The calendrical and crisis use of needfire in Scotland

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Needfire is fire produced by the friction between pieces of wood and its ritual use came down from pagan times. The records of the practice in Scotland run from 1644 to c. 1876. This study considers first the calendrical use when the fire was lit annually on the morning of 1 May (Beltane), and then the crisis use at times of cattle plague, when the kindling of needfire was sometimes associated with the sacrifice of one of the herd. Since fires were extinguished before needfire was lit and all members of the community received fire from this new source, the kindling of needfire bound the community together. The act was also the central transformative element in a transition sequence beginning with exiting from the norm and ending with returning to it. It is argued that the whole sequence brought about a change of plane with a new state being conceptually distinguished from an old one.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBulgarian Festschrift
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 18 Feb 2016


  • Beltane
  • transition
  • Scotland
  • needfire
  • cattle disease


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