The meaning of the words Bale Fire has taken on many meanings, form, and uses throughout history and your location would dictate what the Balefire would mean. I have seen Balefire also spelt Bael Fire, and Bel Fire but from research, I believe that they are simply different spellings for the same thing.
A Balefire is literally a large open-air fire, and the location would determine the purpose of the fire itself.
The Merriam Webster website says “an outdoor fire often used as a signal fire” but I believe that this is more of a localisation of the Balefire as on the Learn Religions website it says “In some places, the Bale Fire was used as a signal beacon. In Dartmoor, England, there is a hill known as the Cosdon Beacon. During the medieval period, beacon fires were lit at the top of the hill, which — thanks to its height and location — was the perfect spot for ultimate visibility”.
In Scotland, two fires would be lit, and various cattle/herds were driven between them. I believe that this was a way to protect the animals from negative forces and bless them with fertility.
In Ireland, the Balefire was lit in a specific location, and flames from this fire were carried to villages in the area, from which denizens of the village would use this flame to light fires in their own home. This would spread abundance, prosperity, blessings, and protection to each hearth in the area.
I remember reading that the term came from Bael Fyr which rough translated as Funeral Fire, but I cannot find much proof of that in historical information.
We often refer to a Bale Fire as a Bonfire today, but in general they are the same thing – I personally prefer to use smaller fires in my cauldron or brazier as they can be easier to handle. A Bonfire is a place for people to gather, celebrate and generally have a good time. This is a place where music, movement, and magic happen. The fire would be lit on the last day of April and would remain lit until sunset on the 1st May. At the end of the celebrations, attendees would take a smoldering piece of the fire home, carrying these energies to their own home, like the Irish legends.
While doing research for this, I learned that there are nine sacred woods which were traditionally used to create the initial bundle of wood to be burned. I understand that you may not be able to source these woods, so I have put together a list of different sacred wood types.
** Alder – Charms, Leadership, Bravery, Protection, Spirituality, Learning, and Healing
** Ash – Protection, Healing, Communication, Knowledge, Focus, Love, Justice, and Wisdom
** Birch – Cleaning, Healing. Protection, Creativity, Rebirth, Renewal, Wealth, and Luck
** Hawthorn – Enchantment, Protection, Purity, Love, the Fae, and Spirituality
** Hazel – Knowledge, Dowsing, Divination, Dreams, and Protection
** Holly – Strength, Purity, Protection, Logic, and Healing
** Oak – Protection, Strength, Knowledge, Prosperity, Truth, Travel, Bravery, Vitality, Love, Wisdom, and Healing
** Rowan – Protection, Defence, Divination, Strength, Healing, and Spirituality
Teak – Protection, Growth, Leadership, and Spirituality
** Willow – Divination, Change, Rebirth, Enchantment, Enlightenment, Spirituality, and Love
There is a part of the Wiccan Rede that says “Nine woods in the Cauldron go, burn them quick a’ burn them slow. Elder be ye Lady’s tree; burn it not or cursed ye’ll be.” Elder is sacred to the Goddess, and while not everyone follows the Wiccan Rede here are the properties of the Elder’s wood. Exorcism, prosperity, Banishment, and healing.
Uses for the Bale Fire’s Ash
The ash of the fire can be used in a myriad of ways.
Fertility – If you are having fertility issues, fill a small pouch or bottle with ash from the fire, and carry this with you while trying to conceive.
Purification – You can use the flames and ash to cleanse and purify your tools – if something is flammable, use the ash or the energy of the flame not the flame itself.
Blessings – To promote a summer season that is filled with blessings, health, and prosperity you jump the dying embers of the Balefire – DO NOT jump the fire when the flames are still burning high.
Cattle and Crops Protection – If you have cattle and crops you can use the ash to bring protection (and abundance) to your cattle or crops.
When you are planning a Balefire (or any size fire) you need to keep a few things in mind regarding safety.
Your fire needs to be on a safe and stable surface.
Have someone always watching the fire.
Keep flammable materials away from the fire.
Always have enough water on hand.
Check the weather before building a fire.
Remove anything combustible from the area.
Don’t add “rubbish” to the fire – a Balefire is a SACRED fire.
Keep pets and children at a safe distance.