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A return to traditional guising at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival

Storyteller Marion Kenny, Musician Mohammed Nafea and guisers Ollie and Sophie Somerville evoke stories at The Vaults

With Hallowe’en just around the corner, the Scottish International Storytelling Festival has been getting into the spooky spirit with a photoshoot in one of Edinburgh’s most haunted and horrifying locations, the underground vaults.

This year, the Festival is championing a return to traditional guising with the Guisers Trail & Family Samhuinn, an afternoon of free celebrations taking place on Saturday 31 October. “People have been guising since Scotland was first inhabited,” explains SISF director Donald Smith. “It is a way of celebrating the seasons’ turn, and warding off any threats to community life, as darkness overtakes daylight. So at Hallowe’en, the old Celtic New Year, it is time to go out singing, rhyming and dancing – this ensures that everyone will get through the winter to come hale and hearty.”

Held in collaboration with Beltane Fire Society, the Guisers Trail & Family Samhuinn promises an afternoon packed full of spooky activities around Edinburgh’s Old Town. Families are invited to the Scottish Storytelling Centre from 12pm to enjoy African dance and drumming; get crafty making lanterns and puppets; or add a colourful touch to their guising outfit with face painting.

From 12-3pm, the Centre will host scary story sessions full of ghosts, ghouls and gore, as well as mini workshops where kids can try out the ancient guising tradition of the Galoshins folk play. (Sessions for both storytelling and the Galoshins play begin every 30 minutes, with sessions on the hour and half hour.)

Once their costumes are ready and their performances perfected, young guisers are invited to set out on the Old Town Guisers Trail. Beginning at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, the route leads to four Royal Mile attractions – The People’s Story Museum, the Museum of Childhood, the Writers’ Museum and the Museum of Edinburgh – where guisers can perform what they’ve learnt, and get a few treats in return!

Councillor Richard Lewis, Edinburgh’s Festivals and Events Champion states: “The Storytelling Festival is an important reminder of Edinburgh’s roots and rich heritage, showcased through its stories. It is fantastic to once again work in partnership with the Festival to support the range of activities and events and provide the Museum of Childhood, Writer’s Museum and People’s Story Museum as Festival venues.”

Later in the evening, don’t miss the incredible sight of the Samhuinn Fire Festival. Starting at 7pm, this ancient celebration marks the beginning of Celtic New Year and will light up the Grassmarket with blazing lanterns, pounding drums and costumed dancers an unmissable end to Edinburgh’s unique Hallowe’en festivities.

Those outside the capital can still join in the fun, too! TRACS (Traditional Arts & Culture Scotland) has put together a set of guising resources so you can add a traditional touch to your Hallowe’en. The readymade guising routine includes fun Scots poems and songs, a short script for the Galoshins play, and for Gaelic speakers or learners, the blessing from the Berneray Oidhche Challuinn tradition.

The Scottish International Storytelling Festival runs from 23 October – 1 November. For more information, visit the Scottish Storytelling Centre, call our box office on 0131 556 9579 or download the full programme.