Around the flames

The year turns towards winter, pulling first a blanket of leaves and mist over its face before veiling itself in frost and snow. It is a time when many traditions remember the dead, the past or the holy. On a morning such as this where the world seems silently shrouded in a grey pall, you can see, even now in our concrete-bound lifestyle, how our forebears saw the wheel of life reflected in the landscape and the seasons. You can see, too, how they bound the two together in celebration and reverence, seeing the same strands of inner life woven through all aspects of the outer.

I used to love this time of year as a child. It was full of mystery and a half-understood connection through time and community to the long distant past and to the immediacy of the present in which children live. There was Hallowe’en to look forward to first. There was no trick or treating back then… but there was gingerbread and bobbing for apples, ghost stories and legends to share around the candle flames of the turnip lanterns, with their peculiar sweet smell that comes back to me as I write. None of these fancy pumpkins back then! I remember watching the skin of the turnip wrinkle and shrivel over the next days on the doorstep with the livid purples and the colour of decaying flesh.

Then there was Mischief Night… possibly the less said about that the better.. but it was innocent fun back then. And hot on its heels, the bonfire parties, street parties where small communities came together around the flames. ‘Health and Safety’ first sanitised, and now Covid has cancelled Bonfire Night, but the memories remain. Back then, mothers went into overdrive in the kitchens, baking potatoes and parkin, pie and peas and toffee apples.. and the bitter bonfire toffee that was as brittle as glass. Fathers and children built bonfires and organised fireworks… menfolk and flames seem to have a peculiar affinity and children can never resist the lure of fire.

There was a sense of connection. Parents and children became one interchangeable family, grandparents were shared, babies passed from hand to hand. In some ways we became tribal.. a single family joined in what was, essentially, a ritual. And it had all the power of everyday magic. Everyone knew their roles as if taking part in an intricate dance. They were not fixed, but mutable roles that changed with every movement, every pass, as the evening wore on… and the inevitable rain set in.

From this unchoreographed movement where each stepped beyond their normal, workaday self, around the living flames of the bonfire and under a sky punctuated by explosive light, a community was born or renewed. That sense of belonging and place carried over into the coming year and it was here, as much as anywhere, that support and friendship was born and sustained. Because we had shared something that was primal beyond the social event and had felt that kinship with each other and the elements.

The twin gods of Health and Safety have a lot to answer for. And, with the country now once again in lockdown, as socially distanced as we were once close, so does the virus.

I wonder how many of our small traditions will be lost because of the virus? How many little rituals will fall by the wayside? How many gaps will be left in our folk history… and, more importantly, perhaps, in the community that folklore should be serving?

There are few, if any, celebrations in the year now where a community will come together as we used to for Bonfire Night… where the true nature of ‘family’ extends beyond a narrow gene-pool to embrace everyone. Times change, customs come and go, but the human need for each other remains.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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41 Responses to Around the flames

  1. Sadje says:

    You’re so right, whatever the circumstances we do need other humans.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jenanita01 says:

    So much is changing every day and I fear for the end result. That’s if this crazy roundabout ever slows down…

    Like

  3. Darlene says:

    As once again we have had to change our weekly writer´s group meetings to ZOOM meetings, I know I will miss this chance to meet other ex-pat writers in person and discuss our writing. ZOOM works and is better than not seeing each other at all, but we need that personal connection. I believe that this too shall pass and we will all meet together again. xo

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Frnkly, Darlene, if I thought this imposed isolation and anti-social fear culture was going to be the new normal they vaunt, I’d not be putting myself through hell to stay alive…

      Like

  4. Helen Jones says:

    Yes, all of this! September to December has always been my favourite time of year, the last burst of autumn and the grey sleep of winter, the lights and magic and mystery and fire. Things have changed so much since I was small – like you, I remember Bonfire celebrations with the whole community, the baking and excitement and feel of everyone coming together. Yet slowly the old ways are being eroded, and now with Covid, we are reduced to bobbing heads on Zoom, distanced waves across the street, giving our fellow humans a wide berth. This will reverberate through the generations – I do hope we can find that sense of connection again.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. willowdot21 says:

    Yes indeed Sue so much has been lost this horrible year, I have seen the grandchildren three times since lockdown, (Them on their doorstep us at the gate) no hugs or cuddles. We have missed all birthdays and Christmas will be a non event because of the jobs the lads do or distance. We had photos of the little boys dressed for Halloween, but it’s not the same.
    Bonfire night: when I was a child it was a huge celebration. Mum and neighbours cooked tomato soup, baked potatoes onions and hot dogs, made toffee apples and fruit cake.
    A huge bonfire was built in the garden next-door as was at least 150yds. Lost of people came, no social distancing needed. It backed on to the cemetery, I remember my brothers saying the noise of the fireworks would wake the dead….they could of been right. No health and safety then, no damn Covid19 either. Sending love Sue. 💜💜💜

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  6. memadtwo says:

    I believe also that community is the worst loss of the virus. Something we need more than ever in these fractured times. (K)

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  7. noelleg44 says:

    As you know, Sue, I am not in favor of lockdowns. The virus will still be out there when you all emerge. I do have faith that when the virus is under control, we will fling open the doors to our past and celebrate as we have always done. I do feel the seasons!

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    • Sue Vincent says:

      I’m not in favour either, Noelle… though I do like the quieter roads 😉
      I would like to believe we can embrace past traditions fully and reconnect when this has settled… but I worry how quickly we adapt and change and am not sure that will happen.

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  8. Mary Smith says:

    I have wonderful memories of both Halloween and Bonfire Night – including my dad setting his jacket pocket smouldering from the firework lighter he’d procured to keep things safe 🙂 Halloween we went out guising in small groups, knocking on every door in the street. This was no trick or treat, though, we had to earn the nuts and tablet and toffee we were given by performing our party pieces. Jokes weren’t allowed – a proper recitation of a poem or a song sung. My first ever pomegranate was given to me one Halloween. Sadly, we were already losing so much of those traditions. My hope is that when the lockdown is finally over we will turn back to those times when we all got together. We need them more than ever.

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    • Sue Vincent says:

      I agree, Mary… we will need to reforge so many connections. I’d like to see carol singing make a proper comeback too.
      Guising happened around our way as well. I’m not sure there is really much difference between Yorkshire and Scotland…at least as far as heritage is concerned.

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  9. My views are probably not printable. By now, we know this virus is not the humanity killer we feared, we know we have to live with it and even WHO says lockdowns are not the way but politicians are scared because every death is on them… so what do they do? And now the World Economic Council is using it to RESET …… hmmm. I’m not interested in a reset, I want to go back to the world I grew up in….. the one you describe above.

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    • Sue Vincent says:

      Me too, although it was a world that had already slipped largely away because of changing technologies and lifestyles. A shame though,a s we need that sense of community and togetherness.

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  10. I’m seeing some people attempting to recapture some of this feeling and these traditions in their small family groups, choosing to look back on these ways of celebrating since they can’t attend the big gatherings. Perhaps that will be enough to stop us completely losing them? I certainly hope so anyhow.

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  11. I think community events and gatherings will return with a vengeance, Sue. I know I’m hungry to connect, to celebrate community/tribe/family/friendship in person. Those bonfires will burn again. ❤

    Like

  12. Eliza Waters says:

    I’ve often wondered the same these past many months. If it goes on for years, our young will not have the memories to anchor them as we’ve had– the traditions may be altered or god-forbid, abandoned. Our culture, our humanity is bound to be changed, but to what degree? Only time will tell.
    Your writing keeps the candle lit, Sue. Thanks for that. ❤

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Sadly, the demise of community seems to predate the virus by a long time, I live in a small village street of no more than ten homes… I know the names of only three neighbours…

      Like

  13. Jim Borden says:

    we need things to return to normal as soon as possible…

    Like

  14. Jennie says:

    Wonderful memories, the kind that endure and bring generations and communities together. May we once again regain that human connection.

    My traditional school event of families having a pizza supper and then carving jack-o-lanterns was cancelled. It is ever-popular and important, and I feel like you do about the bonfire.

    Like

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