Bonfires have special significance not only in Paganism, but right the way through human history.
Circle: When a group meets at a bonfire, we automatically form a circle. It’s a gathering of equality, just like King Arthur’s round table.
Sure, you can arue that some points in the circle are more important than others – the position to the direct right of the King, for example, is always going to be favoured in Camelot.
But generally, a circle is as egalitarian as it gets.
Interestingly, the word “Church” comes from the Old English word “cirice” (pronounced Kih-Rih-Kuh), and is directly related to the word “circle”. So you could argue that we Pagans are still doing it right, keeping the tradition of circle alive through the centuries, long after others have abandoned it in favour of a “stage show presentation” style of worship.
Our backs to the dark: When we light a bonfire at night, our backs are turned to the dark. At the same time, we are aware of and recognise that the beauty of the light, in the form of the bonfire, can only truly be appreciated when it is fully dark. Both dark and light are needed for balance in this world.
Energy moving upwards: When we burn wishes in a bonfire, our wish is directly sent skywards in smoke and heat. The bonfire connects the earth, and products of the earth (wood) with the sky above. As above, so below.
All elements: The bonfire is a gathering of all four elemental states of matter: air (gas), fire (plasma), water (liquid, in the form of steam) and solid (fuel). Our inner selves recognise this balance – I believe this is why we find fire so hypnotic.
Elemental positioning: Have you ever noticed that people will gather at the elemental compass point they feel most attuned to? For example, I’m a Fire sign, and in the southern hemisphere, I always gravitate to the north of the Circle. In the northern hemisphere, you’ll find me at due south. I don’t know how – it just happens. The Bonfire brings out our true selves.
Celebration: Fire is a celebration of humanity. Humans are the only creatures able to create and manipulate fire. When we build and maintain a bonfire, we are celebrating our own humanity.