone a bit more Wicker Man, with more and more of us embracing the fiery spirit of the Beltane and burning stuff.

What to quote from the film set

Robin Hardy’s description of the final sacrifice scene: “The wicker man was enormous. The stunned look on Howie's face when he first sees it wasn't acting – up until then, Edward had only seen drawings. He clambered in and we set it on fire, filming from the inside. There was a goat inside there, above us. Understandably concerned about the fire, it pissed on us.”

What to eat

An apple, whilst channelling Edward Woodward’s great line from the movie, “Even if you kill me now, it is I who will live again – not your damned apples.”

What site to visit

Since 1988, Edinburgh’s Calton Hill has passed form April to May in a ripple of drums, body paint, semi-naked dancing, May Queens, Green Men and flames, courtesy of the Beltane Fire Society. This year the society have replaced their live event with an online night of poetry, art and song, now available to watch at There you can also read up up on the stories of the festival’s early beginnings, led by Angus Farquhar and his band Test Dept. An excerpt from Farquhar’s diary, for instance, describes how the first festival went on, with wild and drunken oblivion, into the small hours. “Snatched memories of wild drumming coalescing and then falling apart. The May Queen propositioned again and again for marriage. Arguing with the police, ‘If you try and stop this you’ll have a fight on your hands’…”

What to make

A papier mache mask inspired by a fertility symbol animal of your choice – goat, hare, fish, perhaps frog – in homage to The Wicker Man procession Patterns of some animal masks are available to buy at, though you could just save your pennies and follow the instructions on

What to listen to

Robert Burns’ John Barleycorn – perhaps the atmospheric and elegaic 2011 version by Jem Finer and Andrew Kötting – or for some proper bawdiness, Green Grow The Rashes, as sung by Eddi Reader.

What else to watch

Scottish director Paul Wright’s Arcadia, a film that uses over 100 film clips from the last 100 years, to create a journey that reveals Britain’s relationship with the land in all its magic, brutality, beauty and craziness. Or, if you want to go more international in your seasonal weirding, follow the folk horror trail from Scotland to Sweden, and watch The Wicker Man-inspired Midsommar.

What to research

The history of Beltane practices as described by Scottish anthropologist James Frazer in his 1890 classic The Golden Bough: A Study In Comparative Religion. “In the Central Highlands of Scotland bonfires, known as the Beltane fires,” he writes, “were formerly kindled with great ceremony on the first of May, and the traces of human sacrifices at them were particularly clear and unequivocal.”

What folklore guide to read

Dee Dee Chainey’s wonderful A Treasury of British Folklore: Maypoles, Mandrakes And Mistletoe. Or, for more wide-ranging lore, just follow the Twitter-sharing she inspires under the hashtag #FolkloreThursday.

What to cook

Homemade sugar babies inspired by the creepy sweets sold at May Morrison’s store in The Wicker Man. Or bake a Beltane cake like that described in James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough. This, he quotes, would be shared, and there was a piece of it which, if chosen, would lead to whoever got it being called the cailleach bealtine, “a term of great reproach”. “Part of the company laid hold of him,” the passage describes, “and made a show of putting him into the fire; but the majority interposing, he was rescued... Afterwards, he was pelted with egg-shells, and retained the odious appellation during the whole year.”

What film guide to read

Allan Brown’s Inside The Wicker Man: How Not To Make A Cult Classic which picks over the full crazy story of the filming of the 1973 classic. From the start it was beset by chaos and oddness. Though set in spring, Brown describes, the film was shot in autumn. “The often flimsily dressed cast were forced to endure long shoots in agonizing headwinds, sometimes with ice-cubes in their mouths to prevent their breath showing on camera. Trees were hung with artificial apple blossom. The madness had begun.”

What to learn

Maypole dancing. Possibly not for this year given the chief requirements are not only a pole – or phallic symbol representing “the penis, the generative force in nature” as the teacher puts it in The Wicker Man – but also other dancers. Still, you can learn how to construct and dance around a maypole so you’re ready with your ribbony moves for next year’s May Day. Instructions are available on many websites, including The tradition is thought to have come from both Wales and Scotland, before spreading to England.

What not to do

Please, please do not feel tempted to follow The Wicker Man remedy of sticking a frog in your mouth to soothe a sore throat. It will not help clear the virus. We shouldn’t have to say it – just as we shouldn’t have to say don’t follow Donald Trump’s idea of injecting bleach – but such are the times. Leave the frogs alone. Even the tadpoles.