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)

 

Beltane 2019: FireFall (Start Here)

20190412 BELTANE 2019 FIREFALL START HERE 1

May is fast approaching. And with it comes Beltane, which officially marks the beginning of summer. It’s one of my favourite festivals – full of joy, thanksgiving, expectation, laughter and more – and it is an ancient Druidic ‘fire festival’, though many others will be celebrating something similar in different ways around this time. What follows is an outline of the festival and a few words that you might like to ponder upon or use as you celebrate the event.

Deep peace of the running waves to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.

Celtic blessing.

Beltane is celebrated on Wednesday, 1 May 2019 (though some might note that the day, if we follow the lead of ancient cultures, starts the evening before), but many will be celebrating it the previous or following weekend. It’s a time of joy and thankfulness at nature’s growth, fecundity and bounty, so do enjoy it, whenever you celebrate it.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.’ James 1:17, The Book

Beltane comes from the Celtic word/s ‘belo-tenia’ which means ‘bright fire’ or ‘lucky fire’, and as it is held on 1 May, it is known in Wales as Calan Mai (literally, ‘the first day of May’). There, on Nos Galan Mai or May Eve, many would gather hawthorn branches and flowers which they would then use to decorate the outside of their houses, celebrating new growth and fertility.

‘Be like a flower and turn your face to the sun.’ Kahlil Gibran

There is a myth that if you wash your face in the morning dew before sunrise on Beltane that you will have a flawless complexion throughout the year. And if you are eager to ty this, then remember in the northern part of the UK on that day, say Inverness, the sun rises at 5.27am, but in the south, say, London, it rises at 5.33am. And, not forgetting the moon: there’s a new moon on 4 May 2019.

Blessed be you Source of All.
In your greenly greeting you return to the earth.
(To say upon waking) Your beauty cheers and renews as I rise up this morning
(To say at the end of the day) Your beauty cheers as I lie down to rest at this days end.

Tess, Ward. The Celtic Wheel Of The Year

Beltane festivities generally involved fire as this was thought to cleanse, purify and increase fertility. Special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. Cattle were often passed between two fires and the properties of the flame and the smoke were seen to ensure the fertility of the herd.

Fire is still the most important element of most Beltane celebrations and there are many traditions associated with it. It is seen to have purifying qualities which cleanse and revitalise. For instance, people, would leap over the Beltane fire to bring good fortune, fertility (of mind, body and spirit) and happiness through the coming year, and some would say a prayer as they did. It’s a wonderful time for handfasting, too!

Ofcourse, this time of year and such celebration are for Druids, Pagans, Wicans and others. Some areas still have the May Queen to represent the personification of Spring, and some have a straw man following, sometimes covered in greenery called Jack-in-the-Green to represent the Green Man. Some also dance around May Poles, and others look on in awe as Morris Dancers dance around in their inimitable style.

Blessed be you, O Living One.
The world is shot through with your radiance,
Reviving the earth, changing lives.
May I/we be aware that this day/night is charged with the splendour of heaven.

Tess, Ward. The Celtic Wheel Of The Year

But, others share this wonderful time of the year, as the Church, too, celebrates a ‘fire festival’, with the coming of Pentecost or Whitsun. It commemorates the time when the followers of the Christ, some two thousand yeas ago, were all together in one place and the Holy Spirit appeared to them as tongues of fire, hovering over them, to signify the outpouring of the Spirit onto all humankind.

More will follow regarding Beltane, but if you’re thinking of celebrating at home, now is the time to think about buying candles, small plants and other items to signify natures growth and abundance.

Firefall 2018: Poem, Hymn, Liturgy

201800518 FIREFALL 2018 POEM HYMN LITURGYFire!

This Sunday it is fifty days since Easter and in the calendar of some that makes it Pentecost. To others, it’s about five weeks to the summer solstice – a time when I hope to be joining my Christian/Celtic-Druidic Brethren and Druids (and others) at Stonehenge – and it’s a time of preparation and looking forward. A time of celebration.

Respecting others’ traditions, it struck me that fire is the common thread here.

‘The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.’ Ferdinand Foch

Fire, blessing, newness, power, understanding, outpouring, gratitude, regardless of our many and splendid, varied and awesome traditions and interpretations it is a time of remembrance and celebration. A time of praise.

Fire fell at that first, new, Pentecost some two thousand years ago, and fire was important to ancient and is important to latter-day Celts and Druids, and others, as we are in the season of summer, whose cardinal representative (compass) point is ‘south’, and so the element is fire.

Fire.

What we have in common ‘lifts’ us out of the mundane-only way of thinking and propels us to a higher plane, an objective way of understanding and perceiving, a new way of looking at the world around us in all its splendour and its people.

Fire transforms. Are we not all in need of (ongoing) transformation? Certainly our economic system is as we see it hurting the world, our political systems and policies are as many suffer unfairly, and many would say we as individuals are in need of that fiery transformation.

‘Love in its essence is spiritual fire.’ Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Spiritual experience, regardless of our spiritual pedigree, takes us higher and higher, and as we look around the dross that is burned off – one usefulness of fire, albeit sometimes painful – we see what is left behind, and what really matters – and for all of us that can be a surprising and humbling experience.

‘Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.’ Ayn Rand

I believe we are all, individually, locally, globally in need that fire, today. Pentecost and/or the summer solstice are wonderful events to give gratitude and to seek (another, or further, or greater awareness of that) infilling. With that in mind I wrote:

Oh, Sun of Righteousness for All
as on that ancient day
when you looked upon us,
you smiled on humankind
and let your fire fall.

Let your fire fall,
let your fire fall,
let your fire fall on us, today.

Oh, Benevolent Sharer of All
shine your light and understanding now,
newness in mind, and body,
and in spirit, too.
Whisper long-sought words of wisdom to all.

Let your fire fall,
let your fire fall,
let your fire fall on us, today.

Oh, Power Behind It All
may we know the heat of pure desire.
To be, to do, to act in love, authentically,
May our hearts and minds be open
to hear your enlightened call.

Let your fire fall,
let your fire fall,
let your fire fall on us, today.

In a world of long shadows,
grant us, yet another fire-fall.

 

Summertime & The Livin’ Is Easy: With Beltane In Mind: 1 May 2018

20180429 SUMMERTIME AND THE LIVING IS EASY WITH BELTANE IN MINDThe start of summer is almost upon us. I know for many in the UK, the question might be ‘Was that Spring?’ But, it’s true, summer is almost upon us (in the northern hemisphere).

On 1 May our hearts and minds dwell upon May Day, or Calan Mai (as it is known in Wales). Down the centuries it is has always been a sacred day, and in latter centuries it has been a holy day by the Church, but now its celebration is somewhat ‘muted’. Such is modern life where much has become ‘vanilla’, and this seems acceptable to many. But, not you.

To the Celts and latter-day Druids it is known as Beltane, a dynamic day, and is the start of the season of summer, as the circle turns. It is a time for giving thanks and for celebration. It was a time of May Fair days where farmers and traders all gather in towns to sell their wares.

’Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, and summer’s lease hath all too short a date.’. William Shakespeare

In previous years in the UK many household fires would be doused and ceremoniously re-lit on Beltane. Special bonfires were kindled on this day. Rituals would be performed to protect people and cattle. Yellow flowers, such as primrose, rowan, hawthorn and gorse would be used to decorate houses, and would be especially placed at doorways and over windows.

Even today, in the UK some villages celebrate with fairs, Morris-dancers etc, and I remember at school (not that many years ago) seeing the May Pole in use. In some villages Jack-In-Green and others would march through the village, a representation of the Green Man, a symbol of fertility (whose face appears in some Churches throughout the UK and elsewhere).

[For a recounting of my green angel/green man dream of some years ago, please see here.]

The traditional name for 1 May for those in Ireland, Isle of Man, and Scotland etc translate as ‘bright day’ or ‘shining fire’.

Sweet May hath come to love us.
Flowers, trees, their blossoms don;
And through the blue heavens above us
the very clouds move on.

(Heinrich Heine)

Ah fire. In days of old some would jump through the fire. Didn’t we do that as children, young men, as a dare, just for fun, for the thrill? Or was that just me? To latter day Celts ‘jumping through the fire’ meant purification and protection. [But, please don’t try this yourself]. Some would walk around the fire or bonfire sun-wise (or deosil, pronounced ‘joss-all (though pronunciations vary)), that is clockwise. In so doing they would send out well-wishes as they walked, or prayers for nature, the greening of the country, for food and a future good harvest.

Beltane, then is one of the four fire festivals marked the turning of the seasons. Two of the fire festivals, Samhain and Beltane, were considered to be male, and Imbolc and Lughnasadh were female. Each was celebrated for three days – before, during and after the actual day.

Oh, the summer night,
has a smile of light
and she sits on a sapphire throne.

(Barry Cornwall)

So, how will you celebrate Beltane, this year?

There is no time to plan, but maybe that’s a positive thing. Enjoy what you’re doing even if you’re working that day. Find time to pause and meditate upon nature, its bounty and give thanks – even slowing down and purposefully eating part of your lunch is ideal. Maybe light a candle and send out a well-wish, light, love, gratitude or say a prayer for a few minutes? Such events need not be long or complex. How about sharing a bottle of fruit juice, wine or a mineral water with a friend in the cool of the evening that day? Maybe, pouring out the first small amount on the earth as a sign of thankfulness, a libation to That Which Is Bigger Than Ourselves. Or saying a few heartfelt words or words written by others, see below.

I am sure you can find some form of short and profound celebration to usher in this wonderful season of summer, Beltane.

Wishing you and yours a blessed Beltane, Tadhg

 

Appendix:

Bless, O threefold true and bountiful,
Myself, my spouse, my children.
Bless everything within my dwelling and in my possession,
Bless the kine* and crops, the flocks and corn,
From Samhain Eve to Beltane Eve,
With goodly progress and gentle blessing,
From sea to sea, and every river mouth,
From wave to wave, and base of waterfall.

[The Beltane Blessing (part), Carmina Gadelica
(*old word for cows)

Or

Praise to you, [Whitsun] fire,
leaping and sweeping through this unjust world of mankind,
purifying with a passionate Spirit,
and warming us like that fiery orb above us.
Your fiery power rising upon each of us, blesses us,
and alights on us, declaring we are not alone.
You whisper that we are one.
Blessed are you [Whitsun] fire,
desiring life in all its fullness for the whole earth.

[Adapted, but based on a prayer by Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel Of The Year]

Celtic Thought: Beltane Fire, Reflections.

20170427 BELTANE FIRE REFLECTIONS CELTIC THOUGHTBeltane (1 May) is almost here, that time of celebration as we usher in a new season: summer.

For many it probably doesn’t feel like summer, or even spring at the moment – it’s about the temperature of the inside of a fridge in London at the moment as temperatures have plummeted over the last few days. But, summer is on its way.

Beltane, then, marks the entry-point to summer, and summer (as with the southern compass point) is associated with fire. So, here some words on the seasonally-apt theme of fire.

‘Fire is the most tolerable third party.’ ‘Henry David Thoreau

Beltane, along with rituals of old to protect cattle, crops and people, was also a time of celebration involving a community bonfire. Think of Druids of old around a bonfire, ancient and latter-day Celts, or St Patrick and other Christians celebrating the coming of Light. Bonfires have long been associated with this time – though there is no reason why you can’t celebrate the event in a special way, if at home on that evening, with the lighting of a symbolic candle.

But, it’s a time of fire.

‘Beltane is a wonderful time for expressing who you truly are.’ Carole Carlton

There is an intimacy about fire. Figuratively, we might describe a couple deeply in love as burning with passion, with fire in their hearts for each other. For those burning with ambition (pun intended), we might describe them as having fire in their belly.

‘Desire is a bonfire that burns with greater fury, asking for more fuel… ‘ Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Fire is alive.

At school, albeit many, many years ago, I well remember learning about the seven processes that underpin all life.

Firstly, living things move to find food, and fire moves especially rapidly during forest fires, house fires to find and consume material for fuel.

Living things undergo respiration – they need oxygen. Fire ‘breathes in’ oxygen, and needs it to sustain its energy. Starve a fire of oxygen and it dies.

Exodus 19:18 ‘Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire…’ Exodus 19.18a, The Book

Sensitivity is another process of life as it detects changes in its surroundings. Fire also is sensitive to its surroundings, as it responds to the materials it encounters, favouring some and moving away from others eg wood and water, paper and metal etc).

Fire, like living cells, grows. The more fuel fire finds, the larger and more expansive the flames.

That naturally bring us onto nutrition. Living cells, animals, trees, plants etc need food to live, and fire is no different. Take away its fuel source and it dies.

Reproduction? Yes, just as life reproduces itself, so does fire. In many rituals one candle is initially lit, and from that many others are lit (with the former being diminished in any way). Fire can make umpteen copies of itself – forming ‘offspring’ of its own kind.

I smoor the hearth
as Mary smoors it.
The vigilance of Brighid and Mary
be upon the fire and upon the floor
and over the whole household.

{Celtic prayer)

And finally, something that is not spoken of in polite company is excretion.  Living things excrete. Explore a landscape after a fire, look into a hearth when a fire has died, or has been smoored, and ash is the result. Ash, the excretion left behind by the fire.

Fire is alive.

Fire is intimate. If you’re fortunate enough to have an open fire, a hearth in the living room, a wonderful and deep meditation is to just sit and gaze at it for an hour without artificial light.  As a child, and even today, I meditate in such a way whenever I can. I heartily recommend it. The fire draws you in. It invites you to cosy up, relax, douse all other thoughts and to look deeply into it. And then, a myriad of ‘liquid’ fire shapes erupt, dance about, grow, are diminished and then disappear, only to be replaced by other fantastical, yellow, orange and red ‘ignitic beings’ who dance in their place. Shapes appear, heat is felt, thoughts amble and time is ‘consumed’ in a pleasant and wonderful way. And then one looks around. The rest of the room looks darker, cooler if not colder and altogether different. It’s then, and only after the event, that you realise that such a deep mediation took you into that liminal realm, that altogether-other place, sacred space, and what some would call a ‘thin place, a caol áit (pronounced ‘kweel awtch’).

Communion. Connectedness. Caol áit. Candle?

Beltane is a time of the new season of summer, whose element is fire, and it is a time to celebrate in large ways and small, to light a bonfire or candle, but a time to draw aside, consider the intimacy of the fire-season and celebrate – to mark the occasion is some joyful, positive, pleasant and memorable way. Do something special this Beltane.

‘We are all born with a divine fire in us. Our efforts should be to give wings to this fire and fill the world with the glow of its goodness.’ Abdul Kalam

Cosmic Fire [Within]: A Poem & Liturgy For Beltane.

20170425 COSMIC FIRE WITHIN POEMBeltane, celebrated on 1 May, is fast approaching.

The wheel turns, as the Earth continues to circle the sun. As it turns, and east is represented by the element of the wind (and we’re moving away from that), then due south is represented by fire, and we’re moving toward that.

Due south, the time of the summer solstice is the height of that season and element, so Beltane is south-east. Not quite east, not quite south. It’s a ‘moving into’ time’, as we move south-ward. In Wales and Ireland, and other Celtic countries Beltane is the beginning of summer, or at least the summer season represented by fire (even if, weather-wise, it doesn’t quite feel that way), and so many – perhaps yourself – will light candles and bonfires to welcome the wonderful event of Beltane, and usher in a new season.

Beltane is the time for dancing around maypoles (a popular event at primary school, but maybe not so now). It is the season of maturing life and deep found love, and the time of making vows, handfastings and other commitments. In Wales, Beltane is also known as Calan Mai. I’m afraid those words, themselves, don’t have a deep meaning, and they just mean the first day of May. However, the event itself is very significant and is a wonderful time of celebration.

My encouragement to you, then, is the celebrate the event in large ways or small, but to celebrate it is some significant way (that is unique to you).

With Beltane and fire in mind, here’s a poem, a Beltane liturgy that may be of use. It will form part of my Beltane celebrations.

Cosmic Fire [Within]

Before time itself,
when matter was but a dream in the Divine mind,
in the cosmic explosive crucible
of the furthest reaches of space,
fire roared.

Before life was formed,
when cosmic radiation coalesced
into a myriad of starry forms,
as the universe expanded,
fire grew.

Before humanity arose,
when the universe was oh-so-young and innocent,
the Source of All
planned that you should be here, and
fire moved.

Before this present time,
before you even knew that you are ‘you’,
energy was planted in all the elements.
Visible only to those who have eyes to see.
Fire hid.

From the very start,
it was ordained, that one place for the element of fire
to reside, to enliven and to empower,
was deep in the very core of humanity’s being, in your
heart.

Praise be to you Brother Sun, Sister fire.
Visible and invisible are you.
Felt and yet unknown.
Through you we can shine like a myriad stars in the sky.
A return to the beginning.