The Interpretation of the Fire-Festivals

  • James George Frazer


The foregoing survey of the popular fire-festivals of Europe suggests some general observations. In the first place we can hardly help being struck by the resemblance which the ceremonies bear to each other, at whatever time of the year and in whatever part of Europe they are celebrated. The custom of kindling great bonfires, leaping over them, and driving cattle through or round them would seem to have been practically universal throughout Europe, and the same may be said of the processions or races with blazing torches round fields, orchards, pastures, or cattle-stalls. Less widespread are the customs of hurling lighted discs into the air and trundling a burning wheel down hill. The ceremonial of the Yule log is distinguished from that of the other fire-festivals by the privacy and domesticity which characterise it; but this distinction may well be due simply to the rough weather of midwinter, which is apt not only to render a public assembly in the open air disagreeable, but also at any moment to defeat the object of the assembly by extinguishing the all-important fire under a downpour of rain or a fall of snow. Apart from these local or seasonal differences, the general resemblance between the fire-festivals at all times of the year and in all places is tolerably close.


Purificatory Theory Popular Custom Oaken Pole Opposing Theory Rough Weather 
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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • James George Frazer
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Trinity CollegeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.OxfordUK
  3. 3.Cambridge and DurhamUK
  4. 4.GlasgowUK
  5. 5.Universities of Paris and StrasbourgFrance

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