• Fecha:2015
  • Reference:10.COM 10.b.3

Festivals of Fire in the Pyrenees

Fire, a source of light and heat, but also of destruction, a dual symbol par excellence, capable of uniting the opposite poles of good and evil, has led from time immemorial all kinds of ceremonies and rituals associated with the summer solstice (the day longest of the year and in which the sun is highest). The Celtic and Germanic peoples, who worshiped the Sun, saw in the summer solstice the propitious time to show the splendor of their cult and celebrate the generating power of the Sun, which they associated with the horse.

Solar chariot from Trundholm (Denmark), around 1,300 a.C.

Greco-Roman antiquity also had its solstice festivals, the most named being the one that indicated the beginning of summer; the solar god par excellence was Apollo-Helios. In the Judeo-Christian sphere, the ambivalent nature of fire was associated from the beginning both with divine wisdom and love, often represented in the form of an incandescent flame, as to their implacable justice: not in vain was fire considered a privileged instrument of punishment, in this world and in the hereafter, for sins committed against the divine law. In its double facet, fire has been and still is, today, the center of many parties throughout the Euro-Mediterranean area.

Currently, these fire fiestas (events) are celebrated around the night of San Juan (whose mother, Saint Elizabeth, lit a bonfire to announce to the Virgin Mary that she was going to have a son) to celebrate the summer solstice. And although these are religious fiestas, framed in the Christian liturgical calendar, much of its meaning and its original function connects with profane pre-Christian rituals, closely related to the passing of the seasons, agricultural works, fertility, protection and purification of souls.

Photo of Krystle Mikaere in Unsplash.

The ambivalent nature of fire is re-enacted each year in the festivities of the Pyrenean fires, in which playful and magical practices are combined, which still have a purifying meaning today and they are talking about a representation of the myth of the Eternal Return, which It explains the vital regeneration of nature. These practices distanced the evil spirits, the witches and, with them, the threats of storm or any other inclement weather that could affect the harvest that was expected. They also exercised a purifying function at the individual level: dancing around the bonfire and jumping were ways to get rid of bad influences, at the same time that it was a test of courage and skill. The ashes and the smoke of the fire of the night of San Juan also had healing virtues, not only for the soul but also for the fields and physical health.

These cultural expressions are deeply rooted in the communities and are perpetuated thanks to a network of local associations and institutions. The most important place of transmission of this element of intangible cultural heritage is the family home, where its members keep it alive in memory. Thus, they constitute an opportunity for the cyclical regeneration of family and social ties and to strengthen the feelings of belonging, identity and continuity of the communities, hence their celebration is accompanied by collective meals and folk songs and dances, promoting culture of volunteering, solidarity and continuity.

In this video and the following sections you can learn more about these festivals declared Bien Catalogado Inmaterial and inscribed in the list of Intangible Heritage of Humanity (UNESCO), about San Juan de Plan and about the culture and nature of the Bal de Chistau .