Purifying fire – How the Neid fire connects us with our ancestors

We’ve said before that the ancient rituals of Beltane Fire Festival still have relevance to our modern world, and that feels particularly true today. The Celtic holiday Beltane has always been more than a celebration of hot weather and the return of outdoor parties – it’s also about the end of hardship and leaving the dark days of a harsh Winter behind us. Symbolising that tribute to survival is our sacred Neid fire.

Every single fire at our festival, from the Torchbearers to the fire sculptures and our roaring bonfire, is lit from one single flame. That flame is the Neid fire, a special kind of fire lit using a traditional method passed down from the ancient communities that inspire our festival. 

We start it by hand with a bow, a hazel spindle, and a pine hearth board, using a bit of good old-fashioned friction to spark the kindling. Once we have a smouldering ember, it is spun through the air in a metal contraption to give it plenty of oxygen and help it catch fully alight. All the other fire on the Hill is then lit using this special flame.

Copyright Gordon Veitch for Beltane Fire Society. All Rights Reserved. http://www.beltane.org / http://www.facebook.com/beltanefiresociety

The Neid fire is believed to be a purifying fire, and its sacred properties would be put to use at old Beltane revelries. On the night of Beltane, two bonfires would be lit from that first Neid flame and the community’s cattle would be driven between them. It was thought that the smoke from the bonfires would cleanse the livestock of disease, and ensure the longevity of the community’s food source. It was an insurance that the community would manage through another season.

Copyright Duncan Reddish for Beltane Fire Society. All Rights Reserved. http://www.beltane.org / http://www.facebook.com/beltanefiresociety

Even with all the advanced technology and new ways of living in our modern world, we are not so different from our ancestors. We share the same concerns as they do about survival, and making sure that the community can make it through the trials we face together. We are reminded that more than ever nowadays. 

On the night of Beltane, when we come together to celebrate BOnFire, let’s take comfort from those who have come before us. If you can, light a fire in your own home – a candle, or a stick of incense if you have one – and think about all the Neid fires that have sparked new Summers over the centuries. We will seek to highlight togetherness and creativity at our online festival, and how both can keep us going when things get tough. 

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