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)

 

A Story From The Heart(h): The Two Cave-Dwelling Fae

20190830 THE STORY OF THE TWO CAVE DWELLING FAE A STORY FROM THE HEARTH

There are some fire-side stories and chats that are so memorable, and worth re-telling many years later. The ancients, those ancient Celts and Druids, pagans, Christians, tribes people and others knew the value of story to teach, inform, question and to take us into deep places. I remember a story from my childhood that had a profound effect on me (and hopefully on you, in the re-telling).

‘Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.’ (Sue Monk Kidd)

The fire crackled in the hearth. I was, then, just a wee lad, perhaps six or seven years of age, and was huddled probably a bit closer to the fire that was best for me. One side of me seemed cold, one side of me, I could feel, warming a bit too much. My face was hot and I’m sure had became reddened. I moved a little further away from the fire, as the logs in the hearth glowed, cracked, crackled, broke and fell an inch or two.

Fyrgevraec – pronounced feer-ye-brak – is such a wonderful old English word. It describes in timeless and ancient tones what that fire was doing – crackling, snapping and breaking up with a sharp sound in that hearth. Those ancient words hark back to mysterious times, as did the story I was told by my grandmother that evening.

As I half closed my eyes, as I sat by that hearth of yesteryear, my imagination run riot, as she told a story, a parable:

There were once two fae, old fairies, more like crones, really, she said, who each lived in a cave – one cave was on the eastern side of the valley, one lived in a cave on the western side of the valley.

The fae who lived in the cave on the eastern side of the valley was a real charmer, she could talk the hind legs off a donkey my grandmother said. She was old, but dressed gaily, in an ancient-future sort of way and her long-flowing robe-like dress would always ruffle as if a wind was blowing, even if no wind was present! Very mysterious. Very intriguing.

People would visit her when the moon was full – she wouldn’t accept guests at any other time – and when they gave her some food, she would ask them, ‘past’ or ‘future’?. Her gift? She had a reputation of putting the past into perspective or giving assurances about the future. So they said.

She was very popular. The better quality the food or the more food she was given so the better were her ancient or future assurances. Ofcourse, people came to see her, mainly,  if they were ill or had family upsets, and would ask her what, in their past, had caused this.

She would give them a ragged stone with a word scratched on it, and that would be the reason for their illness or family problem, or indeed any other problem or challenge they were facing. Oh so they thought.. Ofcourse, one word etched onto a stone didn’t give much detail, and so most people who visited her were non-plussed and none the wiser. But, they felt they had tried.

Sadly, there illnesses or family upset or other challenge continued, but there was always the next full moon coming when they could visit her again, and again and again, with more and more food, and get more information about the past or future, perhaps.

‘Nothing distracts one from one’s true purpose in life more than following the crowd mentality.’ (Edmond Mbiaka)

The fae who lived in the cave on the western side of the valley was softly spoken, almost shy, and stammered somewhat. She, too, was old, as old as the cave itself some said. She dressed in contemporary clothes, and her dress had that washed-out look, and sported a patch or two on the dresses elbow or where her knees were.

She accepted guests at any time, and rather than demand food from guests as a fee for her services, she always laid on a lavish meal for them at no charge whatsoever. Her gift was of speaking about the present. She would give guests a rock with a word etched onto it – the word was always the same, it was the word ‘now’;  and over the meal would lovingly share with them what it meant.

People would visit her if they had an illness or family upset or some other challenge, but only a few, a very few people would visit. The few who visited her always left buoyed up, some knew what to do next – whether it was a call to action or patience and endurance. – and many lives were changed.

On most occasions she would look across at the small nearby town and cry that only a very few would visit her. It wasn’t that she was lonely – after all she was a fae and as old as the cave, and a thousand years to her was like an hour to us – it was just that she was upset that so many were troubled, and yet she had the answer for them.

And, so, little one, my grandmother asked me: if you had to visit one of those fae who would you visit? Would you visit the one in that eastern cave who could show you a ‘picture’ of the past or future for a fee; or would you visit the one in the western cave who freely spoke of the present?

It was a rhetorical question, and my grandmother answered as quickly as she had asked. Ofcourse, you would visit the fae in the western cave, wouldn’t you? Yes, ofcourse you would. I smiled.

She continued: You see, the fae in the eastern cave, who spoke of the past and future, and who charged a fee, and whose dress would ruffle in a mysterious and seemingly magical way, had no real answers for people. We know that beacause nothing really changed in their lives and they kept coming back again and again and again. They were always looking back into the past or into the distant future to solve their problems.

Now, the fae in the western cave new the richness of her gift, a gift so profound that no money could buy it, and so she offered her services freely to all. Her manner was rather subdued and her dress quite ordinary – no mysterious ‘smoke and mirror’ wind effect with her. But, the few people who visited her obtained satisfaction. To  some she would offer advice to wait and be patient, and to others to act immediately, but her guests always left lifted up and positive. Her give was ‘nowness’.

And my grandmother’s story finished there.

’…now it is high time to awake out of sleep…’ (Romans 13.11b, The Book)

As an aside it is interesting that half way up Moel Siabod (pronounced moil shab-bod), a mountain in Snowdonia, Wales, there is a point where you can look down at both sides of the valley below and just make out what really does look like a cave on one side, and another cave on the other side of the valley slope.

Now, I’m much older and hopefully a little wiser. I can see the appeal in uncertain times of delving into the past for significant answers or seeking the services of those who might predict the future. But, I believe the story my grandmother told me was that looking back and looking forward, in many cases, may not solve our challenges of today. If you want to understand what is happening and to effect change then, I believe, it must be done ‘now’, as the fae who lived in the western cave might inform you if you had visited her.

We only have ‘now’.

Last Wednesday, I got a text that something awful had happened. Forgive me for being ‘political’ (of sorts) for a moment. I had heard the the government intends to close Parliament and stifle debate on a major issue. Putting that issue to one side (and in many senses regardless of peoples differing views on the issue of Brexit as I wish to respect all views (even if I hold my own)), it hurt me to the core that the government of the UK – the Mother of all Parliaments – could do such a thing. I could tell you about past precedents or my future fears, but I realised this was above party politics and something had to be done now, now in ‘the now’. And so, and I hope you forgive me if you have an alternative view, but I had to act in the present – and at my ripe old age I went on my first protest match to College Park, London, and then with others to the Houses of Parliament, then Parliament Square and finally onto Downing Street. Something inside called out, something deep and profound and I had now to respond. And, I responded.

My grandmother was right. Looking back or into the future in many ways solves nothing. It might appear to (and maybe, just maybe, sometimes there is some usefulness),  and it might be very popular, but of those two fae the one who had the greater gift by far was the plain, stammering, somewhat shy fae who spoke of ‘nowness’ and told how it is. We only have ‘now’, this present moment in time to act.

Sometimes we need to act or endure in the present, I felt it was a time for action.

‘Nowness is the sense that we are attuned to what is happening. The past is fiction and the future is a dream, and we are just living on the edge of a razor blade.’ (Chögyam Trungpa)

Which fae would you visit? Which gift would help you more? What do you think?

 

The Teacher And The Question About Dawn: Tales From The Hearth

20181227 THE TEACHER AND THE DAWN TALES FROM THE HEARTH

There was a time when it used to snow heavily at Christmastime in north Wales, and there was a time when I would spend hours and hours playing with friends in the snow: tobogganing on an old tea tray (when really small), making and throwing snowballs, making a snowman, even making an igloo using old ice cream tubs as containers to form ‘snow bricks’.

Ofcourse, that was many years ago when I was a wee lad, and seeing on tv, recently, some scenes of the Sami people in the northern parts of snow-laden Finland, wonderful boyhood memories came flooding back.

On one occasion, as a wee lad, I had been playing outside for some hours, and though it was snowing and so wonderful for me, I was just a little bored on that occasion as all my friends weren’t allowed out to play. Nevertheless, I tried to keep myself occupied, loved the snow and the way on those oh-so-snowy days in north Wales the scenery would be bright white with snow, and the clouds would be a gloomy, dark, brooding grey – the ground was brighter than the sky and I loved it.

But, eventually, being alone, I got bored.

‘Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work’. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

Going through the boot-room of my grandparent’s cottage (a small room for depositing of earth or snow-covered boots) I entered into a wonderfully warm and baking-fragranced kitchen, and ambled on into the living room, and settled by a roaring fire in the hearth, and beside my grandmother’s rocking chair.

Thawing out, the cup of hot chocolate my grandad had made and given me went down a treat. My grandmother asked about my time outside and I let off a series of complaints, centring on the fact that life wasn’t fair, that I had wanted to play with friends but they weren’t allowed out, that they were probably having a better time than me, and… and… and, so it went on. I really did feel sorry for myself as though I was the only person in the whole world that had a reason to be upset.

’The wound is the place where the light enters you’. Rumi

My grandmother was a patient woman, listened intently to me as she rocked in the rocking chair. Occasionally she would stoke the fire in the hearth. She waited for me to stop complaining. I did eventually stopped, and then she spoke.

Lovingly, and with the most splendid of valley accents she quietly said, ‘You know, Tadgh, when you think you’re alone, you’re actually surrounded by lots of things, if you only give yourself time to look and listen. And, when you think your friends are so different. It’s then that you, and it applies to all us, need to know that we have a lot in common, that were very much alike, and more. And, once we realise that, we’re never really alone.’

’If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude’. Maya Angelou

Curled up, beside her rocking chair, I remember her saying, ‘Let me tell you a story’. With that, my attention was captivated as my grandmother told the most wonderful, ‘treasure-laden’ storyteller, who told stories that both entertained and enlightened.

‘A teacher once asked his pupils, ‘How do you know when the first moment of dawn has arrived?’. After a long silence, one of the pupils said, ‘When you can tell the difference between a dog and a sheep’. The teacher shook his head, tutted, and walked about the classroom hoping that another pupil would try to answer the question.

Another pupil chimed in, and said, ‘ When you can tell the difference between an olive tree and a fig tree’. Again the teacher shook his head, tutted, and walked about the classroom hoping that yet another pupil would try to answer the question. There were no more answers.

At this point my grandmother asked, ‘And what would you have said, dear Tadhg?. Open-mouthed and wide-eyed, engrossed in the story, as a wee lad, I could only but shake my head. An unvoiced unknowing was ‘loudly’ expressed!

She continued. ‘Well’, she said, ‘the teacher waited for a minute or two and then said, ‘You know the first moment when dawn has arrived when you look into the eyes of another human being and see yourself!’.

At this point my grandmother quickly chuckled to herself, ruffled my hair as I had a nonplussed expression on my face, and quietly rocked in her rock chair giving no further explanation.

I had a little understanding of the meaning of the story, but it wasn’t until many years later that the true import of the story made sense.

We are not really that different at all. On one level we all have the same needs and aspirations, all respond similarly to hurt and pain, and on a deep and very real level we can never be alone, because we really are one!

‘You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.’ Rumi

We are one. That was the ‘treasure’ contained deep within my grandmother’s story and which ‘dawns’ on those who are aware (which, like good, old, wisdom stories was ‘borrowed’ by her and others, and had been told to countless generations around the world in one form or another).

We are never truly alone. We are one. Indeed, everything is connected into one cosmic web.

‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these…you did for me’. Matthew 25:40, The Book