The Elements: In Praise Of Fire

20190906 THE ELEMENTS IN PRAISE OF FIRE

Sitting by that hearth as a child I was mesmerised by the ‘ghostly’ flickers of orange, red and yellow as flames danced around the lumps of coal.

Occasionally a plume of blue or purple, ignited coal-gas, would prevail for few seconds and catch my attention. The coal would splutter, and shift, and settle as lumps of coal would disintegrate. The fire would hiss and crackle, and emit heat – so much so that, that, as I usually sat too close to the fire, one side of my face would be red for a while and hot, and the other seemingly cold. But, they were wonderful childhood memories of the hearth and of fire.

It is no wonder that the ancients and some today believe fire to be alive. The mythical and elemental salamander, often depicted as a typical salamander in shape, is elemental fire.

What follows, then, is research and words of liturgy (usually indented, below, that you might like to use and/or adapt) on the fascinating subject of the element of life-giving fire, that I hope with enthral you and inspire.

‘The most tangible of all visible mysteries – fire’. (Leigh Hunt)

Since the beginning of humankind fire has held many in awe, and much myth surrounding its ‘finding’ abound in many cultures. Remember Prometheus in Greek mythology who stole fire from the gods and gives it to humankind? Or the story of dragons, flying serpent-like creatures in many Celtic tales who gifted mankind with fire and with speech.

As regards fire, the rekindling of  fire in ancient times was problematic, and it was probably because of that that Abraham carried live coals with him when offering a sacrifice (Genesis 22.6, The Book). Others, especially travelling tribes would have done the same. In those times, sometimes, children were made to ‘pass through the fire’ as a sign of dedication (and not sacrifice) by some tribes.

In the beginning, some fourteen billion years ago, there was nothing. Then, about 13.8 billion years ago, the universe erupted into being and the temperature of it, for a brief moment,  was an astounding one billion degrees Celsius (though, it you still work in Fahrenheit then it was 1.8 billion degrees). Fortunately, it cooled down, and as we know from science energy is never lost or destroyed, but is changed, transformed, and so that energy is still around to day.

‘Fires from the beginning of time empower you right now – this instant. What you are thinking and feeling…is possible only through the cosmic fire. (‘The Universe Is A Green Dragon’, Brian Swimme)

The energy of the cosmos, from the Big Bang, continues. Not just in each star that we can see and not see, not only within the molten core of our home planet, but it is within each one of us, within everything that exists.

But fire is not always destructive and negative. In some cases, it is used as a purifying process or to signify truth, sometimes it is used to herald a theophany, and sometimes to talk about love and burning desire.

‘To love is to burn, to be on fire.’ (Jane Austen)

And, to ancient and latter-day Chinese people and those who practice Qi Gong, yang is the fire within and also the positive energy that circulates around the body, with its ‘chief’ organ being the heart.

It is no wonder that many cultures revere or hold a special place for fire in their community or home. Indeed, in many Celtic or Druidic ritual, fire is one of the main elements:  many face the southern compass point  in ritual to commemorate not just the season of summer, but also fire.

Blessed be you Light of Life,
Source of the sacred flame within each of us,
Light which the darkness cannot put out.
I rise up with you this day/I rest with you this night.

(The Celtic Wheel Of The Year. Tess Ward

The Carmina Gadelica – a compendium of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, literary-folkloric poems and songs, proverbs etc gathered in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland between 1860 and 1909, and recorded by Alexander Carmichael Gaelic-– speaks of smooring the fire in the hearth.

Many translate smooring as smothering the fire before one goes to bed, but it really means subduing the fire when rekindling the fire was a challenge (but, please, do safely smother any fire you light at the end of each day or as necessary). Smooring in that older sense meant that embers could easily be kept and rekindled the following day, and according to Carmicheal the following prayer would be used when smooring (or maybe used by us as we smother a fire or candle flame after (ritual) usage.

I am smooring the fire
as the Son of Mary would smoor;
Blessed be the house,
blessed be the fire,
blessed be the people all.

(Carmina Gadelica, compiled by Alexander Carmichael)

Or

I will smoor the hearth
as Mary would smoor;
The encompassment  (encircling) of Bride (Bridget) and of Mary,
on the fire and on the floor,
and on the household all.

(Carmina Gadelica, compiled by Alexander Carmichael)

And so, that childhood memory of the hearth returns to me. Happy days. Ofcourse, the circle has turned many time since then. Endless smooring and rekindling has taken place, and those around the hearth in my childhood, then, save one, have ‘gone ahead’ and been transformed. But, the memories and good times, and their words and example remain. The words of our Elders and loved-ones, though they may not be physically present, can positively  burn within our hearts and rekindle kindly action within us, even today.

That ancient and noble fire of love and truth, of light and encouragement continues on, in you and I.

‘Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames’. (Rumi)

 

Dwelling On The Earth: Twenty-First Century Living

20180627 DWELLING ON THE EARTH

As you know I jaunt between the wilds of Capel Curig in north Wales, that place of rugged grey-green mountains and valleys, and the urban sprawl that is London. And, I love both in equal measure but for different reasons.

There is a school of thought that the land chooses us. Not just those wilderness areas where some might live or we might visit sometimes or holiday there, or plan to visit, but wherever we find ourselves, and right now I have the city in mind, as that is where I am. Carl Jung called this notion of the land choosing us, as the spiritus loci.

’The soil of every country holds…mystery. We have an unconscious reflection of this in the psyche.’ Carl Jung

We affect the land just by being there, as well as changing it, physically, in various ways; the land affects us in a myriad of ways, and some of those are inner changes, whether we’re aware of them or not. There is a natural symbiosis, connectedness that ancient tribes and celts, druids and others knew.

Spiritus loci is ‘felt’ when we know a place well or are ‘at home’ there. Sometimes we might feel ‘not at home’ in a place or it might take some ‘work’ to settle, and in these cases the spirit loci is at work – the energy and connectedness of the land reaching out to us to include us even today, if we’re aware.

There is an old story of an Irish saint, called Gobnait who lived in the sixth century and was aware of the energy and power of the land, the earth.

When she was a young lady she fled her family, who lived in County Clare, because of a feud, and sought out refuge in Inis Óirr. She spent some time there, deep in her thoughts, and realised she had an inner disquiet about the place. Shortly after this an angel appeared to her and told her to leave that place because it was ‘not the place of her resurrection’.

The angel instructed Gobnait to look for a place where she would see nine white deer grazing, and that would be her ‘place of resurrection’. Gobnait travelled about Ireland. At one place she saw only three deer grazing and so moved on. Then she came across six white deer grazing, but remembered the angel’s words and moved on. It was only when she came to Ballyvourney that she saw nine white deer grazing, and knew that that was her special  ‘place of resurrection’. And, there she stayed and became a beekeeper. In ancient times the soul was thought to be able to leave the body as an insect, either a bee or a butterfly.

Bees have long been important in Ireland and were part of the ancient laws called the Bech Bretha or Bee Judgements.

Many accounts exist of how St Gobnait prevented raiders from carrying off cattle, as on their approach she would let loose the bees from her hives, and they would attack the raiders, forcing them to flee.

St Gobnait is, to this day, the patron saint of beekeepers, and there is a statue of her near the site of the community she founded at Ballyvourney, showing her in nun’s habit standing on a skep, a beehive surrounded by bees.

For Gobnait to see an angel and to be instructed to find her ‘place of resurrection’ fits in with her theology, but it is interesting to look beyond outward appearances and dig deeper. Angels can be one person’s interpretation for divine or cosmic forces at work and revealing themselves, and you and I in those circumstances might have seen something completely different. And, the ‘place of resurrection’ might be the place where you and I ‘come alive’ and feel ‘at home’, feel at one with the land?

Wes Jackson, an American writer called it ‘becoming native, and Martin Heidegger said rootlessness is responsible for much of the anxiety that many suffer from, and that what is needed is for people to learn to ‘dwell’ on this earth again. Maybe that was Gobnait’s idea of her ‘place of resurrection’, and ‘dwelling’ on this earth is a word that many more would use?

‘We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm – yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.’ E M Forster

Our ‘place of resurrection’ or ‘dwelling’ place might be exactly where we are now, and if it doesn’t feel like it, then perhaps we are being called to discover the spiritus loci or the genii loci and to work in conjunction with them to ‘grow’ into the place.