Lighting the Balefire

“Fire is our friend in the wilderness”

∴ Tolkien ∴

As January draws to a close, 2018 has already marked itself out as a year of intrigue and industry,

It’s hard to believe that a month ago, Balefire Blades was little more than a name. But what does a name signify?

While we stoke up the forge in readiness for your orders, I’m delving into the evolution of the balefire across the centuries.

∴ A Funeral Pyre ∴

The Old English word bǣlfȳr combines the words bǣl, meaning pyre, and fȳr, meaning fire. The resulting suggestion that the word refers to a funerary fire is corroborated by its appearance in Genesis A, a poem found in the 10th Century Junius Manuscript.

The original text states:

“þær þu scealt ad gegærwan, bælfyr bearne þinum, and blotan sylf sunu mid sweordes ecge, and þonne sweartan lige leofes lic forbærnan and me lac bebeodan.”

Roughly translated, this means “there you shall make ready the balefire of your son, and sacrifice him yourself with the edge of your sword, and then burn black his beloved body and make it an offering to me.”

In this case, the word bǣlfȳr is used not only to speak of a funeral pyre, but of a sacrificial fire, casting a grim light on the word – indeed, there is some etymological evidence that the term “baleful”, meaning ominous or evil, is derived from the same root.

∴ The Beltane Fires ∴

In stark contrast to the somber Old English definition, balefire is most commonly used today to speak of celebration. For those who celebrate the Gaelic May Day festival Beltane, the Bel fire or Bale Fire is a key aspect of remembrance and revelry.

You may not be surprised to learn that the worlds Beltane and Balefire are in fact derived from the same Old Norse term, bál, meaning pyre or bonfire.

Early descriptions of Beltane fires vary. In Scotland and Ireland, cattle would be driven between two bonfires, followed by villagers, as part of a protective and purifying ritual for the coming season.

In many cases, villagers would light torches from the Beltane balefire and carry them back to their homes, across their fields, and use them to relight their hearths. This concept of a community united by a protective fire is perhaps most prevalent around the Irish hill of Uisneach, where a great bonfire was – and still is – lit every year, seen across the surrounding provinces.

While Beltane balefires continue across Britain and Ireland to this day, many attempts have been made to ban them. The sixty-fifth canon of the third council of Constantinople stated:

Those fires that are kindled by certain people on new moons before their shops and houses, over which also they use ridiculously and foolishly to leap, by a certain ancient custom, we command them from henceforth to cease.

∴ An Auspicious Start ∴

While Beltane balefires may well be considered funeral pyres for winter and darkness, they have become far more representative of new beginnings as revellers gather to await the first sunrise of summer.

A fitting namesake, perhaps, for our forge – a name that speaks of not only the creative fire from which blades are borne, but the thrill of a new endeavour.

We can’t wait to share the journey with you.

Can you see your blade in the balefire? Explore our products, or get in touch to discuss your ideas.

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