|A bit more to Drew's story:
There died one hundred and fifteen years ago a Mr. Alexander Hogg of London, merchant, leaving among other benefactions to his native parish of Durris, Kincardineshire, ten shillings a year to the herds around the hill of Cairnshee (Fairies' Cairn) for the purpose of making a Midsummer bonfire, in remembrance of the fact that he as a boy herded cattle there. A further sum was left to provide barrels of ale, cheese, and bread for those who assemble to witness the celebration. This curious observance is duly followed every year, and forms one of the attractions of the district. As many as half a dozen musicians resort to the hill, and dancing is kept up till midnight or longer.* Possibly not. Victorians were even more desperate to find Traces of Our Pagan Past than we are.
Can it be doubted that Mr. Hogg thus gave new life to an old custom which had been known to his boyhood? [*] Let us note some particulars that go to prove its connection with prehistoric times.
The fire must be lit on the twenty-fourth of June just as the last limb of the sun disappears beneath the horizon.
The height on which the fire is lit is the highest eminence in the district from which the beholders come, and thus the sun would be seen at the last possible moment.
The herds must, according to the conditions of the will, collect the fuel themselves, each bringing as many bundles as possible so that a large fire may result. As there are ten lads on the surrounding farms.. the pile is often of considerable dimensions.
The young men are in the habit of pushing each other through the smoke and flames. This may arise from a belief that the person so "passed" would be charmed against disease during the coming year. Some would see in the action an indication of early human sacrifice. [**] I have been at many 'herds' fires' (about ten I think) and have invariably seen it done. It is possible, however, that in this instance it is nothing but a display of animal spirits. But in any case I think there is enough evidence to show that the rite is a relic of pagan times...
** Some would see in the action an indication of a large number of pissed young men.
Nevertheless, it all sounds like a lot of fun and should be reinstated immediately.
From 'Midsummer Bonfires' by A. MacDonald, in Folklore, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Mar. 25, 1904), pp. 105-106
Posted by Rhiannon
4th August 2010ce
Edited 11th August 2010ce