Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Working with fire
As we approach the Summer Solstice, we may find ourselves drawn towards the fire more. It is the height of the light half of the year, and the time in which we stand most fully in the light. The Solstice is strongly associated with fire, and it may be a part of your ritual.
But Sabbats are definitely not the only time we can work with fire. Many of us call fire into our circle when we call the quarters. It has historically been considered one of the four core elements that make up all of creation.
A lot of practices involve fire in some form or another. Whether we are burning a candle or working with a bonfire, burning something away or igniting our passions, we are working with fire.
The simplest and most basic way to work with fire is physically. We literally light something on fire. This is the basis of many banishing spells (where we write down what we want to banish and then burn the paper it was written on), candle spells (where it is through being burnt the magic is released), or a ritual bonfire (where the fire stands in as a symbol of the sacred).
When working physically with fire, one of the most important things to be mindful of is safety. Fire is the most dangerous of the elements to work with, the one most likely to injure us or cause damage to the world around it. Even a candle, if not treated properly, can burn down a house. Always make sure you are treating the fire with respect, and never leave fire unattended. I can't leave a candle burning if I'm not in the room with it, we have slightly oblivious kitties, and I have walked in to see one sitting with the candle behind her...her tail fur getting singed by the fire! Along these same lines, wearing long flowing cloaks or trailing sleeves around fire is a hazard if you aren't paying close attention.
Flame aside, you also need to be aware of the secondary effect of fire: heat. When you burn things, even in a fire-proof container (like a cauldron), you need to make sure it is sitting on something that is heat proof. Many people use glass jars to burn candles in (to help keep things safe from the flame), but you want to make sure the glass is suited for the high heat. I've had glass crack and break before, because it got too hot. And, of course, make sure that you are protecting your hands when you need to handle things that have been close to the flame (and make sure things have cooled down enough before you touch them).
If you are burning paper, you want to make sure you have a safe place to let it burn out completely. Stone or metal tend to be good containers for things that will flare up but not burn for long (like loose pieces of paper). I love to burn bay leaves, but these flare up super quick, and so I have to be very careful where I burn them (I tend to burn them over the sink, so they can fall into the metal sink and I can use water to put out any lingering embers).
If you are outside, wind is also a concern. Not only might it spread sparks, but smoke can be a significant irritant to people! Nothing is worse than standing downwind of a roaring (and smoking) campfire....it makes your eyes water, and clogs up your throat...not something that is helpful when you are trying to do a ritual!
For a campfire, you also want to make sure that you either have a good fire pit dug or you have cleared enough space around where you are setting your fire, so that it can't catch grass on fire. At the height of summer, this may not seem like a big issue, but fire is tricky and it is always better to be safe. Having a big bucket of water on hand is a good precaution to have as well.
As Pagans, we can also work with the spiritual aspects of fire, in a way that doesn't require actual flames. I know this is a big concern for a lot of younger people, especially those who are living in dormitory situations where they may not be allowed to burn candles. The element of fire can be called up in many different ways.
Stones are a great way to represent fire, and hold the energy of fire. You might want to find a stone that looks like fire to you, one that captures the colors of the flame or one that has the flicker and flash of a fire. You might use stones that were forged in fire (I have some lava stones for this purpose), or ones that were touched by fire (stones that perhaps were part of the boundary of a campfire and are a bit scorched, or stones you put under where the fire would be built, to soak up the fire energy). I have a plain, palm sized river stone that I have dedicated to fire, as a healing tool. There was nothing particularly special about the stone before I started working with it, but I have been using the same stone as a fire stand in for over twenty years now, and it has built up it's own resonance.
In this digital age, you can also use images of fire. When I was in the dorm, I had pictures of all four elements that were tacked up on my wall, to represent the circle and it's quarters. If you like working with guardians, you might have a picture of a dragon or some other fire beast to represent fire. There are moving images of fire (or candles) that you can use in place of the actual thing, for meditations (many simple meditations involve staring at a flame).
When we talk of the fire within us, we often think of anger or other extreme emotions, that often rob us of our ability to think clearly (of our air), or connect emotionally (our water) or even be concerned with our physical well being (our earth). These can be very powerful emotions, passions that drive us to great and amazing actions, but just like when working with actual fire, we need to learn how to handle them or we will end up burning ourselves (or others).
There are so many ways to work with fire, and so much that fire can teach us. Working with fire can be vastly rewarding, but you may need to take extra precautions, to make sure you (and those around you) are safe. If you are planing to work with fire, it is always a good idea to make sure you spend a bit of extra time, before you start, thinking about the best way to stay safe, so that when you get caught up in the heat of the moment, you are well prepared.