Monday, November 4, 2013

Carry the Fire

Last night we worked our annual Samhain sacrifice. This Samhain marks, incidentally, the thirtieth birthday of Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF) the Pagan church in which I situate most of my work. Thirty years is a good record for a Pagan group, and we’ve done it without any shut-down-and-restart incidents. Thirty solid years of continuing effort at the restoration of polytheist religion to modern times; I won’t ask forgiveness for a moment of bragging, but I’ll be done.

One of our former Archdruids (who I’ll call by the name everyone calls him, “Fox”) has recently undertaken an in-depth personal study of the Indo-European customs surrounding sacred fire. There will be publications coming, starting with a trickle of articles in ADF’s magazine, ‘Oak Leaves’, so I won’t even try to summarize all of the wonderful treasures of lore that he has found. However we have generated one new bit of custom and ritual that found expression for me in last night’s rite.

The ancient custom was to place the
hearth-fire in the center of the house.
In traditional European Paganism, the fire in the home’s hearth is highly sacred. It is separated from common life by taboos, customs, and observances and treated, in essence, as the presence of a deity in the home. It is fed and cleaned, put to bed each night and wakened each morning with ritual and incantation. The hearth fire is center of what can be called the ‘domestic cult’ in traditional Paganism, the realm of family and daily life.

An Aukuras - a Baltic
Fire altar.
Religious ritual in traditional European Paganism often centered around another sacred fire, lit in ritual space on a raised fire-altar. This fire is, again, the very presence of the divine in the Grove, and receives the offerings and carries the voices of the people as we speak with the spirits. From Vedic lore to (posited) Druidic ritual, it is fitting to refer to traditional ritual as ‘fire worship’.

Ritual Fire is lit from domestic fire. The spark is brought from the hearth of the person sponsoring the sacrifice, or from the hearth of the city or village in some cases, and lights the sacrificial fire. Thus every fire partakes of the primal spark. That primal spark is extinguished and regenerated at regular intervals, as part of the calendar customs. In Rome and Persia, Spring Equinox was the traditional season for this custom. In Gaelic countries it seems to have happened twice yearly, at Samhain and Bealtaine.

So, at this past spring equinox, Fox and our current Archdruid, Kirk Thomas, ritually lit new
That's a big one a' those!
I want a fire-churn!
fire using a fire-bow. The fire was lit as part of a ritual intention to grow the spiritual and organizational unity of Our Druidry, to be a Hearth fire for our folk. That fire has been preserved and is slowly passing among ADF households and groves. We received it at our Clergy Retreat, and are undertaking to keep it lit perennially, until it is renewed next spring.  So far so good.

Yesterday we brought it for the first time from our hearth to the hall where we work our rites. We set up the hearth-fire on it’s own shrine, making it part of our usual custom of providing a ‘purification station’ for folks to do pre-ritual water-and-smoke cleansing. There’s a whole complex of ‘cleansing water next to hearth-fire’ that makes this especially satisfying. The spark was then carried from that purification altar and used to light the ritual fire.

This was a very satisfying beginning to our new ritual year. Things are coming, things are changing.  In the rite, the omen of blessing was:
• Nion - translation: support - tree: ash. Implies strength, communication (alternate translation is 'letters') and connection "Weaving of Women" is a gloss.
• Coll - trans: Hazel (one of the fews that is actually named for a tree); Wisdom, poetic inspiration. "Fairest of Trees"
• Straif - trans: sulfur - tree: blackthorn connotations of protection and the sidhe, from the tree; connotations of transformation from the chemical nature of sulfur. "Increasing of Secrets"

So, I'd say that the Grove was offered strength and connection, wisdom and magic inthat omen, a very good sign for the season, and in light of coming work.

As Our Druidry (and all of the neopagan, polytheist restoration) continues to grow deeper, both nationally and locally, I think we’ll see more examples of the materializing of ancient Pagan customs of respect and power. Let us carry the fire – hearth to hearth, temple to temple, until it warms us all.


Odin's Raven said...

Ancient practices and beliefs around the hearth fire are explained in The Ancient City by de Coulange

Ancient City

Unknown said...

Hi, I recently came across your page. A very interesting article. What does intrigue me is the fire churn pictured, I've been trying to find out more info but not getting very far - do you have any further information on that photo - where was it taken, or the group doing the re-construction? I'm researching friction fire throughout world cultures, the legends , stories and rituals.