I come before the fire to honor the Spirits.
I make offering unto my allies in many worlds,
From the center of the shining cosmos
To the hearth of my heart, where my spirit is free.
Some of us will light that fire from our work in groups: we will find that our internal flame grows brighter when others are around to feed and fan our inner work.
Others will light that fire on our own, a tiny beacon that brightens our world and sets the shadows dancing.
These fires are, in many ways, the same fire of Our Druidry, the flames that burn bright at the center of worlds, united in form and purpose.
I have been quoted more than once as saying, “The fire on our hearth is the fire in our hearts.” The notion that I’m always trying to convey with this idea is that though many of us have the option to find community and to worship in groups, each of us must also keep the fire of piety burning within us.
But the two fires are not exactly the same: the fire at the center of our community is a flame that is kindled when others are near. It’s our public fire, the flame that ignites fellowship and community. The fire at the center of our heart is the flame that ignites (diversity) and piety, pushing us to deepen our work for our own sake, and for the sake of the Spirits.
The true secret of these flames is that the fire in our heart is the source of the flame that kindles our communal fires. We must keep it well, or the communal fire will never seem as bright as they should.
The lore tells us that fire, that all-consuming friend of humans, is ever hungry. It grows and devours and feeds on everything we pour into it, and from it we gain many things: food to eat (and associated meals to share), tools to work with, and a place to make offerings to the Spirits we so love.
The communal flame that we kindle when we work together in groups is fed by fuel, of course. It dwells in a house of wood, eats well of the fat of the meat, and shines when presented with butter. Those who have spent their time around fires, though, know that some burn better than others.
When it comes to the fires of ritual, it seems that a deciding factor in the quality of the fire is the flame that kindles it. By this I do not mean whether the fire was kindled with a match or a lighter, or even the light of the sun. Instead, I mean that fire, being at the center of Druidry, is a strong metaphor for our personal practice and piety: those with a deep-seated and fulfilling personal practice will find that they have a flame within them that will brighten and amplify the flame before them in ritual. (Think about a camp fire surrounded by people with a lot of love in their heart, versus a camp fire surrounded by people who don’t know one another: it’s the same basic principle.)
When many people with vibrant personal practice come together before the Spirits and make offerings, all of their flames feed into the fire before them. In essence, the fire within each person’s heart feeds the fire on the communal hearth.
I wouldn’t stretch this so far as to suggest that a poor fire that splutters and billows smoke is a result of poor piety among those present, but I will point out a line from the Rgveda: “May we pray with a good fire.” By this, I have always felt that the brahmins meant that our prayers will be strengthened by the flame, and the flame strengthened by our prayers.
So, let us do as the ancients did, and keep our personal practice strong: let us all pray with a good fire.
Rev. Michael J Dangler is an ADF Senior Priest and founder of Three Cranes Grove, ADF, in Columbus, OH. He is also one of the co-owners of The Magical Druid, an online shop that provides spiritual and ritual supplies for all paths. If you happen to see him at a festival, grab him and have a chat: we hear he loves meeting new people!