May 16th, 2006


Bonding fires

I just finished reading Saints at the River by Ron Rash (which is horribly overdue at the library) and it's a really wonderful, tragic book that's written with this understated style that just makes my heart ache. It's set in the Appalachian Mountains and the landscape is as much a part of the story (and tragedy) as everything else.

I recommend it, but umm, like I said, lots of tragedy, so you might not want to read it while extremely cheerful and happy with life. :P

Anyway, one paragraph in the book described "bonding fires", which I'd never heard of before, and they really intrigue me! From the book:
Bonding fires originated in the Scottish Midlands. A family's hearth fire was never allowed to die down completely. Banked embers from the previous night's fire were stirred and kindled back into flames. When children left to marry and raise their own families, they took fire from their parents' hearth with them. It was both heirloom and talisman, nurtured and protected because generations recognized it for what it was--living memory. When some clans emigrated they kept the fires burning on the ships as they crossed the Atlantic. Then they hauled them up into the southern Appalachians from Charleston or down the Shenandoah from Philadelphia. There had been one bonding fire started in the 1500s that was kept alive until the 1970s. The flame was tended by an old man and extinguished only when a dam flooded the valley where he'd live eight decades. Two hundred feet of water covered that hearth now.

I am so taken by that custom. :)
  • Current Mood
    curious curious