As the wheel turns and May comes upon us, we mark our ancestors’ paths as a time of light returning. Many still celebrate Beltane with music, dancing and huge bonfires. While there are many other images of the season such as flowers, colors, and brides, fire conjures an energy and jubilation that brings about celebration.
Among the Celtic people, the celebration of May is called Beltane. The “bright fire,” or Beltane fires were lit on the first of May in the Highlands of Scotland; description of the Beltane fires by John Ramsay of Ochtertyre in the eighteenth century still ring true in many lands.
One of the fullest descriptions was left us by John Ramsay, laird of Ochtertyre, near Crieff, patron of Burns and friend of Sir Walter Scott. From his manuscripts, written in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, a selection was published in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The following account of Beltane is extracted from a chapter dealing with Highland superstitions. Ramsay says: “But the most considerable of the Druidical festivals is that of Beltane, or May-day, which was lately observed in some parts of the Highlands with extraordinary ceremonies. Of later years it is chiefly attended to by young people, persons advanced in years considering it as inconsistent with their gravity to give it any countenance. Yet a number of circumstances relative to it may be collected from tradition, or the conversation of very old people, who witnessed this feast in their youth when the ancient rites were better observed.”
Fire has been around for centuries. When our ancestors discovered fire, they realized its power as a source of energy that requires careful tending and control or it will burn out, or burn you. The inherent mature of Fire is combustive and unbridled especially when paired with Air energy. It made its way into our homes and became the heart of the home as hearth fire. Even though fire can consume, it gives back light and warmth.
Ritual fire allows humans and Salamanders to dance, and bring magick into being. As one of the four elements tied to passion and power, it has captivated our senses and our souls. Prometheus, a Titan in Greek Mythology, was known as the deity who was the creator of mankind and its greatest benefactor. He stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to mankind. Heraclitus, a philosopher from Greece offered a very interesting peek at the fire element; he felt that the soul consisted of both water and fire.
For Beltane, enjoy your celebrations. Remember the traditions and elements used and marvel at their history and connection to our ancestors. As you watch the flames flicker against the dark of the night, consider the voice of the flame. The burning fingers of fire’s flame beckons to us, “Come see, remember me.”
Frazer, Sir James George. (May 4, 2004) Project Gutenberg’s Balder The Beautiful, Vol. I., A Study In Magic And Religion: The Golden Bough, Part VII., The Fire-Festivals Of Europe And The Doctrine Of The External Soul. ISO-8859-1