MacCorkill'sScottish - Celltic Culture Hearth and Smooring

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Smooring The Fire

Scottish History and Culture
"another page in my book"


IFrom Samhain to Bride, the winter soltice, Celltic referred to it as the 'period of the little son'' we can appreciate that they had a special reverance for the hearth. Fewer daylight hours, and the days became cold, frosty wintery. To work outdoors was not a treat and the cold storms battering the home, and the land around them makes on understand why they had special significance for the hearth.

Spending time around the fire which gave them light and warmth, warm food and a pleasant place to conjure up the stories that the Celtic people seem to love to tell. It would become a special place for a Bard to tell his stories or recite poetry, and in general entertain as well as teach the family. He would recite the good deeds of people they knew, and inform them of past experiences. It was a good audience, happy to listen to these recountings to break the monotany of the cold weather and learn the stories themselves.

The Gaels and Celtic peoples saw the circle as representing the cycle of life, and the hearth of fire, like the heart of a person, was considered the centre of life and therefore belonged in the centre of the home. We see this repeated in the design of crannogs and round houses, and in summer the Celts picked out the best round hills for their meetings, story telling and learning. They used the hills for appeasing their Gods, and tended to always go up on the hills, whether to be seen or heard better, or whether it was a form of outdoor Cathedral for them, we are not sure. We are sure they used them for their form of worship, and also used hills as burial mounds. Sometimes they built the hills, upon the graves, and continued until the hill was quite high.

Even their forts or raths which contained their community and they were round houses within the circular fort. So we can understand that the circle had special signifance for them in many ways.

The hearth was always placed in the center of the home, which was usually round. They felt the circle was like the life cycle. The fire was also sacred and associated with Brighid or Bride. Her name means 'fiery arrow' and she was their Goddess of poetry. She was also the Goddess of healing. During the Fire Rite of Beannachadh na Cuairle, or the Blessing of the Circle, during the healing process the person is passed through a hoop of fire (again a circle), She is also know as 'the flame in the heart of all women'.

In later history there was the perpetual fire of Kildare which was tended by nine maidens and kept alight in honour of St. Bride.

In the Welsh tradition there is also the tale in which the fire heats the cauldron, of the head of Annwfn is kindled by the breath of nine maidens. These associations of femininity, the cauldron of nourishment and the sacred fire, can also be seen in the daily life of the people.

The home and the hearth always belonged to the woman of the house and as such it was her responsibility to ensure that they were sufficiently maintained and a house of any standing had to have at least one bronze cauldron which was used as the main cooking pot. The image reflected in the bronze cauldron was the image of the bountiful Earth Mother who is nouriser and provider to her children. All these powerful images are round, and the significance is not lost on the student of the Celts.

The woman of the house had a separate place in the house situated in the sunny area of the home known as Grianan or sun house.

We are reminded that the Celtic people had feminine, as well as masculine deities of the sun. The 'realms of the sun and the moon' in which both the masculine and feminine principles reside.

The fire of the hearth, held such importance, on all levels, to our ancestors. Many customs necessitated observance to ensure the continued blessing of the flame. For example, if the hearth fire when out, it was considered extremely unlucky, with the exception of the two festival periods of Samhain and Beltaine when the hearth fires were extinguished and re-kindled from the central festival fire. Each night the fire was covered over or 'smoored' so that it would smoulder overnight without going out.

I have among my papers, a ritual blessing that was said as the fire was 'smoored', I found the blessing and will print it below. The blessing was extremely important in their ritual and had to be done a special way. The blessing was recited over the fire as it was being smoored. The title of the blessing I have is simply 'Smooring.'

Other blessing varied from area to area but one which proved to be very popular was recorded by Carmichael in his book 'Carmina Gadelica'. Translation runs as follows: The Sacred Three To Save To Shield To Surround The Hearth The House The Household This Eve This Night Oh, this Night And Every Night Each Single Night.

A similar blessing was given when the fire was opened up each morning.

The old Scots saying: "Lang may your lum reek wi' ither folks coal" comes from the custom of giving some fuel for the fire when visiting someone else's house. In some areas this custom is still recognised by people when they go 'first footing' at New Year. It was considered lucky to give and receive fuel for the fire but it was extremely unlucky to give kindling or light from your own fire to someone whose fire had gone out. In giving away your kindling or flame you were also giving away your blessing leaving yourself unprotected.

Bride and her association with fire, made the ritual at the festival a particularly important affair, and great attention was paid to the hearth fire. During the day it was kept particularly fuelled to welcome her arrival and great care was taken over the smooring of the fire at night when a rowan rod was placed in the heart of the fire.

The following morning, before it was opened up, the fire was checked for the signs of a blessing from Her. If a mark was found, there was an extremely fortunate time ahead for the family.

You can see by the article that the fire was a grave responsibility for the lady of the house.

Carmichael took great care in writing down all the notes from the elder people in the Western Isles. He, was one of the first to realize that the habits and rituals of the Celts was dying out with each new generation and that is why he went to talk with the elder people. He interview (talked) with them for hours, and many days of the week. He took copious notes on what they told him and his is one of the greatest tools to help us understand the people who had only the oral tradition. Without Carmichael, we would not know much of the traditions and rituals, the blessings and the religion of the Celts.

Still today, the circle is of great importance to some Scots and they probably don't realize why, thinking it is a tradition handed down they do it, but the premise of why they do it? most do not know. What a wonderful gift Carmichael gave us.

Nancy MacCorkill, F.S.A. Scot USA
Author, Poet,
Historian of the Ancient Clans of Scotland



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