A Quarterly Newspaper By & For Friends Of Sacred Fire
Issue 3 | August 2022
A Quarterly Newspaper By & For Friends Of Sacred Fire
Issue 3 | August 2022
The Year of the Yang Water Tiger, which began February 4, 2022
By Shawn Bennett | Shawn’s personal quest that led him to Sacred Fire
By Chris Griffin | The Journey of Dedication from Four Umbrellas to a Sacred Mountain
By Alison Arnold | Dedication to a weather tradition with Stone Mountain in Georgia
By Linda Azar | Grandfather Fire’s guidance that empowered Linda to seek a fulfilling life
By Erin Everett | Erin’s dedication to a spiritual tradition helped her move beyond seemingly impossible challenges
By Ana Cortés | The challenges and blessings of having a fire community
in the heart of a sacred space that is home to an international community and multiple medicine paths
Grandfather Fire’s Guidance on the Tibetan New Year
The Year of the Yang Water Tiger, which began February 4, 2022
Grandfather Fire gives an annual audience in Tepoztlán, Mexico at the time of the Tibetan New Year. In this audience, he teaches on the flavor of the coming year and how to engage it in the most beneficial way. Now that we are half-way into the Year of the Tiger, we can see how the energy of the Tiger has been working in our lives and use this guidance to make the most of the rest of the year.
“There are always times for quiet reflection or quiet contemplation and to imagine plans. But this is not the year energy that favors that. To move and to face strong challenges will be successful.” —Grandfather Fire, February 2022
Yang is only Yang because of its dynamic opposition to Yin. Where Yin is feminine, still, wet and dark, Yang is the essence of masculine, heat, dry, and adventure.
Water is creative. Water permeates and looks for opportunities. For example, water can come through your roof through the smallest opening. It can move around obstacles. It has the flavor of the emotion of concern that sometimes becomes fear. But its creativity and its possibility are unquestioned. As Water interacts with Wood and Earth, it brings forth possibilities.
When you combine the flavor of Yang and Water, it has to do with water in movement, like a river or the movement of water in clouds.
Tiger has a natural relationship with the element Wood, which has a push to it. This year is tied to the Mountain because of the complex relationship between the elements—Yang, Water and the natural wood of Tiger. The combination of all those elements is like a tall tree growing.
Tiger, with its ambition and its power, accomplishes a great deal. It’s intelligent in the way of hunting and discovering opportunities. Even though Tiger is more solitary than some other animals, it accomplishes a lot. Tiger can confront very strong difficulties and succeed. So, in situations that require waiting for more coordination from others, it can see opportunities and manifest success. Unlike the previous Ox year, individual actions are paramount in a Tiger year.
Tiger needs to be careful about arrogance, and luckily the Water element moderates the Tiger’s natural aggressiveness to create a more reflective Tiger. Another warning: loneliness. Tiger energy is very inspirational and oriented towards leadership, and leadership can feel lonely for leaders. We can look for ways to inspire others to meet challenges and champion them to take action. We are not to ignore the value of other people’s efforts but find that opportunity to solve problems through inspiring other people also to act.
This is a year to say, “I’m going to make good things happen and not be stopped by whatever is in the way.”
Finding My Spiritual Home
By Shawn Bennett
As a young person I was very curious about the world. My parents teased me about my talking and incessant questions, as I would often walk up to total strangers, especially older people, and start very lively conversations. The deepest questioning I had, a longing really, emerged by middle school. At that point I was peppering my father about God, Jesus and how far away were the stars? By high school, if I had an open topic paper to write, why not keep it simple and write a philosophical argument about the existence of God. I probably had no idea how the paper would start or where it would end. I didn’t really care, I just had to know what I could touch, or would never touch, but could count on with my whole being!
By high school and college, I would get into heated philosophical arguments with other students, and looked to the classic American and Greek writers to help me figure this thing out. I think my frustration with others during these debates arose, not because I thought their arguments were poor, but because I had begun to suspect a Spiritual nature did exist. I just didn’t have the experience or connection to understand the ground I was standing on. I had also started to develop a keen interest in Eastern religious writings as well as Native American teachings. I wanted to live my spirituality from my Heart! I didn’t think my connection or practice would arise from church on Sundays. But I was stumped.
In my second of several returns to college, I signed up for a small ‘cult’ class at UCONN that students took for reasons I didn’t know—maybe it was an easy A for a certain elective strand. But not me. It was Kenneth Ring’s course on the Near-Death Experience. If I could just get a little glimpse of the other side of this life, then maybe, who knows?
What I did not know is that the live testimonials in the room, with the professor who had made his life studying this phenomenon, would change my life. It wasn’t very scientific, and it probably had little to do with Mr. Ring’s interest in studying these people and the changes in their lives, after surviving a clinical death. But something subtle and slow took place from the inside of my awareness and understanding. What changed for me was that I found something I believed to be real in their experiences, and that was it. Afterward, I felt no need to argue about the existence of God or a Spiritual realm. I was on my way, but to where?
I didn’t know at the time, but my life was going to move quickly from being a full-time student to being a full-time employee, husband and father in a few short years. It would not be until much later; more than ten years in fact, and after my divorce was final, that I would pick up my quest again.
The hardest things that I dealt with was carrying around feelings of anxiety, loneliness and self-contempt
In the late 90’s, truly began to seek out my Spiritual Home, a place to be myself and connect with others outside of the usual venues of work and recreation. For a moment I thought I had found what I was looking for at a ‘Wisdom Circle’ in Westerly, RI. A new friend of mine lead a group of like-minded people who came together once a week to share something from their heart, with the rest of the group listening. I began regular drives of over 40 minutes on week night evenings, to be heard, to be around people who were openly acknowledging their spirituality (many of whom were ‘recovering Catholics’). They were wanting to take the next step in their journey of being more human, more authentic.
As I look back on those early days of seeking out my own spiritual path, I think what was missing for me was a way to make real the vague sense that I was living a life that was surrounded by something powerful and benevolent, but I really didn’t know how to relate to it, and I certainly didn’t know how to engage it directly, whatever it was!
I left the small community of friends in RI behind when I enrolled in the Social Work program at Eastern Connecticut State University. During that time, I would discover a woman with a spiritual healing practice. It was the beginning of what would become a lifelong journey into the ‘shamanic’ or indigenous view of the world. She and her partner would also invite me to my first ‘Sacred Fire’ Community Fire where I would find a state of togetherness with others and a connection to the world around me that felt new to me, but somehow familiar. My new friend would also introduce me to one of the community’s elders, a fully initiated shaman in the Huichol tradition, who provided counsel, healing and practices to help me more fully connect with and hear the wisdom present in the spirit of fire.
When I consider the effect of arriving, and being at a Community Fire, what I find striking, is how often I feel the presence and power of Fire
I had long enjoyed attending the Wisdom Circles in RI and was really blown away by how much I could begin to connect to myself and the others more fully, just by virtue of our intention to listen respectfully to each other, and by sitting in togetherness. However, I did not know how much was absent from that form of connecting that I began to discover around the Fire.
When I consider the effect of arriving, and being at a Community Fire, what I find striking, is how often I feel the presence and power of Fire; it may show up as a bodily sensation or as a change in my demeanor that is quite noticeable. But I didn’t really understand the significance of this interaction until much later on, when I had the opportunity to learn more closely from my firekeepers. What eventually became clear was that the sacred fire, often described as a catalyst, was changing me and the shape of my humanness, to expand or allow for new ways to process and experience the landscape of my life and emotions.
In the early years of my association with my local firekeepers, I discovered healing by going to events at Blue Deer and by attending monthly Community Fires in Colchester CT. I learned over time that my firekeepers were on a traditional path to become some of the first western people to be initiated into the shamanic path of the indigenous Huichol Indians in the high Sierra mountains of central Mexico. I sat transfixed by their stories and by the way they talked of experiencing and seeing the natural world more fully. But even more importantly than that, my friends who did become initiated as mara’akate were gradually laying a foundation of understanding or wisdom, found by those walking a traditional path, that would inform me years later, after I applied to become a Ritual Performer at Georgia’s Stone Mountain, known to the Cherokees as Tsantawu.
At this point I don’t worry about the things I cannot control and I have a more levelheaded approach to small and large challenges
I was led to my own initiatory experience at this great Sacred Being and accepted a role as a Council member on the Men’s Ritual Team. As I reflect on where this path has taken me, I can recall the times when I just felt overwhelmed with the demands of life. I had great difficulty making decisions and would (and still do) often procrastinate. The hardest things that I dealt with was carrying around feelings of anxiety, loneliness and self-contempt. Over the years, I have had the good fortune to stay connected to Sacred Fire’s various offerings and to begin my own rigorous Path. At this point I don’t worry about the things I cannot control and I have a more levelheaded approach to small and large challenges. I work with special needs adults in a work program and find it rewarding to use what I have learned to bring that forward among my crew. My outward circumstances have not changed dramatically, but I move though life with more confidence. Today I don’t suffer through my day, hoping to survive. I am beginning to create a vision for the various facets of my life!
I currently reside in Hebron CT and attend Community Fires in Harvard MA and Wilton NH, where I do not measure the time of my drive, but the richness of the experience I know I will find when I arrive, as I have found my home at the hearth of the Fire!
Shawn Bennett attends community fires in Harvard, MA and Wilton, NH. He serves on the Men’s Council and is a Ritual Performer on the Tsantawu Ritual Team.
The Fire that Refused to Go Out
The Journey of Dedication from Four Umbrellas to a Sacred Mountain
By Chris Griffin
This coming Labor Day weekend, Grandfather Fire will return to offer his wisdom and counsel to the New England fire community, marking his fourth consecutive annual audience in the region. Over the past years, I have enthusiastically played a key role in helping organize and host Fire Speaks events at venues in Harvard, MA, Hancock, NH, and 2022’s upcoming event in Hillsborough, NH.
At our first Fire Speaks in Hancock, NH, something remarkable happened. A young man asked Grandfather earnestly about the mountain that stood a few miles away—Mount Monadnock —a very popular hiking destination. He felt that there was something special about this mountain and asked if it had a special story and what could be done to enter into a caring relationship with it. Grandfather confirmed that Monadnock is indeed a sacred mountain and that it has a sacred story. He said he would tell the story the following year under one condition; those who wanted to hear the story must go through a traditional purification process by participating in a ritual sweat lodge beforehand.
In 2021 we followed through with Grandfather’s instructions. We experienced a powerful weekend-long Fire Speaks event where those who planned to hear the story arrived early for a sweat lodge. We all worked together to build the lodge. The fire for the stones was lit and then each of us dedicated a stone with a prayer as we placed it in the fire. The following evening, after the general audience, all who had taken part in the sweat stayed to hear the sacred story.
Hearing the story [of Monadnock] was truly a blessed gift that was a culmination of a long evolution of my community, which began over 20 years ago.
When I listened to the story of Monadnock, I was taken directly into the dream of this sacred mountain, into a space that was remarkably pure, alive, and vital. It was at once ancient and totally present now. The storyline left me in a state of wonder. I was hearing it for the first time, but felt as if I had heard it many times before. After reflecting upon it, I came to a deeper perspective and understanding of the character of the land on which I live, and I felt at a deep level why I have been called to live in its vicinity. Hearing the story was truly a blessed gift that was a culmination of a long evolution of my community, which began over 20 years ago.
Many community fires originated in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as Annie King shared in the last issue of the Fire Gazette. One of the first such fires was lit in Groton, MA. I was invited to one of these early fires, hosted by my plant spirit medicine healer. That first fire was small. I remember four of us attended and stood around the fire in the rain, using our umbrellas to shield the fire and keep it from going out.
Over the months and years that followed, more and more people showed up at the fire hearth in Groton. Over time we dug a fire pit and lined it with soapstone bricks. We purchased a tipi to hold fires in challenging weather, so there was no further need for umbrellas!
The international community around Sacred Fire also expanded in those years. I became aware of the different paths and projects initiated by Grandfather Fire. These included: apprentices and initiated shamans (mara’akate) in the Huichol tradition; a medicine path of working with weather spirits in the Nahua tradition; and a group working to restore a tradition of connection to the Great Goddess with roots in ancient Egypt. My mind was blown and my heart burst wide open when I attended a special fire on a sacred mountain in Vermont, whose purpose was to “wake up” the dormant mountain. I learned and experienced firsthand that work with such sacred places in the natural world had great depth and potential for transformation and healing.
At one point in the early days of our fire, we had over 75 people show up for a community fire! The initial buzz eventually settled down and a regular group coalesced around monthly fire gatherings. We experienced remarkable excitement, enthusiasm and joy through sharing the sacred space around the fire, in which we could learn to be authentically ourselves. Slowly, as we got to know each other more deeply, it began to feel ‘safe to be unsafe’ with each other. We experienced the friction and conflict that can arise in any closely knit group of people. Despite the sparks, the community was extremely dedicated to the fires and to each other, and it birthed deep, life-long friendships and launched people upon various spiritual paths.
There were a lot of changes over the course of the next ten years of our fire hamlet, which at the time was called the “Groton Hamlet.” The initial firekeeper, who brought so much enthusiasm and leadership charisma, left her role, and a new firekeeper stepped forth.
When a Firekeeper is called to a path of service to community, they take on a lifelong commitment. Walking away from such a commitment can leave a large hole in the lives of a community and bring up emotional challenges for all involved. Over the years, this community saw two Firekeepers leave their commitment, and a third step back, due to health concerns. In this time, the fire moved around Massachusetts from Groton to Westford, then to Pepperell and finally to Concord. The hamlet had many names over those years. The changes naturally created uncertainty and challenge for all of us. Feelings of abandonment surfaced when each firekeeper walked away from his or her commitments to the fire and to the people they served. I felt this acutely. With the grounding of the community continually shifting, it was challenging to remain steadfast and committed, as I wasn’t sure what shared ground we were standing on.
Despite the confusion and emotions that were stirred in me, my commitment to the fire remained. Yet, without a solid center to the community, more people continued to drift away.
Erecting the tipi at the 2021 Fire Speaks event
By 2018, a small and committed group continued to show up and sit around the fire each month. The once large group of people who originally gathered in Groton was now much smaller and without a firekeeper. Two firekeepers, a couple from New York, drove monthly from New York to Concord so we could continue to have monthly fires. In our ponderings about how to invite people and grow our community, we decided to invite Grandfather Fire for a visit. We invited him to come the following year and he accepted!
Mount Monadnock from the peak of Rose Mountain
Our hamlet of many names then entered its nomadic phase. The Concord location where we met was sold and so fires were held sporadically at different member’s homes, none of which were suitable for a permanent hearth. We began searching once again for a home for the fire as well as a suitable site for Fire Speaks. Neither emerged.
Near the same time, I began my own training to become a Firekeeper. My marriage of 14 years was ending, and with that, the Huichol pilgrimage work I had started was put on hold. I saw that Firekeeping would be a powerful way for me to make a deeper connection with Grandfather at a time when I was going through a tremendous emotional loss. I figured that one great transformation could facilitate another, and I knew that more than ever I needed the presence of the sacred fire in my life to move through my loss and to find renewed enthusiasm for life.
Eventually, when fires started happening at my home in Wilton, New Hampshire, the homeless Massachusetts group began wondering if it were time to just let go or our fire community altogether. Maybe it had run its course, and it was time for it to end. We were ready to throw in the towel and put the final log into the fire.
Yet one open item loomed over us: the invitation to Grandfather Fire, which he had already accepted. We approached Grandfather with our situation and suggested that maybe we should cancel the Fire as well as the Hamlet. After losing four homes for the hearth and three Firekeepers, and with no place to have a Fire Speaks event much less a regular monthly fire, our fire seemed to be going out.
Grandfather Fire did not like our suggestion, and had a different plan. He told us: “Keep gathering. Keep holding fires. Find a venue for Fire Speaks. It’s going to be a Hot Time!”
It was clear that while we were ready to give up and throw in the towel, Grandfather refused to give up on us. His dedication to our struggling fire hamlet struck me like a bolt of lightning, filling me with electricity and joy. It changed everything. If Grandfather wasn’t giving up on us, I resolved that I would not give up on him!
Grandfather Fire…told us, “Keep gathering. Keep holding fires. Find a venue for Fire Speaks. It’s going to be a Hot Time!”
We dug in. Longtime community member Louise Berliner suggested we talk to her good friends Blase and Linda to ask about having Grandfather come to their land at Old Frog Pond Farm in Harvard, MA. They were very welcoming and opened their home and property, and we experienced a remarkable Fire Speaks event in August of 2019.
At this point, I became the sixth in a long line of Firekeepers for the Massachusetts hearth of many names. For years, I had been terrified of the lifetime commitment involved with becoming a Firekeeper, but my newfound dedication to the fire rendered that fear irrelevant. I was beginning to see that Grandfather was playing a long game and that his plan was starting to work out. So, I decided to trust that if I put myself into the role, he would help me to do the work.
After the Fire Speaks at Old Frog Pond Farm, with the help of many others, I worked to bring Grandfather back to New England again. And so, the story comes back to where it began, at the first Fire Speaks, in Hancock, NH —a stone’s throw away from the majestic Mount Monadnock, where thirty brave souls purified themselves and heard the sacred story. It touched us so deeply, we asked how we could embark on a journey to become more connected with this sacred mountain. Grandfather suggested that we invite him back to hear the story again. He counseled patience, saying that this was an endeavor that cannot be rushed.
And so… Grandfather will return this year on September 4th, to take us on the next step of this journey that started with four people and their umbrellas, and which led us to a powerful opening to connection with majestic Monadnock. This truly is the fruit of our dedication.
If Grandfather wasn’t giving up on us, I resolved that I would not give up on him!
Dedication to my fire hearth has taken many forms over the years: showing up monthly to community fires, working to hold the community together when it was falling apart, searching for, and finding new locations for our fires and events, and countless spreadsheets, emails and phone calls. However, the most challenging aspect was to remember the amazing times of profound connection during the times when I was not feeling anything amazing or profound, and to continue to show up and make offerings to the fire when it looked like our hearth was ending.
As I reflect, I see that no matter what was happening in our lives and community we came together year after year around the fire, giving offerings and sharing of our lives. We met with various forms of adversity, with leaders walking away, regular changes of location, and big challenges in finding locations for fires large and small. Yet, the community stayed together and kept the hearth alive against all odds. And, at the point when it looked like that fire would go out, the fire refused to go out, and instead exploded with new growth and transformation, bringing great gifts.
What is the connection between our dedication to the fire and Grandfather’s dedication to us? Could there be one without the other? To whatever extent we have been dedicated to the fire, Grandfather Fire has been even more dedicated to us. I am very grateful for Grandfather’s presence, guidance and the inspiration to persevere, which has led to rewards and blessings that I could never have imagined.
Chris Griffin is a Firekeeper, Sacred Fire Trustee, Plant Spirit Medicine Healer and an apprentice on the Huichol Medicine Path.
Blessings of the Bald Giant
By Alison Arnold
It all started when…
…the state of Georgia and the surrounding regions experienced an extended drought. The fields and forests were dry, the lakes and rivers ran low, and the governor held a prayer vigil on the capitol steps asking for rain.
A woman who lived outside Atlanta was learning to build relationship with the weather beings. Working with her teacher in Mexico, a question came to her and she asked, “What can I do to help my people during this time when the land where I live is experiencing an extreme drought?” Don Lucio, a teacher in the Nahua tradition, guided his student, Sherry Boatright, to a volcano in her region, explaining this was a special weather mountain and would help bring the rains that were needed.
“What can I do to help my people during this time when the land where I live is experiencing an extreme drought?”
Weather workers and those who seek traditional spiritual paths are familiar with sacred places – places that provide guidance and connection with the beings of the land, sky, and spirit world. Although she had lived in Georgia her entire life, Sherry had no clue of a sacred weather mountain in her region much less a volcano. With the support of her weather shaman Don David Wiley, they proceeded to explore and discover the enormous dome of a mountain rising from the land into the sky. After making a special offering, they received confirmation that this was the place.
This mountain, influential to the weather in the southeast region of the U.S, once engaged by the three indigenous peoples of the region, fell to sleep upon the removal of these people from their land. How this mountain came to be is told in a sacred story. This story, told round the fire after special preparations, tells how this mountain came to be and how it got its name “Bald Giant.” This mountain is also known as Stone Mountain and by its Cherokee name, Tsantawu.
With Grandfather Fire’s initial and continued guidance, a ceremony re-emerged to ask for and give thanks for beneficial rains. For 21 years this ceremony and sacred work, involving a spring ritual and a fall harvest, has grown into a community of individuals on the Ritual Team and Support Team that come and work together to take care of the many details needed to make the ritual successful.
This mountain, influential to the weather in the southeast region of the U.S., once engaged by the three indigenous peoples of the region, fell to sleep upon the removal of these people from their land.
The ritual has many aspects to it including seven days of preparation by the Ritual Team, also known as “Walkers.” The Support Team comes and sets up camp, which involves hanging tarps, setting up a kitchen, moving wood and setting fires, to name a few of the preparation tasks. All these tasks are done with the purpose of supporting the “Walkers” as we chant and walk around the Bald Giant seven times, for approximately 35 miles. Once this ritual is complete, everyone makes the journey up the mountain to lay offerings of beans, squash, corn, and the meat from their village. We offer our gratitude for the abundance in our lives and petition for beneficial rains for the growing season. Returning to camp, the shared work together is celebrated with a feast, laughter, hot showers, hugs, and coffee!
It all started for me…
…one year when I got involved as part of the Support Team. We were sitting around the fire and doing the many things needed to be done in camp. At one point I looked around at the group of people, whom I had barely met and knew nothing about, and felt a very strong rush of recognition that said, “These are my people, I belong here.”
It was hard for me to understand this at the time, although I had been longing to find a place within a group of people that I could work with and learn from. It took me by surprise, and felt right. Fifteen years later, I’m on the Ritual team, have become an initiated Dugantu (rain caller) and serve on Council. This work has become an integral part of my life. Daily, I give prayers of gratitude for what this work has meant to me, my life and to the people around me.
Never before in my life, have I ever been pushed so hard on a physical level where fasting and strenuous activity together created so much emotional stress and resulted in pure joy and blessings.
There have been many challenges for me throughout this time. Seeking what I want in my life, following a calling, and all the learning and growth that comes with this, stretches me and creates many moments similar to riding the whitewater of a river – or, better yet, hiking a steep incline of a mountain. Sometimes the hiking is fast and furious and sometimes slow with each and every arduous and punishing step.
This mountain, this work, brings healing on all levels and in many ways. For me, this has happened on the trail, thinking there is no way in hell I’m going to make it. Or, it has happened working in a group where everyone struggles with the expressed needs and personalities. Our life depends on one another, where we rely on each to do their work and play their part.
We are a team where everyone has a role. We are always being called to trust the gods, the attending shaman, and our bodies and work to let our minds relax and do its job, rather than getting in the way. Never before in my life, have I ever been pushed so hard on a physical level where fasting and strenuous activity together created so much emotional stress and resulted in pure joy and blessings.
Grandfather has spoken how this is a path for everyone involved, even those who come and make camp to provide support that helps make the ritual and each event successful. I see myself involved in this Ritual for many years to come and look forward to helping others find their place of belonging and help carry this work forward for generations to come.
Growing up in Atlanta, I often went to the mountain to hike and play. There was always something special about this place for me and appears so for the many thousands of people who are drawn there throughout the seasons. This mountain is kind and generous and thoroughly seems to enjoy the trains, light shows, boating and camping. The walking and hiking up and down and around its magnificent form provides connection and submersion into the verdant green of this land of stone, wood, leaf, and soil. Just walking on the soft pine needle covered path through the woods or on the firm and solid stone of the mountain, one can feel the vibration of spirit, of time beyond time of connection to divine spirit.
Stone Mountain, Georgia
At first what seemed disrespectful and lacked sacred attention, the loud whistle of the train, the many people out at 6:00 am for their daily run, now feels like this is what He wants and provides: A place for children, families and people of all colors and nationalities and languages to be out enjoying nature, one another, and His strong and mysterious presence.
When people ask us about our ritual clothing or encounter a support team member out on the trail in support of the Ritual Team, they are curious and seem, on some level, to be responding to a felt recognition that service to the mountain is a calling.
It is palpable, this sense of joy. So much so, that we bring it home and share it with our families, friends, and people in our daily lives. As I sit looking out my window in the mountain woodland surrounding my home here in western North Carolina, I can feel the presence of Tsantawu. And as I offer my prayers, I offer my gratitude for this work, my role in ceremony and my belonging in community and family.
For information about Tsantawu or joining the mailing list, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Alison Arnold attends community fires in Asheville, NC. She serves on the council and Ritual team for Tsantawu and is an initiated Dugantu (rain caller).
Beyond the Comfort Zone
by Linda Azar
“Everything… to achieve something great… requires sacrifice now for something great in the future.” Grandfather Fire
I held for a long time the belief that to live a good life was about creating a life that was comfortable, where fear or hardship didn’t exist. I resisted anything that challenged or impinged on my comfort zone. Over time and through experience I started to recognize that my need for comfort was creating a small, purposeless life.
Something in my life, that I would call Divinely orchestrated, created an opening for me to take on a challenge that my little, quiet heart’s voice was telling me to accept. It turned out to be very challenging, and I pitched a fit, struggling most of the way through, wanting just to return to my comfort cave and be done with it. But I persisted, persevered, and saw it through. And when it was all over, the rewards were immense.
I caught a glimpse of how rich and meaningful my life could be. If I could just find ways to be comfortable while doing it! I thought to myself ‘If I’m not comfortable, I must be doing it wrong, or should I even be doing it?’
It’s not about being comfortable. It’s about sacrificing my need for comfort if I want to live a life that’s worth living.
I continued to take on more and more heart-calling challenges, but I still threw my little interior temper tantrums every step of the way. So when I heard Grandfather speak these words, “Everything… to achieve something great… requires sacrifice now for something great in the future,” something in me clicked. It’s not about being comfortable. It’s about sacrificing my need for comfort if I want to live a life worth living. A life that is far more rewarding, joyful, and connected than I could have ever imagined, and one to which staying attached to comfort would never take me.
One of these challenges that I decided to take on was to be the event coordinator for the annual Asheville Fire Speaks event. In an open-hearted, heart-inspired moment, I volunteered myself to be in this role indefinitely. The challenges of taking on that role soon rose up. I’m actually a pretty introverted person, and suddenly here I was needing to lead multiple teams of people in order to have a successful event where 100 plus people attend. So many people counting on me to create a well-organized, joyful, heart-centered event, to set the stage for hearts to be opened to hearing Grandfather’s words.
It would have been much easier to ignore that voice that said, “Volunteer! It’ll be fun!” After all, there are people in our community who are more skilled, more extroverted, and much more capable than I. It would be easier to be led than to lead, to be on a team, or to just simply attend the event and not volunteer for anything!
It would have been much easier to ignore that voice that said, “Volunteer! It’ll be fun!”
In the midst of the final month leading up to the event, the requirement of time, energy and focus challenged the part of me that just wanted to have my free time to do something mindless, to not have this pressure, to not have to be accountable to so many people. There were many stressful, long nights of last-minute planning and organizing, checking that all the details were lining up, and making sure to allow for some flexibility, as I’ve learned things never go quite exactly as planned.
The moment everyone gave their offerings and we all settled into our seats, I too started to settle and looked around at all the people gathered there from near and far for this special opportunity. I was still ‘working’ but I began to really see the results of my sacrifices.
The deep joy and satisfaction of knowing I participated in something that provided something so valuable and enduring to so many people…
When we gathered the next day to share our experiences of the event, and to dive deeper into Grandfather’s teachings, it was a gift to hear how moved and inspired people were by everything they experienced. This was the reward for all my hard work and efforts, and I imagine it’s the same for each person who devotes their time and energy into Fire Speaks. The deep joy and satisfaction of knowing I participated in something that provided something so valuable and enduring to so many people, was a reward that continued to feed me through to the next challenge.
There continued to be one challenge after another, each a little tougher than the one before. Whether it’s Fire Speaks, or any number of life’s twists and turns, things never quite got easier. But, as I grew and expanded what I thought I was capable of, these more difficult challenges seemed to bring even greater rewards.
I still bitch and moan here and there, but I don’t take myself as seriously when I do, and I remember Grandfather’s wisdom to help me move through.
Linda Azar attends sacred fires in Asheville, NC since 2003, and has been the Event Coordinator for the annual Asheville Fire Speaks since 2018. She is a Council member of the Tsantawu Ritual Team, and an apprentice on the Huichol Medicine Path.
By Erin Everett
“A spiritual path is like a narrow path through the wilderness where there are countless choices and decisions to make. The path represents the fruitful way through the trappings of the mind. It is meant to guide one through those [ego] presences that feel compulsive and strong at times.” —Grandfather Fire, May 2021
The ever-burning votive candle on my altar maintained a steady flame as my grief welled up. I was reeling from some bad news.
I had received one of those group emails from someone I cared about who was part of my spiritual tradition. Like my husband, Adam, and me, she had been initiated years prior into an ancient and complex, simple and demanding lineage of people entrusted with the unique gift of working with weather.
Her letter bore the news: when faced with a lifetime of commitment to something mysterious, she decided the path that chose her and initiated her…is not for her.
That January morning, I remember the snow was falling, a thick blanket of appropriate and alive winter weather, feeding our land, nourishing it into becoming the abundant, lush place it is. I could feel the seeds of creative potential sleeping in the ground, dreaming of spring. The snow brought a great sense of satisfaction that all was right with the world, even amidst the unpredictable changes of life in 2022.
…when faced with a lifetime of commitment to something mysterious, she decided the path that chose her and initiated her…is not for her.
Erin Everett and her husband, Adam Laufer
Her email was a conversation-starter. At breakfast, Adam and I discussed this challenging and rewarding path of our tradition, which specializes in working with weather.
This type of announcement is a rare occurrence, fortunately. But I’ve been through it before. When people leave our path, it can feel like a shake-up, like a rip in the tapestry of our work. I can see it in the eyes of some of my compadres and comadres in our tradition: “What am I doing all this for, anyway?” Of course, their minds might become confused: “What is a good human path, anyway?”
It strikes me that this path — and paths like these — are not for everyone. Sometimes the flame of devotion goes out or is snuffed out. And that’s okay. People leaving a tradition that is so demanding have their reasons.
Like the flame gracing my altar, a life of spirit is many-layered: powerful, beneficial, potentially dangerous, and ultimately delicate. It saves my life. It burns away my blindness. It blows my theories. After it throws me out to the periphery, it calls me back, stretching me, demanding more than I thought I had. Sometimes, it’s right at the edge of too much to handle.
On this path to the center, I’m dry wood. Taken down to my bones, I get burned. Ignited and humbled, I come alive in a new way. Piece by piece I’m thrown in. Preoccupied by the dramas of transformation, I can be unaware of the warmth and light emerging. In my burning away, mysteriously, I become much more than I thought. As my companions and I “stick in” with dedication, more spirit comes through us, bright, warm and beneficial.
Perhaps this is why my spiritual tradition, like many, has fire at its core. The ever-burning votive candle on my altar affirms my longing, my commitment, my striving, my prayer: “May spirit operate at the heart of who I am and what I’m becoming.”
As my companions and I “stick in” with dedication, more spirit comes through us, bright, warm and beneficial.
After reading my departing friend’s email, my husband and I were reminiscing about our first journey to Mexico in April 2003. He asked me, “Did you know what you were getting into?”
Back then, I had been an invalid, very sick for many years, but over the few years before 2003, I had found a place walking in the world once again. I started a business and began standing for what I believed, out in public. I was feeling a bit better, but I was still so sick and very sensitive to many things.
Facing the trip to Mexico, a country where I’d never been before, I was terrified. We were going to a remote and impoverished area. Nothing was certain about this journey. I was on a special diet, difficult to adhere to. I was allergic to many things in the world. I got sick at the drop of a hat. I was afraid of ending up in a foreign hospital, being too poor to pay. This was my moment of truth: if I went, I could die. Or, I could uncover something crucial about my real reason for living.
Fast forward. After multiple trips every year after that, I returned to Mexico again in October 2021, not long before my departing friend’s letter. Another health crisis: my knees and ankles were swollen, discolored, inflamed. Walking was painful. Hiking uphill was not an option. I owed one more pilgrimage to my spirit-path of becoming a healer. Could I climb that mountain at the allotted moment? Impossible.
I listened to the fire, and Grandfather Fire told me, “Take it slow.” I managed to kneel for the first time in months to get into my tent. I carried some wood for the pilgrimage fire. I put one swollen foot in front of the other. I climbed the mountain. I crossed the impossible chasm. I made my offerings, and it felt like I was offering myself, my life, my everything.
Like the flame gracing my altar, a life of spirit is many-layered: powerful, beneficial, potentially dangerous, and ultimately delicate. It saves my life.
After I returned, I felt solid in my path; at least, as solid as I can feel. I realize now I will have many experiences like this on the road. I will face the next one today, or tomorrow. I will need illumination, comfort, connection, guidance, penance. So, I will light many fires, many candles. I will sit around the flames with others, laughing, crying, and working out the difficulties we humans have.
The adventure of life is endless. It goes on after I’m done and gone. The dangers abound. I confront darkness and many serpents on the road. My hope and resolve become stronger as I surrender my fears to the light and living warmth of the fire: my candle, the sun above me, the fire of community and tradition, and my own fiery heart. It is remarkably like the one beating in your chest.
Fortified by fire and spirit, again and again may we say, “Ah, here you are, Impossible Unknown. I recognize your unrecognizable face. I am up for your challenge.”
Erin Everett attends sacred fires in Asheville, NC. She was initiated as a tradition-holder in the Nahua/Mexican weather work lineage in May 2003.
Firekeeping at Casa Xi in Tepoztlán, MX
By Ana Cortés
Our Tepoztlán village Sacred Fire hearth is an incredibly blessed hamlet in the heart of Mexico, although also complex and challenging.
Erica Cohen, Jaime Vélez and I are three Firekeepers doing our job in an ancestral indigenous land, a sacred valley surrounded by sacred mountain deities that hold and protect the town.
But what makes it extraordinary is that it is located on the sacred land of Casa Xiuhtecuhtli (pronounced shee-uh-teh-COOT-ley), The House of the God of Fire. It is also the home to the local and international lineage of Nahua traditional weatherworkers and the mara’akate, and is the house and office of Don David Wiley (the guardian and elder of the two traditions that the property hosts).
Each tradition has a temple. The Popocatépetl volcano once sent a message to the weatherworkers with a strong eruption of smoke: he wanted to have a decent temple at Casa Xiuhtecuhtli. So they built a wonderful Mayoría Temple, that recently was adorned with amazing murals full of deities related to the Weather Beings. The night that the murals were finished, it rained so hard that the whole town was flooded in a way many of us had never seen before.
A blessing over the grounds of Casa Xiuhtecuhtli
Grandfather explained later that it was due to the high level of excitement of the Weather Beings celebrating: it had been many many years (meaning, pretty much, since the conquest of Mexico) that the Gods weren’t publicly adorning a Nahua Temple.
The Temple accompanies our gatherings and events, as part of the landscape, and when we’re having a full moon fire, to contemplate it from inside the Tuki, with its candle always lit and many of the Gods represented, is a very special gift for us.
The Huichol ceremonial temple across from the Mayoría, called the Tuki, is a much more sober building of adobe walls and thatched roof, with a hardened dirt floor and three doors marking the north, east, and south directions, but also a doorless wall representing the west. The Tuki is a microcosm that not only marks sacred directions, but also the wet and the dry season, the masculine and the feminine, and other sacred aspects of the world.
When the Tuki was built and opened, an elder native Mexican Huichol shaman, Tsaurirrikame don José Sandoval, came all the way from his village in the northwestern mountains of Mexico, to bring the blessing of his people to this one and only Tuki built by non-Huichol people outside their land. But he also came to ask permission from the mountain Gods in the Valley, to be able to hold Huichol ceremonies at a Huichol temple in a Nahua ancestral land.
For that, a Tuki Fiesta was organized, and he needed to hold a ceremony inside the Tuki and around the fire, to sing and communicate with the local Gods through his singing. But he said he was asked to make it short since the community attending the ceremony was not used to long rituals like the indigenous Huichol people, so he promised to be brief. But it took him all night long. When he finished, he declared the Gods had given their permission, and he apologized to the people remaining saying that when he asked them for that permission, the local deities started to talk, and who was he to stop them from talking!
That happened in 2006, and shortly after, around that time, Jaime, Erica, and I were initiated as firekeepers by Grandfather Fire. At that time, we were holding fires at Shambhalacalli, a Shambhala Buddhist Center in Tepoztlán. Our initiation took place inside the Tuki (as all the new candidates still do at the end of a training week that takes place at Casa Xiuhtecuhtli every 2 years), but it only became our hearth in 2014. It was a relief after wandering around from one place to the other at different homes in the village for several years. Then the property was bought by the Sacred Fire Temple with donations from the weatherworkers and mara’akate groups, who continue to financially support the property.
The hearth inside the Tuki
The Blessings and The Heart
We are in debt to these medicine groups for generously allowing us to hold our fires and events. In return, our local fire community has a special hosting role to support their international events (mainly the weatherworker’s ceremonies, and the ritual Fiestas of the Mara’akate), as well as others. We firekeepers support the visitor’s stay in Mexico and bring in the local community to participate in the events. The local community is a glue that helps to give life to Casa Xi, and thus, links the events to the sacred energy of the land. This represents extra hard work for us firekeepers, but it’s an inexpensive cost for the benefits that our community receives, and it’s also an honor, and a pleasure.
We also help host an annual international event that we also take part in: The Prosperity Ritual. Groups that work with the Sacred Fire come to Tepoztlán for the spring planting, and then again in the fall to harvest the milpa (corn field). In between these two ritual events, members of our fire community cultivate and care for the crop.
The local community is a glue that helps to give life to Casa Xi, and thus, links the events to the sacred energy of the land.
During The Prosperity Ritual, we ask for abundance in our work as well as prosperity for the attendees. This ritual is especially interesting, since Grandfather has stressed the importance of the living relationship between humans and corn and the special blessings that this crop brings to humanity, and… could we call it a coincidence that it takes place in the region where corn was originally born? This might explain why Grandfather instructed us to tell the Nahua Sacred Story of the Corn in the night after the planting of the seed.
There used to be elaborate local rituals around the milpa in Tepoztlán, and it seems like Grandfather would like to bring some of that energy back to life, like the promise to bring back a ritual to celebrate the traditional local Día de Los Elotes (Day of the Fresh Corn) on September 28th. We can’t wait!
Another special blessing is to have two annual Fire Speaks events:
The first is a Protection Ritual Audience in December, where we use drums and special traditional masks to call the defending spirits of the four directions from the local mountains that protect the Valley. This Ritual was granted to us by Grandfather to keep away the violence. It’s a pre-Hispanic ritual that Grandfather brought back to life. Up until now, over the last ten years we’ve been doing it, the rampant violence in the region and in the country has stayed away from Tepoztlán. Up until now, Grandfather Fire always arrives to grant an audience after the ritual.
The second special Grandfather Audience is the Tibetan New Year Audience, where he shares with us about the energies of the year and how to flow with them. We make efforts to share his words with the international community so that everyone can benefit from them, with the support of Sacred Fire outreach staff.
The Challenges and the Mind
Firekeeping in Casa Xi is complex in that we are three Firekeepers – think of it as an arranged international marriage of three: one Colombian, one American, and one Mexican! We, now and for always, work in a bilingual way to be responsive to the various international guests we host at Casa Xi.
There is further complexity in keeping our particular Firekeeping manda (spiritual obligation), given by Grandfather, for us to firmly establish our community fires in this location. We are firekeeping in a place that involves many people, including foreign groups and elders who interact with this sacred space intermittently throughout the year. We all have a huge responsibility to keep Casa Xi supported, protected and secure.
Ana Cortés in front of the Tuki entrance
This complexity has been a setup for misunderstandings, nervousness, unending e-mails, exhausting bureaucracy, and a handful of strict rules… (about which I won’t complain because Grandfather does not allow me. I admit I am not a fan of—what he humorously sometimes refers to as—his “huarache (Mexican traditional sandals) technique”—“a kick in the ass” technique. Yet, I have learned to trust and see that Grandfather creates situations that have us face our blind spots or encounter our fears in the process of reaping the incredible rewards that accompany dedication to our mandas.)
We are three Firekeepers – think of it as an arranged international marriage of three: one Colombian, one American, and one Mexican!
I remind myself of the rewards I have received when I am envious of the freedom of other firekeepers, opening their very own houses, kitchens, and yards to host the community for the fires in a much more relaxed way. I would love to have a beautiful house where I can welcome people to a place that is filled with my energy and hospitality. We could have a meal, set up the fire and linger after for extended conversation and comradery.
Instead, I need to submit a request for a date, interact with others who have a stake in what is happening in Casa Xi, and observe all kinds of protocols. But I guess the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. I also recognize that other firekeepers are envious of us being able to have fires at such a sacred hearth. Such is the nature of the mind, right?
Casa Xiuhtecuhtli nestled in the mountains that surround Tepoztlán, MX
Above all, it’s a huge responsibility to keep Casa Xi safe. Along with the foreign groups and elders who interact with this sacred space, we all share the responsibility to keep Casa Xi supported, protected and secure. Previously, situations have threatened or compromised the safety of Casa Xi and so there is a vigilance and mindfulness on how we enter, be in, and leave the space.
We are sometimes caught in our heads with all the logistics and exacting procedures that can stir fear, guilt and controlling energies. This makes it challenging to dance between these protocols and the fire-work of the heart, so we can bring in and create a feeling of welcome for our local community. There was one time when quitting crossed my mind… but then: how can you quit a Manda? Firekeeping is my life! Instead, I asked for the help of Grandfather Fire, and he sure helped in many different ways. He has brought fresh new energy to Casa Xi, and that is making a difference in the internal dynamics of teamwork, communication, and trust.
Fortunately, in recent times, key changes have been happening that have brought more balance to the day-to-day. We firekeepers were finally and formally included as part of Casa Xi, with rights and obligations like all the other members. There is a new energy arriving at Casa Xi that is renovating important internal dynamics and creating a more relaxed communication flow. Don David Wiley is generously granting teaching fires and workshops to the local community. The staff from his office are incredibly supportive, and as always David continues to give us all the help that his time allows him. And hopefully, the spaces we need to better host many kinds of community events (like a proper storage room, a proper kitchen, and an outdoor roof) will eventually appear, as Grandfather Fire has envisioned.
Of course, all the worries and sacrifices dissolve when the magic of the Spirit of Fire and the ceremonies show up: an overflow and incredible display of Heart and Divine Presence that banishes everything else. And so Balance arrives. In the very end, I realize it’s only about humans trying hard to do our best and learning about how to use and take care of a Sacred Land, with the exceptionally wise and powerful help of nothing less than a Deity like Grandfather Fire.
I am inspired by Grandfather’s vision for Casa Xi to be a Mecca for multitudes of local, national, and international visitors seeking spiritual connection, guidance, and help
We’re all trying to do our humanly best: and we know the “human model” has its weaknesses…So what? How could it be different? We’re exceptionally committed people under the extraordinary but pretty strict guidance of a generous Divine Spirit who has the desire and the mission to help us… and he must also have his challenges: only he knows how difficult it must be… dealing with humans!
An opossum inside the Firekeeper bodega (storage area) at Casa Xiuhtecuhtli
Some days ago, a tlacuache (an opossum) made its appearance at our mini firekeeping storage place, when we were renovating the roof. Sacred energies tend to appear at Casa Xi every time something good happens there on the grounds. This particular ‘sacred energy’ was incredibly cute, and since we call our local community the Tlacuache Fire Community, we took it as a special blessing. We were inspired to give ourselves the name we did because in ancestral Mesoamerica the opossum is considered a sacred animal. The opossum is the one who, at the beginning of time, brought fire to Humans with its tail lit by fire – which explains why the opossum’s tail remains hairless up to today.
I firmly feel that being part of this adventure is a privilege for which any cost is small. I am inspired by Grandfather’s vision for Casa Xi to be a Mecca for multitudes of local, national, and international visitors seeking spiritual connection, guidance, and help. Besides the wider international community and groups, he’s also counting on the efforts of us three firekeepers to help make this happen… Not a piece of cake! But at the same time: What an incredible and extra-ordinary story to find myself living!
Ana Cortes is one of three firekeepers for the Tlacuache Fire Community in Tepoztlán, Mexico