The Element of Fire
We blink and life time has passed. All of a sudden, we (in the northern hemisphere) are leaving winter and entering spring. A shift in seasons entails a moving of energy and emphasis, here from the darker, sluggish cold of winter to the boldness, fierce audacity of spring with the signs of new life – buds exploding from trees, plants ejecting from the earth, animals emerging, including birds busily tending to their nests and eggs. Here we are in Aires, the beginning of the zodiac cycle and the symbolic representation of all these things – the daring of change, life, action. With Aires, comes fire.
Elements from nature have been explored, historically and metaphorically, as a way of explaining the world (think of anatomy before the scientific revolution, ex http://www.greekmedicine.net/b_p/Four_Humors.html ). In fact, it is thought that the specific elements themselves, water, air, fire, earth, relate to the only ways available to get rid of a body (yes, I typed that correctly, see The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker). Elements are revered in many spiritual and religious traditions, from the subtle incorporation in ritual (ex. Burning of incense as a representation of fire and air; water in baptisms), to the outright more flamboyant ceremonies, such as the Celtic Beltane – a fire celebration of spring. Which begs the question, what do these elements mean? I’ve explored water in a previous post (see the Selkie myth); I’d like to focus on fire here, the element of the current Aires phase as I write this post.
Before exploring what I have found – consider, what does fire mean to you? What are the associations you might have with it? Is it destructive, or regenerative? Passionate or angry? Associated with violence or cleansing and illuminating? What if its potentiality is in all of these things, and more?
The spiritual importance of fire is recognized in many traditions. For example, in the yogic tradition, spiritual fire is called tapas; in fact, building tapas, containing tapas is considered discipline and is one of the niyamas (moral code) of Patanjali’s yoga. In the Hindu and yogic traditions, fire ceremonies are incorporated into purification rituals and pujas (moving prayers/ritual prayers). In shamanism, some traditions believe that initiation onto the path as Shaman includes being struck by lightning, which is certainly associated with fire (ex. see some of Sandra Ingerman’s work, here a video clip https://youtu.be/vTzKOkaSDk0, some, such as Lucy H. Pearce call this baptism by fire in Burning Woman) . A spiritual practice of the mystics, including shamans, is to shape shift, to experience, even acquire the properties of, for our discussion, elements, including fire – feeling it, sitting with it, sensing it, even controlling it. This is described as gorkking by Serge Kahili King in Urban Shaman: A Handbook for Personal and Planetary Transformation Based on the Hawaiian Way of the Adventurer.
Exploring fire isn’t only a responsibility of the mystics, but also the stuff of poets. Think of Rumi, who favors explorations of passion, desire, allusions to wine and heat. His poem to God and himself, urging “I want burning, burning, burning” (full poem here but translated by Coleman Banks: http://sufiteachings.com/writings/maulana-rumi). One of my favorite poems by Rumi is his burning heart poem (My Burning Heart):
“My heart is burning with love
All can see this flame
My heart is pulsing with passion
like waves on an ocean”
I sense fire when I read Maya Angelou’s And Still I Rise (found here https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/still-i-rise/) – her imagery of the rise and determination of herself and spirit makes me think of the rise, persistence, and fierceness of flame.
Another amazing fire-inspired poem is by Masahide (in How Lovely the Ruins):
"Barn’s burnt down –
I can see the moon."
Mentally and emotionally, fire is associated with destruction, consumption, trauma, anger, as well as power, illumination, determination, passion, jubilance, and joy (ie think dancing around a fire), making context important when exploring your sense of fire.
Energetically, fire is associated with the 3rd chakra in yogic traditions – that is the solar plexus, the place of will, power, identity, and action in the world. Others that are body workers recognize energetic elements of fire in bodies of women. “Ovarian energy is a woman’s creative fire energy. It is the energetic source of life force energy utilized in making children, as well as making any creation a women brings in the world” (pg 127 of physical therapist Tami Lynn Kent’s The Wild Feminine).
Archetypal analysis suggests fire as a component of sensuality and sexuality (maybe Rumi had it right?). Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes discusses heat and the feminine in Women Who Run with the Wolves:
“There is a being who lives in the wild underground of women’s natures. This creature is our sensory nature, like any integral creature, it has its own natural and nutritive cycles. This being is inquiring, relational, bounding with energy sometimes, quiescent at other times. It is responsive to stimulus involving the senses: music, movement, food, drink, peace, quiet, beauty, darkness. It is this aspect of a woman that has heat. …….like a fire that burns high, then low in cycles…….A woman’s heat is not a state of sexual arousal but a state of intense sensory awareness that includes, but is not limited to, her sexuality” (362)
Lucy H. Pearce further explores women’s relationship with fire, heat, and burning in her book Burning Woman and suggests that Burning Woman IS an archetype (and, yes, there is a Burning Man archetype). SHE is the woman stepping into her power, out of the status quo and into new paradigms, new ways of being; reclaiming voice; facing her struggles/shadows/blocks; and doing the work of healing and growth.
Burning Woman is “feminine power incarnate…..Free-thinking, powerful, passionate……She who dares to follow her own vision, who speaks up and tells her own stories. She naturally sails counter to what she has been taught…….Burning Woman teaches us other ways of power – the fire circle, the spiraling helix of life, the web of interbeing, the multicellular organism – autonomy within interconnected community” (pgs 24-27)
Lucy H. Pearce also reminds us that women have a historical relationship with fire, outside of archetype. That is, what she calls the Burning Times. Estimates vary in terms of how many women were put to death by fire as heretics and/or for practicing witch craft (a catchall for any unruly woman), but millions were likely impacted by this loss of women, in terms of children, families, businesses, and communities. Pearce suggests that the Burning Times are imprinted in our subconscious individually and our collective unconscious, and women stepping into their power, using their voices, often sense flames or smell smoke. (Have you? I have) (for more information on the burning times, see Pearce’s book, as well as Leonard Shlain’s The Alphabet verses the Goddess; but there are many resources out there that explore the witch hunts)
In myth, fire shows up repeatedly, such as, Gods and Goddesses Vulcan, Ra, Sekhmet, Kali and Agni as starters (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fire_gods), the story of Prometheus stealing fire from Zeus (http://www.greekmyths-greekmythology.com/prometheus-fire-myth/), and Icarus flying who dared fly too close to the sun (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icarus). One of my personal favorites is the story of the Phoenix, the Greek mythic bird that arises, renewed, from its own ash after destruction by fire (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_(mythology) )
Another amazing fire poem – A Flock of Phoenix by Shiloh Sophia McCloud, found in Burning Woman and at http://shilohmccloudandthecosmiccowgirls.blogspot.com/:
A Flock of Phoenix
You don’t have to know how to do it.
You just have to know you want to do it.
This is the time when women and work
A Phoenix all adorned
in fire red and diamonds.
Ready to fly to her next destination.
We have worked the whole time.
But we have not always been paid
for that time,
or recognized for that time
We knew our work and words
Even though we were told
it was not. We still knew.
And some of us got lost in knowing
but not knowing what to do about it.
That is finished now.
A new chapter has been written
by us, of course.
A new prophesy is being called out.
Women are wealthy.
Women are wise.
Women stand for each other.
Women share fire light.
Sometimes we stay in ashes too long.
Mourning for all that has been lost.
And mourn we should.
Because of the crimes. What is happening
to sons and daughters in our greater family
is unspeakable in the form of this page.
My words cannot wrap themselves around
the horror (that is another poem)
But we know
endlessly of the constant press of sad stories.
So, we who are able, must rise.
And make space for others to rise.
We who are able,
We who are able,
We who are able,
must chant our transformation chant.
Each of us makes up her own
fire rising song.
We sing the words out into creation.
And watch the sparks begin to fly.
Just because fire was used against us.
Does not mean we give up fire, no.
We have breathed fire and it is our ally.
Our legend is not one of only burning.
Although we have done that many times.
Our legend is one of rising.
Of taking wing from impossible ashes.
Dusting the gray from off of our fire red wings.
We extend a shimmering wing
And then the next.
We raise our heads to the light.
And the earth in her wisdom
pushes us from underneath.
And the air in her understanding
pulls us from above.
And up we go.
Free at last.
Leaving gravity to it’s daily chore
of holding all things in place.
Not us. Not today.
And as we soar we feel whole!
And to our complete joy,
our complete and utter jubilation
We find the sky full of radiant phoenixes.
Magenta Cobalt Gold and Green Ones
Purple Red White and Black Ones
Orange and Brown and Aqua Ones
A whole flock of Phoenix women.
And together we fly
on the wisdom of the shared flock.
Resurrected birds of glory.
Bright and beautiful, Bold and Dangerous.
Wild and full of hope. Brave and Abundant.
Join us, or watch us fly by.
But let us rise bird sisters
and claim our skies!
Shiloh McCloud ©2007”
Without being mythical or spiritual or purely poetic, we recognize the cleansing and renewal properties of fire. We sterilize medical instruments with an autoclave (heat and pressure). We utilize controlled burns for the management of land, such as prairies and long-leaf pine ecosystems. We use flame for food preparation, and in what seems like magic between alchemy and chemistry, we have rendered animal proteins and other food stuffs more palatable and safe.
My own FIRE story
My personal relationship with fire has been long, arduous. I have always had a heat, which often presented as anger - a slow simmer at times, boiling over in times of personal, relational, or collective injustices. However, I could not and still cannot articulate the source of this heat, which has fostered much of the inner work I do as personal practice. I recognize now that part of it is some kind of energetic 'hot potato', that instead of passing anger and hurt on to others, it stops at me, where I actually sit with it and FEEL it (I do identify as empathic). My inner fire and tendency toward anger are sentinels (like Anubis to the Underworld, all muscle and teeth), my guardians protecting something deep within that is tender and precious. This interior heat reminds me of some inner dragon or kundalini energy – a reptilian, fire breathing being. For a long time, I let this heat, this anger and passion, burn me, drop off of my fingertips, spill out to others (when stressed in a short temper).
Some have seen it, seen through me, though it took me time to get comfortable with their assessments. For example, I worked briefly with a male shaman, taking his energy healing class. One of the exercises required we read our partner’s energies (ie chakras and auras). Of course, I ended up with him as partner, and to not be vulnerable or SEEN, I shut down what I could mentally and energetically. My business was my business and I did not want to be analyzed by a stranger, let alone an unfamiliar shaman. But he saw through it – he said I was overflowing with passion and I needed to learn how to channel it. I could have run from that class – I assumed his assessment was some weird, pseudo-sexual comment. Needless to say, after I completed that class, I never returned to see him again – I was put off and wary. Another eastern medicine practitioner took my pulse and recognized my stomach line (aka the line of contentment and calm) as being “hot”. I was on fire, burning from the inside – with passion, anger, drive, heat. For me, passion doesn’t refer to sexual energy, but a lust for life and desire for growth. It is no coincidence that I have often said I want to bite off as much of life as I can, while here on earth, with juice dripping from my chin. Then I know that I will have lived. My physical energy is also fiery and much like a border collie – I need to MOVE or I start chewing on the toe moldings and door trim. One of my favorite meditation techniques to work with the subconscious: running, which is also a great discharge/grounding technique. Action, heat, doing are how I manage to stay sane and productive.
Despite shutting myself down so I wasn’t fully seen, a few people could call my bluff and false hard shell……..
It took some digging to recognize that these people actually recognized what I couldn’t – that my fire was my drive, it is how I engage with the world – I am an action-oriented dreamer that wants change, wants to step out of the status quo, finds injustice like a heat-seeking missile and wants to right it (and write it), in any way I can. I am trying to do that now, with inner, meditative and journey work and private writing, my blogs, my nascent, small communities of women and neighbors. When I worked with the shaman above, I was not writing, but I now see that writing and community building are my channels to be constructive with my energy. Writing is how I move the fire that sits in my belly to my throat, to my heart, to my hands and into action. In fact, when I write, I hear my subconscious yell out “FIRE IN THE HOLE” and feel a scattering of selves as pieces of me take shelter, not knowing where the fallout might land. (“We must find words……or burn” – Olga Broumas cited in Burning Woman; oh how this quote hit me!) Meditation and inner work help me as well – they allow me to create a container for my inner fire so that it can burn safely without consuming me or destroying others. My inner dragon is not a foe, but a friend, wanting to be tamed and utilized, and a harbinger of change.
Have you met your inner fire, your dragon? How do you engage it and keep it happy?
A Fire Ritual for Home
Because I lead a new moon women’s circle, my ritual suggestions are moon-based. The new moon is time for going in, imagining, considering possibility, making wishes. There are many fire-based rituals you can do for the new moon time, which involve burning, including lighting a candle (or go big with a bonfire) and meditating with that energy and intention, burning incense or some aromatic herb (sage, bay leaves, sweet grass, etc) and smudging, burning a piece of paper with wishes or what you desire to release – allowing those to be carried away with the smoke.
A sweet idea shared with me by another circle leader is burning wishing paper – these are thin tissue papers on which you write your desires or intentions, light them on fire, and watch the little bundle of ash rise into the air. (more information here: https://www.flyingwishpaper.com/) You might decide to write down your intention on the paper at the new moon and burn/release it at the full moon. No ritual is ever strict or prescriptive; an individual should do what feels right to them (the only “rule” that it is non-harming to others, of course).
Raw/Roar by Lucy H. Pearce:
“Can you hear it?
The collective roar is rising from our bellies
Raw Feminine energy
Our throats are open,
No longer strangled shut
Into the helpless silent scream of the prey.
Fire form our bellies emerging clear through our mouths:
The roar of anger
The roar of virth
The roar of the wild
She-lion, tiger-woman, dragon-sister
The hurricane rises”
Thanks for reading. Feel free to share fire ritual ideas below or your own experience with the fire element.
Written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT)
RYT 500, reiki master
Contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
All writing is protected by copyright. Photo is from Pexels.