I am passionate about natural cordage and I feel that too much synthetic cordage is used within modern bushcraft for the bowdrill. Personally, I feel it is a bit of a cheat and you may as well use a lighter! (shock horror!) This clip talks about natural cord alternatives and demonstrates 3 different ways of using 3 different types of natural cordage, and shows that it isn't that difficult at all. I hope this encourages at least 1 person to switch!
The hand drill , is the method I find the most profound , and more akin to a spiritual practice, as it is just you and your hands welcoming in the fire. It's also one I have had a love and hate relationship with, though I do seem to be starting to relax more with it. I decided to pick it up again last week after having a break for a few months and I happily discovered that I was able to welcome an ember using a slightly different technique. I used a longer spindle and knelt rather than sat, and used a piece of wood to weigh down the hearth board to stop it from moving and after only a little while I was blessed with an ember. And a few days later , I was successful again so this way does seem to be better for me - you can apply more downward pressure but it does need a longer spindle. The woods used were Elder spindle and Clematis hearthboard. I also leave the bark on the spindle (except for the bottom) as I find it helps with grip.
My latest fire churn - this one installed in the back garden!
13ish billion years ago The Big Bang created the Universe
4.5ish billion years ago The origin of the Earth
Earth is the only known planet where fire can burn
500-400ish million years ago ish – the origin of wild fire…
The origin of wild fire is tied to the origin of plants, as fire needs oxygen and fuel. The 3rd factor - heat source, has probably been available throughout the history of the planet through lightning strikes, and volcanoes etc. Before the appearance of photosynthetic organisms, the atmosphere lacked sufficient oxygen, and before the appearance of terrestrial plants, it lacked fuels; thus, fire could not theoretically exist on our planet until the beginning of the Paleo zoic Era (540 million years ago ) the oxygenated atmosphere may have been sufficient to support fire, but the lack of terrestrial plant fuels limited the possibility of fire. Though as plant life increased over the millenia so did the occurrence of wild fire…
…and as fire destroyed , it also cleared the way for new growth, and some species actually depend on fire for their survival….
(source: A Burning Story: The Role of Fire in the History of Life Juli G. Pausas, Jon E. Keeley;BioScience, Volume 59, Issue 7, July 2009, Pages 593–601 )
14 million years ago The first great apes appear, our distant distant ancestors
2.5 million years ago the Genus Homo evolves
1 million years ago ish –it is thought our distant ancestor Homo Erectus started to tame the wild fire …
Our distant ancestors lived amongst the wild fires, and over the millennia this connection with fire evolved and deepened. Initially it may have been base instincts and emotions like wild animals but over time as our ancestors evolved so did the connection with fire. I find it hard to imagine what life would be like without fire - we wouldn't have most of what we take for granted today without fire. No one can ever know what happened or over how long a time period, but in some way or other our ancestors realised fire made you warm, it kept wild animals away, and that cooked food tasted a lot better than raw food and so the story of our evolution began!
And so our distant ancestors learnt to tame the wild fire, it changed EVERYTHING!
And so I like to say that we are forged from fire!
Once we had controlled fire, we guarded it, we had to keep it going as once it went out we couldn’t find it again until the next natural lightning bolt or lava flow ….
or we stole it, or fought for it from others ….
Can you imagine the status afforded from having fire….
and this faint ancestral memory is carried on in stories and folklore about how fire is stolen from those who keep it all to themselves….. (such as How Rabbit Stole Fire – Native American , Maui - Polynesian, Chen Sui – China, Prometheus - Greece)
Fire must have been seen as special, precious, magical, revered…
Fire enabled us to thrive, to adapt,…
The wild fire was tamed….
Contained in the hearth fire….
Protected , nurtured….
The hearth fire became central, a focus, offering protection, warmth, light….
Evidence of hearths have been found in caves going back to a million years….and the significance of hearths has survived through the millennia….even today…
And, Over time we would have learnt to transport it , which enabled us to roam more, not be constrained to one place without losing the precious gift of fire….
200 thousand years ago BOOM our species, Homo sapiens evolves and emerges from Africa and slowly spreads over the world
Homo Sapiens would not have evolved without Homo Erectus taming the wild fire.
The use and control of fire has been described as the “single most important innovation in our evolution”. It is thought that eating cooked food had a major impact as cooked food is much more easily digested; and provides additional calories to allow our brains to grow
as we didn't need to process raw food our jaws and teeth became smaller and since we needed less intestines to digest food our torso became thinner.
So our species would not have evolved, and would not have developed and advanced without fire.
Then over time, through trial and error , over thousands of years, and the accidental attempts most likely started by our ape like ancestors……
Our ancestors learnt to “make” fire …..
A huge step forward, no longer constrained by having to protect and keep the fire…
Though they still would have kept the hearth fires going, for warmth, light, protection, only putting them out when they had to , or at auspicious times…
So we learnt to make fire….
By striking flint onto rocks rich in iron deposits … a tiny spark would appear… these sparks are not as hot and don’t travel as far as those struck from flint on steel…..
…. It’s not easy, it takes time, it is difficult to get those tiny sparks to catch tinder, the tinder needs to be bone dry…
they also learnt to make fire by rubbing wood together such as
hand drill (common in Africa, Australian Aborigines, Native America’s, Ancient China, Egypt)
fire plough (Polynesia)
fire saw (Asia)
and eventually bow drill (Alaska, Siberia, Egypt, Northern Hemisphere??)
pump drill (Native America)
no one knows when these methods were first used, or what came first…. A mystery….tho there is evidence throughout the world, of fire by percussion … mostly from the Mesolithic periodic (10,000BC) and earliest evidence of fire by friction is 4000BC ish (due to wood rotting)
though most stories and folklore relate to fire by friction rather than percussion….
fire by friction seems a magical, mythical way, as if the wood contains fire
and so some stories go that fire was hidden in the trees, that wood hid the fire and that the only way to find the fire again was to rub two sticks together (How Rabbit Stole Fire, Maui)
this must have seen to be magical and through the various stories and fragments I get a sense that fire by friction was seen to be more holy and special then fire by percussion… it was also used in ritual to welcome in the fire
so now Zooming forward again through the stone ages to 10,000BC the End of the Last Ice
during the Mesolithic period, my homeland Britain, started to be settled by people who came across from Europe
then from 4000BCish more settlers came over who brought new ways such as farming and spiritual beliefs,
bringing with them the skills and knowledge of fire
and so saw the transition from hunter gatherer to farmer …the Neolithic period began in Britain…. with the help of fire, trees were cleared to make way for crops… and they honoured fire and worshipped fire….
Then onto 3000 BC ish (only 5000 years ago) to the discovery of smelting metal from rock from ore through extreme heat of fire and wow how things rapidly started to heat up then with the Bronze Age… woodland started to be managed and coppiced so there was a steady supply of charcoal to feed the forges….
then to the Iron Age 1200BC , things really started to hot up, literally, you needed lots of raging heat to smelt Iron! The need and demand for fire was high, and the forges were hungry for fuel, wood (charcoal) had to be burnt in huge quantities..…. the landscape changing…
the fire steel was then invented and the main method was then striking flint on steel (which continued on until 19th century!)… and the deep connection with fire was starting to fade…. but not entirely, not in ritual …. there is old language and old stories about fire by Friction, and it seems it was commonly used within ritual, in many cultures as it was still seen to be magical…..
through the ages the Ancient Egyptians, Aztecs, Ancient Greeks, the Romans, Vikings etc etc …. fire still being revered…friction fire used in ritual….. sacred eternal flames were kept alive in Greece, in Rome, in Ireland to name a few, fire deities were worshipped…
on through middle ages
onto the industrial revolution
fire was industrialised
tho the magic of fire and fire by friction clinged on throughout Europe in the form of Neid fire rituals
the church dismayed at this heathen practice tried to ban it several times thru the ages
… and then in the early 19th century ….the last Neid fires burnt out for the last time in the highlands of Scotland and throughout Europe……….
then the invention of the match in the mid 19th century replacing the 2000 year old method of flint and steel
….. and then you had fire in an instant…. BAM…
Did people gasp in amazement, was it magical, was it amazing, or was it just taken as granted….
The connection fading….
and fire was being industrialised and mechanised on through into 20th century … in furnaces, in engines, in boilers, power stations,
fire contained, restrained… hidden….
1930s Ferrocerium invented which saw the invention of the lighter…
and again whoosh we have instant fire…. A commodity even…..
Do we gasp in amazement each time we work a lighter…..
in each flame, do we revere in the million years of ancestral memory ??
The deep connection and mysticism of fire pretty much a distant memory for most…..
and here we are now in the digital age, everything in an instant, BAM
our connections with the world, nature, each other, the mysticism of life, diminishing…..
amongst all of this, indigenous peoples cling on, cling on to their ancestral memory, still welcoming fire using the old ways of fire by friction….
In Vedism in India, the Agni Manthan rituals still go on today , where it is believed that Lord Agni is born through the friction of wood, the friction of the Male spindle and female hearth, which
procreates new life, the embryonic fire, the ember, which when fed with breath and tinder bursts into joyous life, Agni
in the Celtic tradition, at Beltaine and Samhain, they would extinguish all fires and light a new pure fire (also Neid Fire) through friction of wood using a fire churn, a fire machine…. They would then walk the livestock through the smoke back into the pastures and all community fires would be relit from this new fire, a new fire symbolising a new phase of the year, new life, new growth….. this all but disappeared in the 19th century, the church banning the Neid fires, however in Russia a similar practice Sacred Live Fire can still be found today used by pagan groups here and there….
The ancestral memory clinging on
and today In our modern world….
There are many eternal flames all around the world mostly to commemorate the fallen
The Olympic flame is still lit several months before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games at the site of the ancient Olympics in Olympia, Greece. Eleven women, representing the Vestal Virgins, perform a celebration at the Temple of Hera in which the first torch of the Olympic Torch Relay is kindled by the light of the Sun by a parabolic mirror.
Edinburgh Beltane and Samhain fire festivals since 1989 – re-interpretation of the Celtic fire festival and lighting of the neid fire with bow drill
camp fires still draw us in, people sing, talk, tell stories round the fire, fire still captivates us, fire is within us,
wood stoves have made a come back, people wanting the fire visible in their home….the hearth fire….
the faint ancestral memory is there in us….
And so I welcome the fire, I don’t make the fire
and for me, like many traditions before me , and as can be seen by the many stories, fire by friction is …. holy, special, spiritual, it’s more than just a way to make fire, you could say it’s magical….. and so I am welcoming the fire through the friction of wood…..
it’s not just a method but also a practice, it requires time and patience, knowledge and skills we have lost, and awareness, and respect. Respect - for well everything, the earth, nature, our ancestors, existence! - all bundled up into the act of preparing the friction sets and using them to welcome out the fire……
and behind me there is a million years of ancestral memory and billions of years of everything coming together into the one moment of welcoming the fire ….
the ancestral fire, our creator, our ancestral memory, our future, our very survival.