The Majestic 6 foot Fire Churn installed at the Erti Suli Gathering (at the start of May.) It worked beautifully, even better than I had ever envisaged with no practice runs! The many hours of researching, dreaming into it, finding the materials, preparing the materials and building and experimenting paid off! I was very very pleased with its inaugural churning. It was used as part of a ceremony so there are no photos or videos but maybe stories will be told :) It was a dozen or so children who enthusiastically pulled on each end of the rope to welcome the embryonic fire out of the mother hearth. We then collectively breathed into the ember to welcome the new pure fire! Despite its size, it worked beautifully.
This is an authentic honouring way to communally welcome in the ancestral fire, based on an old way which ceased 200 years ago-ish; used in times of distress and at auspicious times such as Beltane and Samhain. Read more about the fire churns here.
For those interested in the practicalities, the 6foot spindle is made of an Ash tree trunk and the hearth is Hazel; the bearing log is Holly; 20meters of 12mm sisal rope was wrapped around multiple times. A piece of bark was used for the tinder tray. The Ash shavings created from making the spindle were used as the tinder. Oh and the ember was jubilantly huge!
My current project is developing a 6 foot fire churn to be used in the opening of a festival in May. It's progressing well and the spindle turns well and is creating friction and smoke! It needs a few tweaks and currently experimenting with the optimum weight of the bearing bar, and will need a few people to help ,me test it out! The idea is to involve many people at the festival to help welcome in the fire, as apparently was custom by the Celts at Beltane (and Samhain) using large churns like this. It seems that ritual welcoming of fire is not meant to be easy and the more challenging then the more magical the fire!
A video of my attempt at a rather peculiar friction fire method - the horizontal fire churn! Not efficient, not effective, best to be avoided unless of course it's for ritual!
And also see the video from India which inspired me to give it a go!
If you are planning a fire at Beltane or Samhain (or even as part of any Heathen\Pagan ritual) then consider doing it the proper "heathen" way of Tein'-éigin, Neid fire, Notfeuer, Nodfyr, Nedfres, Nedfri as seen in this video :) For some musical accompaniment you could go with the haunting German folk song Notfeur by Belborn (https://youtu.be/MRmh-d6SYyU ) or the black metal track Nauthiz Notfeuer by Nahtrunar (https://youtu.be/rYMCeRZIl18 )
So roll out your fire churn (this may be the only one in England :) ), site it on a knoll or between 2 streams,extinguish all fires and lights in the neighbourhood, round up 9 by 9 first-begotten sons, get our your oak auger and log,churn the fire, welcome in the ember, feed with tinder and breath, praise the fire,build it up, make offerings,make it smoky, then everyone including livestock walk through the smoke and jump through the fire to purify,
and relight all other fires from the new pure fire...
As I've written previously, Fire Churns were "apparently" used by the Celts and Slavs over 2000 years ago for welcoming in fire in times of distress and at auspicious times of the year such as Beltaine and Samhain. Here is one I've been building in the garage, it is a work in progress and will evolve over time.. I've started with a small spindle but will move to larger spindles and I hope to use these at events. With the larger spindles, more people will need to be involved to pull the rope as was the tradition.
I’ve been lured by folklore that the mighty sacred Oak was used to kindle fire through friction. Sir James Fraser mentions Oak quite a few times in the Golden Bough. I always thought Oak would be too hard a wood to tempt fire out through friction, so I wanted to test the folklore to see if Oak could be used especially for ritual/ceremonial fire. I sourced some dead English Oak (approx 6 months old) from the local woods and was getting lots of smoke and black dust when using Oak on Oak with the bow drill but not an ember. I then tried a Hazel spindle and managed to tempt an ember.
I then doubted that it was Oak as the general rule in bushcraft is that hard woods aren't really suited to friction fire and Oak doesn't appear on the list of recommended woods. So I did a bit more homework, re-visited the fallen branch, double checked the bark, buds etc and confirmed it was Oak. I then attempted an ember again, and finally achieved an ember using Hazel on Oak. Not an obvious combination but I tried Hazel as Hazel works on a range of woods. It wasn't easy, and I found that Oak doesn't like being damp (unlike some other woods), as it had got damp in the shed. After drying the Oak out for a couple of hours I tried again and after a few minutes of bow drilling tempted out the ember,
Then a few days later I tried again., by carving a spindle out of a larger piece of Oak and eventually achieved an ember. I drilled through to the bottom of the hearth, so then took the pressure off and drilled fast and the friction ignited the pile of dust. and created an ember A day later I tried again and achieved an ember, much quicker and easier within a couple of minutes! So Oak is possible, but it does need to be seasoned and dry, and may take several attempts at first. I found it easier carving a spindle from a larger piece fromm than trying to use thinner branches - which tend to be not very straight! Oak does give a good strong ember though which lasts a while.
I’ve quoted a couple of different references to the use of Oak from The Golden Bough below. ( I've also seen references to Laurel and Ivy being used in Ancient Greece – another one for the to-do list.)
“The chief diety of the Lithuanians was Perkunas, the god of Thunder and Lightning, whose resemblance to Zeus and Jupiter has often been pointed out. Oaks were sacred to him, and when they were cut down the people loudly complained that their sylvian dieties were destroyed. Perpetual fires kindled with the wood of certain oaks-trees were kept up in honour of Perkunas, and if such a fire went out, it was lighted again by friction of the sacred wood.”
Of Teign-eign (Force Fire) …
….”The most primitive method seems to be that used in the islands of Skye, Mull and Tiree…A well seasoned plank of oak was procured, in the midst of which a hole was bored. A wimble of the same timber was then then applied, the end of which they fitted in the hole….They used a frame of green wood, of a square form, in the centre of which was an axle tree or wimble. In some places three times three persons, in others three times nine, were required for turning round by turns the axle-tree. (This describes the devices which I have written about here…. .http://www.bowdrillian.co.uk/blog/need-fire ... another future project ....)
In my various googlings researching into the use of friction fire in ritual, I came across the ritual of Force Fire also called Need Fire, Neid Fire and Teine Eigin or Teine-éiginn (Gaelic for friction fire.) Force Fire seems to have been a ritual within the Celtic tradition and also within other Northern Hemisphere traditions including the Vikings.
Force Fire seems to have been a ritual way of starting fires as part of ceremonies (e.g. Samhain and Beltaine Celtic Festivals) but also as a way to cure ills - for example: when your cattle came down with foot and mouth, or other times of distress. It may also have been use by the Norse for lighting funeral pyres.
In all these instances, all fires within the local community would be extinguished and a new communal fire would be lit by means of friction (by using a device similar to the one pictured.) Once the new fire had been lit and offerings made, then everyone in the community would light their fires from the new communal fire. In the case of curing ills, damp wood would be added to make copius amounts of smoke and the cattle\people would be paraded through the smoke to "cleanse" them. or in other accounts water is boiled on the fire and then sprinkled over the people\animales. The community would also take a brand from the fire and re-light their hearth fires after the ceremony. It seems different communities would have slightly different rituals, requiring a certain amount of people involved in making the fire, or the fire having to be made in a particular depending on local beliefs and superstitions.
It seems this tradition occurred as recent as until the mid 1800s in Scotland.
There have been a few written descriptions of the device used to make Force Fire and in the main it sounds like an over-sized Strap Drill, like the ones in the pictures. The one in the above picture wouldn't really work, the reconstructions below are modern working interpretations.
First off, it may seem a cumbersome, over engineered, ineffective way of producing fire in comparison to the bow drill and hand drill but that was probably the point, and I'm guessing it was supposed to take many people to "force" fire through this contraption as part of the ritual.
I would love to have a go at building one of these. I have made a small model version, but haven't yet fully tested it.