A Quarterly Newspaper By & For Friends Of Sacred Fire
December Solstice 2021
A Quarterly Newspaper By & For Friends Of Sacred Fire
December Solstice 2021
By Susan Skinner | The Inspiration and Purpose for The Fire Gazette, our community’s new Quarterly Newspaper
By Sylvia Law | As our new Firekeeping Director, Sylvia shares her enthusiasm for supporting firekeepers around the globe
By Annie King | The training process and how technology is being incorporated to train firekeepers worldwide
By Larry Messerman | Larry’s personal experience and what he has learned over years participating in the Prosperity Ritual
Chris Griffin interviews Sherry Boatright on her collaboration with a woman from the Squamish Nation
By Alison Gayek | How Nahua Wisdom and Ceremony help us move with the annual cycles and rhythms of life
By Larry Messerman | A look at how sacred fires help us to engage and address our differences
Introducing The Fire Gazette
By Susan Skinner
As the Board Chairperson for Sacred Fire, I want to give you background and context on the purpose of the Quarterly Fire Gazette created for you by Sacred Fire’s Board of Trustees. The Fire Gazette provides you with stories and a connection to what is happening within our international community.
In our last Sacred Fire business retreat, which we hold twice a year with the Trustees and Directors, we were grappling with some disruptive current events and how to speak about them to the communities and friends of Sacred Fire. There were different approaches discussed as to why and how to communicate, and then it was pointed out to us by Grandfather Fire that we were larger than this one specific conversation. That was a revelation!!
It is so easy for most of us to be primarily concerned with our immediate communities, fire circles, friends, events, and families. That is valid and necessary, but the work of Sacred Fire is larger than our immediate circles and its concerns are broader. This organization supports many aspects of our community, including our Firekeepers who hold consecrated fires throughout the year in numerous countries—each one caring for many people, the Lifeways programs serving to bring people to a more grounded and natural way of living their lives, and of course Fire Speaks events that give people access to the wisdom of Grandfather Fire. Sacred Fire is all these things, and it is also a large,
diverse international community which includes people of various backgrounds, traditions and paths.
The Gazette has been created to give current news stories of Sacred Fire – what is happening behind the scenes, plans that are in the works, and the stories that can connect you with people around the globe who are dedicated to feeding the fire of heart, connection and community. The Gazette is intended to give not just news, but to provide real stories from people throughout our community who are engaged in some way with bringing people out of the isolation and confusion that our fast-paced modern times can engender.
Some people within the community walk on one of several ancestral tradition paths inspired and nurtured by Grandfather Fire. We are a hub in which we can all come together, feel connected and supported in our soul work or a calling. Some of our stories will be from those who are dedicated to one of these medicine paths that serve and enrich our communities with ceremonies, workshops, healing treatments, and wisdom learned and earned through the work they are doing in their tradition.
We hope that you find this quarterly publication not just informative but relatable and supportive. It is meant to connect us together with the larger picture of who we are as a people—the People of Sacred Fire.
Author Susan Skinner is Chairperson of the Sacred Fire Board of Trustees.
Support for our Firekeepers
By Sylvia Law
Under the leadership of Annie King, the Firekeeping Director role has grown in recent years to become more than one person could hold, so the role has been divided into two positions. As Fire Chief, Annie will be working more fully with Firekeeper training, and Sylvia Law as our new Firekeeper Director will give devoted attention to supporting current Firekeepers and nurturing new Firekeeper candidates.
The coordination of Firekeepers is undergoing a change. It is with great delight that I share with you my process of stepping into the role of Director of Firekeeping. It has been an incredible movement that has widened my awareness and revealed the depth and richness of what we offer as the organisation of Sacred Fire.
Fire has created a strong foundation of growth in my life. It has gifted me the courage to step into this wonderful role and to support our community of Firekeepers. I aspire to bring a fresh perspective and renewed sense of purpose as I tend to the future shape of how we share what do as an organisation and who we are as a global presence. I feel passionate about what we offer as Firekeepers and hope to spark inspiration that will guide us in new ways.
Fire has created a strong foundation of growth in my life. It has gifted me the courage to step into this wonderful role and to support our community of Firekeepers.
I am moving into this role of leadership with much humility and respect, recognizing that I have big shoes to fill. Annie King has held and grown the Firekeeper Director role for over 20 years. Her adventure with fire began in 2001, when the community was in its first stages of emergence. Annie reflected to me that the role provided her rich personal growth as part of the honour of working to bring the medicine and joy of Fire to people’s lives through supporting the network of international Firekeepers. It is a testimony to Annie’s support and energy that we have come as far as we have. She has been an integral part of building a solid foundation from which we can grow upon.
I’m dancing between beginnings as a new Firekeeper and the new Firekeeping Director. During my process of becoming a Firekeeper, Annie really encouraged me. She championed me through this formation. The journey from a seedling or a spark, to a flowering flame, ignited my heart and led to me to now working together with Annie to nurture and support all our firekeepers. We are moving through this transition together, as Annie blossoms into the direction of teaching and I into a leadership position for our community.
I deeply appreciate Annie’s support, her insights and experiences. During this transition, Annie shared with me, “I am so appreciative of the journey that being Firekeeping Director gave me and have learned what it means to devote myself to something precious, holding steady through the challenges, and discovering the beauty that comes from that. I’m grateful for you Sylvia for stepping up to help the community fires spread so that people yearning for this medicine can receive the rebalancing, healing and heart connection that they bring, and discover a fruitful way forward together.”
My spark with Sacred Fire ignited in 2017 at my first Fire Speaks audience with Grandfather Fire in Ireland. I was searching for purpose, and the longing to feel part of a community. During the Firekeeper retreat, there was a palpable energy of connection, spirit and strength, which made me enquire, ‘who are these people?’ I could sense a deep life force, interwoven with commitment and purpose among them. “They are Firekeepers,” someone told me. I was in awe. My heart sang, “That’s what I wish to bring into the World.”
I live in Scotland and come from a multi-cultural upbringing. I have a Spanish mother, who taught me to speak bilingually. This will be of benefit for future communications with our international community. My value for appreciating diverse cultural perspectives has created a sense of openness in the way I connect with people. It was this sense of connective engagement that began my journey into Firekeeping. Fire brought my partner into my life. We recently moved to our beautiful home in the countryside, building a foundation together and our community fire hearth.
I come from a creative arts background. I have worked with community enterprises, facilitating groups in a wide series of settings, including therapeutic gardens, providing employability training, supporting in mental health services,
as well as managing teams and building learning resources for future development. I’m excited to bring these skills and experience into this role.
A fundamental part of my new role is building and creating relationships with an ever-growing international community
The role of Firekeeping Director involves tending to many flames, overseeing the actions that create the whole picture of our offering. My commitment is to hold all the components of the picture so I can clearly see what we are moving towards. This requires ongoing communication, organising team meetings, hosting the Firekeeper Council and Support Team calls, supporting our volunteers that support our Firekeepers in all their capacities, as well as hosting webinars for continuing education and organising our annual Firekeeping retreats.
A fundamental part of my new role is building and creating relationships with an ever-growing international community. One of the first things I did in my new role was to reach out to our Firekeepers. It was invaluable to me to hear their insights and hopes on building this new vision together. I am dedicated to being inclusive and encompassing the diversity of who we are as an organisation. I feel it is very important to embrace and celebrate this as our greatest asset.
What I most love about fire is its nature to build connection as a force that unites and ignites us.
I am heartened by the gift of what we are offering as Firekeepers and how this can take shape to reach a diversity of people as a global community. During the lockdown, I held online fires and had people coming from Mexico, France, Ireland, England, Scotland and the US. It was a blessing to share that space, something that geographically we couldn’t do before. Now that society is re-opening, I feel inspired to see how we can continue to cultivate this, ensuring that the medicine of fire reaches as many people as possible. I’m driven by the cause to bring Grandfather Fire’s vision to have over 1,000 Firekeepers in the World. It is an honour to support this incredible undertaking and labour of love!
What I most love about fire is its nature to build connection as a force that unites and ignites us. Fire is a universal language of heart. I feel it’s the medicine that we need right now in the world. I see fire as a vital force that gifts us hope during these challenging times.
Moving forwards, my dream is to celebrate more visibly our presence as Firekeepers. My aspiration is to inspire many generations to come to take on this mantle. We all need role models to inspire us to step up to this work. I can speak to this first-hand because it has been my experience. Annie with her tremendous support, dedication and devotion is part of what inspired me to step into this role, as someone who I deeply respect and admire. Having been an integral figure in holding this space with so much heart, it is an honour to carry this forward as I follow in her footsteps. This transition feels symbolic, like when an elder passes on their legacy to the next generation, allowing the thread of their work to continue, and weave new sparks into the future.
It’s a great venture to be part of this new cycle. I both admire and appreciate that my new role will take tending to, like the nature of Firekeeping itself. I feel so grateful for this opportunity to support the prosperity of Sacred Fire and to giving of my vitality to spark its future blossoming. I look forward to embarking on this exploration of growth with you all.
The Training to Become a Sacred Fire Firekeeper
By Annie King
As we began holding fires back in the early 2000’s, we were guided to train and initiate Firekeepers in the time-honored practice of Firekeeping. This training has recently undergone a transformation as we utilize 21st century technology to fulfill our vision of having fires lit around the world.
Firekeepers are trained to see and work with Fire’s special gifts, so that as they offer their sacred fires, they can facilitate them to support Fire’s spiritual transformative and connective effect. At the end of a fire, it is common to hear: “I feel so much better!” Or “these gatherings are so important in my life!” Behind these experiences is the work of the Firekeeper.
We have long wanted to expand the training of new Firekeepers to give them a better foundation in the work, so that when they hold their fires during their training period and work towards their initiation, they are more confident in their role and grounded in the work to be done.
It takes a special person to take on the path of Firekeeping—someone who is committed and dedicated to hold a special space for people to gather around the sacred fire so they can find healing, connection and benefit.
As interest in Firekeeping is growing in areas around the world, we have seen the need to have something in place that could be used again and again to start the training process. Thus, a new vision began to take shape. With the advent of Covid and the growing familiarity with online trainings, we saw the benefit of creating a series of online training sessions that could be accessible to people worldwide to start them on the extraordinary journey of becoming a Firekeeper.
Along with any vision comes a huge amount of work to manifest it, including mapping out the material to be covered, then pre-recording the sessions. Along the way I learned a new skill: how to edit video footage in iMovie! For a novice, this took me quite a while!
I am thrilled to say that we recently began facilitating a new group of Firekeeper candidates that will be together the next 6 months working through the 12 newly produced webinar training sessions. Along with an assigned host, they will each have an experienced Firekeeper who will mentor them through this process. At the end of their online instruction, there is a 3-day in-person facilitation training. After the training, the candidates take their first step as a Firekeeper. With their sponsor who is there to support them, they will gather people around the fire as a Firekeeper.
Their training culminates with a week-long training in Mexico that ends with an initiation into this precious work. The initiation launches them into a lifetime of learning, continuing education, service to others, and self-transformation along the way.
We have long wanted to expand the training for new Firekeepers to give them a better foundation in the work, so that…they are more confident in their role and grounded in the work to be done.
The process requires huge time and commitment from David Wiley, the principle Firekeeper teacher along with those who support him in the teaching work – the organization, the Firekeeper sponsors and the candidates. For each candidate, there are hundreds of volunteer hours dedicated to their process and journey to become a Firekeeper and many to help guide, hold and support them along the way.
It takes a special person to take on the path of Firekeeping – someone who is committed and dedicated to hold a special space for people to gather around the sacred fire so they can find healing, connection and benefit. It takes someone who has the courage to do their own inner work so they can be present for others. It takes someone who wants to connect to fire and heart, and to support others in the experience of finding that connection, so there is hope for us as a people on this earth moving forward together in a fruitful life.
It’s an exciting journey that has been my lifework to support. I am excited about how the enhanced training will now allow more and more people from around the world to become a Firekeeper.
Ceremony, Corn and Prosperity
By Larry Messerman
As this issue of the Gazette is posted, I will be in Mexico for the annual Prosperity Ritual harvest. Grandfather gave us the Prosperity Ritual in 2014 and I have been honored to participate in it for the past four years as the representative for the Sacred Fire organization. This year, I will be joined by others from the Blue Deer Center, the Huichol and Nahua medicine paths, and the Tepotzlan Fire Community as we harvest the corn from our milpa (field in Spanish) at Casa Xiuhtecuhtli (Pronounced she-ta-cut-lee or House of Fire in traditional Nahautl language) in Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico.
Sometimes the timing of the ritual is challenging for me. This year, as many years in the past, the harvest falls only a week before Christmas and I will be juggling family commitments to be there. But there is something profoundly joyful and inspiring about connecting to the earth and the corn in such a deep way so that we may receive the bounty we need to help our people.
As I have had the opportunity to represent Sacred Fire for the Prosperity Ritual, I have experienced a profound shift in perspective. I have come to appreciate the intimate relationship between corn and people.
For me, the core of the Prosperity Ritual is about relationship. In the modern world, corn has become a commodity: a ‘thing’ that is shipped over vast distances to feed farm animals and people. For the latter, it is manufactured into a wide range of products. Because of all of these derivatives, Americans actually consume more corn than the average Mexicano, but because it’s in the guise of corn syrup or food additives, the link to this sacred plant is hidden.
Traditional peoples who grew corn had a much more intimate relationship with it. For one thing, it was much more precious because if the corn crop was not bountiful, there could be starvation. Before the advent of modern agriculture
and transportation systems, you could not simply ‘import’ the corn from somewhere else if local conditions were not favorable. That’s the practical reality. And because they could not rely on sophisticated technology, traditional people had to learn a different way to ‘get along with the world.’
They learned that the way is the path of heart and spirit–a kind of ‘inner technology. But it is not exactly that, because technology implies human agency to get what you want. In the realm of heart and spirit, this kind of manipulation is simply not effective; indeed, it often backfires.
As I have had the opportunity to represent Sacred Fire for the Prosperity Ritual, I have experienced a profound shift in perspective. I have come to appreciate the intimate relationship between corn and people. For thousands of years, corn has depended on people for propagation. In this way, humans have an ancient bond with corn and like any relationship, it flourishes because it is mutually beneficial. We plant the corn, tend it, and honor it. In return we have this wonderfully nourishing staple food.
When we planted the corn earlier in the year, we humbly petitioned the corn, the earth, and the gods to support our efforts. Reading the petition that was created from the Sacred Fire organization, I was made aware of our profound dependence on the unseen realms. It’s a very humbling experience! I have also come to feel my love for the corn and all those forces that will support its growth. Of course, we hope for a good outcome when we plant those kernels. But unlike modern farming, we are not manipulating nature to produce an outcome. It feels more like dancing with the world to create something that is mutually beneficial.
The harvest is above all else a time of celebration. At this stage, we are literally reaping the benefits of our earlier efforts. If we have successfully lavished enough love and care on the milpa throughout the growing season, then we have the blessing of bushels of corn. Since a small portion of this corn is kept for seeding, and the bulk of it will be ground into corn meal for tortillas, the practice is to hold off the harvest until the ears have not only matured but are actually
dried out. By this time of year, the stalks and leaves are quite brown. There is the contrast then of the cycle of life and death; stalks and leaves having given all of their energy to support the maturation of the kernels so that they may in turn give way to new life the next year—or else feed the people.
In the spirit of gratitude, those who attend the Prosperity Ritual harvest are asked only to contribute their presence. Once the representatives of the different groups harvest the corn, others attending help sort it and de-kernel what will be kept for eating. There is always a palpable joy at this point, and we often share stories of abundance from our own lives. Each representative keeps the four best ears for planting. Before our celebratory meal, we gather in circle around the fire and exchange two of the four ears—one to a representative on our left and one to a representative on our right. In this way, the corn from one row or group gets mixed with another. The four ears kept for planting are usually kept on a representative’s sacred altar until the time of the next planting. In this way, the cycle of life continues.
For me, one of the unexpected gifts from the corn is that it brings people together in common purpose. For indeed, in times past, villagers came together to plant and harvest. The work could be quite hard. And yet, this was also a time to laugh, share stories, sing songs, and of course feel connection to one another. What might otherwise be a chore was in this way certainly not boring!
So much of how to live in harmony with the earth and natural cycles of life has been lost. Like many of you I suspect, I feel a deep grief for the destructiveness and alienation that accompany our modern way of life. What the Prosperity Ritual shows me however is that so much can be recovered. Even though I need to board a jet and travel to Mexico, being part of the Prosperity Ritual helps me to remember a different way of relating to the world.
As I do my prayers at home throughout the year, I will think of the milpa and the corn. Even over a seemingly vast distance, I feel a deep connection with the corn and that land. I remember the faces of those who gathered around the fire before the planting and harvest. I feel an abundance of possibilities of a life aligned with spirit. And I am deeply grateful for all that we have been given!
Author Larry Messerman is the Executive Director of Sacred Fire
LifeWays Programming Expands to Help Heal Life Wounds
Chris Griffin interviews Sherry Boatright
LifeWays inspires and guides individuals, families and communities to rediscover ways of living that are aligned with the natural world and the pattern of the human lifecycle.
In the following interview, Chris talks with Sherry, LifeWays Director, about her collaboration with Denise Findlay, from the Squamish Nation who is also an authority on western scientific models that focus on human growth and development. The collaboration has supported the expansion of LifeWays programming to not just explore how the human spirit naturally develops, but how to address the wounds that occur when conditions are not met at a particular stage of the human lifecycle. This “never too late to heal” work is based on the understanding that we can get stuck anywhere in our development, and we can also get unstuck.
Chris: Sherry, I am glad we have chance to talk today. I want to understand more about how your work with LifeWays is evolving and what is exciting you about it.
Sherry: I am always happy to talk about LifeWays. Several years ago, as we began unfolding the Life Cycle Living work, we focused on the stages of life from birth to elderhood and the challenges and gifts of each stage. We quickly began to understand how profoundly each stage builds on the development that occurred in previous stages and how we aren’t able to move fully into the next stage if we didn’t get what was needed in the previous one. In the midst of this exploration, the pandemic appeared and the focus on my work with LifeWays needed to shift to adjust the way we deliver our programming.
Overnight, our in-person programs were cancelled and I had the challenge of becoming acquainted with the virtual world of online programming. In May 2020, the first LifeWays webinars were launched.
A woman from the Ottawa area attended one of these webinars. We ended up having a subsequent discussion about Life Cycle Living. She mentioned the work of Gordon Neufeld as someone who had influenced her teaching career. Our conversation inspired me to learn about his institute in Vancouver and I found some fascinating articles and videos he had published.
Neufeld is a developmental psychologist who has created a comprehensive evidence-based model for the unfolding of human potential. His model synthesizes a lot of work that’s been done in developmental and attachment theory, emotions, and neuropsychology. I wrote the Neufeld Institute, described Sacred Fire and LifeWays and asked if they could refer me to one of their teachers who might collaborate with us in programs we were developing. They suggested Denise Findlay, a member of their teaching staff.
Denise is a bi-cultural woman who belongs to the Squamish Nation and is on their teaching staff. The Institute understood that Denise’s heritage and involvement with indigenous communities in Canada would make her a natural fit for our organization. As I look back on this now, it feels like some divine guidance was involved!
Denise has studied and trained extensively in western scientific models and understands the importance of relationship and emotions in human growth. She grounds this in her understanding of the profound importance of following nature’s plan for raising children.
Denise has been able to share her insights with parents in the First Nations community in Canada to empower them to look to traditional approaches to parenting that focus on attachment and life long, whole person development.
Chris: I am wondering about how Denise relates to her own tradition and how she has bridged this with her work with western scientific models? Did Denise receive formal or initiatory training within the Squamish tradition in ways of relating to the natural world and the cycles of life?
Sherry: She was raised by her grandmother. And she’s been participating in ceremony and connecting with her family’s roots and traditions for her whole life. I’d say it’s in her cells. She’s lived it.
Nature provides what is needed for our development—if we can recognize the truth of this and make space for this to happen
Chris: That’s probably what formal training tries to emulate, right? How would you see her offering her wisdom and expertise to benefit and enliven what we want to offer through Lifeways and Life Cycle Living?
Sherry: She’s already doing it! This past May, she participated in two Life Cycle Living webinars on childhood and adolescence. In the first, she talked about what she calls the roots of attachment that spontaneously develop between the child and the parents or caregivers.
Because we are all human and we live in this complex world, things can get in the way of forming a healthy attachment. And so, this stage of our development does not always progress spontaneously or as it should. As a result, we end up with all kinds of added challenges in our lives, many of which are rooted in some of the deficits that were created during those years when life circumstance got in the way of our natural development.
What’s so exquisite about Denise’s perspective is how she is completely committed to the knowledge that nature provides what is needed for our development- if we can recognize the truth of this and make space for this to happen. I think this is a profound understanding of how we are meant to live and develop relationship. She says we are living in a world where we are putting form over the spirit, and this can crush the spirit of children.
She has a way of languaging truths that are inspiring me and helping to give shape and depth to our programming. There is an innate challenge to shaping programs that not only communicate the lifecycles but provide a bridge for our western minds and conditioning to embrace what is natural to us. Denise has been invaluable in helping us with just that.
Chris: Do you know if her people have any special type of healing or ritual work to facilitate those transitions or ways that support going back and ameliorating the loss that happened when a stage was incomplete?
Sherry: She says their traditions and their ceremonies are what do this. What I have understood from her is that there’s so much healing that happens naturally because of their ceremonies that have been in place for so long. The people are held in this container of community, ceremony and spirit around the clock throughout their life. That is the healing! That’s the way I would answer for her and how I have understood what she is conveying to me.
Chris: That is awesome. I am so glad you found her. How do you envision her continuing to collaborate with LifeWays going forwards?
Sherry: I am hoping she will collaborate extensively! She recently gave two Lifeways webinars in November with her teaching partner, Maya Klyne Kolomaya, also a teacher with the Neufeld Institute. They are also exploring offering two more webinars in the coming months that will focus on the importance of emotions in our growth and development.
We are currently discussing future ways for her to contribute. For instance, we are just beginning to put in place a new mentoring program led by Douglas Haynes. I would love Denise to be involved in helping train mentors, because I think some of her wisdom and perspective would be so helpful for our mentors. I am also looking to engage her in the training of LifeWays presenters who will then be able to combine what she offers with Grandfather’s guidance in the way they deliver their webinars. Currently, I am looking for people in the Sacred Fire community who would be interested in this kind of training and in becoming presenters.
Chris: How do you see people who attend your programming benefitting from this new way of approaching the Life Cycle Living work?
“Culturally we’ve moved so far from nature and our own nature and we’re looking for answers everywhere”…Life Cycle Living is about a reemergence, a rebuilding of a sustainable, supportive community.
Sherry: We’ve lost much in the last few generations, so many traditions that held community together. As Denise puts it, “culturally we’ve moved so far from nature and our own nature and we’re looking for answers everywhere.” Technology has separated us. Families are not holding together. Many young people are moving to cities for their careers, so they no longer have families nearby to help raise the children. Many people have been displaced from their homes and traditions. Without these cultural foundations people can get lost, isolated.
Why are we surprised with the amount of anxiety and depression, suicide, and drug use in our country? I’m just looking at how many young people now are growing up without any sense of what community really is. Life Cycle Living is about a reemergence, a rebuilding of a sustainable, supportive community. I believe we are going to need this more and more as we move into the unknown future that’s coming. That’s really what Life Cycle Living is all about.
Author Chris Griffin is a Firekeeper and Trustee of the Sacred Fire Board
The Gift of Nahua Ceremony
By Alison Gayek
Winter has always been a mixed time for me. As long as I can remember, I have loved the stillness, the quiet, and the snow that blankets the earth. Being able to see the structure of the trees, with their limbs and trunk so evident is a type of beauty that I have long enjoyed. It is as if the trees stand out in their rudimentary form, reminding us of the structure that exists and holds all of life together. In the winter, looking at beautiful barren trees, I am often reminded of the poem, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.”
And yet, starting in the Autumn and moving into the Winter, I have historically missed the light that recedes each day. I remember dreading the time when I would wake in the dark and finish my workday in the dark. It wasn’t until I began to understand the meaning of the solstice, that I started to make peace with the descending light and began to explore the mystery and depth of the darkness.
In 2002 I was initiated as a Nahua weather worker. The Nahua people, indigenous to Mexico, are a practical people who learned their wisdom from nature. Through observation and connection with the living world, they understood the principles that guide us in life. For the last 20 years I have had the honor and privilege to develop a relationship with these natural forces and begin to deepen my understanding of how they sustain and frame our lives. I have had the privilege to develop a deeper connection to the weather forces and the movements of the seasons in my local area, working to bring that relationship and harmony to the local community.
Part of that work has included the Solstices, both winter and summer. Through that tradition, I and other weather workers, offer a solstice ceremony at Sacred
Fire hearths around the world, where we can learn and benefit from the doorway that opens at the time of the solstice. Gathering around the fire, we have a special opportunity to connect with and honor the distinct qualities available at this time of year. We can learn, receive guidance and beneficial awareness for the coming months, and release what is no longer needed so we can grow and move forward in our lives. I am grateful for this ceremony, and how it offers a deepening into the unseen forces that have a tremendous impact on our lives. While there are many ways to honor and celebrate the solstice, I am humbled by the wisdom this tradition has brought to me and my fire community.
Author Alison Gayek is a Firekeeper and the Group Chief of the Nahua weather workers. The Nahua weather working tradition is an ages-old lineage from the central highlands of Mexico. Weather workers, also called tiemperos or graniceros, make a lifelong commitment to the path of service. Through their work as emissaries between the forces of weather and the local people, they work to bring beneficial rains, mitigate strong storms, offer ceremony, wisdom, and awareness of the relationship needed with the natural world to live a balanced life. Many weather workers are also tepahtiani, or traditional healers. Tepahtiani traditional healers have completed a multi-year pilgrimage and initiation to offer this deep and beautiful healing work. For more information about the weather work tradition and their ceremonies, visit their website at weatherwork.org or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sacred Fire is blessed with having many Nahua weather workers who participate in our fire communities. Many of our local hearths host annual ceremonies conducted by weather workers to help us bring us together to honor the natural cycles and ways of being human. To learn more about solstice ceremonies in your area, contact your local Firekeeper.
Living with Polarity
By Larry Messerman
Conflict is an inevitable part of life. We are all different and see the world in unique ways. When there is a good underlying connection, that difference can be beneficial. It can result in a kind of synthesis that creates a whole new way of approaching challenges.
Those of us in committed, long-term relationships can experience this on a daily basis. My wife Jessica and I are different. We grew up in different places, cultures, have different personalities and are of different genders. So, it is no wonder that we can view the same event in different ways! As anyone who is in such a relationship knows, it’s not always easy. Conflict can lead to arguments and bad feelings. But with the commitment of love, there is an opportunity to learn, grow, and let go of some of the rigid certainties that keep us from being adaptive and vibrant.
Whereas conflict is inevitable and can be creative, polarity is a different matter. Polarity is an escalating conflict that if not resolved, will lead to breakdown and possibly violence. We live in a time of increasing polarity the world over. Some mainstream politicians are championing extremist views that would have existed only on the fringes just a few years ago. Social media is rife with confrontational and inflammatory messaging. People on opposite sides of important issues increasingly revile one another. Everyone seems more prone to moral outrage.
As we move into the second decade of the 21st Century, life is growing more complex. The pace of life has sped up. Although we’re ‘hyper-connected’ via new digital technologies, less and less of our connection happens in person, face to face. With increasing complexity and the accompanying anxiety this produces, this is where polarity enters the picture.
As we struggle to ‘make sense’ of a complex world, it becomes more tempting to reduce it all down to something simple and compelling: an ‘us versus them’ narrative. We look for scapegoats and someone to blame. Instead of recognizing that we all have similar basic concerns, we find ‘hot button issues’ that lead to a sense of moral outrage. When we become self-righteous, ‘the other’ becomes a caricature–someone to hate. This is all too often the dynamic of our social discourse these days.
Those of us involved in Sacred Fire have our political and social viewpoints just like anyone else. Sometimes community members become particularly impassioned about issues related to the environment, social justice, building community, or restoring a sense of spirit or Divine to everyday life. Our relationships to these issues can contribute to the differences that we perceive in one another.
When we come around the fire, these differences begin to recede into the background as we listen deeply to what is being shared. We feel what it brings up within us without jumping into a debate about what is right, wrong or best. Without an agenda to dissolve disparity, space is created for each person to bring forth what is stirring within them. This opens the door to the medicine of fire.
We can begin to experience the common heart and shared humanity that are so much more of who we are than our ideas about the world. The fire warms us, and we can acknowledge the fears that drive polarity: that life is too out of control; that we have great concerns about the well-being of our children and those who will follow; that we question whether our efforts and sacrifices will leave the world somehow better.
Some years ago, while living on the northern edge of the San Francisco Bay area in California, I had the opportunity to see the potential for resolving polarity unfold firsthand. A middle-aged woman came to our monthly community fire. She was a teacher, and I was struck by how her face seemed hardened by years of anger and disappointment. What spilled out of her was a torrent of invectives against anyone who is politically conservative. As a teacher, she believed passionately in fairness towards all her students, and it truly pained her to see them not reach their potential. Politically sympathetic, I nevertheless found myself taken aback by her vehemence.
It was a small gathering, so this woman felt free to rant. As those present listened with openness, the flow of words began to slow. Finally, it stopped altogether. When I looked up at her face, I was startled. What had appeared so angry and rigid had somehow been transformed. Feeling heard, her face had softened. At the end of the fire, she gifted us with home-baked bread. She was deeply grateful for the experience. We never saw her again, but I can’t help but feel she was changed – for the better.
Politics is a necessary part of human life, and some will feel a true calling to put their energies into that arena. At Sacred Fire, we are not about advocating for a particular political view or policy recommendations. Instead, we are about bringing together people of diverse views, backgrounds, identities and spiritual affiliations – just as people have been coming together for thousands and thousands of years around the fire, in the common space of the heart and our common humanity.
Aside from our community fires, LifeWays and Fire Speaks programs, we plan to launch a new initiative. This will be a program to help everyone understand how to be present with polarity and how to use that experience to learn more about ourselves, each other and how to be more connected rather than divided.
We face a lot of challenges at this time in our history. Will the challenges bring out the best in us so that we work together to solve some very complex problems? Or will we fall prey to our fears, contribute to the polarity and look for scapegoats, and try to fight our way through? It’s a choice, there are many times when it’s easy to be strident and all too sure of one’s mental map of the world. That is an opportune time to face each other with openness and experience the transformative medicine of fire!
Author Larry Messerman is a Firekeeper, mará akame, and Executive Director of Sacred Fire.