I have always been fascinated by fire. Even as a youth living in the city, I found ways to have flames be part of my experience, like regularly pilfering candles from the dining room table just so I could have a bit of living flame in my room. During my teens, my family moved to the Catskills, and it was then when fire became much more prevalent and a staple in my life.Afterall, you cannot exactly have a raging bonfire in a city park without drawing unwanted attention. With our move to the wilder places of the mountains, a fire was seen as a common part of life. As I matured into an adult, fire took on a deeper meaning for me. I often wondered what our early ancestors felt when they were first able to summon fire as opposed to gathering it off the landscape from a lightning strike or the naturally occurring wildfires that we still have today.
When I am out on the landscape and have the need for fire, I usually employ the tried-and-true method of a ferro rod and some birch bark tinder. When I want something more contemplative or ceremonial, I call fire the way that some of ancestors did by friction with a bow drill kit. Using such a kit takes some practice and patience but there is a certain focused aspect to doing it that is incredibly settling. Prepping the tinder bundle, gathering the wood of assorted sizes, and laying out the parts of the bow drill set in a respectful and intentional way turns the calling of fire into a sacred act. The parts of the drill set have each taken on their own meaning for me over time, something I have discussed in previous essays.
Grandfather Fire is a magical being and considered our first ancestor. It was fire in the form of lightning that sparked life here in the arms of Pachamama, Mother Earth. I have heard it said that fire is the one element that cannot be corrupted. Water, air, and earth can all be polluted if neglected for their sacredness. Fire’s shifting ephemeral form always maintains its transformative purity.
Throughout our known history, fire has played an essential role in our growth as a society. It has kept us warm, cooked our food, forged our tools, and provided us with a setting for our gatherings. Fire is also within us as the holy molecular chemistry that is our breathing, digesting, and musing. It is not a coincidence that fire came up for me this February. In my own ancestral lineage fire was a large part of a traditional ceremonial life. Bonfires were lit to celebrate the returning light and the earliest manifestations of Spring. Livestock were driven between fires to ensure their health for the coming year and the ashes of fires were inspected for good omens.
One of the things that I have done for many years is to collect a bit of char from each fire that I have had or prepared for others. I grind it down to powder and keep it in a jar. I start each new fire with a little of that char so that the energy from each fire is passed along and then I offer a bit to each person that I have shared fire with so that they may take that energy and carry it forward themselves.
I would like to end with an invitation. Have your own fire. Feel its warmth. Look at its light. What images or feelings emerge from the dancing flames for you? It does not have to be a big fire. There are times when a humble candle will do. What does fire mean for you?
From my heart to yours,
Christopher T. Franza, OMEC board of Directors