I have been out in the mountains for five days, alone
Studying the ways of fire
Alone, but not lonely
The campfires of my ancestors above me kept me in safety and in love
Constellations sharply delineated; hard diamond dust strewn across the satin sky above
A deep black sky that contains the secrets of my being, my past and my future
Each star, a sun
Each sun, a nucleus
Each nucleus, the centre of a slowly unfolding dance
Each dance, dramatic
Each drama, a world
Each world, possibilities so infinite it makes a mockery of probability
Each mockery, chaos
And in chaos, wonder and the potential for new patterns
As without, so within
I and my campfire, a flesh and flame simulacrum of the campfires overhead
A perfect, fleeting expression of the universe’s desire to know itself
As above, so below
Come sit down with me, and I will teach you what I know about fire and love
I love to build a fire, then sit and watch the flames dance around and see the embers in its heart shift and change in the brilliant heat. I love the smell of smoke in the air, it settles deep in my skin and can linger for days in my hair. I love the smell because it is an echo, a ghost of the fire I built, and reminds me of the warmth and beauty I created days before. It reminds me that I am human, that I am doing what humans have done since we first began to be human.
Yes, here is my fire, and I am of the earth, sitting by its warm light, doing what my ancestors did, in this exact place they did it. I am honoured, that what I am doing in the here and now is what the flesh and blood roots of my family tree did for aeons too. Here, too, they did what I am doing right now, in this very place. My fire is connection, and communion. I am communing with them in the earth below me, in the trees around me, in the stars above me, and in my blood inside me, because I am them in their newest, most resilient expression.
I am home here because this is where my ancestors were born, where they made their lives and made love, where they fought and grieved and passed down their ways of making fires down the line to my own keeping. I, the effect of their causes, as I can be a cause of many effects. I am the latest in a long, unbroken line of fire-makers and I won’t be the last. This is a certainty, and this knowledge comes from below me, around me, above me and inside me. I am important, they tell me. Tonight, they say to me:
“The universe is a cradle, gently rocking life into its own realisations.
You are a living, breathing manifestation of the universe’s longing to experience itself.
A dream within a dream, constantly dreaming yourself into existence.
Your lineage stretches back to the dawn of life, and you have inherited the entire Earth’s history of intelligence, creativity, sensuality and passion.
Your parents, and theirs, and theirs, and theirs, forever back, ad infinitum, all the way to us: in familiar and unrecognisable creatures both; we all existed to deliver you into Life’s keeping for this short time.
You are the culmination of aeons of living and loving and dying.
You are our dream come true.”
I feed my campfire, and I am communing with my ancestors whose blood, sweat and tears nourished this country in life, and whose flesh and bones fed this country in death. In this very place, time contracts to a singularity, the way my enormous black pupils dilate when I shift my eyes from the black sky above to look inside the flames before me. I am surrounded by their love and pregnant with their gratitude for me, and I reciprocate by feeding another log into my fire.
Tonight the fire has been speaking to me about life and love. And as I, a tiny insignificant human, built this earthly fire to reflect the star fires in the heavens, not only am I talking to myself, and teaching, but I am also listening to what I have to say, and learning. The lessons my ancestors speak to me, through the flames, on this night, are being taken in and weighed; sifted, sorted, ingested, digested and expressed in a way as to give form to this feeling. Because what I learn I can also teach. And the more I teach, the deeper the lessons settle in, just the way this earthy woodsmoke will do for days onward. A gift from the gods, and from my ancestors. A gift for myself, and therefore a gift to you.
You can’t start a fire without a spark
Some people don’t know how to build a fire. Maybe their culture doesn’t teach it, maybe their society doesn’t need it. That said, what kind of culture or society does not engage in one of the most basic things that essentialises us as humans? Whether you’ve only been lit up through artificial means, with the most recent, coldest evolution of the family hearth – the television, where everybody faces the screen, faces illuminated by the cold blue micro flickers, but not facing each other and not talking, not getting warm. But as part of society and of culture, you are also a contributor. Learn to make a fire. Inject some humanity into where you came from.
Sometimes we become adults and our family has not shown us how to build a good fire. Maybe they forgot how. Maybe their parents never showed them, maybe they were punished for it, maybe their ancestors were burnt at the stake. Maybe their fire-building practises burnt you, or smothered you; maybe you watched them build unhealthy fires with others and thought that’s the way it’s done. But it’s okay. Making fire is easy and anybody can learn to do it themself.
Culture, society and family may be good explanations for our issues with fire, but an explanation does not have to be an excuse. Plenty of people have overcome these excuses and learnt how to build healthy fires. And instead of being angry at your parents for not showing you, have some compassion, learn how to do it yourself and then teach them what you know. Begin the healing by taking it into your own hands. Show your parents how to build a fire. Don’t leave them cold. Be the change.
How do you learn how to build a good fire? You can read books or watch others do it, but the only real way is to just practise, practise, practise. You’ll fuck up here and there but don’t get frustrated. It’s only a fire. Just take note of your mistakes, remember what worked really well and figure out what you can do better next time. And try again. But if, before trying again, you don’t reflect by the flames and assess yourself in its unforgiving light, you will never get any better. You’ll spend more time in the dark than you need to.
Building a fire is a science because it requires a foundation of axiomatic knowledge and the application of observation, patience and dedication. Building a fire is an art, because it requires innovation and intuition for what is required at each phase. It needs an artist who can allow it to fulfil its most burning desire. No two fires are the same, so tried and tested formulas will not always work. Keep your senses open and give what is needed.
Because building a fire is both a science and an art, it is therefore a magical practice. As with all of the most sacred acts it can also be one of the most mundane. We imbue life, and fire-building, with whatever meaning we choose. Fire can be for necessity or luxury, for warmth, light, nourishment or entertainment. Maybe for prayer, as my campfire sends its earthy incense up to the heavens, and I commune with the camps of my ancestors above.
Lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice. And when it hits the ground magic happens, but if you rely on lightning to start your fire you’ll be mostly cold and waiting for something that will rarely happen again. Be grateful you had that experience but learn from it, and learn to create your own spark. Don’t rely on fate to recreate it because Chaos doesn’t work that way. You need to learn how to start and maintain one yourself, in all and any conditions. *As you shall see in the postscript, timing is an inadequate excuse.
The thing with fire is that it is a fickle thing. Air temperature and pressure, wind direction and precipitation all connive to create differing environments. In some, fire thrives all too well and needs tempering. In others it requires a lot of effort to maintain. But environment needn’t be an excuse to not try. Just make sure you watch, see and behold; don’t get burnt and don’t burn out trying.
A fiery metaphor
As an embodied metaphor, building a fire is useful to explain and explore the processes of building relationships. All metaphors are useful, not only as a literal or poetic description, but because you can make it as relevant as you want. No matter what I mean to write, you will take away only the meaning that you need to understand, on your own terms, and it will be better and more important than anything I intend.
This fire is an externalised projection, a symbolic transformation, a metaphorical transmutation, and an internalised injection of what I need to know – what I’ve always known, but is only now being revealed to me by the light this fire casts into the depth of my black and innocent heart. As I build this fire tonight, I understand it as a living metaphor for building a relationship with myself, which is the foundation for building relationships with others. Building a fire is a meditation in building warmth and giving nourishment. To build a good fire, you need to be both playful and sincere.
Fire is a tool; a transformative, purifying and clarifying technology. Our environment has been shaped by fire since before forever. Firestick farming has been practiced here for centuries, it has shaped our country so profoundly that many of our native plants can’t release their seeds without fire. Regular and controlled burning ensured no dead wood buildup, no fuel for the blazing bushfires that we’ve seen in recent years. Take heart, and read the lessons in this. Don’t let your own deadshit build up waiting for a tiny spark, or you’re asking for trouble. Burn things off systemically, regularly; renew and replenish, and baptise your seeds by fire.
I am taught to be indebted to Prometheus, but in my creation myth I am both god herself and a mortal woman, and so nothing was stolen from a jealous guarding god, no sneaky thieving human stole my secret. We are one and the same, the fire given freely by god herself in a spirit of gratitude for the woman to take the light back to the earthly realm, to share with all my brothers and sisters. The fire is also received in a spirit of gratitude by the human, for the special gift it is to heal, warm, nourish and teach, to illuminate even this darkest frozen night when the sun and moon have just disappeared behind the mountains together.
Here’s to the fire inside each and every one of us. May we always keep our own flames fed, may we ever enjoy the nourishing fires of each other and may we all be beacons of light and bringers of warmth wherever we go.
– Defender Of The Faith, 5th of June, 2014