The weather has been glorious, nothing but a wonderment, truly fabulous we all say. A spell of dry weather has given a light reprieve from the sodden squelch of winter and out in the bog, the finian grass whispers of better things in the spring breeze. Hearts quicken at the sweet smell of myrtle and gorse on the mountains, and there is a relief that the Winter must surely now be ended and that the promise of warmth lies ahead.
In the lengthening days, as dusk falls, the mystical lines of the gorse fires glow ever brighter on the charcoal hills… There is something exciting and primeval about the sight, the magnetic attraction of an ancient power with its roots in a time that predates any written or painted history. Fire was gift that was stolen from the Gods, a power that allowed man to defy his place as just another mammal on this earth, and to separate his path from one of mere survival, to one that seeks an ever wider understanding and sadly exploitation of the universe around us. The fires burn on through the night, huge palls of smoke attending the dark mountains like revenants. Sometimes tiny figures can be seen darting across the line of fire, and I wonder what any man can do in the face of such an omnipotent conflagration.
I hear on the morning news, the sober tones of RTE 1 examining the issues of the gorse fires in Kerry… trying to understand this yearly event in the usual way, offering experts and view points, and one person even suggested that it was done because people liked lighting fires, how ludicrous, are they laughing at the Kerry folk again I ask myself?
But in the ancient traditions of this land, as in many others, the beginning of summer heralds an important time, the drab non-color of winter’s end perfectly represents the dullness and fatigue that permeates us on so many levels still to this day. The ancient festival of Beltane marked that the winter’s journey had passed and summer had begun, a festival of rapturous gaiety that joyfully heralded the arrival of summer in her full garb.
As was the way of ancient thought, the Wheel would not turn without human intervention, and people did everything in their power to encourage the growth of the Suns light, for they knew that the Earth would not produce anything without the warmth of the Sun. Fires, celebration and rituals were an important part of the Beltane festivities, so as to insure that the warmth of the Sun’s light would promote the fecundity of the earth.
Generally celebrated at the end of April, on Beltane eve the Celts would build two large fires, Bel Fires, lit from the nine sacred woods. The Bel Fire is an invocation to Bel (Sun God) to bring His blessings and protection to the tribe. The herds were ritually driven between two needfires (fein cigin), built on a knoll. The herds were driven through to purify, bring luck and protect them as well as to insure their fertility before they were taken to summer grazing lands. An old Gaelic adage: “Eadar da theine Bhealltuinn” – “Between two Beltane fires”.
The Bel fire is a sacred fire with healing and purifying powers., which further celebrate the return of life, fruitfulness to the earth and the burning away of winter. The ashes of the Beltane fires were smudged on faces and scattered in the fields. Household fires would be extinguished and re-lit with fresh fire from the Bel Fires.
So when I look out next year on the gorse fires burning on the hills in the deepening dark, and feel my heart swelling with the sight, I will remember the forgotten people of this land and realise that we are not so different today. Maybe underneath it all, we are answering a call that we only catch a glimmer of, the gentle murmur of a forgotten life that manages to crawl through the ages, defy the layers of civilisation and unites us with our wild selves.
JoannaKate Grant is an Astrologer, Tarot Reader and Writer, who lives in the wilds of Western Ireland. Her long knowledge of Astrology leads and informs her practice in offering guidance and empowerment, helping others to lead a more authentic and magical life. You can read more about her at www.joannakategrant.com.