Tuesday, 23 June 2015

An old Midsummer custom

I subscribe to Dark Dorset  and have regular emails from them about superstitions and folklore of Dorset.  Here is an extract from the latest one, which I hope they will not mind me sharing:

Midsummer Fire Leaping
"Many of these ancient customs are still continued, and the fires are still lighted on St. John's Eve on every hill in Ireland. When the fire has burned down to a red glow the young men strip to the waist and leap over or through the flames; this is done backwards and forwards several times, and he who braves the greatest blaze is considered the victor over the powers of evil, and is greeted with tremendous applause. When the fire burns still lower, the young girls leap the flame, and those who leap clean over three times back and forward will be certain of a speedy marriage and good luck in after life, with many children. The married women then walk through the lines of the burning embers; and when the fire is nearly burnt and trampled down, the yearling cattle are driven through the hot ashes, and their back is singed with a lighted hazel twig. These hazel rods are kept safely afterwards, being considered of immense power to drive the cattle to and from the watering places. As the fire diminishes the shouting grows fainter, and the song and the dance commence; while professional story-tellers narrate tales of     fairy-land, or of the good old times long ago, when the kings and princes of Ireland dwelt amongst their own people, and there was food to eat and wine to drink for all corners to the feast at the king's house. When the crowd at length separate, every one carries home a brand from the fire, and great virtue is attached to the lighted brand which is safely carried to the house without breaking or falling to the ground. Many contests also arise amongst the young men; for whoever enters his house first with the sacred fire brings the good luck of the year with him."
Lady Francesca Speranza Wilde, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland, 'The Baal Fires and Dances', 1887
This truly is an ancient custom, dating back to the Iron Age and the centuries which went before that time.  I am quite sure it wasn't just confined to Ireland either, but would have been throughout Britain.  I am intrigued by the imbueing of the hazel rods with magical powers by being lit from the fire.  There are strong links between this and  the Beltaine fires on 1st May.  Here is a link to Baal fires of the past, which were very similar and again, to protect the community against bad times and pestilence, but inherently linked to the worship of the Sun.  

Anyway, I am hoping that I got somewhere with you know who yesterday as I have to phone Sales today and take out my new contract, and a new home hub will come my way . . .  We shall see.  I worked off yesterday's angst in the garden, and cleared a barrow and a half of weeds from a stupidly small space.  In one cleared area I strewed pot marigold seeds saved from last year, which will keep company with the ones which have (slowly) grown from self-seeding.  Everything is SO behind this year.  I cleared another spot by the autumn raspberries, and put in three rows of vegetables - very belatedly, carrots, pak choi and some Italian lettuce.  These are covered over by a little plastic cloche thingy to keep off carrot fly and slugs and retain any heat.  Then it was back to painting and the shower room is now almost finished in a pale apple green (lighter than the grey-green we had in there before) - I just have 1/3 of a wall for a 2nd coat.  Then on the painting front there is just some touching up on the porch and I can begin the HUGE tidy up/put away which involves finishing clearing the barn out so that the less perishable things can go out there - even if just temporarily should we get a viewing this year as we are going back on the market next month.

On Sunday we are off  to Malvern Antiques Fair (which has some outside stalls too) and I can't wait.  It's our treat . . .


  1. That fire custom sounds extremely scary to me BB, especially the backwards bit.
    The house-building thing is good - we have some pretty miserable new build round here which doesn't always fit in with our stone-built cottages of yesteryear. Enjoy your next few days - do hope they are hassle free regarding you know who.

  2. How interesting about the traditions of the fire. Here at Holy Chalice well, we jump the fire at Beltane.

  3. Sounds as though you've been busy again:) Enjoy your antiques fair, hope that the weather is nice for you.