Hundreds of years ago, having a banefyre with the ancient Celts likely meant your cattle had been killed and their bones were blazing.
"It was from the Druids who lived heavily in the natural world. They would have slaughtered the cattle and burned the bones," said Maureen McGuigan, organizer of a modern-day bonfire at the Scranton Iron Furnaces.
No cows will be harmed during Saturday's event, which focuses on fun, music, storytelling, face-painting, and of course, a great big fire.
"We work with the Scranton Fire Department to set it up," said Chester Kulesa of the Anthracite Heritage Museum, site administrator for the Iron Furnaces. "They know how to make sure it's safe."
From a safe distance, McGuigan said, many of the 450 people who attended last year's bonfire seemed to enjoy the warmth.
"Even when it burned down, people would stand near," she said. "There's something about standing near that people like."
Could it be because October nights are getting colder and longer? Is it because fire enhances the mysterious, otherworldly atmosphere of harvest time? Are people huddling as the "veil" between the living and the dead becomes thinner?
"There's lots of mythology about ‘the thin place' when spirits could cross between the two worlds," McGuigan said.
The practice of remembering the dead is important in many cultures, and that part's not a myth.
In keeping with the Hispanic commemoration of Day of the Dead, Saturday's bonfire event will include an ofrenda, or altar, where community members are encouraged to place photographs of departed loved ones. There will be skull crafts for children and "Day of the Dead" face painting. The event also includes Celtic readings, music from the Tom Petty Appreciation Band, a jack o'lantern carving contest and "fire artist" Eric Mina who, McGuigan said, will "wander around eating fire."
Another artist, Ethan Ames, intends to light a wooden sculpture he has crafted. "People are saying it's Scranton's answer to Burning Man," McGuigan said, referring to a weeklong festival that takes place annually in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.
The Scranton Iron Furnaces are on a 4-acre site off Cedar Avenue, where visitors can see the four massive stone stacks that remain as part of the blast furnaces of the Lackawanna Iron and Coal Co., built between 1848 and 1857. By the 1880s, the furnaces ranked as the second-largest iron producer in the United States, where they helped fuel the industrial revolution by producing rails for the nation's railroads.
The site is on the National Register of Historic Places.
What: Bonfire at the Scranton Iron Furnaces
When: 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday. Bonfire will be lit at 8 p.m., rain or shine
Where: 159 Cedar Ave., Scranton
Tickets: $15 in advance, $20 at the door
More info: 963-4804