Beltane (1 May) is almost here, that time of celebration as we usher in a new season: summer.
For many it probably doesn’t feel like summer, or even spring at the moment – it’s about the temperature of the inside of a fridge in London at the moment as temperatures have plummeted over the last few days. But, summer is on its way.
Beltane, then, marks the entry-point to summer, and summer (as with the southern compass point) is associated with fire. So, here some words on the seasonally-apt theme of fire.
‘Fire is the most tolerable third party.’ ‘Henry David Thoreau
Beltane, along with rituals of old to protect cattle, crops and people, was also a time of celebration involving a community bonfire. Think of Druids of old around a bonfire, ancient and latter-day Celts, or St Patrick and other Christians celebrating the coming of Light. Bonfires have long been associated with this time – though there is no reason why you can’t celebrate the event in a special way, if at home on that evening, with the lighting of a symbolic candle.
But, it’s a time of fire.
‘Beltane is a wonderful time for expressing who you truly are.’ Carole Carlton
There is an intimacy about fire. Figuratively, we might describe a couple deeply in love as burning with passion, with fire in their hearts for each other. For those burning with ambition (pun intended), we might describe them as having fire in their belly.
‘Desire is a bonfire that burns with greater fury, asking for more fuel… ‘ Sri Sathya Sai Baba
Fire is alive.
At school, albeit many, many years ago, I well remember learning about the seven processes that underpin all life.
Firstly, living things move to find food, and fire moves especially rapidly during forest fires, house fires to find and consume material for fuel.
Living things undergo respiration – they need oxygen. Fire ‘breathes in’ oxygen, and needs it to sustain its energy. Starve a fire of oxygen and it dies.
Exodus 19:18 ‘Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire…’ Exodus 19.18a, The Book
Sensitivity is another process of life as it detects changes in its surroundings. Fire also is sensitive to its surroundings, as it responds to the materials it encounters, favouring some and moving away from others eg wood and water, paper and metal etc).
Fire, like living cells, grows. The more fuel fire finds, the larger and more expansive the flames.
That naturally bring us onto nutrition. Living cells, animals, trees, plants etc need food to live, and fire is no different. Take away its fuel source and it dies.
Reproduction? Yes, just as life reproduces itself, so does fire. In many rituals one candle is initially lit, and from that many others are lit (with the former being diminished in any way). Fire can make umpteen copies of itself – forming ‘offspring’ of its own kind.
I smoor the hearth
as Mary smoors it.
The vigilance of Brighid and Mary
be upon the fire and upon the floor
and over the whole household.
And finally, something that is not spoken of in polite company is excretion. Living things excrete. Explore a landscape after a fire, look into a hearth when a fire has died, or has been smoored, and ash is the result. Ash, the excretion left behind by the fire.
Fire is alive.
Fire is intimate. If you’re fortunate enough to have an open fire, a hearth in the living room, a wonderful and deep meditation is to just sit and gaze at it for an hour without artificial light. As a child, and even today, I meditate in such a way whenever I can. I heartily recommend it. The fire draws you in. It invites you to cosy up, relax, douse all other thoughts and to look deeply into it. And then, a myriad of ‘liquid’ fire shapes erupt, dance about, grow, are diminished and then disappear, only to be replaced by other fantastical, yellow, orange and red ‘ignitic beings’ who dance in their place. Shapes appear, heat is felt, thoughts amble and time is ‘consumed’ in a pleasant and wonderful way. And then one looks around. The rest of the room looks darker, cooler if not colder and altogether different. It’s then, and only after the event, that you realise that such a deep mediation took you into that liminal realm, that altogether-other place, sacred space, and what some would call a ‘thin place, a caol áit (pronounced ‘kweel awtch’).
Communion. Connectedness. Caol áit. Candle?
Beltane is a time of the new season of summer, whose element is fire, and it is a time to celebrate in large ways and small, to light a bonfire or candle, but a time to draw aside, consider the intimacy of the fire-season and celebrate – to mark the occasion is some joyful, positive, pleasant and memorable way. Do something special this Beltane.
‘We are all born with a divine fire in us. Our efforts should be to give wings to this fire and fill the world with the glow of its goodness.’ Abdul Kalam