As the sky lights up with the reds, oranges, yellows and blues of fireworks and bonfires blaze in the fields of every town, did you know the origins of Bonfire Night are much older and spiritual that you might expect?
Discover the origins of this fiery festival
As the sky lights up with the reds, oranges, yellows and blues of fireworks and bonfires blaze in the fields of every town, did you know the origins of Bonfire Night are much older and spiritual that you might expect? In the UK, bonfire night has become known as Guy Fawkes' night. It is a celebration of the capture of the Gunpowder Plotters before they managed to put their dastardly plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament, on November 5, 1605, into action. But bonfire night didn't start with the unfortunate Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators, because it is part of a far more ancient tradition. Here are six spiritual snippets you probably didn't know about Bonfire Night.
1) 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 'bone-fires' of animals killed at harvest time. In a similar way to today, bonfires were most likely a social event, an opportunity to gather friends and family together for a celebration. So as you stand in front of your bonfire chatting to friends, you are performing a ritual (almost) exactly as your ancestors would have done, thousands of years ago.
2) Fire is cleansing
To the modern mind, fire is considered destructive. But to the ancient mind, it 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 to make way for the fresh energy of the new season. This ritual was a symbolic cleansing of the land. Fire was seen as a purifying force.
3) It's the colour of life
Fire is an element of vitality and life, which seems alive as it flickers and burns.
The warm red colour of fire echoes the warm red of human blood, which was considered the essence of life. It's little wonder our ancestors worshiped the power of fire. It's an element of great potency, which is both destructive and nurturing. It provides heat and light but it can also destroy.
4) Fire brings eternal life
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. The story of the phoenix illustrates the idea of fire as transformative. This mythical bird is burned in flames at the end of its life, only to be reborn as a new bird out of the flames.
5) Burning the Guy comes from an older tradition
In the UK, we merrily set alight to an effigy of the Gunpowder Plotter Guy Fawkes, 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. In post-Pagan times but before the Gunpowder Plot, other effigies of hated figures, perhaps political rebels, were burned on bonfires.
6) Fire induces a spiritual trance
Gazing into a fire is hypnotising as the flames jump and dance before your eyes. Seconds turn into minutes as you watch the dancing movement of the yellow and red heat. Fire is a spiritual element, and looking into a flame can be used to bring you into a spiritual frame of mind for meditation. Try it yourself. Gaze into a flame and clear you mind of all thoughts except the shape, colours and heat from the flame.
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