Spiritual Origins of Bonfire Night
Besides the fact Bonfire Night lands just two days before my birthday, I am obsessed with the magic of bonfire night. I am sure most people are familiar with the story of Guy Fawkes but did you know the origins of Bonfire night are much older and more spiritual than you might expect.
It's an ancient fire festival
In ancient Pagan Britain, this time of year marked the end of the harvest and the start of a long, cold winter. The word 'bonfire' is thought to derive from the words 'bone-fires' which meant the bones of animals killed at harvest time. In a similar way to today, bonfires were an opportunity for friends and family to gather in celebration. So as you stand in front of your bonfire chatting to friends, you are performing a ritual much like your ancestors would have done, thousands of years ago.
Fire is cleansing
We are often taught now that fire is destructive which it can of course be, but in the minds of our ancestors fire was also cleansing. It could protect people against the risk of sickness by ridding villages of rotten food or infected material. Spiritually, the burning of flames was thought to cleanse the earth of old energies. So bonfires were lit to burn away the old season's energy and make way for the fresh energy of the new season. This ritual was a symbolic cleansing of the land and fire was seen as a purifying force.
Fire is the colour of life
Fire has long been seen as an element of vitality and life and the warm red colour of fire echoes the warm red of human blood, which was considered the essence of life. It is hardly surprising then that our ancestors worshiped the power of fire. It's an element of great potency, which is both destructive and nurturing.
Fire was seen as a transformative force by early Pagans. Many strands of Paganism sent its dead into the afterlife by setting the body on fire. So the fire would transform the body from solid form to ashes, meaning the soul could be released to be reincarnated to the next life.
Burning the Guy comes from an older tradition
In the UK, we set fire to Guy Fawkes's figure on November 5th. But it's likely this tradition was adapted from a more ancient practice of burning offerings to the gods on bonfires in the hope of gathering divine favour to see communities through the freezing months of the approaching winter.
Fire induces a spiritual trance
Gazing into a fire can have a relaxing and hypnotising effect. Fire is a spiritual element, and looking into a flame can be used to bring you into a spiritual frame of mind for meditation.
Create your own fire ceremony this Bonfire Night
We are at a potent, beautiful time of the year and we have an opportunity to move out of the chaos and choose peace and learn from our ancestors around the world who have used fire in ceremony for centuries. Take some time to be with fire in a sacred way. Let it enchant you, purify you, empower you.
What are you grateful for? What do you want to release to the fire? What do you want to awaken within you? Write these things in a journal and contemplate on them and light a candle or a bonfire and hold these thoughts in your heart and mind. You could also offer some sage or cedar to the fire.
Something deep within your biology knows fire and you have many generations of ancestors who have spent sacred time around fire, tune into this as you create your own ceremony.