View Full Version : Scottish Historical/Traditional/Ritualised fire making

24-05-2009, 11:15
I was doing some research and revisited an old book from my uni days.
The Silver Bough Vol 1 by F. Marian McNcNeill. It's the first book of 4 volumes documenting Scottish folklore, pagan cultural survivals, festivals and ancient religeous sites. It's pretty unique and well worth a look if you are into such things.

While reading the chapter on "magic" McNeill describes the "need fire" which was the ritualised creation of virgin flame during the fire festivals. She describes how on Skye, Mull and Tiree what we would recognise as a hand drill was used and on parts of mainland Scotland a green wood frame was used to hold the drill (spindle) and a species of "agaraic" was used as an extender.

Interestingly she quotes Sir James Frazer from his "Golden Bough" other methods used in Scotland;

"two poles were driven into the ground about a foot and a half from each other. Each pole had in the side a socket facing the other socket into which a smooth cross piece or roller was fitted. The sockets were stuffed with linen, and the two other ends of the roller were rammed tightly into the sockets. To make it more flammable the roller was often coated in tar. A rope was then wound round the roller, and the free ends at both sides were gripped by two or more persons, who by pulling the rope to and fro caused the roller to revolve rapidly till through by friction the linen in the socket took fire. The sparks were immediatly caught in tow or oakum and this was waved in a circle until it burst into a bright glow, when straw was apolied to it, and the blazing straw was used to to kindle the fuel that had been stacked to make the bonfire."

I must admit to finding this fascinating and in all my years of tramping across Scotland and meeting the older folk, some who had the "sight", I never heard of this. Amazing and I'm sure it's well worth trying out. As for the species of agaric, I wonder if that's wrong or could have an agaric been use dif it was dried?

Anyway i just thought I'd put our bushcract in some historical grounding BRM (before Ray Mears) :lmao:

24-05-2009, 11:34
Hmmm very interesting... I would be interested in finding if this will work...

The principles make sense to me and I can see it in my mind... but then again I can see a lot of other things there too... lol...

Seriously though it might be a fun experiment one weekend...

24-05-2009, 12:07
Might be worthwhile having a look for "Birling fire", Woodsmoke, probably associated with needfire, or beltane or Gobhnu's forge lighting.

If you want a try, let me know, I have raw flax fibres, the coarse short length stuff is called tow, and was used as oakum, and I can honestly say the stuff goes up really well from a spark :) Happy to share some.


24-05-2009, 12:36
Thank's Toddy, i think I may have some from you:) . Remember the stuff you gave me to play with at Loch Chon? Well I still have some left.

I'll maybe give it a go. It sounds feasable enough. And it sounds like a really fun group activity to try out with the kids.

It's interesting that wheels were used as well.



24-05-2009, 12:48
I think that too :D
I also think it could be lot of fun trying it out and getting it right :cool:

There's another name I remember form years ago, the old lady I was speaking with called it 'Thole fire', but gave no instructions apart from it's use.
We know of a thole pin as a tethered pin that ratchets up and down a channel to make a noise at the door to let folks know there're visitors. I wonder if in some way the two are connected :dunno: