Bonfires have been a celebratory and symbolic gesture throughout time. The evolution of the bonfire, which once started as a way to ward off evil spirits, is now used for both celebrations and as a way to get rid of rubbish.
Bonfire is derived from the Celtic word "banefire." A banefire was a fire in which animal bones were burned. This was also referred to as a bone fire but the word evolved into bonfire. Pagans and ancient Celts would take bones gathered from animal hunts throughout the year to burn in a large fire. This was done to ward off evil spirits which would impede the hunting of the following year.
A bonfire is very popular around the Celtic festival of Samhain. Samhain is often celebrated now as Halloween due to a Christianizing of the festival.
Bonfires were also celebrated on June 24 by Roman Catholics as a symbol of St.Johns Day, however, history has shown us that this celebration was also celebrated by pagans to mark the summer solstice.
Wiccans, pagans, neo-pagans and your everyday folk still use bonfires for everything from celebrations to commemorating an event.
Bonfires hold a significance interpreted differently by everyone who attends one. They are used to ward off evil spirits, as a symbol of martyrs, to burn rubbish or to celebrate a significant event. In Great Britain there is a night, November 5, known as Fireworks night or Bonfire night due to a commemoration of the discovery of the Gun Powder Plot.
Not only are bonfires used for celebrations and commemorations but they are also used as light. In Louisiana bonfires were lit along the Mississippi river so Santa Claus can find his way along the Levees. This is an annual tradition still done in some parishes in Southern Louisiana.
A bonfire is created in a large open spaced area by piling on branches, tree limbs and also rubbish. The only rubbish that should go into a bonfire is that which can be burned properly without sending toxins into the air.
Wiccan's and Pagan's alike have a special bonfire they use for rituals, celebrations and the warding off of spirits. It is often known as a balefire but can also be called a bonfire. This type of bonfire is set up with nine different kinds of wood. Each piece of wood represents something different. The nine woods used in a Wiccan balefire are birch, oak, hazel, rowan, common hawthorn, willow, fir, apple and vine.
Each wood is used for its distinct properties that it represents. Birch and oak are for the Goddess and God. Hazel and Rowan are used for knowledge, wisdom and life. Common Hawthorn represents purity but is also used for fairy magick. Willow and fir are used to represent death and then birth and rebirth. Apple and vine are trees that represent love and family.
According to religious belief, region and also tradition some trees should not be placed in a bonfire.
Bonfires are celebrated throughout the world on different days throughout the year. Sometimes they are known by different names in different places but the meanings are often the same. For some the reason for a bonfire is celebration, commemoration or in remembrance. For others a bonfire is a religious symbol or just a reason to get together with friends and family.
Fires often can get out of control. A bonfire should be supervised at all times and only done in proper areas where big fires are allowed. Burn bans should be adhered to if they are in effect. Checking with a local township office will let you know if any burn bans are in effect. Always have a few buckets of water on hand to put out the fire if necessary.