There are several fire festivals in the Pagan calendar which traditionally involve building large ceremonial fires or balefires. Besides their use during the holiday ritual, festival goers traditionally use these fires in various ways for purification and bringing luck. Jumping the fire is traditional at Beltane, as is passing between fires for purification on Samhain. Most fun of all is dancing around the fire.

Although it is rarely practical in this day and age (some of them are going extinct, alas) you may wish to kindle your balefire with the nine sacred woods: oak, apple, hawthorn, birch, elder, ash, blackthorn, grape vine, rowan, holly, willow, cedar, yew, and hemlock. Please do not damage living trees to do this, particularly ash and elders as they are having a hard enough time as it is.

The ceremonial fire, or balefire is the ceremonial center of activity long into the night for many festivals and it is also potentially dangerous. Make sure you have one person in charge of the fire at all times and inform your guests that they are forbidden to touch it without the firekeeper's permission and supervision. You may designate one firekeeper for the entire event, or have people take shifts.

Jumping the Fire

It is most important that this be done safely. If your bonfire is very large, don't try to jump it. It is also not safe to try to jump over most firebowls. However, a jar candle or a fire inside a small cauldron can be jumped safely. If you are jumping your bonfire, wait until the end of the festivities when the fire has mostly died down to do this. It is best to jump embers in this case, not flames.

Whatever you do, take precautions to avoid falls and burns. Have one person stand on either side of the fire as spotters and have the jumpers jump between them. This way if there is an accident action can be quickly taken. You can require that the jumpers hold the hands of the spotters for added safety. Smaller people can be lifted safely over the fire by spotters.

Consider chanting while the jumping takes place, having drummers beat a rhythm or playing festive music. Irish jigs are particular suited to this activity.

Passing Through the Flames

The tradition of passing items through flames to purify them is an ancient one and many people believe the fires of Beltane and Samhain to be particularly powerful in this faculty. Herds of cattle were once driven between two bonfires to this end. Witches and magicians often pass their ritual tools through flames or smoke to purify them.

You may wish to invite your guests to pass their ritual tools over the bonfire flames as you sprinkle in purifying herbs.

Or you may wish to set up multiple bonfires or even large jar candles to allow people to pass through them or dance between them. You may even set them far enough apart so that people can drive their cars between them on their way in or out.

Dancing Around the Fire

Invite your guests to bring drums and provide castanets, wrist and ankle bells so that you can all make your own music as you dance around the fire long into the night. Or consider hiring a musician. I find an accordionist is most suited. Recorded music is also available. Irish jigs are suitable as are many drumming CDs in the beginning of the night, but you may wish to slow down with some more ethereal music toward the end.

Taking Blessings Home

Invite your guests to light jar candles from the balefire to take the blessings of the fire home with them, or offer them small jars or bags of ashes from the fire.