I sat gazing at the fire, watching keenly as its flames climbed into the night and sent sparks dancing among the stars. I watched, and could not leap.
I had been saving timber aside for months.
There are many traditions about what sort of wood should be used to build the Beltane fire, but I usually select from among the cuttings I make on my own property. There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to the logs and branches that I choose, except that some ‘want’ to be fed to the ritual fire, and others very much do not.
Each fire is unique, in both the way that I stack the wood and in the extra components that I include as I do so. In the past I have included packets of herbs, or sprinkled oils, or folded slips of paper with messages secreted within.
This year, there was only the wood, and then the flame. And I could not leap.
However different the composition of the fires may be from year to year, they are also very much the same.
We light the fire on May Eve, when the bounds that divide our world from the Otherworld are nearly absent. By will and by rite the fire burns in both worlds. It burns as a beacon, calling man and spirit and gods alike, to gather near, and to indulge themselves in that shared warmth and light.
We stoke the fire, and the heat of it penetrates us, moving through flesh, bone and spirit. It burns away the cares and worries of our yesterdays. It purifies body and soul and the airs through which it passes. For this reason we snuff out the fires in our homes and relight them again from the sacred flame of May. This is why we circle or dance around the flames, and why, in times now long past, the herdsmen would drive their charges past the fire, or between two fires built for this purpose. The light and the heat are kindled to purify and to protect.
We may even take a bit of that flame, and walk the bounds of our property, whispering words to be carried away on a curling trail of smoke, to protect ourselves from those who would do us harm – in this world or the other.
And then there are those of us who feel called to leap through the flames.
The old stories say that we do it for luck, but it may just be that the power of the flame gets the blood racing and drives us into the air. Or maybe, knowing that the fire burns in two worlds at once, we feel compelled to break the bounds and touch, if only for the space of a second, that elusive realm. It might even be a hint of the daredevil, showing through in the heat of the moment.
As with most things, I tend to think there are multiple truths to be found here.
It is enough to say that every time I have built the fire, when I have stoked the flames to their highest, I run, and I leap through the rising blaze. And when I land on the other side, I do so having lost much of the baggage I’ve collected since my last passage through the flames at Samhain.
But not this year.
Through a foolish accident which I will not bother to describe here, I broke the big toe on my left foot. Damn, stupid, idiotic luck!
I limped through the few days between the accident and May Eve, my thoughts on the fire and the feast to come. And it was not until I stood before the roaring flames that I realized I would not leap into May as I have always done. I was, I am, for the moment anyway, bound to earth.
I didn’t know how much I would miss it.
And so I sat, and I watched the fire burn, and I felt bad for myself.
Then, I felt bad about feeling bad, knowing full well that there are plenty of people who have never known the joy of leaping over the Bel-Fire, and knowing that soon enough, I’ll be too old to manage it, whatever condition my bones might be in.
And as I sat there, stewing in my melancholy, I noticed something to my right, glowing in the darkness, just at the edge of my peripheral vision. Turning my gaze, I saw that it was a small moth, hovering not a foot from my head, and facing the flames. It was not flying erratically, it did not trace that all too familiar doomed spiral, it simply hovered there, perfectly still in space, except for the blurred beating of its wings.
Turning back to the flames myself, I looked deep within that dancing, spiraling light. I took a breath, and then another. I let go of my self pity, my disappointment and frustration. I accepted my place in the invisible circle which had formed around the fire. And I finally, though I have unsuccessfully sought visions in the flame many times before, this time I traveled through the fire, though my feet never left the ground.
We learn and grow by leaps and bounds.
Sometimes we thrust ourselves freely into the unknown, never minding the risk, and knowing full well that we might stumble and fall, because we believe there is something to be gained along the way.
Other times, we feel ourselves bound by as much by circumstance as by gravity. In those moments we may choose to bow down to the limitations which have been thrust upon us, or we can look instead for the shapes hidden within those boundaries.
Though late for those who celebrate on the 1st of the month, and early for those who remember ‘Old May’ on the 11th, I wish you all a joyous holy day. To my friends south of the equator where time runs funny, a blessed Samhain to you and yours.
After a month long absence, The Stone of Destiny resumes its regular Monday posts (although I may be introducing an occasional ‘skip-week’ when things get hectic). There may be other changes in the wind as well, which I will reveal when, and if, it becomes appropriate to do so. For now, it’s just good to be back!