Exploring my connection with fire
Sacred Hearth is an evolving project which started off by me learning the bow drill as a traditional way to light fire and over the years I’ve experimented with various friction methods, honed my skills and I’ve also been researching and exploring the folk lore, stories , ritual and sacredness of fire from all around the world.
Over the years my connection with "fire" has naturally deepened through my practice of friction fire. Without fire we wouldn’t be here today - Homo Sapiens evolved only though our ancestors control and use of fire.
Though what is fire? At the end of a day it is just a chemical reaction, it is transitory, it's not physical, it's not alive. Though it's captured our imaginations throughout time, and we are still fascinated with it. It can elicit different emotions depending on the type of fire situation e.g. fear, comfort, safety etc etc. Our ancestors worshiped fire. It is one of the four elements. It is central to our survival and evolution and ongoing advancement. Countless books have been written about fire - so I'm only going to scratch the surface in this post (and these views and ideas are sure to change and evolve over time as I explore further!)
This "connection" I talk about is something I'm still exploring as it's more than just connecting with "fire" but rather nature and life as a whole! So fire is just a chemical reaction - though I choose to embrace the mysticism of fire! Within my workshops I'd encourage others to explore their "connection with fire" and what "fire" means to them as everyone is different!
It is easy to take things for granted, and I feel one of our issues as a species is that we just take take take take without really caring about the effect on the environment, as long as our species advances (though undoubtedly the human race will be it's own downfall! a whole different topic!) I’ve found through my regular “practice” of fire by friction and research and exploration of the stories and folklore that I started to connect on a deeper level and honour and respect fire as an entity in itself (which some may find hard to understand\agree with) ;as well as our control of fire and form a deeper connection with nature as a whole. Though I may add that I do not welcome fire every time the heating comes on or when I put the gas cooker on or start the car or use a knife (forged by fire) etc etc etc, It’s more of an underlying gratitude for "fire".
I have coined a phrase “welcoming fire”, which really for me is just another way to say making a fire. I don't really like the phrase making a fire. Do we make fire? (that's another thought process entirely!) What I mean is that instead of just lighting a fire without really thinking about it , to do it with awareness and presence and a deeper connection and with intention and reverence and maybe verbally welcome or bless the ember (the embryonic fire) and then the flame as it emerges. For me, the methods in which I find I can really do it this way are the hand drill, bow drill and more recently the fire churn – not only because it is a traditional way used by our ancestors, and natural, but because you have to work at it, it takes time to learn the knowledge and skills (we have lost), it takes time to gather the materials, prepare the sets, make the cordage (I don’t make it all the time but try to as much as possible) , you have to have some awareness and put thought into it, and it is like a ritual even if you aren’t into rituals 😊 … And even though I know it’s not magic that it is a chemical reaction as the friction of the wood creates dust which once heated (through the friction) to the right temperature ignites …. well when that ember starts glowing it is magical! I can see how our ancestors thought fire was hidden in the wood as is told by many stories. Actually you could say fire is hidden in the wood as fire is a chemical reaction at the atomic level and everything is made of atoms :) And so yes, whether you agree or not I like our ancestor’s view that the fire is in the wood and you are welcoming the fire out into existence!
However this is not to say that you can’t light a fire with awareness and deep respect and intention using a lighter, matches, ferro rods, flint and steel etc. For me it’s not the same, I don’t get the same feeling. Lighter\ matches\ferro rod are too instant, and man made - though yes I can still do it with intention and give thanks and bless the flame. I don't get the connection with striking flint either - even though fire by percussion is probably even older than fire by friction, I just don't get the same feeling that I get from coaxing an ember through the friction of wood. That’s also the same with the pump drill – it’s too mechanical for me. I even find the bow drill a bit too mechanical and I find the hand drill an even more profound way (it's just your hands and 2 pieces of wood! how magical is that!)
For me the hand drill requires very regular practice which becomes like a spiritual practice like yoga or meditation (at the moment I just don’t have the time for the hand drill but I will pick it up again one day.) That’s also why I like to make my own cordage and use harder woods so it isn’t too easy and so that I have to work at it. It’s about not taking it for granted.
Even though the fire churns are mechanical and large, I get a similar deep connection - maybe it's because they need a lot more work to make - sourcing the wood, carrying it,, seasoning and carving a 6 foot spindle takes time and effort, and that it needs to involve people communally working together and they were once used throughout Europe as a sacred way to ritually welcome fire. (I'm still exploring the fire churns...)
So once you have welcomed that ember, that glowing ember, it can seem miraculous , that it emerged from the wood, born from the friction of the male spindle and female hearth (a view held in the Vedic tradition) The next step is to then feed the ember with tinder and oxygen, feed it with your breath, to breathe into it, to bring it into flame, to welcome the flame and when whoosh the flame appears, it can take your breath away. Even though it is a chemical reaction, it can seem magical.
So I feel I have more of an underlying respect for fire irrespective of how it was produced whether it is wild\natural fire or human fire or mechanised fire (boiler, combustion engine, furnace etc.) I don’t go round blessing fire,…. I think it deserves to be revered as much as life and nature as a whole, and yes fire is just one aspect.
But what about disastrous fires such as bush fires, house fires, car fires, infernos (such as Grenfell Tower) – what about those? The Grenfell Tower disaster was horrendous and sickening. Can I be in reverence to that type of fire? I can’t give thanks to it or bless it but it makes me realise that you have to respect fire , that fire is all consuming, that it can destroy , that it can kill, that it can be just as destructive as it can be creative.
Moving onto another theme – sacredness of fire. What do I mean by sacred fire or welcoming fire in a sacred way. Well it depends upon how you interpret sacred. So looking at a couple of meanings in the dictionary:
OK so not everyone will agree with my views, or really get where I’m coming from and I’m still exploring this “connection”
I realise the way I would like to teach is a bit different so my approach isn’t for everyone. To those who are interested, I’m approaching fire from a different angle that it’s not just about lighting a fire, but connecting on a deeper level, and as well as learning the skills we’ll also be exploring the stories, ritual and folklore. I also want to try and get away a bit from the western\bushcraft way of teaching – i.e. doing it on your own and that it’s a challenge\competition – that’s very different to indigenous cultures who work together. You don’t have to learn on your own and it’s ok to use the bow drill in a team ! This is also why I like the fire churns as they are a communal way to welcome fire.
It’s an evolving project and my thoughts and views on it are ever changing too as I explore it further …… 😊