The Fire Ritual Heavens Gate
Fire, our age-old friend, is a very basic factor in our lives and deserves a prominent place in our dealings with the spirit world.
There are rituals to honor the holy fire in many cultures. The need arises, however, to stage and design fire-rituals for cross-cultural participation.
This essay is about placing the fire-ritual, its purpose, efficacy and formats in a wider context, incorporating old and new traditions and the connection with magic.
Luc Sala. 2003/2008
A way to address the central active principle of our times
What would we be without fire? To honor fire is an age-old custom, we can safely assume that ceremonies using the practical and magical power of fire are as old as mankind. Fire in fact, as its kindling and handling is so specifically human, is the most logical and common tool to converse or address the beyond, the Gods, the otherworld and the archetypical inner world. These days, as many feel we have lost much of the connection with the essential aspects of fire, there is a cry for renewal, for new and meaningful ways to celebrate and honor this source of light, warmth and safety. This can be done in many ways and there are many traditions we can refer to, but especially at larger gatherings there is a need for a more structured approach.
What is an appropriate way to stage a private or public fire-ritual, honoring the traditions of East and West but leaving space for new forms and messages, with a high degree of interaction and participation and yet with the solemn quality and transformational energy we expect at such an event?
In this essay we look into the origins of fire-worship, the myths, rituals and ceremonies associated with fire. Then we discuss the meaning of ritual, the structures and goals and whether anything is achieved, the efficacy of ritual and the magic underlying it. To that purpose, the structure of magic and theoretical models to explain magic are discussed and a quantitative method to evaluate sacred space, magical act and fire-energy is developed. A classification of the subtle energy levels, using FSE (Fire Subtle Energy) grading is tentatively developed.
A universal ritual scenario or liturgy is outlined, based on the common threads in the many, many traditions with fire rituals and combining these in a logical and practical structure, a ritual matrix. Admittedly rituals in themselves are not logical or rational and any interpretation is tainted by our present worldview and paradigms, but discarding them as superstitious and primitive denies the influence of the other dimension(s) in our lives, our history and our religions. Magic and religion are very closely related, if not actually the same.
Far from tracing all fire-rituals to a common ancestry the fire-ritual outline developed here aims at converging to a form that honors all the ancient and traditional ways of celebrating fire, but leaves room for new expressions. Then the Firedance format as developed in the USofA is described and analysed as an example of a modern way to explore the fire and its magical, mystical and transformational qualities.
An important aspect of fire rituals and maybe the reason I am so fascinated by them, is that there is not only the external fire out there, but also an inner fire in us. The inner fire, the holy fire, the kundalini, by whatever name this energy in us is a formidable force, but one that is hard to accept and acknowledge, at least in my experience. I see fire rituals as one of the ways to get closer to that inner fire, to the deep source inside.
Fire is a privileged phenomenon, which can explain anything. If all that changes slowly may be explained by life, all that changes quickly is explained by fire. Fire is the ultra-living element. It is intimate and it is universal. It lives in our heart. It lives in the sky. It rises from the depths of the substance and offers itself with the warmth of love. Or it can go back down into the substance and hide there, latent and pent-up, like hate and vengeance. Among all phenomena, it is really the only one to which there can be so definitely attributed the opposing values of good and evil. It shines in Paradise. It burns in Hell.
Gaston Bachelard in Psychoanalysis of Fire
The origins of Fire
In the development of our species the mastery of fire counts as a major achievement; according to many, including Claude Lévi-Straus, it marks a watershed in the development of our species. It might have been what allowed our forefathers to come down from the trees and walk on their two feet, having fire in the savannah with all those enemies would have made that a bit more feasible. The control and manipulation of fire is what really made us human and, moreover, distinguishes us from the animal world. We are the only animals that can really control fire, are able to make it, sustain it and practically use it. Animals use the result of fire, wildfire actually attracts many animals, looking for food and licking the salted ashes, only humans will deliberately cause fire. We can of course not be sure how the first use of fire by humans or humanoids came about, whatever dreams and visions we can have about that discovery are mere speculation. The facts are that the remnants of human fire have shown up in archeological finds and we can make educated guesses, based on those findings and studies of more recent and even contemporary but less evolved cultures, as how the use of fire has developed.
Stephen J. Pyne gives us, in his book Fire, A Brief History, which eminently teaches us about the history of this element, some great insights that help us understand the various stages in the use of fire. He distinguished First Fire, that which came from the heavens as lightning or from volcanic eruptions, Second Fire, the fire humans sparked and Third Fire, the industrial fire of combustion engines and electricity. He makes clear that Fire might be a fairly unique phenomenon in our solar system, maybe even beyond that. The three factor that are necessary for fire, being oxygen, fuel and a park, did not occur till about 400 million years back. This also means that fire is quite an Earthly thing, no other planet in our solar system has fire. They have molten magma, lightning, the sun is a fiery ball of thermonuclear energy, but fire, that is our thing.
There are many stories and myths about where fire came from, how humans learned to master it and what role God(s) or deities played. The seminal work in this respect is Myths of the Origin of Fire by Sir James George Frazer (1930), who in his main work The Golden Bough gave us volumes and volumes of descriptions of the customs, habits and symbolisms of what then we regarded as primitive cultures. Although many of J.G. Frazers conclusions and assumptions proved unfounded, his enormous work of bringing together the stories from all over the world still demands our respect. At the surface he was a sturdy positivist of the nineteenth century, labelling all those strange customs he described as superstition, but at a deeper level one can taste his fascination and his understanding of magic and many of the theoretical models he gives are still worthwhile.
Later in this essay we will come back to some of the origin myths, notably the complex of notions around the mythical figure of Prometheus.
Fire and civilisation
The role of fire in civilisation can hardly be overestimated. It played a central role in the development of the human race, was the major tool in hunting, agriculture and building, it shaped our world in more ways than we usually realise. What would we be without fire, how could we survive in colder climates, maybe the control of fire was what made us come down from the trees and venture into the savannahs of Africa, made homo sapiens evolve. In his book Fire and Civilisation (1991), J. Goudsblom describes how he sees civilisation as a process, a dynamic development of all those aspects of behaviour that are learned, shared and transmitted. Carl Ortwin Sauer sees Fire as one of the three pillars of social development, together with language and agriculture, it changed the face of the earth. And fire and agriculture are, for most of human existence, very much interwoven, burn and slash was the way to tame the woods, fertilize the soil and grow crops. Control of fire brings also dependency, once we knew how to use fire we became dependent on what it gave us, be it open spaces for farming or animal hunting or for warmth, light and cooking. Comfort is addictive, living without fire is seen as a barbaric experience. This paradox of the fire, that we at the same time master it and become its slave, makes it all the more mysterious and magical and feeds our fascination with this strange, sometime dangerous element.
Fire and cooking
Apart from the use of fire to clear forest for the above mentioned purposes, agriculture and hunting, fire has obvious benefits like light and its use to cook and prepare food. Our forefathers must have noticed that after a brush fire not only the animals that fell prey to the fire were cooked and more edible, but also many plants, nuts, seeds and roots were transformed in digestible, tasteful and healthy staple. Apart from the cooking, which led to specialisation in household chores and increased gender specific roles and tasks, fires provide warmth and light.
Ecology and Fire
We humans have changed the face of the earth (Carl Ortwin Sauer) and although we might think that cities, concrete and agriculture are most important in that respect, fire has been the major factor, certainly in the centuries and ages past. The use of fire to burn and slash has, according to Goudsblom, led to substantial deforestation in Europe before the Middle Ages and is still a very obvious practice in many third world countries. The same goes for the North American plains, when left alone they slowly turn into forest again, only massive burning could have prevented the majority of the USA plains from being forest. There is enough evidence that Native Americans greatly changed the character of the landscape with fire, and that they had major effects on the abundances of some wildlife species through their hunting (Botkin, Pyne). The American Indians greatly changed the ecosystems for their use and survival.
Of course natural occurring fires play a role, but it is clear that the human hand played a role in this process, sometimes called culture burning. The word firestick farming is also used, mostly to indicate that by using fire to clear the forest or burn down the high grass and shrubs one could attract both the grazers and their predators. Buffalo, wildebeast, zebra, gazelle and such like the new and low grass, as it gives them security by being able to spot and outrun the predators and provides them the much needed minerals like calcium and salts in the fresh growth. Burning generates ashes with the minerals needed to fertilize the soil and help sustain animal life. After a brush fire one sees many animals licking the ashes, as the salt-cycle is crucial to the whole eco-system of the savannah. Even today, artificial burning is often used in wildparks in Africa to attract the animals to areas close to the lodges and tourist locations, sometimes using salt to attract the animals, but thereby offsetting the delicate balance of the whole ecosystem.
Slash and Burn as a short term way of preparing fields for agriculture works for a short time, but in the long term has devastating effects. As Carl Ortwin Sauer noted The role of fire, especially in the hands of primitive man, needs (to be) undertaken with the knowledge that long-continued burning may have opposite effects on vegetation from those that result from a short series of burnings.
Fire as a symbol
The symbolism of fire comes across in all cultures. Although at first sight one could think that Fire as an active agent would be fully Yang, in fact in Chinese trigram thinking as in the I-Ching fire and the other elements are combinations of yin and yang.
The Phoenix, the flaming bird
Many of the fire-myths are related. The bird Phoenix, rising from the ashes is a symbol of the transformation fire brings, the power to overcome death. Phoenix is a Greek word for red, and the Greek called the flamingo bird phoenicopteros, phoenix with feathers of fire, flaming. The flamingo is the Egyptian hieroglyph for red, for all things red, anger, blood, the desert, all spelled with the flamingo hierogluph. And, maybe not coindicentally, the flamingo breeds on the ash cones of lake Natron in Central Africa, so the young flamingo rise from the ashes. The Phoenix derives its name from the Egyptian Benu bird (benu > *benus > *benyx > phoenix) which, in turn, seems to come from Vena (or Venu = Benu) and thus has a relation with the Vedic tradition. The Rig Vedic hymn (RV 10:123) on the Vena reads:
This Vena pushes up those who bear the Sun.
Clouded in light, he spans the upper realm of space
In the union of the Sun and the Waters...
Vena whips the wave high out of the Ocean.
Cloud-born, the back of the beloved emerged
Shining on the crest of the apex of Order.
Wails like womens cries come out of the Womb,
Like those of cows lowing for their calves.
Vena bears himself on golden wings
As he carries his smiling lover up to heaven.
Longing in their hearts for you, they have
Seen you flying to the dome of heaven like a bird,
As the golden-winged messenger of Varuna,
The eagle hastening into the womb of Death.
When the Drop comes out of the Ocean
Towering over the wide expanse like a vulture,
The Sun rejoices with the clear light
That imitates his own, in the upper realm.
This seems not to relate The Birth of the Sun, but tells us about the Flood and is the same motif as the theft of the magical elixir Soma by the Eagle (RV 4:26-7). It thus corresponds to the myth of Prometheus stealing the Fire (Soma) from the gods, in order to bring it to the mortals. It also relates to the myths of the Thunderbird. In the New World, Vena is the Thunderbird of the North American Indians, the Condor of the Incas and the Ruda of the Brazilian Indians. In the Old World it is the Syena of the Hindus, the Simorgh of the Persians, the Phoenix of the Greeks, the Benu of the Egyptians, the Fire-bird of the Russians, and the Rokh bird of the Arabian Nights.
Whats in a (my) name
My personal fascination with fire might have to do with my name, being Luc (from Lucius), I was named after St. Lucia as I was born on dec 13, traditionally a festive day with candles and processions in some cultures. Luc is of course related to light (Luz) and thus to Lucifer, the lightbearer. However, it turns out that the exclamation of Luck as in Good Luck actually refers to Lugh, a chief Celtic God, the God of Light. According to Harold Bayley, who studied the root meaning of many symbols, Lu, in combination with the suffic Ak means something like the greatest, so luck means Lugh is the greatest . Lu as a sound meant virile, bright, shining, fire and the ability to communicate wisdom.
Light(ning) and fire
Flames and light were sacred all through the ages. Fire is quite a unique Earthly thing, as you need free oxygen and that is not around on other planets in our solar system. Fire only happened, some 400 million years ago, when life (one-cel organisms, algae, plant, the very earliest flora) produced fuel and oxygen. The first fire was the result of lightning or volcanic fire. Lightning came from the heavens and is therefore seen as an act of the Gods, a gift from heavens, from the creator or at least a divine entity. Many divinities therefore have lightning, thunder, fire as a tool or symbol, usually these are ferocious, active Gods, breathing fire, throwing thunderbolts.
In prehistoric times, tool making and fire were likely to go hand in hand, even wooden spears and arrows get hardened points with fire. In the Stone Age, making stone tools, striking one stone upon another, as the flaking process requires, often creates sparks of super heated stone; a kind of miniature lightning. Ancient references to light, lightning, or fire are often a metaphor for being educated as in having the ability to make fire but also refer to having the divine spark, having achieved enlightenment.
Fire and information
There is an interesting analogy between information (like digital data) and fire in that one can easily multiply, reuse and proliferate them both. A fire, given adequate food in the form of combustable material, can be divided, split up, handed out, transported, al that without diminishing the usefulness of the original fire. The similarity of our modern fascination with the digital data that we shoot all over the globe with the fascination of our forefather with this magical element fire is remarkable. Didnt the developers and researchers of the digital era act like the priests of a new religion, their faith in the power and effects of their precious made them as special as those fire-tenders, blacksmiths, potters and fire-magicians of old.
The Fire Myths: Prometheus
We will come back to the various Fire Myths in specific cultures, but start with the Prometheus myth, as handed down from the Greek mythology. The figure of Prometheus, however, is truly archetypical, as he is the link between the world of the Gods and the humans and the similarities with figures like Jesus Christ are obvious.
Literature about fire rituals
Given the fact, that there are thousands, probably tens of thousands of titles about magic and myth, the number of studies about fire and especially fire rituals is much less, in fact there are surprisingly few books about the subject. In the previous part of this essay a number of relevant and influential sources are mentioned. Again we have to mention One of the most extensive studies into specific fire rituals in the Vedic/Hindu context was done by professor Frits Staal. His book, Agni : The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar is a classic. It describes in great detail the agnicayana ritual, of Vedic origin, that is dating to nomadic times, the significance of Agni, the way the altar is built, the implements, the ritual enclosure, the priests and their roles, how the ritual is staged, mostly based on an April, 1975 performance of this ritual. This 12 day ritual in the Vedic/Srauta tradition involves animal sacrifice and has three fires. In the second volume Staal offers his own and others perspective on this ritual, the archeological context, references to other traditions and translations of various sutras.
The role of ritual
In modern times, many religious rituals have vanished, but other forms have survived and in fact many new rituals have cropped up, not in the least in mundane environments like the office, where the morning coffee for many is a sacred start of their day. However, (religious) ritual is no longer experienced as an essential part of life, in the rational West it is commonly seen as archaic and superstitious. Ritual is only acceptable in the context of nationalistic or sports events, with the emphasis on the social aspects, the feeling of connectedness that the wave or the national anthem produce.
In this essay we talk about rituals in the religious or spiritual sense. Such rituals are in a way the salt of life, the link with the unseen that reminds us of the deeper meaning and makes us conscious of our soul and of love as the all-pervading force.
Rituals and ceremonies play a role in most religions and spiritual traditions, as they are seen and experienced as a way to communicate with the Divine, the otherworld, the paranormal, the gods, nature-spirits or the self. They are often complex re-enactments of myths, rites of passage, initiations or involve shamanic role-reversal, but sometimes rituals are no more than burning a candle or sitting in a specific position and emptying the mind by way of a mantra or other meditation technique, a personal concentration on the metaphysical. Usually they are rooted in a tradition, myth and ritual together are the pillars of many a practice and religion, but new ritual forms evolve too. Rituals are a very conscious way of being and acting in this reality, being aware of the consequences in the normal world and the other, unseen dimensions.
One can try to understand rituals in a rational and logical way, as we try here, but a word of warning. Ritual is not a rational procedure. There are deeper, esoteric messages and meanings in ritual that elude the normal perception or interpretation, most magical or occult qualities are hidden in the form and expressions of the ritual. In fact, magical efficacy doesnt come in easy bits, it is more like homeopathic dilution, less is more. The gods love what is hidden.
The deeper and essential meaning is not so easy to recognize and often there are multiple levels of meaning. This is often the reason that traditional rituals are done in a very exact way. The officiants realize that there are important details they dont recognize as such, so they observe the tradition very literally. They see rituals as revealed by the higher forces, not as human constructs, hence their holiness.
Myths are the domain of words, ritual the domain of action. A myth is thus a system of word symbols (legomenon), a ritual a system of objects and act symbols (dromenon). Ritual action will force thought and effect the astral and ethereal planes, it works in multiple dimensions and layers of consciousness. It can be seen as a way to strengthen the will and intention, as a tool to bring forth that what one wills.
A door in the sky is an apt expression and the title of a book by A.K. Coomaraswamy about myth and meaning. A ritual is often a reminder or re-enactment of myths, both follow the archetypical patterns and symbolism, the projection of the above in the below, initiation and revelation of truth. Sacrifice, as the main act in many rituals, is seen a specific human activity, the Vedas tell us that man is the only animal that can perform a sacrifice (and be a sacrifice too!).
The ritual is not, as some state it, so much a metaphor for conscious living, it is more a peak in conscious relating to the wider or ultimate reality. It is a way of transcending mundane existence and routine behavior, with a sense of meaning and direction, it gives at its best a jump in consciousness, transformation, social alchemy and a deep connection, at its worst a structure and stability to the participant. For the sage or hermit living in the woods rituals have little meaning as they seek to reach heavens more directly and by the inner road, for the active folks in the world a ritual is a proper way to contact the other world.
Ritual as an experience; beyond theories
Although is this essay I try to construct models and postulate theoretical explanations, I also have to admit that those are of a different order than the experience. The experience of a ritual is always more than what can be put in scientific models, theories or even poetic words. It escapes rational description, doesnt follow our normal cause and effect relationships and resembles much more what we experience looking at great art, listening to great music or eating an excellent dinner, it is a sensual thing.
We can bring together fact and stories, interpretations and theories, as I do in this essay, but its never more than a map of the moon, the moon itself is of a different order. As Jules Henri Poincaré explained in 1908: Science is built up of facts, as a house is with stones. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house. And to honour empiricists like David Hume, who in fact was not denying deeper meaning but just pointing out that it is so hard to separate the observer from what really happens, I agree impression is what matters, ideas are just constructions of the mind. There are things we cannot comprehend, not because science hasnt solved it, but because it is beyond the material world and it is scientifically (objectively) impenetrable. Of course, there are the philosophical materialists, take Carl Sagans view of the material world as all there is, or ever was, or ever will be. They agree that everything can or at least should be described in terms of chance and impersonal natural law without reference to any sort of transcendent intelligence or mind. To them, ideas are epiphenomena ofmatter. At the end of this essay, I come back to Ray Kurzweils vision about these matters.
So whatever theories or conclusions I come to, they carry with them a very personal interpretation and colouring, they are at best filtered and constructed ideas.
The efficacy of ritual: links, means and ways
The basic ingredients of a ritual are prayer, offerings, chanting, recitation, role-playing with at the level of specifics hymns, silent praying, oblations, libations, charms, consecration, formalized spells and visualizations, breath, movements, smoking, eating and drinking, posture, manipulation, orientation, colors, forms, symbols, etc. Sometimes the liturgy is specified to the minutest detail, like in the Vedas, sometimes it is more free. Sometimes it is just a small routine, like saying thanks before eating, sometimes it is an extended sacrament with many routines.
The explanations as why or how rituals work range from therapeutic release to social power-play to morphogenetic fields, their mere survival for sometimes thousands of years however suggest they did and do work. Calling it superstition, as J.C. Frazer did, or kind of limiting the goal of a ritual to the performance itself like F. Staal kind of ignores the fact, that many people all through the ages believed and believe they work, that a ritual will bring real effects. They are supported and stimulated in that belief by their (organised or not) religion. We can forgive Frazer c.s. that they would call the rituals and religious customs beyond the then seen as civilised world as primitive, a century later we have to accept that all religions, cults and denominations are on equal footing in that they are to be respected as genuine expressions of a belief system. And if religions, of course including Christianity, Judaism, Islam and all the other world-religions honour ritual, they must have some value. Even if one comes form a totally agnostic point-of-view, then the psychological effects of ritual cannot be denied. One might call them delusional, self-hypnotic, illusionary, but they do have an effect, at least upon the participants and their inner worlds, their psyche.
A ritual works or it doesnt, depending on purpose, intention, performance, actors, the divine will and grace, timing and the myriad of details to be observed, in this study I can only point out the few underlying mechanisms and models that were in the literature or otherwise revealed to me, no doubt a particular mix of projection, interpretation and explanation.
A ritual is both an end and a means. Performing a ritual is an end in itself and yet serves other purposes too. Frits Staal, one of the foremost authorities on Vedic Fire-rituals, posed that a ritual has no meaning, in that one performs it for itself and it doesnt matter whether all those hymns and gestures are empty of meaning, just doing it is enough. Rituals in his view are no folkloristic events serving the gods and expressing myth, but help us structure our lives. A ritual is organizing our activities in a certain way and forms the basis of scientific thought. He points at the rituals of animals, they existed long before language or myths existed. He sees mantras not as texts with deep meaning, but as ritual sounds without a meaning, maybe even the precursor of human language.
A more magical interpretation however is that there is an often hidden but at a deeper level clear meaning and intention in all and every part of a ritual. Maybe this is corrupted through time or misinterpretation, translation or tinkering, but basically I do see a ritual as a meaningful act. Its efficacy spans the inner world of the participants, sacrificer and beneficiaries, but also the outer, tangible reality and the unseen spirit world.
A ritual works or it doesnt, depending on purpose, intention, performance, actors, the divine will and grace, timing and the myriad of details to be observed, in this study I can only point out the few underlying mechanisms and models that were in the literature or otherwise revealed to me, no doubt a particular mix of projection, interpretation and explanation.
A ritual is both an end and a means. Performing a ritual is an end in itself and yet serves other purposes too. Frits Staal, one of the foremost authorities on Vedic Fire-rituals, posed that a ritual has no meaning, in that one performs it for itself and it doesnt matter whether all those hymns and gestures are empty of meaning, just doing it is enough. Rituals in his view are no folkloristic events serving the gods and expressing myth, but help us structure our lives. A ritual is organizing our activities in a certain way and forms the basis of scientific thought. He points at the rituals of animals, they existed long before language or myths existed. He sees mantras not as texts with deep meaning, but as ritual sounds without a meaning, maybe even the precursor of human language.
A more magical interpretation however is that there is an often hidden but at a deeper level clear meaning and intention in all and every part of a ritual. Maybe this is corrupted through time or misinterpretation, translation or tinkering, but basically I do see a ritual as a meaningful act. Its efficacy spans the inner world of the participants, sacrificer and beneficiaries, but also the outer, tangible reality and the unseen spirit world.
There are some aspects and situations where rational cause and effect play a role, but the deeper workings and effectiveness of a ritual are mostly hidden and in a sense opposing the Western logic and worldview. The meaning of a ritual is therefore dependent on ones perspective.
For sure the psychological aspects of a ritual are very important, if the participants and spectators go home with a feeling of well-being, of connectedness and wholeness, much has been achieved. These psychological effects might derive from the contact with archetypal energies at unconscious and subconscious levels, the (mass- or auto-)hypnotic effects of repetitious chants, dances, hymns or prostrations, the sharing and communion with others in the ritual, the release of traumatic energies, inner priority reshuffling, or whatever mechanism psychology dreams up. It does work, and even the most rational scientist will admit that feeling good has many beneficial effects on the body, which might (partly) explain the healing so often resulting from rituals.
Rituals usually have a social aspect as they bring the devotees together and establish the clerical and social hierarchy and often a base of income for the priests. Rituals provide structure and if done regularly a certain discipline, they offer a chance for individual healing and conversion. Clyde Kluckhohn sees the function of a ritual as the discharge of emotion of individuals in socially accepted channels and certainly excessive feasting and fertility rites have that aspect, but the social is usually not the main purpose of a ritual.
There is clearly the transcendence of time, as rituals are a link between past, present and future. Ritual and ceremonies often have their roots in the original creation metaphysics, they echo the primordial acts and mythical prototypes. Repetition is important, Mircea Eliade sees myths, rituals and symbols as a complex system of affirmations expressing the ultimate reality notions of a people. In his view reality acquires significance by its relation with the unseen, it is a function of the imitation of the celestial paradigm. This feels as a somewhat limited view, excluding the human co-creational role, as ritual can also be used to change reality or our notion of it and definitely plays a role in the social power structure.
Personal development is often the purpose of a ritual, whether it be as a stage of initiation or just learning more about rituals and how they work. Doing rituals is a journey in itself, a journey of discovering the working of consciousness and its various states. This can be a lengthy process with many mistakes, invoking the wrong energies and getting results not anticipated. It is therefore a risky path, better taken with patience, good guides and with some study. Colin Low uses the image of a horse: anyone can get on the back of a wild mustang, but reaching the point where horse and rider go in the same direction at the same time takes practice.
The theoretical foundation for most magical practices is a belief in correspondences, or hidden relationships among entities within the universe especially between human beings and the external world...The theory of correspondences affirms the power of thought to confer reality on products of the imagination, particularly when these thoughts are expressed through significant symbols. 1997 Encarta Encyclopedia.
The concept of correspondences is a central notion in magic and rituals and has deep roots. Although the consciousness of the participants is the main platform, correspondences are very important tools. I actually like the word link better than correspondences because it has an association with cyberspace and Ted Nelsons hypertext links as used in Internet links. A correspondence (identification) is a symbolic, semantic or associative relation or link between two or more substances, energies, words, objects or ideas that effects each other and can be used to manipulate them in the ritual context.
What happens to the one carries over to the other.
Notably the manipulation of the outside world from within the ritual world hinges on the use of these links and thus bears on the result of a ritual; these are the magical cause/effect mechanisms. They link the different worlds and as above, below is one way of stating that, working with witnesses in homeopathic Radionics another example of this principle. There are extensive lists of correspondences and they are often used in rituals, like the spirits/Gods related to the quarters are linked to certain stones, names, incantations, herbs, animals, colors, body parts, numbers, symbols, etc. These links, and there are many at different levels, establish a certain order in the seen and unseen universe, they are the framework of the magical worldlier. Many are highly symbolic, but the true meaning often remains hidden to the uninitiated. Some links are more effective or more resonating than others, but there are always the higher resonances that also influence the outcome of magical acts like rituals.
Usually correspondences are given as related to the numerals and arranged in layers. There are the binaries or dualities, like in feminin/masculine, earth/heaven, yin/yang, moon/sun; not only are they powerful in themselves, but often there is a spirit or deity pair representing these dualities like Cerridwen/ Cernunnos or Isis/Osiris. Other numerals have their own correspondences like for three the Hindu Gods Brahma (creator),Vishnu (preserver) and Shiva (destroyer), the Christian Trinity, the alchemical Salt, Sulfur, Mercury.
Such links or correspondences are hidden; not usually detected through normal cognition, but can be found or realized by way of special knowledge, methods and training. Here a central phrase is Ya evam veda from the Vedic Brahmanas; meaning that the magical power resides by the one who knows thus referring to the higher knowledge and the way of knowing these hidden links. Whether knowledge of the correspondences gives the magical power or those with the power will gain the understanding and knowledge of the correspondences is an interesting issue. Obviously they go hand in hand, but will for instance initiation bring increased understanding or is learning and study the way to achieve the higher wisdom?
Correspondences are the links that make things happen, across the worlds and dimensions. The concept of resonance is very useful here, as it has a physical meaning (in wave theory and also in quantum and particle physics) but also applies to non tangible connections.
Magic is resonance in my view is the basic law of all magic (and of all reality one might say) and the links or correspondences are the resonances through all dimensions, time, space, the world of ideas and the world of spirit.
Mysticism and magic
One of the processes of ritual is to achieve oneness with the divine, for an individual or the community. This can happen via trance-states and sometimes exuberant emotional explosions, but also at a very quiet, individual level. The occurrence of such states, either in the form of possession or medium-like trance or as a mystical state of unity with the all, is mostly seen as a gift, grace bestowed upon us. Maybe it is good to dive a little bit deeper into mysticism, as rituals are definitely one way to prepare oneself for mystical experiences. Many people report that participating in rituals and ceremonies has elevated them into a higher state of consciousness and given them sometimes extraordinary experiences. Often they get in touch with what they perceive as ultimateor deeper layers of reality, whether in their inner or outer world.
There is the philosophical school of duality, with God and the spirit (in the sense of a consciousnes) operating outside the material world. But if God and spirit operate outside the material world and have no effect on it, then what do we care, perhaps we can safely ignore them altogether and why perform rituals at all, except as some kind of autohypnotic therapy. On the other hand, if God/Spirit/Consciousness does affect and interact with the material world, maybe even is the underlying matrix, then there must be a way to interact. Why not define ritual as precisely that, a way to interact with the underlying matrix, the implicate order in whatever form (projection/illusion) we choose?
Maybe it is good to mention here, that gods, goddesses, angels, elementals and such might have a real existence or at least represent real energies, but that many believe they are only the creation of the (human) consciousness which creates and sustains them. Either way, in ritual we consider them to be there. It is the conjunction of the symbol and the person that will bring forth the change in consciousness.
These higher states of consciousness, and there are many names associates to them, from enlightenment to satori, are hard to describe, as they are usually very personal experiences. Consciousness no doubt is, for incarnate humans, related to what happens in our brain as modern brain-research has often demonstrated by showing the particular brain patterns of electrical activities in the brain generated in various states of consciousness. However, the conclusion that therefore consciousness resides in the brain, that the meat computer in our head is solely responsible for what we are, do, experience, think, as materialists state, is quite controversial. Seeing humans as machines, as La Mettrie and more recently Marvin Minsky and Daniel Dennet do, accepting mere matter to account for human mentality, reduces mind to matter.
People like Ray Kurzweil, who describes himself as a patternist, have a notion or rather dream of spiritual machines capable of consciousness, but this, according to their critics like Prof. William Dembski reduces the richness of the real world and spirituality to computational absurdity. Mind over matter, as the magically inclined believe, or mind reduced to matter, as materialist do, that is the question. According to Kurzweil, evolution is on a clear track and will soon include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, downloading the brain and lead to immortal software-based humans. For me, Kurzweil himself is a magician, on a Faustian path to recreate a Golem. His work, however, serves an important goal, namely that we have to seriously tackle ethical questions about computers, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and such.
Consciousness is at the root of reality, even the physicists now accept that. Change consciousness and you will change reality! A principal function of (magical) ritual is therefore to cause changes in consciousness. Manipulation or even shifting of consciousness is what matters, the symbols and ritual scenario are only tools, what matters is the state of mind (or better soul) of those involved.
However, the principle of limitation is, according to Colin Low, a key to understanding the structure of magical ritual and a key to successful practice. In a ritual we enter into a state of expanded consciousness and can channel the energies involved, but we have to be careful to limit and focus that, with minimal side-effects.
In the extensive literature about mysticism there are a lot of subjective descriptions of whatever
Zaehener, according to A. Bär , classifies mystical experiences in three groups:
- Pantheistic, the oneness experience, a feeling that all is one, God in everything, love as the binding force
- Monistic, feeling that the human soul is identical with the Godhead, one is God, Atman is Brahman, God is inside
- Theistic, the connection with a transcendent Godhead, far above us and different from man, but connected to by the eternal soul.
In most descriptions, at best a reminiscence of the experience and almost all mystics emphasize that the experience itself is beyond words, all these three forms figure. However, as some traditions have a theological
Another grouping in nature-related versus religious-related mystical experiences.
Here the phrase: love is the key, truth is the goal, one is the prize comes to mind, expressing that the oneness cannot be demanded; only welcomed. There are different levels and forms of unity; sometimes one reaches unusual levels of lucidity and prophetic or oracle-like understanding.
Lets now apply these notions of ritual to Fire. Transformation is in the air, its time for a change, the ecological, cultural and philosophical chaos is evident. Rituals are a way to develop shared understanding and as fire is the most transformational element, why not use fire as the base for a bridging ritual, honoring old and new, East and West.
The Fire-ritual: transformation
A fire-ritual is especially appropriate in times of change and chaos, when transformation is needed and in a world, where fire is everywhere.
Fire, as one of the essential elements, has a special role in the relationship between man and the other world, between this and that, between inner and outer reality. Fire is in itself a deity or elemental force of natures order, but is also the natural bridge between the worlds, linking the natural and the supernatural, the sacred and the mundane.
In our modern world, fire is everywhere, it drives our cars, gives us electricity, propels our planes, it is more omnipresent than ever before, we have a symbiotic relation with fire. It has become the central active principle in our world of combustion, incandescence, without fire modernity would be a pretty uncomfortable state. Light, directly and indirectly related to fire, is becoming more and more the basis of our communication networks.
Fire thus symbolizes transformation and change, it offers catharsis and can act as a catalyst in transformation processes in ourselves and society. It therefore deserves a special place at meetings or events where people come together to honor the spirit, especially in a world torn by ecological and human violence and terror, lacking a clear direction.
The erotic and sexual connotations of fire are many, the fire of love is a metaphor we encounter in many a poem. Fertility rites usually have a fire aspect and it is not wise to ignore the arousal stemming from a fire. There are few natural occurrences as erotic as a volcano, and the fire in our loins is a well known metaphor. The rising of the kundalini energy around our spine feels like a fire and we recognize the caduceus as a symbol of that process.
Amidst the many forms that religions, cults or individuals have developed to honor the fire and use it as an intermediary in their communication with spirits, some universal themes recur and are used as the basis of the general fire-ritual described here.
The reason to address the use of fire and fire ritual in this way is that at many occasions, sometimes at large gatherings like Burning Man in Nevada, Rainbow, the Firedance festival and at many alternative festivals, the fire has become part and parcel of the festivities, but is not always honored in the proper way. Especially when many different nationalities, people and nations come together, it is important to give the fire its proper place for all to partake and understand.
Fire-rituals are very basic, most traditions honor and venerate fire, often in connection with the sun. The role of fire, the care for the fire and its worships has probably evolved over time, especially in relation to the male/female role patterns. Sociologists like J. Goudsblom have described the role of fire in the civilization process. In most societies the sacerdotal (priestly) role is now strictly male, but in the hunter-gatherer and pastoral societies no doubt the women had to take care of the fire, tending and preserving this essential resource. In settler societies the hearth remained the domain of the woman, for warmth and cooking, also keeping the healing role in female hands. As the art of fire-making developed, seemingly men assumed the role of fire-makers and even excluded women from participating. Fire is of course also the destroyer, there were some great fires of history like London and Chicago. This aspect of destruction and renewal we see in the Phoenix, but also in the image of Shiva.
Traditions like the native Americans (Indians) have a great respect for the fire. Their ceremonies around the fire, the sweat lodge and the pipe are certainly valid and a good starting point, but there are other and very old and refined fire-rituals that deserve a place too.
The first hymn of the Rig-Veda is devoted to Agni, the divine fire. The Greek gave fire a big place in their mythology, both as in the good smith/transformer Hephaistos and as the hell-fire of Hades. Moses was guided by a pillar of fire during the nights in the desert. There are the old Persian Mithras-cult, the comprehensive Vedic Agni-rituals, Buddhist Goma/Homa fire rituals, Egyptian Earth/Star fire-worship, Irish Bridged festivals, the Slavic Kupalo solstice and the Aztec and Mayan New Fire ceremony every 52 years, the Phoenix and Promethian myths, the volcanic Pele-worship of Hawaii, the Celtic Beltane and Samhain, the middle column of the Kabbalah as the pathway of fire, but even today bonfires are very common.
In the Vedic tradition, the fire-god Agni is both a deity and the way to address the other gods.
The Sanskrit word for fire is Tejas, also meaning life-power, energy, beauty, dignity, seed. Homa is Sanskrit for Fire-ritual.
The Tarot card associated with Fire is Judgment, where the newborn rises from a coffin.
A much used fire symbol is a triangle pointing upwards.
How can we incorporate these traditions into a more universal fire-ritual befitting our times and multi-cultural society? If one perceives this central element of our lives as a divine entity, as most cultures do, what would be an appropriate setup to honor it at times, when we do take a few steps back, reviving our connection with the elements fire, water, earth and air?
We can look at the older traditions and try to discern the general principles of their fire-rituals to establish a new and maybe more general form of a fire-ritual, practical and yet respectful of what our ancestors so clearly considered important and sacred. Meaning, purpose come first, then we will look at the liturgic scenario.
We have then to look at the different levels of meaning a ritual has, the psychological and social, the literal, the moral, the allegorical, the symbolic/anagogic (mystical) and the transcendental/magical. The French philosopher Gaston Bachelor wrote about it, analysing the imagination of matter and the literary, poetic qualities of fire and the flame. He saw a simple flame as a strong symbol, a moral communication with the world, a reverie linking our heart with the vertical destiny. He calls fire the ultra-living element, intimate and universal, offering the warmth of love. He mentioned the Prometheus complex, the Empedocles Complex and sexualised fire in his Psychoanalysis of Fire.
Meaning is of course based on the signs (text, words, images, movements) used, but also on the context and in the case of specific rituals on the initiation level and the cultural literacy of the participants. Are they aware of the symbolism, the sensitivities, the umfeld? Meaning is (in the semiotic view) very much a relational thing and in the case of a ritual extends into the subconscious, archetypical and spiritual realms. Cultural differences can easily be overlooked and when staging an event with cross-cultural participation effective communication about intentions and form is necessary, purity of intent is not enough.
The importance of ritual as a community event and its influence on the communal and individual psyche has been mentioned already, just note that fire as the source of warmth, light and protection is the very natural focus of a community. Fire of course gives light and warmth, can be used to cook, for healing and to scare away predators or insects, and we know also that watching a fire can both calm and relax body and mind or arouse the senses.
In many ancient rituals the literal meaning of the chants and the words is often lost or no longer understood by the participants or officiants, but that doesnt seem to bother them much, the other levels of meaning are more important and as long as the combination of sounds, movements and acts are in line with the perceived purpose and intention of the ritual is has value.
The moral meaning of fire is that it is dangerous, represents energy and passion and can burn evil (hell and purgatory) in ourselves and our enemies, but also represents transformation power.
The symbolic and mystical meaning comes from the deeper notions about function, form and outline of the fire. Symbols derived from the fire are a spoken wheel, concentric circles, the Arabic flame in the tent, the pentecostal spirit-flame, the sun-image and the colors of red and yellow/gold and white.
The allegorical meaning of fire is first and foremost its quality of purification and transformation, but it also resembles the sun (the father) and the original creation. The Phoenix myth of rebirth from the fire is a good example, one can also be baptized in the fire.
As for the trancendental/magical qualities of a fire ritual, the notion of fire as the mouth/ear of the gods, as the window or doorway to the heavens, as the connection between the seen and the unseen gives us a broad idea as what one aims for or can be achieved. The fire (or the smoking of a pipe) itself can be seen as an intermediary (the original role of Agni) or as a divinity itself.
As for the efficacy of a ritual, much hinges on the belief of the participants, if you believe it works, it works.
To validate en enhance this belief however, it is necessary that the levels of meaning are aligned and point in the same direction. If one tries to achieve peace and harmony, it doesnt make sense to stage a conflict and use violent symbolism, except when in the initial stage the evil forces have to be scared off. Similarly a war dance can do without the soft appeasements. One can assume that connection and harmonization, the coordination between the tangible and the virtual matrix is key to the success of a ritual, in whatever terms, material or immaterial. Using the right names, the right movements, the right correspondences, even the right breath is essential.
Dangers, ethics and karma
Ritual addresses or channels a raw and potentially dangerous psychic force, so we have to be careful. We are literally playing with fire and this can turn out good or bad, there is no morality in fire as such. There is a thin line between success, and physical or psychical problems or illness.
Performing rituals comes with a sense of real or perceived power and there is an ego-attraction there that is hard to escape. For many being the center of attention is enough to make them fly, but remember the story of Prometheus. He took the fire from the Gods to bring it to the humans and give them civilization. But Hephaestus got the better of him, tied him to a crag and an eagle would eat his liver, that would regenerate everyday. Or think of Phaethon, who attempted to drive the Sun Chariot without proper knowledge, nearly causing the incineration of the Earth.
Do not bury your emotions, but neither should you elevate them to the level of dictator or ego-maniac. The obsession of self-importance and personal identity is counter-productive in ritual work. Humility is the true trait of the magus.
If we see a ritual as a magical endeavor, intention is the main attribute and the key to success in terms of both material and immaterial results (Love under will: A. Crowley). The will is the driving force, expressed in intention, but has to be aligned with the various worlds and the divine will. If love and truth are present and expressed in body, mind and heart of the people, little can go wrong. However, bad intentions by some can turn things sour, thats why in the Vedas so much attention is given to warding off black magic.
There are strong ethics involved in ritual work and magic in general. Not only do we have to be careful not to overstep the boundaries of participants and honor their cultural literacy (sensitivities, tolerance) but the purpose, intention and effects of a ritual need attention.
We can use the word Karma here, to indicate that what is done has a wider effect, it will resonate through time and all the dimensions. Apart from right or wrong we have to understand that a ritual effects, sometimes as a amplifier, many layers of the tangible and intangible realities. Start with respect for the Earth and the people, and try to extend that unto the other worlds, and you will realize that you and everybody are connected, and that what you do will come back to you, good or bad alike. Using a ritual setting and enclosure like a circle or a ritual space this (can) act as an amplifier, multiplying the energies and karma involved, this is sometimes referred to as the law of three.
As a guideline a number of correspondences of fire are given, but each of these has again correspondences, weaving a complex and magical web of relationships, which can be used to stage a ritual and decide upon the liturgical matrix.
WIND (Greek) Notus
ASSOCIATIONS Flames, lightning,
energy, spirit, will
COLOR Amer. Indian White
WEEKDAY Sunday, Tuesday
CHAKRA Manipura (solar plexus)
MYTHIC ANIMAL Phoenix
ALTAR TOOLS Candle & Athamé
TAROT Wands (Rods)
COURT CARDS Kings
PLAYING CARDS Clubs
SOLAR MIDPOINT Summer Solstice
ZODIACAL POINT Cancer
TIME OF DAY Noon
STAGE of LIFE Growth
BODY ANALOG Spirit (aura)
ATTRIBUTE Spiritual, potent
CARDINAL SIGN Aries
MUTABLE SIGN Sagittarius
FIXED SIGN Leo
ALCHEMY PROCESS Combustion
METAL Iron or Gold
JEWELS Fire Opal
PLANTS Garlic, hibiscus, onion,
pepper, nettle, mustard
TREES Almond, in flower
GODDESSES Hestia, Pelé, Vesta,
IRISH GODDESS Brigid
GODS Horus, Hephaestos,
Vulcan, Loki, Agni
MAGICAL POWER To Will
In most fire-rituals emphasis is on a clean or new fire, not taken from an existing source or from a source with special meaning. A clean fire starts with creating a spark from flint, chafing wood, using a magnifying glass or special object (like the crystal skull in the Mayan presumably used in their New Fire ritual), but sometimes fire from a volcano or a lightning fire is used. At Samhain (Nov. 1) existing fires are put out, a new (Kings) fire lit and the new fire is then transferred to other fires and hearths. In that sense one can have mother and daughter fires.
Fire comes in many forms and in ritual terms with specific identities, like fire from lightning, fire from a holy fire that has been kept burning for a long time, fire from a household fire, funeral pyre fire, volcanic fire, new or clean fire that comes from flint or churning wood sticks, fire from the sun by way of a magnifying glass, in some Farsi rituals 18 different kinds of fire are to be brought together. The lesson here is that fire cannot be treated as an impersonal thing, every fire has a source and personality, definitely an awareness and needs to be respected, fed and honored. Mixing fires should be avoided, unless for a specific purpose. The question whether a fire has self-conscious awareness is hard to answer, I dont think that is the case.
A fire has, for all practical and magical purposes, a personality, an identity, in the old tribal and nomadic communities one often identified oneself as belonging to this or that fire. A good way to honor a particular fire is to name it and use that name in addressing it in the ritual. That name can be the name of a general fire divinity, like Agni, but can be more specific and personal too.
It is obvious that there is a difference between fires. Not only in physical characteristics, colors, size and what feeds the fire, but in origin, in the magic qualities, the energy level. To differentiate between the various levels and energy forms is quite a virgin territory and one could adopt many models and structures.
However, if we assume that all fundamental manifestations have the same divine origin, I here suggest a body classification, similar to the energy levels/bodies of a human being with a physical and mental body (the sphere of abstract knowledge and concrete thinking, the realm of Forms), then the subtle levels with an etheric/vital/prana body and non-physical bodies like the Astral but without the human Causal/Ideational body. The human causal body is the seat of the Soul, the timeless, spiritualised agent supposedly behind sequential human incarnations. In a fire there is awareness of source and lineage and thus something like a fifth level body, but not enough to ascribe anything like a soul to it. This also excludes the parallels to the human Buddhic and Atmic bodies of even higher spiritual frequency or the Monadic or Cosmic planes.
The Etheric body is the repository of the life-force or vitality principle (variously called chi, ki, prana, vayu, pneuma, orgone, libido, etc. with some references to the electromagnetic nature of it) for the entire psycho-physical organism of a human being. This life-force is often identified with the breath, and hence we find the term for the soul or spirit (in this case, actually the Etheric body) in many cultures having breath or wind as their primary meaning: e.g. ruah, psuche, pneuma, anima, spirtus, atma, etc etc. The Etheric body is also the level of the subtle anatomy of chakras, nadis, meridians and the energy centers or chakras. Clairvoyants and sensitives see the etheric body as a weblike structure, in constant motion. Concerning a fire, clairvoyant vision observes an etheric-like and pulsating body extending the physical manifestation of the fire.
The Astral body, also the emotional or desire body is made up of that psychic stratum which we experience subjectively as physical and emotional desires and selfish needs, it forms the basic formative dimension for emotions as polarized expressions. It is a kind of psychic or spirit body, which is the body one exists in during the Out of Body Experience (OBE) or Astral travelling. This body can thus separate from the lower bodies and consciously journey to other worlds and realms. The Astral body of a fire can be perceived as the mood of the fire, it can be selfish and temperamental and needs to be addressed in a ritual to appease it and reach the higher energy levels where the magic becomes manifest. Like in OBE the frequency of the astral body of the fire needs to be increased for it to separate from the physical and make the connections we are looking for.
In order to quantify the energy levels, I adopt a method similar to the Bovis scale grading of the subtle energies of water, using a pendulum/dowsing method. The scale used is obviously arbitrary, I will call it the FSE for Fire Subtle Energy scale. A simple candle, lit without any special care, scores an FSE of 20, a careful lit candle or wick reaches 60, the maximum one could reach with a candle as far as general FSE is concerned, is about 130. However, if the intention is made very specific, either aimed at a person or a narrowly defined goal, higher values can be achieved. The fire of a normal stove is about 25 FSE, an industrial heater reaches 30 FSE. An open fireside or hearth starts at 40 FSE, but again the intention and care will bring it up. A campfire out in the open starts at 50 FSE, using very good wood brings it up to 80, but it is the intention and caring that will raise the FSE value. A public bonfire, tended by public officials and firemen makes 400 FSE. Even minimal ritual procedure will bring any fire up to 500 FSE and an average Wiccan fire reaches 1800 FSE. The average fire used in a western sweatlodge ceremony scores 3000 FSE, a sweatlodge fire with American Indian firetending and procedure reaches 8000 FSE. A special fireceremony lasting a couple of days will like the Firedance ceremony in the USA will bring the level from 7000 the first night to 17000 FSE after a few days of dancing and ceremony. A volcano like Hawaiis Pele is 50.000 FSE and the World Trade Center disastrous 9/11 fire, obviously with a lot of intention, reached 12.000 FSE. An atomic bomb is, somewhat surprisingly, only 8.000 FSE. The fire in our human system is normally around 20, but will go up with techniques like firebreath to 150 FSE.
The model here developed would also apply to water, earth and the other elements. In fact a similar yardstick indicates the energy of a place or sacred space, the ESE of Earth Subtle Energy scale. In a fire ritual, a high ESE will promote a high FSE value and thus a more beneficial or powerful fire.
Purpose - goal- processes
There are many reason for a ritual, from just obeying the tradition via very practical and material goals like winning a war or obtaining material goods to healing, devotion and spiritual advancement. Changing consciousness or reaching other states of consciousness is an important part of a ritual, as a goal by itself or as a way to achieve other goals being in that state, having access to forces and contacts otherwise not possible. The question is how do we achieve those goals, what actions and modes help us to get there? As a broad description ritual as a process aims at shifting the consciousness, creating more unity, forging a connection between worlds, expanding our awareness.
To set up a generalized structure or matrix for a ritual, one has to distinguish between the different processes of a ritual:
· Celebration/ Commemoration
· Healing / Blessing / Shielding
· Devotion / Offering
· Communion Sacrifice
· Manipulation of reality
Purification is usually part of a ritual to clean oneself from sins or bad karma, water and fire are both used for this, again in connection with prayer, chanting etc. Not only the participants but also the tools and implements need to be cleaned and purified. In the purification often (salted) water, complementing the fire, is used, but also smoke from sage, representing air.
Celebration as in drumming up the good spirits and having a party in itself is purpose enough and the ritual setting lift it above the level of after work drinks. Marriage, funerals, coming of age etc. are rituals and should be celebrated in the proper setting. Celebration can take many forms and a fire adds that special flavor of transformation and renewal. Music, songs, feasting, dancing, masks, dress-up, nearly everything is appropriate. Commemoration of historic events or figures and of the rhythms in nature like the start of seasons, equinoxes etc. is the root purpose of many rituals and usually connection to certain myths.
Healing, of body and soul is also a common purpose of a ritual. In many cultures it is seen as a by-product of purification, getting rid of evil spirits or spells, but often the process of healing is more complex and a purpose in itself. Shielding and protection against evil influences can be seen as part of this process, with blessing as the way to call forth the good and positive. The use of spells as a tool in this respect is quite common, but is really a ritual class in itself.
Worship; there is the general devotional kind of ritual (Bhakti in the Vedic tradition) just honoring the deity or spirit without asking for anything, just thanking for the good we have received and regretting the sins we have committed. This can be done by simple prayer, chanting, prostrations or offerings and most important, by silence. Silence is one of the most powerful tools in any ritual!
Communion with the spirits, other participants and the community is a central theme. The communication with the spirit, asking for favors of a material or immaterial kind by sacrifice is a common aspect. Here the offerings become sacrifice, a gift in order to obtain something in return. The communication is twoway, as oracle signs or divination are interpreted as an answer of the spirit(s). Invocation or conjuration of major spirits, in the case of a fire ritual, is less appropriate as the spirits are supposed to be present anyway at a ritual at their honor, but they of course can and should be welcomed.
Sacrifices and offerings are a central act in religion (and magic), and even as we have limited the more bloody aspects of sacrifice in our modern world, nearly all religions still incorporate sacrificial notions. Sacrifice is a way to communicate with world of the gods, the unseen. The word sacrament, used for the core rituals (sometimes involving ingestion of a substance) in a religion, underlines this.
Already Plato saw sacrifices as communion with the Gods and divination as their answer. In Vedic ritual, the offering material, the deity, and the act of offering (libation/oblation) are the three main aspect of a sacrifice. (dravyam devata tyagah). A further step is the communion as in uniting with the divine, partaking in the consecration, even eating the transmuted sacrifice to achieve this communion.
Transformation of the participants is an essential process related to fire. It often comes down to reaching for a higher level of consciousness or power in the outer or the inner world. In Alchemical terms it is using the secret fire of transmutation. The alchemical qualities of fire are well known, in fire rituals the transformation can be magical, psychological and/or social, but a funeral rite is of course also fairly practical. Rites of passage and initiations often use fire. Usually there is a physical but highly symbolic act, one has to take a step, make a move, cross a bridge. Jumping over the fire, through a fire-arch, or walking its hot ashes, juggling fire; the fire helps to transform and to achieve something new and better, a higher state. Burning old cloths or paraphernalia in order to be ready for a new set is a good example of such a symbolic act, a strong signal to the subconscious that change is happening.
Ascension is rising up to the divine level, in many cases entering the realm of the spirit in a trance-like state. Here the fire is more than a window, it is a doorway to heaven. One goes through the fire into another state or world. Descent is usually part of the ritual sequence, going to the underworld, facing death, but coming up again, regenerated, ready for celestial ascent. In the shamanic type of ritual the trance aspect (doorway) is usually the most important, the shaman makes the trip to the other world on behalf of his people or client(s).
Manipulation of reality
Many rituals aim at influencing the world around, helping the participants, fixing problems, achieving specific material and immaterial goals. From improving relationships, healing, winning wars to making rain, there is much we need and want. Here the ritual truly becomes magical, as in cooking the world which is what Brahmans are supposed to do. Just remember that there is always the divine will, which supersedes our human will, so the outcome of a ritual in this sense is uncertain.
The processes of a ritual are often mixed in the practical liturgy and some show up at various stages, purification and dedication are often repeated. Sometimes a ritual is limited to offering, worship, celebration, commemoration or communion, sometimes trance (entering the spirit realm) is the main process.
There are other classifications and structures of rituals, like the use of the chakras as an outline. Starting with the root chakra for earthing and working up to the crown chakra and back down one can focus the energy and achieve a kundalini-like structure of a ritual. By concentrating on one chakra like in some tantric rituals more specific effects can be achieved. Alice Bailey saw the bridging of the three lower chakras and the three higher chakras as an important step to achieve wholeness.
Aleister Crowley used the seven Chinese tattwas or energy modes, related to breath patterns, as a basis for ceremonial magickal rites.
Ceremonial Magic(k) in the strict sense is the ancient art of invoking and controlling spirits through the use of certain formulae. Ceremonial Magick is a transcendental experience that awakens the magician to his inner Divinity, taking him into mystical realms and into communication with the Higher Self.
Ritual Matrix - liturgy
There are many elements that make up a ritual, we could describe the whole thing as a matrix. The ritual matrix consist of an inner and outer part. The outer, tangible matrix involves liturgic scenario, its preparation and execution, timing based on celestial circumstances, the sacrificer(s) and the sacerdotal crew (priests/helpers), the ritual enclosure, the implements and tools, the sacrifice materials, the spectator/devotee crowd and its social setting. Then there is the virtual, inner matrix of private purpose and intention, consciousness shifts or jumps, magical visualization, internalized prayers, alliances and foeships with the unseen world and the karmic circumstances.
All religions emphasize that the inner and outer should be aligned for a ritual to be effective.
One often sees three spheres or worlds involved in a ritual:
o A: the real (sensed) world outside
o B: the ritual enclosure
o C: the unseen or spirit world, which includes heaven, hell and purgatory, but also the astral and other higher planes. (Sometimes one divides the unseen in an upper and underworld, with the sensory world in between)
B is a projection/analog of both, forming the connection between the two worlds, it can also be seen as the focal point, the mirror point between the two worlds, the center where all become one in the ritual. The ritual enclosure is in both worlds. The ritual is connecting A and C and frequently refers and joins the two worlds with formulas, chants, mantras, sacrifice, oblations, libations, consecration, benediction, dedication etc. usually with the analogy, orientation, movement very precisely prescribed.
One to many, many into one
Out of respect for monotheistic traditions it is appropriate also to declare that the One appears in the Many and that honoring the many is honoring the manifold aspects of the One. Although usually a number of energies is addressed during a fire-ritual it is good to mention the notion, that there is but one overriding principle, the unnameable, that we address and worship in all these forms.
Rituals usually have a take-off (separation), a transformation (transition) and re-entry structure (incorporation), but for a large ritual we need to specify the different stages in more detail. There is a logical sequence, but not all the stages are necessary. For instance one can have one ritual to ignite the central fire of a larger festival, then bring that fire to all the fires of the festival, as a uniting energy and use the same fire source to ignite an effigy (like The Man in Burning Man) in a special ritual. Using the same fire-source throughout a festival is a great symbol of connectedness.
The liturgic scenario
A ritual can be seen as a sequence of actions with a symbolic meaning. The scenario of a magical or religious ritual is usually fairly formalized and has distinct stages. A rather extensive fire ritual would comprise of the following stages, that are related to the above mentioned purposes, but set in a liturgic scenario and logical order. Not all the stages are necessary in every fire ritual, but this is a kind of manual for setting up a ritual.
Preliminary preparation (of materials and sacrifices)
Ordination of sacrificer, master of ceremony (priest), fire-chief and helpers
Permission asking (of the spirits and owners of the land) and invitation-welcoming
Cleaning the site Staking or casting the ritual enclosure (circle or square)
Preparation of altar and fire(s)
Processions around and closing the circle, sometimes including the attendance in a wider enclosure.
Entrance into the circle by participants
Dedication of the altar, fire-wood, utensils, tools and sacrifices
Honoring the four quarters, the sky and the earth (the vertical axis mundi) and the inner dimension.
Lighting the fire, ignition
Naming the fire and dedication of its main purpose (and at the same time renunciation)
Opening the Gates (as an additional layer)
Burning sage and cleansing with smoke, blessing
Devotion and worship stage:
Silent devotion of sacrificer and attendants
Hymns or songs of praise, thanks and devotion
Honoring the energies, evoke spirits
Offerings including donations
Charging and dedication of sacrifices
Sacrificial acts; consecration, libations and oblations
Invitation to participate in smoking, eating or drinking, story telling
Preparation for trance
Silent meditation and visualization
Walking the fire, jumping the fire
Trance dancing and music
Ceremonial gifts to the priests
Thanks to the spirits
Burning the implements
Closing and dissolving the Gates and the circle
Cleaning of the site
Rejoicing, celebration, the theatrical side of things, fire spinners, dancing, fireworks, etc. can be added at appropriate stages.
Some of these stages deserve more explanation, some are clear in themselves and can be interpreted, staged and carried out more freely.
There are logical steps to be taken, like asking permission, cleaning the site, but one can prepare in other ways too.
In some cultures the officiants meditate, keep a fast, sexual abstinence or take a ritual bath. Preparing the wood, the utensils, the fire-sticks, offerings etc. beforehand, purifying them with incense or water and salt. It is advisable to use or even make utensils, vessels etc. that at the end of the ritual can be burnt in the fire. Sacrifices or the vessels used should not be put on the bare ground, but always on an altar or mound, covered with grass or some cover.
If the fire is used to overcome aggression or other negative tendencies in ourselves, one can prepare by identifying this negative force as the enemy, fix it into some material object, which is then to be burned in the ritual. The Physical Fire is then symbol of the evoked power, the inner aggression, that is to be transformed. The Secret fire is the spiritual process, like the secret sun is the spiritual aspect of the sun, not necessarily the physical thing..
In order to make clear for the lay audience what is happening, it helps to have a small handout with the basic rules - like not entering the ritual enclosure or at a specific point (stepping over some small fire for purification) and the outline of the ritual and maybe some basic songs or chants. Also in making clear who are in charge of the fire, the ritual, the music etc., dressing or even painting them in a specific pattern (concentric circles or sun-wheels -cross in circle-) is helpful and appropriate. At large gatherings some kind of crowd control is necessary and escape routes, emergency planning etc. is necessary.
Permission and invitation
First ask for permission, from the people and the lower and higher spirits, that inhabit the place. Putting up an altar in many cultures means taking legal possession of the location/area. Then the audience or participants are to be invited to join and to partake of the sacrifice. This is important as taking part in a sacrifice uninvited is seen as a taboo, and there are usually levels of participation based on rank or status, like only Brahmans are allowed to drink the sacred Soma in Vedic ritual.
In a fire ritual there is no evocation or calling of the major divinities or spirits addressed, they are just welcomed, as they are ever present at rituals to their honor. Lesser spirits and Devas, especially those associated with the location, can be evoked or called. Invocation and trance (possession) are usually reserved for a later stage of the ritual, the conjuration (calling forth) of spirits and angels usually requires a more silent and introspective setting than a fire.
Dedication and renunciation
The name of the fire is optional, but it is a suggestion to seek the guardian spirits of the intended fire. There are certain angels associated with fire, like Gabriel (brings fire to human), Uriel (flame of God), Nathaniel (Lord of fire), Areal and Atuniel. The sacrificer or sacrificers -why not have representatives of nations or groups present act as such - have to state the purpose of the ritual, give the fire a name and maybe dedicate it to a special person or group.
However, it is good practice to then formally renounce this and all the personal goals stated or thought, and express to accept whatever the spirit(s) deem necessary. The goals of personal profits should be aligned with the highest good.
It is also good practice at this time to excuse oneself for any mistake in the execution of the ritual, the Vedic god to address this to is called Brhaspati, the Brahman of the gods, in Latin rites an apological sacrifice was called a piaculum .
Stating the purpose of the ritual and sacrifices, that is both positive intentions and negative (burning ego, destroy enemies, fighting chaos) is usually done by concentrating them verbally and mentally in symbolic objects, either to be offered or burned and thus transformed in the fire.
By putting the negatively charged objects into the (base of) fire (items representing or charged with enemy, ego-traits) before it is ignited these will disappear or be transformed. Other, more positive charged) substances are thrown (on top of) or oblated (poured) in the fire; these sacrifices or offerings are part of the communication with the divine/spirits.
Timing and place
You can light a fire anytime, but some times and places are better suited than others, and there are practical considerations like safety, privacy and legality (open fire is not always permitted). Many suggest that a liminal (threshold) time and place is most effective, as things are on the cusp of change, at crossroads like on the beach, on a cliff.
This goes both for celestial and human times. Full Moon, New Moon, dawn, dusk, noon, midnight, when the moon or certain stars rise above the horizon, eclipses, solstices and equinoxes, the pagan calendar (sabbaths), but also when the astrologers deem it to be a auspicious moment. Harmony is most important, and natural processes like the tides and the waning or waxing moon should be observed. The Egyptians use certain pyramidical star constellations for their Earth/Star fire rituals.
The length of a ritual varies, some Vedic rituals take weeks, but to make it practical and focused a couple of hours would do and the daily agnihotra of a Hindu might only take a few minutes.
A larger fire ritual could start about an hour before the sun goes down, so as to have the transformative stage at sunset, but doing it at dawn, welcoming the sun, has a special flavor too.
Also observe the personal calender of bio-rhythm, female cycle, etc.
The calendars play an important role, either based on the sun, the moon, the seasons or just on human events like ones birthday or the name day of a saint. Although calendars are in a way human constructions, they do bear on celestial or cosmological orders, even if we still dont understand exactly how like in the case of the Meso-American calendars of the Maya and Aztecs. They have a 260 day year (pregnancy) and an 18 month of 20 days civil calendar. There are often multiple rhythms in calendars, like the week, the month, the solar and the lunar year and these give rise to sometimes long waves, like the 18,890 day/ 52 year cycle of the Maya and the very long periods like Baktun and Katun, we are nearing the end of such a solar era, the Aztecs believed this to be the Fifth Sun era.
As for a place, there are sites where nature feels more divers, more abundant, with more variation in flora and fauna, often where there is water, at the shore, at a vantage point in the landscape, where leylines cross or special earth energies emerge. Human energy can also bring power to a place; crossroads or sites become sacred because of what people have done there, this also in the negative way.
The circle, ritual enclosure, sanctuary
A ritual circle can be very real or totally virtual. Some people prefer an imaginary border, drawn by visualization, but others prefer a physical separation. The perimeter of the ritual enclosure, usually a circle or square, can be marked by stones at the cardinal points, outlined by corn flower, painted tobacco or by sticks or twigs. One can use candles or torches or even whole altars to indicate the East (Air), South (Fire), West (Water) and North (Earth) points and the access portal, where one can enter or leave the circle.
The center directions (up/down) establish the world axis or heaven/earth. The seventh direction is the one inside, the heart, the inner sky.
For cleaning, casting and consecration of the circle or enclosure there are numerous techniques, using all kinds of tools like sweeps and wands, ropes, a sword, or just your finger tracing a real or virtual circle. However, first clean the place, maybe using a sacrificial broom. To draw a good circle, start with a wooden peg or something (symbolically to nail down the serpent of the underworld) in the middle, connect a rope, then go the marker or cornerstone of the altar in the East. Then starting in the East make a circle or square for the enclosure, bordered by flags, stones or cornflower, painted tobacco in the Indian tradition, eventually a wider (second) circle to include those spectators that want to participate as co-sacrificers. The length of the sacrificer is sometimes taken as the root for measurements.
The main focus direction of a fire ritual is usually East, the ascent to heaven is through the fire towards the East. So the sacrificial altar, even if it is no more than a small leveled area, in many traditional rituals is situated looking at the fire in the East, so to the West of the main fire, but other directions are used these days too. And dont forget the practical considerations, like the wind direction.
Every aspect of a ritual needs to be blessed and (con-)sacrated by calling the appropriate spirits, do some purification etc. This involves the site, the tools, the priests, the fire wood and sacrifices, the altar, the crowd and the ritual enclosure or circle.
Going (dancing) around the fire (usually in a circle, but sometimes the spiral form is used) is a common part of many rituals. In Hindu marriages the couple goes 3 or 7 times around the fire clockwise. Normally all movements around the fire are clockwise (deosil), with the exception of ancestor worship or the exposure of negative energies. Also at the closing of the ritual and the circle going counter-clockwise (widdershins) is appropriate.
For larger groups more circles are necessary to keep everybody within hearing range. Having dancers, musicians, jugglers each in their circle makes for more harmony and then the circles can move in opposite directions too.
Whether you call them master, queen, priests or vocalizers, there needs to be some structure to facilitate the various ritual processes and procedures. Not only the leader of the ritual, but there are other important tasks and thus officials and it helps to have their function and duties clarified beforehand. It is good to separate the practical from the sacrificial and pure ritual, things like bringing firewood or security otherwise become a distraction.
The officiating priests and other officials should be recognizable, like standing at a specific place, wearing the paraphernalia of their office. For a fire-ritual a suggestion is being dressed in red or yellow or white or have yellow/gold/red/white concentric circles painted on their costumes or heads/bodies if skyclad.
There are different functions, depending on the scope of the ritual. in the old Vedic rituals there were up to 16 priests, each with a very specific role, like the Brahman as the leader of the ritual, the Hotar as the one in charge of the Vedic hymns, the Agnidh as the fire-kindler, etc.
Usually there is at least a leader, also a kind of master of ceremonies, then a fire-chief, someone in charge of the offering/libations, musicians, drummers, etc.
Important, but usually overlooked these days, there needs to be a sacrificer or patron, the yajamana. He is initiator of the ritual, as a representative of his household, tribe or tradition and calls the name and stated purpose of the ritual, pays the priests, he is like the sponsor or producer and has a place of honor, sitting to the west with his partner(s) and close to the ritual leader, usually on a little stool.
These are again virtual doorways, created within the ritual enclosure to perform specific actions and communications. One can do without Gates and consider the circle as the main platform or doorway to communicate with the other world. However, having a separate Gate to address specific energies, which is opened and closed at specific times helps to focus the energy.
You can do without an altar, but is good to have at least a place for the tools and other attributes. The altar is the holy place in front of the fire or in the East or another appropriate direction. When placed before the fire, the fire should be in the East and the altar to the West of it.
Normally the altar is the symbolism of the center of the ritual and of the world(s), but in a fire-ritual it takes second place, unless the fire is on top of the altar. It is the (work)-place to prepare the oblations and libations, and arrange and display the devotional and charged objects, statues, pictures of divinities, your personal treasures etc. It can be adorned with crystals, thunder stone (meteor), objects should be positioned as to separate wisdom from chaos.
Special forms and patterns can be used on the altar or in building the altar. The numbers 5 (elements) or 7 (directions including the inner one) or 360 (days/nights) are used in constructing the altar. It is said he who piles the altar will conquer both worlds.
There is some reason to use the number 7 for the ritual enclosure, as in representing the seven temples in our lives: the DNA, womb, body, house, world, inner (imaginary) temple, cosmic temple (the cosmos, New Jerusalem).
For larger rituals, altars can be built at more places, like at the quarters (watchtowers) or corners. Going around the circle to the various altars then becomes a procession, with appropriate ceremonies at each altar.
A special form of an altar is when the fire is at a higher level, so one can go under the fire.
The traditional way is churning, using ancient tools and techniques like a fire-drill, chafing one piece of wood against another and during daytime a magnifying glass to take the fire from the sun. Using flint and tinder is appropriate, but remember that an ordinary lighter uses the same principle. It is the intention of creating the new and virgin fire that matters here. To transport a fire, one can carry an ember, but letting the fire die to be transferred to an object (like the fire-makers ignition gear) makes it possible to transport it more easily. The spirit of the fire is conserved in the tools.
It is always good practice, in the case of larger events with more fires, to have one mother-fire and supply the rest with fire from this one.
Sacrificing something that has value, in order to achieve a certain goal or the grace of the divine is very fundamental. The role of sacrifice in the Vedic/Hindu tradition for instance is essential, it was their way to connect the personal and the impersonal, also a way to ever renew the religion, as a personal sacrifice defies dogma and stagnation of a faith, it makes the ritual a personal meaningful event.
A sacrifice is more than a devotional offering (like flowers or fruits), it has to have exchange value or meaning, both outer and inner, so there must be a real connection with the sacrificer(s). Many things can be sacrificed, the libations of special drinks or oblations of specially prepared (on an adjoined fire) food or ghee (clarified butter) or the offering (and consuming) of the magic drink soma (made of herbs with special powers (maybe psychedelic) are commonplace. But also virtual offerings, like a vow representing a personal sacrifice, often as a token of exchange for something. When eating or drinking the part of the sacrifice that is not put into the fire, one often says may you never hunger or thirst.
The basic role model for a Brahman is Cooking the world (lokapakti) and in a fire-ritual this has a literal meaning, all sacrifices should be cooked or be put in the fire before it is lighted, although it is allowed for the audience to throw rice or grain in the fire, while the officiant makes an oblation. Mixing with milk is seen as cooking.
This is one of the reasons that there are multiple fires at a large Vedic ritual site, one of them is for preparing the sacrifice, another to fend off the demons, the main one is for the sacrifice act. One can use grain, rice, milk and herbs, and as the participants will have a helping, why not make it into a tasty soup. It is customary to eat the cooked sacrifice as part of the ritual, and there should be no leftovers, whatever is not eaten goes into the fire. For cooking or as offering dish, clay or earthenware pots or dishes are used, as they can be thrown in the fire afterwards as to leave no leftovers. Iron should not be used in the sanctuary.
Oblations are usually made by using a ladle to pour into the fire, while chanting/drumming and are done facing east, calling upon the fire (Agni) to transfer the message.
There are many more offerings that are appropriate and here the concept of correspondences is of help. Some examples:
Offering 108 bodi-tree branches (fire-sticks) representing the 108 sins as wood for the fire
An offering of gold, either powdered, foil or gold-colored foil, to be put in the altar or under the fire before it is lit.
There is the customary Hindu offering of 5 yards of silk to the priests, a small part is burned.
Offerings of this form were an elegant way of paying the priests or officiants, no money but valuables. These days, as usual in church gatherings, one can pass some container around to help cover the cost of the event.
Animal sacrifice is no longer customary, but to honor the animal world one can use hairs of animals, shells from the sea, while birds (eagle) feathers are used in many traditions as a fan for smudging or to scare away demons.
The eagle as a bird is associated with the Agni fire-ritual, it is part of the floor-plan of the altar and is expected to show up in the sky as a favorable sign.
The salamander (especially with a red belly) is another animal associated with fire, as one believed it couldnt be touched by it.
Human sacrifices are of course out of the question, but were no doubt part of many ancient rites, like the bloody rituals of the Aztecs and other Meso-American peoples. Tearing out the hearts of their victims, filling the hole with the new fire to please the sun-god, these rites were based on a very exact understanding of celestial processes like the 52 year interval of the suns combined light and magnetic cycle. Human sacrifice and even cannibalism seem to have been essential to the efficacy of the rituals in many cultures. Even Christianity has its roots in the human sacrifice of Christ and the rituals of the Church does a poor job in trying to hide that, although it is also clear that the liturgy of the Holy Mass is in part borrowed from Mithraic ceremonies of an older date. History is full of tales about human sacrifice in fire, the auto-da-fe from the Inquisition times among them, but even in our times there are occurrences of self-sacrifice and
The communion stage
This is bringing together the people and the spirit(s), bonding them and establish a link, a commun(icat)ion between them It is usually a holy moment, with people standing. Offering to the Gods by libation or oblation and then sharing the food or drink is a common way to achieve this. One can include the co-sacrificers (part or all of the public) in various ways. Like by enclosing them with a cloth or silk thread and so connect them to the officiant doing the oblations etc. But holding hands at these holy moments works as well.
By calling upon the spirits the fire is used as the channel, in many traditions any specific verbal call or address (within a song or hymn) to the spirit is therefore to be accompanied by a special gesture like an oblation, ladling the sacrifice into the fire.
At this stage, concentration and focus are important; the words, the stance, movements and even the breath is sometimes subject to the liturgical rules.
The circle is a magical symbol, with no beginning and no end and can be used in many ways in a ritual. It usually stands for the sun and in a fire ritual the combination of fire and circle emphasize the connection, the correspondence between the two. The sun is often seen as the father. The Sundance of the Plains Indians is widely known, it is a most sacred ritual, unusually inside a circular lodge, wearing Isswun (sacred hat with two horns) and a painted body, sometimes piercing occurs (Sioux). One can use a mirror as a way to connect the sun (or moon) to the fire, using a hollow mirror or burning glass to ignite the fire at daytime.
Respect for the circle is essential, it is the sacred boundary between the worlds. In Wicca rituals, especially initiation, passwords are used to restrict entrance to the circle.
Entering (or leaving) the circle is entering a sacred domain, and some attention should be given as to the way one joins the circle.
A circle of people is the most common form of a ceremonial gathering, where everybody is at peer level and has an opportunity to participate. Creating (casting), charging, closing the circle is done in many ways, but the basic mechanisms are the same. Simple images as just holding hands, singing Ohm, a talking stick, there are many forms of circle work. Often one uses a symbolic item, like a pipe or a bowl, a crystal, etc., to pass around the circle, allowing the individual to partake in the community by devotion, prayer, speech or other expressions. Holding hands, singing Ohm, using mirrors, a rope, twine, candles, sending (breath) energy around the circle or onto a specific person, his or her surrogate or a charged object, story telling, smoking a (peace) pipe, circle work can take many forms.
The concept of the circle as a special place, apart form the world and yet connected, is often used for initiation rites, accepting someone in the circle is an act of trust and love.
Libations, or the offering of water (salted, consecrated, perfumed), wine or other substances to the earth, by the officiants or all participants, is a common circle ceremony. As an example, passing a bowl of (salted) water or a crystal counterclockwise (against the sun) to collect the negative feelings of powerlessness, grief or anger then transforming them by passing the bowl over the fire and dedicating a little of the water and then passing the bowl clockwise, so that everybody receives the antidote and positive energy. Oblations are libations into the fire.
Dance and performance
The performative dimension of ritual serves to bring the participants in the same state, to empower them and establish a common base for transformation or ascension (trance). Dancing, recitation, story telling, but mostly singing and music are the spice of the ritual, raising the spirits. Dancing by holding hands around the fire, individual expression or more choreographed dancing patterns like the spiral dance, but make sure that then everybody understands what is expected of them. It helps to have a master of ceremonies, not necessarily the main officer but the one in charge of the agenda, preferably someone with a clear and charging voice.
At larger gatherings one should pay attention at the volume of the speakers and performers, amplification is sometimes necessary but usually awkward.
Hymns, recitations and songs
There are many appropriate songs and texts, but a general exclamation is svaha followed by the name of the fire, divinity etc.
The songs, hymns, and mantras can be taken from any tradition, but should be simple like the Bhajan style, repeating a simple phrase many times. Having the songs op paper handout helps, but often it is hard to read so keep it simple.
A clear routine as how the audience can participate should be established, like using a lead singer, whose lines are repeated by the crowd. One aspect of communal singing or recitation is that it harmonizes the breath of the people.
Note that for the body, the most magical moment is between the breaths, that still moment of quiet introspection and magical contact.
There are ceremonies with extensive and precise formulas, texts and formats, but not everybody is able to memorize them. But at a fire-ritual reading from a paper is not so easy either, so keep it simple and open to improvisation. Some compromise is inevitable here. A suggestion is be to have the more formal texts pre-recorded and played via the PA, of course with an eye to having the participants repeat certain lines etc.
Some appropriate song-lines, of many:
I Give Thanks to the Fire, For Warming Us Through the Night, I Give Thanks to the Spirit of the Drum!
I am the fire and the union of opposites. I am the mystery. I am calling you in your dreams. I am bringing you home to me.
Earth my (our) body, water my blood, Air my breath and fire my spirit
And I love you so, you help me see, see you in all (is to) see you in me.
Drumming, didgeridu, flutes, music makes the people and the spirits happy. You can use whatever, if it feels appropriate and is at hand, but again there has to be some unity. For some songs or moments heavy drumming is less suitable, for others anything goes. Sharing instruments is a good practice, but as some people are very careful about their instruments, having tuned it right etc., make clear which instruments are for sharing, like placing them a designated spot and returning them there after use.
Sometimes inexperienced drummers or musicians tend to play too loud. It helps to explain that one should only play or sing so loud as to be able to hear the others. Especially the Tambourine is a dominant sound, that could distort the balance.
Sounds (rhythm), postures and words are tools to focus the body (breath), minds and hearts and the prana of the participants. Inner harmonization of thoughts and visualization in line with the external action is important.
A very general address and opening statement intended to be non-denominational and acceptable to most traditions is:
Charge of the circle
All are welcome
The circle has no beginning and no end, it has no time and existence but for the attention we give it.
Its charge, its call for us is to live in the now, to be present and to share, so we will become one in love and truth.
Welcome the energy of the four quarters, the air in the east, the fire in the south, the water in the west and the earth in the north. Let us also honor the spirit of the central axis, which connects us to the universe, allowing us to overview and accept our humanness.
A circle is perfect and we can hold it to its promise of perfection and renewal, again and again, so we can always and now forgive ourselves and start anew.
Celebrate in this circle the connectedness, which includes us here, the seen and the unseen, the worlds of matter, ideas and spirit, our past and our future, our fears and our dreams.
The circle will help us to connect our heart, our body and our mind energies, so that feeling, sensing and thinking join in the intuition of our common roots and destination.
Connect now by holding each others hands and softly hum the song of the origin, the sound of the universe, the Ohm, which reminds us that what is within, is also without.
All is one!
Fragrance and smell belongs to fire, but can be enhanced by using special wood, vernal grass or sage, etheric oils and of course incense, in whatever form (frankincense, myrrh). It can be offered, extolled towards the altar or the people, one can walk around the enclosure with incense-sticks or a censer or pass along incense sticks in the audience.
Impressive fire-effect can be achieved with simple means, like in the Pravargya Vedic ritual where fresh milk of a cow and a goat are added to a boiling pot of ghee (butter) to give an impressive fire pillar. But there are many techniques and substances to enhance or color the fire. Strontium salt, barium and natrium salt give red, green and yellow color. Copper sulphate, copper oxide-ammonia gives blue, lead nitrate, sulphur-antimony gives white light. Small metal particles like copper, aluminum or porcelain, magnesium salt, coal gives sparks, scintillation. Epsom salt gives stability to an alcohol fire. However, this is the domain of specialists, the most practical is to keep it simple.
Any kind of divination or dowsing method is suitable, like I Ching, Tarot, pendulum, tea-leaves, cloud images, animals or a movement in the fire, in the end everything is connected. One can pose a question in general, but also people can have their individual questions written on a paper, which is to be thrown into the fire. The movement of the fire can be interpreted as a divine message, but this requires some practice. The practice of staring into the fire (scrying) resembles staring into a crystal ball, but there is also the effect that the rhythm and flickering of the flames induces (entrains) a meditative state (alpha brain waves), something which is also used in brain machines.
What new elements are to be added to age-old rituals? In the old days, one would oftentimes use a representation of the physical realm of say a King or the divine realm of a Deity in the ritual. As we have expanded our world with new electronic networks, Internet and modern media, why not use a symbolic notion thereof as part of our ritual. As we greet the four directions, the sun and the moon, why not invite the good will and cooperation of that enigmatic network, the Internet or include cyberspace, our virtual playground.
Fire-ritual as paradigm shift
Rituals are a complex cultural reality, a mix of reality, feeling and fantasy, but they also mirror the worldlier, the cosmology and the social structures. They can be seen as a blueprint of the world and this opens an interesting possibility. A ritual can thus invoke a change in the ruling paradigm, if we give it that intention and purpose. Nor only asking for peace and harmony, but for fundamental changes. For this the fire with its transformation power is very appropriate. The world is at a stage, where fundamental changes in the beliefs of people, especially the modern people, are necessary. Why not ask the perennial powers, elements and spirits to bring that transformation, dedicate the ritual to that purpose. A ritual is dialectic, we shape the ritual and the ritual shapes us.
The long and the short of it
Although the above ritual in all its parts seems like a lengthy affair, a fire-ritual can be fairly short too. The different stages and intentions are maybe not applicable in a specific case,
Not all of the steps are necessary, one can take a limited purpose and limit preparation to making a circle, piling the wood, do some quick dedication and offering, what matters is to keep the general structure in mind and make the steps in the process short and efficient. Opening and closing however, are always necessary, leaving a ritual open ended is not good practice, the energy otherwise and lingers on, at the ritual place and in the minds of the participants.
In setting up a ritual keep the purpose and setting of the ritual in mind and choose from this outline, like a menu, what you like and is applicable to the situation. Purpose, timing, participants, place are the main constraints, your intuition and good intention the main tools. Dont be afraid to make mistakes, what matters is that you get involved in connecting to this sphere that in modern times could be called www.heaven.org , and the ritual is like typing in that URL.
Into the deep: psychology and what matters
Ritual and ceremony is of all times, the archaeologists have found ritual traces in the oldest civilisations, there are ancient burial grounds all over the world and its source obviously stem from very deep in our system, as even animals often display behaviour that could be described as ritualistic. Especially repetition seems to have deep roots in our neurological makeup, extreme ritualistic behaviour is often a signal or symptom of metal disorders.
Ritual has been part of life, of religion and society. Not only kings and knights, but the office holders of what we call democracy bow to the pomp and circumstance, the boss claims his special parking place and our first cup of coffee is a private ritual for many. Religious ceremony, whether at Saint Pauls cathedral or in a bush community around the fire has a special flavour, as it usually about the connection between worlds, between the seen and unseen. However, in modern society we have more or less lost the notion of ritual efficacy, its effects in the world and on our soul and psyche. Going to church makes us feel better, strengthens social ties and gives a feeling of belonging, but very few people expect any practical results.
Oftentimes the liturgy, once laden with deep meaning, has become more or less a routine, an empty shell of what once was and still could be a deep experiential event with great efficacy. We pray for the good of our beloved ones, shell out a few coins, but no longer believe in the power of mind over matter, we got tricked in believing that matter is what constitutes mind.
This is of course part of our enlightened but materialistic view of reality, hidden behind our superficial rational masks many do believe in the supernatural, in the hidden powers of belief. Traditions able to span millennia, ceremonies that have been going on for as long as mankind existed, there must be some kind of truth or at least resonance in those tradition, in why we do rituals. Even if our minds are meat computers and I personally dont agree with that notion, there must be some deep wiring or programming that attracts us to these ancient forms of worship, sacrifice, devotion and bhakti yoga.
I feel that rituals are a way of making contact with the child within, the core of our being that we hide behind the mask or personality, the part that might not be egoless, but is not egotistic. On that level, more connected with the deep limbic parts of our brain, deeper than the usual left brain/right brain separation (lateralization) so popular today, there is a deeper connection with the total reality. The left/right brain separation is, in my view and based on intuition more than classical science, merely a symptom, a result of the focus that results from far deeper levels. Ritual does appeal to the symbolic part of our brain, the right hemisphere, but so do words, the verbal is also an essential part of most rituals. Maybe the notion of light, so often used in connection with ritual and a root part of fire-rituals, points us the way to where ritual finds an anchor in our system. The pineal gland (third eye), according to Jacob Liberman to name just one of the pioneers of light as a medicine, is very susceptible to light, especially sunlight and its rhythms and hidden powers in the invisible spectrum. Inner vision is what matters, in all traditions this comes up as the path to the holy or divine, within and without.
I think with rituals we go deeper, we pass the mid-brain control mechanism like the hypothalamus, the bodys chief executive and the pineal as the regulator gland (and thus affect the bodily functioning) to enter the timeless zone, where we are related to the all and everything, the part that resonates with the chi, the love, the magical consciousness glue or divine isness that holds and creates the universe. A modern physicist maybe would speculate about the quantum-effect level in the brain, a brain scientist would refer to alpha-state awareness and point at a slower than usual brain rhythm, I would rather look at being out-of-time, in a timeless state of understanding, where synchronicity rules and the causality of what we feel to be the hard world ceased to rule. A space where symbols matter, where resonance reigns and where we are in touch with the universe, where the all turns into one and the many disappears. That all sounds mystical, but isnt one of the aims of ritual and of spiritual practice to attain this oneness, to loose the burden of the rational mind, the material anchors, to become detached and free.
There are many different forms of fire rituals, some are very old like the Agnihotra of Vedic origin, some have been created or should we say reinvented in modern times. Drawing upon older traditions, but sometimes with a new flavour, a new interpretation or a new combination, just as the fire itself, forever new, forever changing.
The interest in rituals, especially those originating in the East, got a boost in the nineteenth century, when the Vedas and Upanishad first came to the West, and intellectuals got interested in what those strange cultures and peoples were about. This interest was sparked initially by German orientalists like Max Müller, but towards the end of that century England took the lead in what then was seen as backward, superstitious and satanic practices of primitive people. The esoteric became popular, the link to magic and the occult made it all even more exciting, some pioneers travelled to those exotic places and especially Madame Blavatsky with her Theosophical Society (1875) opened a door to the East. A certain resonance with Masonic and Rosicrucian notions, which were seen as The Western Esoteric tradition led to groups like The Golden Dawn lodge (1988) and a synthesis of East and West traditions. People like James Frazer tried to classify and organise the knowledge of customs, taboos, myths and of categorize the magical. He laid the foundation for what is now called anthropology. Due to his work and that of people like Mircea Eliade, in the twentieth century we slowly started to see that there was nothing primitive about those other cultures, they were just different and people like Aldous Huxley and Huston Smith made clear they werent that different either. It was the discovery of LSD by Albert Hofmann that in the fifties opened the mind of at least some scientist to the notion, that there are more levels or states of consciousness and that maybe many of those rituals and mysteries had to do with achieving those states, by various means.
Truly understanding ritual, and the underlying magic, remains an exception. Too often we see writers and scientist describing them from a Western, rational perspective, usually full of mystical interpretation but far less concerned with the magical and sinister side of many rituals. Lots of anecdotal stories, lots of details and cultural assumptions, but few theoretic models. What misses is cracking the magical code, and using that understanding to come up with new rituals and forms, adapted to our times and mindset. Firedance by McBride and his friends is something that does go beyond mere interpretation, but the best example of ritual (re)creation we find in Leadbeater.
Charles Webster Leadbeater (1854-1934) was prominent early member of the Theosophical Society, and is mostly known for his bringing to the West the notion of chakras and other knowledge and him being a spiritualist, but in my view is the foremost interpreter and (re)creator of ceremony. In the liturgy of the Liberal Catholic Church he has created a new blueprint for understanding not only the original intentions of the Catholic Holy Mass, but expanded en deepened it. His creation and the intricate details of each movement, setting and phrase is not a half forgetten and worn-out re-enactment, but a very alive and vibrant event. The actuality of the Leadbeater rituals is amazing for those who have even only an inkling of what rituals are supposed to be. He uses the laws of magic, the correspondences that are at the root of them, in a very masterful way.
Fires have been part of celebrations and ceremonies of all times and in modern times all kinds of movements have used fires and fire circles and this includes the Nazis in Germany, with as a result that fire rituals were forbidden in Germany till long after WW2. Since the eighties interests in firecircles in the USA has been growing, originating in new England mostly with pagan groups. One of the more modern forms of a fire ritual is Firedance, conceived in the eighties and nineties and becoming a mature format in the early millennium years by Jeff McBride and Abigail Spinner of Las Vegas and the people around them.
Firedance is in essence a ritual fire circle that transforms and uplifts the participants, following a liturgic model that was inspired by the alchemical process and sculpted as not to emulate or imitate existing traditions like those of the Hindu or American native traditions but in the end amalgamating and blending them in a new and very powerful form. The Firedance format has gone through changes and the original organisation has split off in various directions, but definitely marks a revival on interest in what fire rituals could mean in this day and age.
Among the many spiritual gatherings and festivals that are now part of the new age movement, Firedance (and its successors by different names, as it has become a tradition of its own) had a distinct flavour. It is designed from the start as an experiential process, something with a lot of outerworld pomp and ceremony, but in the end an innerworld path, a way to get in touch with what is inside, discovering the resonance between inner and outer worlds, in oneself, in others and in everything.
The Firedance mission was to be a non-denominational, multi-cultural spiritual gathering committed to personal development, global transformation and community creation through drumming, dancing, singing, theatre and the arts.
Firedance, superficially, is a gathering where people drum, dance, chant, sing and unite around a fire, not sitting down but constantly moving or at least be engaged, in rattling, drumming, singing. Moving round the fire, slow or fast, but not stopping, keeping the energy going, the dancing participants constantly circling around the central fire. Firedance is a night time practice, using sundown, the darkness of the night, the sky above and the sunrise as elements. The daytime is to sleep or engage in workshops or other activities, the dance starts as the sun goes down and everybody is supposed to keep going till morning light greets a new day, the kiss of sun at dawn is a great moment and the participants are reborn in that new light. The format uses music, voice, a fair degree of exhaustion, and a laid-out circular pattern within a sacred space to help the participant go through a cycle of transformation.
On a deeper level, Firedance is a full-fledged and intricate ritual, a mystery school in action, a opportunity for deep transformation, an experiential opportunity rare in our material and rational world.
Although there is a general outline, every dance is different and there is great freedom to change the pace of the dance, the music, the songs and individual initiatives for special celebrations, like weddings are welcomed and integrated in the whole. Participants are invited to dress up, in sometimes outrageous customes, one can do fire-spinning, perform ceremonies, healings or sacrifices, but there is no fire-walking, meaning walking over red hot embers and coals.
Its all about magic and ecstasy, about illusion and yet reality, inviting the miraculous to happen, in the now, in time and outside of time. The firecircle becomes a safe place, a sacred and holy container, a real sanctuary to explore what is inside us, creative expression, intensive meditation, focused awareness, spontaneous music or introspection, including and even inviting the emotions and drama that comes with that. Participants usually undergo intense emotional cycles, and at times might need some support by assigned healers, but everybody can offer help. However for many however, the process involves deep inner work and al they need is some space.
A new blend
The Firedance format is, in many ways, new and different and yet it draws on old traditions. Jeff McBride, who is a world renowned sleight of hand magician by profession, has been fascinated by that other kind of magic and has participated in many books and productions about both kinds of magic. In the Firedance format he has used the alchemical matrix known from mediaeval alchemists and magicians to stage an intriguing ritual. Combining the very personal, alchemical work with a community ritual is a brilliant move, and did bring back the original energy of those long forgotten rituals and mysteries.
To that he added a cosmic dimension, bringing the notion of the central sun and her planets to the game. In the physical layout circles are drawn, space permitting, symbolising the planets, the fast ones like Mercury and Venus close to the central fire of the sun, the slower ones more outside. The participant can choose what speed and thus what circle they like.
The basic idea of alchemy is to create a vessel, heat it with a bonfire, and turn base metal into Gold, but has a deeper meaning as it also represents the inner process of spiritual development. Firedance takes elements from both, talks about transformation, facing the dark sides, the shadow in oneself, the fire as the spiritual sun, but throws in a great deal of social interaction, of fun, expressions, creativity, feeling part of a community, coming home, all into the melting pot of the firecircle. Re-enacting the Great Work of Alchemy, stimulating personal growth by accelerating the fire of Nature, which transforms the lead of our lives into the gold of Spirit in a number of stages. One of the basic ideas behind many alchemical traditions is that of transmuting or purifying one thing from a lower form into a higher form.
The effects of a firedance or similar rituals are sometimes life-changing, therapeutically and in greater consciousness, more social awareness and a deeper connection with the forces of nature and our fellow humans.
Quoting Abigail Spinner: For me, a huge part of the magic is about becoming fully present in the Here/Now moment. When youve drummed and danced for many hours, and your body is tired Ive learned not to turn to the clock and check to see how much longer til we get there?? I breathe deeply, find a way to engage and surrender to the Now. I advise leaving the watch in the tent....
Firedance empowers us to become our highest visions. We polish the mirrors of our hearts, listen to our inner wisdom, become one cell in a body of a unified group of musicians and dancers. We share the beauty of an ever evolving circle of friends, who come together to find their way to Spirit. Firedance helps us learn deep lessons about patience and balance; we are witnessed, and move through our ego needs to ecstasy, and Light.
The Firedance alchemical fire circle format is powerful, has led many to a new level of consciousness, of which I personally can attest. It was, for me, an ecstatic way to connect deeply, to myself and others. A a miracle of togetherness! , a feeling of tribal belonging, being with friend you might never have met before, but with whom you connect, dancing next to them or seeing them across the circle. One talks about people who participate for the first time as homecomers, and that is a very appropriate word. One feels welcome, the fire melts away our differences, the gold in us emerges as the night goes on and then, when the sun rises, everybody bathes in that golden light and feels he or she is no longer alone, that a doorway, a portal to a new connectedness has opened.
A number of seminal Firedance events were held in California in a beautiful location, among the redwood trees, in the mountains, just outside of Santa Cruz, CA. Later the format has spread over the world, in many countries and with different names, like the Myafire or SpringFire in the Netherlands and socalled Fire-tribes all over the globe, the Fire Circle Tribe and Family of Fire, which includes clans in Boston, Santa Cruz, Las Vegas, Washington DC, Vermont, Boulder, and Hawaii. Jeff McBride has developed the Firedance format into what is now called Fires Rising, based on similar principles but with a bit more of a personal seven stage development model.
My Firedance song:
Who got the fire in
Who made the dance begin
Who was that liar
Who stole the fire
It was Prometheus
And hes in all of us
Who dared the mighty Zeus
And gave us fire to use
Who was that Titan
Who betrayed Gods for Man
It was Prometheus
And hes in all of us
The ritual elements of Firedance
A circle is round and thus the layout of the firecircle place is round, but has an orientation respecting the four quarters. The general outline is a sacred space around the fire, designated by some physical barrier, which needs to be honoured. Entering or leaving that sacred space is only through the portal, a gate usually to the East, where one consciously steps into the magical realm. At the portal smudging takes place, cleansing of energy, but also a moment of concentration when entering and becoming part of the community of the circle and a co-creator of what happens there.
The drummers are together, preferable to the north of the fire, but close to the circle; the physical set-up emphasizes the relationship of drummers to dancers and the relationship of both to the fire. The music comes from many traditions, and within the polyrhythmic constraints of group drumming new songs are created and there is a body of special fire-songs.
People entering the dance circles are supposed to do so at the pace of those already dancing. The dance track closest to the fire moves the fastest. The next ring of dancers moves a little more slowly. The third ring is for rattles and trance dancing and moves even more slowly. If space and attendance permits, a larger number of circles is laid out, representing the solar system and the planets.
The format has evolved, some elements borrowed from other traditions had to be taken out, as for instance native Americans objected to the use of certain elements or utensils of their heritage. But also new elements were tried and sometimes added to the liturgy, as should happen in a living tradition.
The alchemical setup is emphasised by a couple of distinct phases, and they can be compared but are not totally similar to the cleansing, sacrificing, uniting and communion phases in other rituals.
Nigredo - Burning away impurities, releasing ego and agendas.
Peacocks tail - Colors, stories, songs, offerings
Albedo - Inner work, trance, ecstasy
Rubedo - Dawn, Sunrise and beyond...
The first phase is called the Nigredo, or the blackening. It is the part where the prima materia, or first matter, is placed into a container and heated until there are only ashes and then dissolved with liquid until there is a suspension. These first steps are called Calcination and Dissolution.
At the fire circle, this is the time when people arrive and settling in, the fire is being lit and highly energized dancing starts. On a personal or transformational level, this is time to burn away and dissolve whatever stands between us and the Divine.
The final stage of the nigredo corresponds with the alchemical stage called
separation. In the lab, the solution is broken up into its separate components.
At the fire circle, people begin to let go of whatever lead theyve been
carrying into the fire to be transformed. There is a stage in the alchemical
process called the peacocks tail., seen as rainbow colored streaks that
appear on the inside of the vessel. At the fire circle, this is when people
show their colors, or step out and share a spontaneous moment of creative
inspiration with the group. This stage can go on for hours.
The next part is the albedo. This corresponds with the alchemists whitening process, where the matter in the flask is softening and beginning to purify. At the fire circle, this is the time when there is a palpable shift in the energy; the drumming may grow quieter, there may be more quiet songs or chants. Somehow, there is a shifting, and the atmosphere begins to feel lighter. Coincidentally, this is often the time when the sky begins to grow light. The stages of alchemy that correspond with this period are Conjunction, Fermentation, and Distillation. Purification is achieved.
The final stage of the fire circle alchemy is called the rubedo, the reddening, the sunrise itself. The sunrise can be interpreted on many different individual levels. We imagine the suns rays entering our bodies, and filling each cell with pure gold. Often at sunrise, a long sustained period of silence is encouraged.
The planetary tracks
In fire circle rituals of this kind a pattern naturally develops, that McBride has recognized as a mirror of our solar system, and the dance is in that way a recreation of the great cosmic dance of life. The fire is a symbol for the Sun at the center and the planets dance in elliptical orbits around it. Mercury is the planet closest to the Sun and at our fire circle, the mercurial energy is noticeable in the dancers closest to the fire, or those tending the fire. Venus as the second orbit of the fire circle is often where the sensuous and ecstatic dance takes place. Beyond Venus is Earth. At fire circles this represents the rattle track, where the Earth dancers move in a slower orbit. Mars at the fire circle is symbolized by the ring of standing people, who, like Mars, protect and fortify, and add their energy to those within the circle. Beyond Mars is Jupiter. At the fire circle this is a free movement zone, where people blend and move together in freestyle dance. Beyond Jupiter is Saturn. At the fire circle this planet is represented by the people sitting and resting. Beyond the orbit of Saturn are the planets Neptune and Pluto. At the fire circle these are the outlying areas where food and drink can be had. On the outside of the fire circle perimeter is the comets trail, a path for walking meditation for those who wish to stay engaged and involved in the fire circle, yet seek some solitude or time for meditation.
The role of the firetenders is essential. They tend to the fire, but in that way to the energy of the whole ritual. By letting the fire go down or feeding it to make it higher they in a way control the mood of the whole scene. As the fire is driving the energy, it requires skill and consideration to tend it.
Water also plays a special role. Because of the intense physical exercise and the risk of dehydration the participants need a lot of water and dispensing water is one of the sacred services one can assume.
Firedance does not use electricity, it relies of the power of the fire, on the earth (Gaia) as the altar, on the air of the wind, the incense and the music, and on clean water and good food to help face the strenuous dancing routine. There is no smoking of whatever or drinking alcohol in the circle.
The very touching closing Firedance prayer in the morning,
written by Katlyn Breene:
the sun rises
we lift our hands unto it
to be re-born
like the day
golden rays pierce our hearts
like arrows of light
filling each cell of our body
lead into purest gold
as above, so below
the sun sees itself in the fire
in each other
we see god
L.S. July 2003, appended 2008 www.net.info.nl
email@example.com Tel 31-20-6262901 The Netherlands
Some additional remarks
Sweatlodges and sweat baths
Another ritual, that has many aspects of a fire ritual, is the sweatlodge. Sweat baths exist in many cultures of the world, both ancient and modern. The sauna of Scandinavia is well known, as is the hamam of north Africa and Turkey. In the ruins of Pompeii there are the remains of sweat baths. In India, people lay in the sun, covered with leaves to protect themselves from the burning rays of the sun, to bring on sweating. The Native American version, in the form of a sweatlodge, is fairly well known, and has strong ceremonial overtones, but also relaxes and cleanses the body.
A great deal is written about Sweatlodges in the Native American tradition and although not fire-rituals conforming to the matrix described in this essay, they have a structure that displays the same elements like circular sacred space, cosmological correspondences in the layout of the site, naming of the implements (stones), but the whole format is more of an individual challenge and experience, an inner quest and personal experience than a communal fest. The beautiful analogy with the womb makes clear, that the sweatlodge is a great psychological invention, using powerful archetypical imagery.
The Temazcal, the traditional Mexican sweat bath, is more a healing and therapeutic procedure than a ritual. Dr. Horacio Rojas Alba of the Instituto Mexicano de Medicinas Tradicionales Tlahuilli A.C. has described the Temazcal and its medicinal and healing effects in some detail. Interest in the ancient sweat bath, still called by the name given to by the Aztecs, the Temazcal, sprang up in Mexico somewhere in the last decades of the 20th century and it became quite popular, a similar development as happened with the North American Sweat Lodge. These sweat baths, still a living tradition in many parts of the country, are usually small round stone or mud structures looking rather like old fashioned bee-hives. It was, as Dr. Alba points out, traditionally used in the healing and easing of almost all kinds of medical conditions, including, pregnancy and child birth, although the early Spanish rulers didnt like it at all and destroyed the Temazcals wherever they found them. In the Magliabechi Codex, one of the few books which came down to us from the days of the Conquistadores, a caption under a native drawing of a Temazcal observes, This is a drawing of the baths of these Indians which they call the temazcalli. At the door of the bath there is an Indian who is the advocate for the sick, and when a sick person goes to the baths he makes an offering and stretches his body on the ground in veneration of the idol which they call Tezcatopocatl and who is one of their principal gods. They used in these baths other Infamous reliquaries and many naked Indians bathed and committed great ugliness and sins in this bath. Sahagun, a Franciscan friar who recorded so many of the indian customs of his day, tells us that: It [the Temazcal] is used firstly in the convalescence of many sicknesses, so that they should finish healing more rapidly... All sick people benefit from these baths... And he goes on to list sicknesses that he throught especially responsive to the sweat bath: traumas, broken bones, contusions, skin problems and growths, among others. He mentions, as well, that it is also good for pregnant women who are close to giving birth as there the midwives can do certain things so that the birth is easier... , and it is good for the mother shortly after giving birth so that she heals and to purify the milk...
The Temazcal not only involved the worship of a goddess, Temazcaltoci, the grandmother of the baths, but it incorporated the elements of the ancient cosmology, both in its construction and the way in which it is used. The Temazcal is a microcosm reproducing in itself the characteristics of the universe, the macrocosm. So we find in the Temazcal all elements of the different eras or cycles (known as suns) throught which, according to Aztec mythology, the world has passed and continues to pass: earth, wind, fire and water (we now live in the fifth sun) and through whose constant movement and life is manifest. The Temazcal is oriented according to the cosmic directions: the fire is placed towards the east where Father Sun, the god called Tonatiuh, arises; he is the light or masculine element which comes and fertilizes the womb of the mother earth (the chamber of the Temazcal itself), and so life is conceived. The doorway through which the bathers enter and leave is oriented toward the south, the pathway of the dead, which begins with birth and ends in death, to the right of the path of Sun. When we enter the Temazcal, according to this ancient doctrine, we return once again to our mothers womb, presided over by the great goddess, Tonantzin or Temazcaltoci, the great mother of both gods and humans. She is our beloved mother, concerned with the health of the children and she receives us into her womb - of which our own mothers womb is but a microcosmic manifestation - to cure us of physical and spiritual ills. The entrance way is low and small, and through it we enter a small, dark, warm and humid space, in this way recreating the uterus, cutting off the outside world and giving us a chance to look inside and find ourselves again. Our re-emergence through this narrow opening represents our rebirth from the darkness and silence of the womb.
The practice of inducing sweat has long been known to be beneficial in sicknesses of the skin, liver and circulation, in problems of rheumatism, arthritis, gout, and other chronic diseases, as well as acute problems like muscular pains, colds and congestions, and sweat baths are but of the ways used to bring about healthful sweating. Slight overheating of the body produces a series of reactions: it stimulates both the superficial and the deep blood circulation, accelerates the frequency of heartbeats, as well as increases their force, calls into action the mechanisms of thermal regulation, activates the metabolism, and promotes sweating. Its basic advantage as a sweat bath consists in the way high heat and high humidity are combined. Other types of steam bath also combine heat and humidity, but the temascal surpasses them in effectiveness for two reasons: the person in charge of the bath can adjust -increase, diminish or direct- both heat and humidity to meet the specific needs of the patient he is treating, and the vapor is made from herbal teas, the herbs chosen for their effects on each individual patient.
The high heat and the high humidity, taken together, produce their healing effects, basically, through reducing or impeding the bodys mechanism for cooling itself. The heat, higher than normal body temperature, induces sweating; the high humidity inhibits the evaporation of the sweat, the chief method through which the body normally cools itself, and thereby, blood circulation is increased, sweating is increased, and the elimination of toxins is maximized.
There are, according to Dr. Alba, two others special characteristics of the Temascal as a swaet bath that must be mentioned. The first is that every bath is directed by a specially trained healer, most often a woman (called in Mexico, the Temazcalera). She examines the patient, makes her diagnosis, chooses the herbs that are indicated, decides on the levels of heat and humidity that are to be used, prepares the Temascal, and then enters the chamber with the patient to oversee and manage the course of the bath and if necessary, perform treatments like a massage using a variety of traditional techniques. When the patient comes out of the bath, he is carefully wrapped in a sheet or blanket, and made to lie down and rest, usually in a room or place specially prepared for this purpose, until the body finishes of its own its sweating. The patient is given a cup of herbal tea, normally made from an herb chosen for his precise condition, to help replace liquids lost in the bath, and then left to rest. These two special features of the traditional Mexican sweat bath -the skills of the Temazcalera and the mandatory rest period after the bath- may go a long way in explaining its impressive curative powers. The Temazcal is also widely used during pregnancy and in childbirth, although for these purposes, it is not made quite as hot as it usually is. Births are often attended inside the warm Temazcal by a traditional midwife. Not only does the warmth help to speed labor but the baby is then born into an environment that is not so radically different from that from whence it came.
Walking the Fire
Although walking the fire or rather the hot ashes of a fire is sometimes part of a fire ritual, it does not really fit in with the general matrix of a universal fire ritual. Jumping the fire, dancing around the fire, moving objects through the smoke or the fire are all fairly common parts of fire rituals, but firewalking is more of a separate event, using the fire or rather its hot ashes as a breakthrough psychological procedure, a kind of test or proof of mind over matter.
Greek notions of fire
Zeus is seen as representing Fire, but there are arguments to associate it with Hades, as the central fire under the earth, which creates changes in the elements above.
We can find great wisdom in their myths, like the story of Prometheus, who took the fire from the Gods to bring it to the humans, but was caught and punished by Hephaestus. Hephaestus was the craftsman and smith of the Gods. He used fire as a purifying agent, separating the metal from the stone metal from the stone, and for the forging of Art . Creativity requires forethought. Daedalus created the Labyrinth for King Minos, who then imprisoned him within it. He crafted wing so that he and his son could escape, yet in their flight to the sun Icarus died.
The Greek philosophers, who according to Peter Kingsley were not al all rational thinkers, made little separation between magic, myth, science and philosophy. The philosophers recognized the qualities of fire. Platos Timaeus: Now that which comes to be must be bodily, and so visible and tangible; and nothing can be visible without fire, or tangible without something solid, and nothing is solid without earth. Hence the god, when he began to put together the body of the universe, set about making it of fire and earth.
Fire is one of the basic elements in Greek thinking (Ether figures in the five of the Eastern traditions) and Empedocles wrote:
Now everything has fourfold roots
Shining Zeus, life-giving Hera, Hades (Aidoneus) and Nestis (Persphone), moistening the springs of mortals with her tears.
Pythagoras explained that God created the four elements before everything else. The universe is composed of these four elements: the angels are made of fire; heaven is made of water; the air, the sun, the moon and the stars of fire and air; animals and plants of three elements, and man of four; the latter theory springs from the idea of man as a micro-cosmos. In the Pythagorean tradition the fire is the center of the universe, not the earth.
Alchemical notions of fire
The old alchemists speak of the four elements of earth, water, air and fire, of the three principles salt, sulphur and mercury, of the two aspects of life, the male and female, and finally of the one principle, the tincture. Pythagoras already expressed this thousands of years ago in the symbol of the triangle in which this principle is at the same time a reflection of the ten prime numbers one to ten.
Fire shows up in alchemy at many levels. There is the common, physical fire, but also the secret fire, the more spiritual component of the great work. A major symbol of fire is the so-called Aesch Majim, the fire-water principle in which the primal wisdom, as it is also visible in the Jewish Kabbala, finds its origin. The alchemist must proceed by finding ways to reconcile the contradictory forces of fire and water. The Great Work consists of the union of the Sun and the Moon with the aid of Mercury. Mercury is a fire symbol, has possession of all, both fixed earthly things and those which are immortal. He is nourished by fire
The principle of transformation of matter and spirit is central to alchemy. A representation of this process is the golden Chain of Homer or Catena Aurea Homeri, considered a metaphor for transformation. It is connected with Platos Ring and with the Superius and Inferius of the Hermetic tradition.
Other symbolical fire representations are the Phoenix, which is revived in the flames and its former body destroyed so it arises again in an incorruptible form, the Salamander, which perseveres in the flames and possesses a blood more precious than any treasure.
The Hermetic philosophy (from Hermes Trimegestus) offers, in a dialogue with Poimandres (his mentor, acting as divine intelligence) a cosmology which is fundamentally Platonic, enriched with Stoic physics. Moreover, it contains evident parallels with Genesis. Hermes asks Poimandres to teach him about the things that are, and above all he wants to know god. A vision appears in front of his eyes: everything is light, but after a short while, part of it is replaced by a descending darkness. This darkness changes into a watery nature, corresponding with the watery chaos in Genesis. The watery nature gives forth smoke and produces a wailing roar. Then an inarticulate cry is heard, which Hermes believes to be the voice of fire. A holy word, the Logos, descends from the light and mounts upon the (watery) substance. The Logos is an active aspect of the Nous. Its activity brings about a change in the watery nature. The fire leaps up from the watery nature to the height above. The element air follows after. Earth and water are still mixed with one another and stirred by the Logos. He fashions the seven governors (the planets) out of fire and pneuma (a mixture of fire and air in Stoic physics).
The Tabula Smaragdina or Hermes Trimegestus Emerald Tablet offers the alchemical philosophy and methodology in a nutshell and offers inspiration for any ritual endeavor.
The text of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes.
VERBA SECRETORUM HERMETIS.
1. It is true, certain, and without falsehood, that whatever is below is like that which is above; and that which is above is like that which is below: to accomplish the one wonderful work.
2. As all things are derived from the One Only Thing, by the will and by the word of the One Only One who created it in His Mind, so all things owe their existence to this Unity by the order of Nature, and can be improved by Adaptation to that Mind.
3. Its Father is the Sun; its Mother is the Moon; the Wind carries it in its womb; and its nurse is the Earth.
4. This Thing is the Father of all perfect things in the world.
5. Its power is most perfect when it has again been changed into Earth.
6. Separate the Earth from the Fire, the subtle from the gross, but carefully and with great judgement and skill.
7. It ascends from earth to heaven, and descends again, new born, to the earth, taking unto itself thereby the power of the Above and the Below.
8. Thus the splendor of the whole world will be thine, and all darkness shall flee from thee.
9. This is the strongest of all powers, the Force of all forces, for it overcometh all subtle things and can penetrate all that is solid.
10. For thus was the world created, and rare combinations, and wonders of many kinds are wrought.
11. Hence I am called HERMES TRISMEGESTUS, having mastered the three parts of the wisdom of the whole world.
12. What I have to say about the masterpiece of the alchemical art, the Solar Work, is now ended.
Ritual can be described as social alchemy, but the effects usually reach more levels than just the interaction between people, it touches our inner powers, and as such is truly alchemical. In fact the traditional notion of alchemy, involving repetition of chemical procedures, is very ritual, even with the underlying myth of finding the philosophers stone or the elixir of life.
Jewish Notions of Fire
In the Jewish faith fires plays an important role. The Torah is described as A fiery law. Often Jahweh makes himself known through fire. It was the fiery brush that called Mozes, the entire Mount Sinai that smoked because the Lord had descended upon it in fire, fire that destroyed the enemies of the Israelites. In the ritual fire ans especially candles play a significant role. The menorah in the Holy Temple is a literal representation of the divine light that emanated from there to the entire world. A special light in the Synagogue is called a Ner Tamid, which means an everlasting light.
Candles and flames figure distinctly in the imagery and texts: In the words of the author of Proverbs, The soul of man is a lamp of G-d. Rabbi Menachem Schneerson explained The flame is more than a symbol of spirituality, it is seen as a mirror, reflecting the strivings of our deepest self. To realize its role as a lamp of G-d, a human life must be a lamp that combines a physical existence (the wick) with the divine ideas and deeds of Torah (the oil).
Every Friday evening, the Jewish woman invites the light of Shabbat into her home by kindling the Shabbat candles.And Chanukah, the festival of lights, comes once a year. For eight days, a nightly growing number of flames are kindled in the doorways and windows of the Jewish homes, so that the light generated by our lives as lamps of G-d should spill outdoors and illuminate the street.
But also the image of a fire of love is quite clear, especially in the Chassidim tradition. The Lubavischer Rebbe (in the Likkutei Sichot) comments about the continual fire that was to be kept burning on the outer altar of the temple.
Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out.(Talmud, Vayikra (Leviticus) 6:6). On this verse the Jerusalem Talmud comments, continuallyeven on Shabbat; continuallyeven in a state of impurity. Every aspect of the physical Sanctuary, according to Lubavischer Rebbe has its counterpart in the inward Sanctuary within the soul of the Jew. His heart is the altar. And corresponding to the two altars of the Sanctuary, the outer and the inner, are the outer and inner levels of the heart, its surface personality and its essential core. The altar on which the continual fire was to be set was the outer one. And for the Jew this means that the fire of his love for G-d must be outward, open and revealed. It is not a private possession, to be cherished subconsciously. It must show in the face he sets towards the world.
Now here the concept of the Shabbat comes into play, even on the day of rest and withdrawal the fire of love is needed. The Rebbe also explains why a man in a state of impurity, a man who feels no link with G-d, keeps the fire burning, even as a spark in the recesses of the heart. The fire of love extinguishes the negative, the NO, it must never be allowed to die down. If the fire dies down, coldness supersedes, and the No is given its dominion.
The Rebbe makes clear that there is Fire From Below and Fire From Above. He states about the sanctuary built by Mozes and Aaron The continual fire, which was man-made, was the preparation in the Sanctuary, for the fire which descended from Heaven. On this the Talmud says: Although fire comes down from Heaven, it is a commandment also for man to bring fire. It was the awakening from below that brought an answering response from G-d. But it brought this response only when the fire was perfect, without defect. During the days when the Sanctuary was consecrated, it and its vessels were ready, Moses and Aaron were present, and sacrifices were being offered. But the Divine presence did not descend on it. A lingering trace of the sin of the Golden Calf remained. Only on the eighth day, when the continual fire was perfected, was the sin effaced, the No extinguished, fire came forth from before the L-rd and the glory of the L-rd appeared to all the people. He explains that the 7 days were a week, the measure of earthly time, The eighth was the day beyond human time, the number which signifies eternity. And hence it was the day of the heavenly fire, which was the response of an infinite G-d. Although man cannot aspire to infinity himself, the fire of infinity descends upon him. But only when he has perfected his own fire, and gone to the limits of his spiritual possibilities. Man is answered by G-d, not when he resigns himself to passivity or despair, but when he has reached the frontier of his own capabilities. The Lubavischer Rebbe is clearly aware that G-D reveals himself in a supernatural way as he says Because the reward of our service to G-d is the blessing of a success within the natural world which goes beyond the natural order.
The essential implication of the Talmudic verse is that every Jew constitutes a Sanctuary to G-d. And even if he learns Torah and fulfills the commandments, if the continual fire is missing, the Divine presence will not dwell within him. For his service is without life. And a trace of that distant sin of the Golden Calf may remain. The Jew must bring life, involvement, fire, to the three aspects of his religious existence: Torah, service and the practice of charity.The practice of charity includes the fulfillment of the commandments. And these again are not to be performed merely out of conscientiousness, but with an inner warmth that manifests itself outwardly in a desire to fulfill them with as much beauty as possible. These are the places where the fire is lit. And this human fire brings down the fire from heaven. It brings G-d into the world, and draws infinity into the dimensions of the finite. (Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. I pp. 217-219).
Another quote from the Lubavischer Rebbe, who was a great healer too: By nature, we burn with the anxieties of this world. When we meditate and pray, we fan a fire of love for that which transcends this world. One fire swallows another and we are set free. Liberated from fear, we face the world no longer as slaves, but as masters.
Magic and religion: just a matter of vantage point
For a long time, magic was described and viewed as different from religion, mostly because the established religions didnt want to be associated with the primitive magic. However, as the study of ritual and myths advanced it became clear that there are no justifiable differences between religion and magic, as both were considered irrational and non-causal. It is just a matter of scale; the word religion is more appropriate for larger, more organized forms.
Today many of the old issues like whether magic and religion are different are resolved as we came down from the position that our western development was superior to what the savage heathen were doing, the similarities in Christian and say Vedic, Mithras or Alchemical rituals are obvious and there are often historical links.
The study of ritual, magic and myth is not a constant factor in any culture. We have seen peaks of interest in the Hindu world, but also periods of loss of interest in both the rituals and the study of it. The ancient Greeks were certainly into magic and didnt really separate magic, science and philosophy. In the Western world alchemy and magic had their heyday in the late middle ages, but cropped up again with the development of renaissance science. Giordano Bruno was not only cosmologist, but had a keen interest in magical rituals, especially Egyptian. In the 19th century Eliphas Levy, but later the people of the Golden Dawn (Mathers) and Aleister Crowley pushed the envelope considerably. Modern developments are the revival of witchcraft in various forms, like Wicca with Alex Sanders and Gerald Gardner standing out, but also homeopathy and radionics can be regarded as a form of magic.
The scholarly world has been late to pick up on ritual and magic and in the 19th century studied the subject as if looking at a very primitive culture. It was through the interest in the Vedas and work of Max Muller that more serious study into the connections between religion, myth and rituals begun. Many theories have been put forward, names like Douglas, Taylor, Robertson-Smith, Evans-Pritchard, Malinowski, Durkheim, Levy-Bruhl, Frazer and even Freud looked into myths, while later in the 20th century Mircea Eliade, A. Coomaraswamy, Joseph Campbell and Levi-Strauss have sowed a deeper respect for the function of myth and ritual in society and religion. New theories like Rupert Sheldrakes morphogenetic fields and the new physics have stimulated the thinking about the link between consciousness and perceived reality, with magic and rituals of course a prime example of mind over matter issues. Gregory Batesons idea was that rituals frame our notion of reality and are embedded in meta-communicational patterns.
The notions derived from Quantum Physics and the wave/particle duality now indicate, that the whole universe is linked and dancing and observation is a factor in manifestation, so magic might be more scientific than was accepted before. This new Physics idea that the physical universe is the product of a process of consciousness is of course not really new, it is also the basis of Eastern esoteric philosophy.
Revealed or human construct
Are rituals and in the same vein magic or religion revealed or are they human constructs, based on deeper psychological processes and projections? Most religions claim a divine intervention, some divine entity revealed the moral codes, holy scriptures or rituals and this often became the basis of their faith. Bible, Koran, Vedas, there are many examples and although it is clear that there is human influence in the transmission, translation and dissemination of these texts and traditions, it is believed to be divine revelation. There is also a school of thought believing in some kind of perennial recording of all and everything, the Akashic records, but only available to some advanced souls
Whatever the case, I can only refer to my personal experience in this case and it did happen to me, that certain ritual movements (mudras) and/or their meaning were revealed to me, usually in a trance state.
One particular movement of the hands came to me at some occasion, and I have asked many people what it meant but it took some ten years before I realized that it was a gesticulatory bridge between the Christian and Muslim way of prayer. It is the transition between holding your hands as in prayer and then move them in a surprising circular move towards reading a book, but keeping the fingers connected when making the move.
Another gesture transmitted; the traditional how greeting of American Indians with the palm of the hand facing forward and open to indicate peace. It became clear to me that this was related to the sign of the full moon, indicating to others that one was on a pilgrimage to honor the ancestors and therefore wanted a peaceful passage. Hence the hand was not stretched and flat, but slightly bent as to indicate the circle of the full moon.
I would say that these and other experiences were more like touching an existing body of wisdom than a personal revelation and that there is a state of being, for me very much related to love and connectedness, where it is easier to tap into this wider and more universal knowledge. I could even relate this to magical power, as at that level understanding and power come very close (ya evam veda), they merge as the deeper relationships become clear and changing things turns out to hinge on very little effort, often just putting ones mind to it brings the change.
Energy follows intention, thought manifest itself in matter. Not on the crude level of making objects appear from nowhere, but things just happen, synchronicity is no longer accidental, but the result of the magical focus.
Magic, the true technology of power
Being able to influence the present and the future by way of ceremonial magic (or ritual) has always been a fascination, often seen as the ultimate power as it stretches beyond the tangible. Mind over matter; magic is in many ways the ultimate power-technology. Magic at the root level is manipulation of reality by manipulation of consciousness. But then everything is magic, and the simple mechanistic causalities of the tangible everyday world are just a subset of the total magical world, the ultimate reality .
For many the inner workings are more important, like learning about ones intention, motives, energy, the inner psychological understanding of self and ego. Peace of mind, connectedness, the honoring of the tradition are usually enough result. In the sociocultural context of course the bonding and social structure that comes with rituals has value. However, looking at practical rituals like those for rain and healing, or those before doing battle or hunting, the outer world efficacy cannot be ignored.
A ritual seems to have little direct effect on reality, as it mostly addresses the other world and although inner changes are often experienced, the ritual and its liturgic scenario remains an abstraction. The form hides the content. However, there are the realities of the fire, the world around us, our movements and sounds, and together they are very much real. One often even experiences a state of synesthesia, a unified sensory perception, a euphoric feeling. And for results, it works if you believe it works, and if it doesnt work it must be the will of the Gods or worse, some black foe-magic or intentional mistakes by the priest.
If one sees direct results of certain rituals, like spontaneous healing, one speaks of miracles. But direct, immediate results are rare, magic doesnt work like that normally, it works by synchronicity, the course of the future is changed in an obvious way, very rare true miracles happen.
Usually there is an intermediary stage, where by divination or interpretation of certain signs like the appearance of a bird in the sky the outcome is divined. This leads in itself to a psychological state of mind and we speak of a self fulfilling prophesy, selfhypnotic illusion or hallucination.
The efficacy of magic; does it work?
If we see a ritual as a magic act, the question of the efficacy of a ritual is also one about the efficacy of magic in general. It of course hinges on the definition of magic and the range of magical acts. Obviously this includes sympathetic magic, contagious magic, imitative and nature magic, theurgic magic and other commonly known varieties. But is psychotherapy or homeopathy also a kind of magic and what about alchemy, these days we can produce gold from mercury quite easily with nuclear technology?
Does Magic work, is it an art or gift for some, a complex way of self-delusion, auto-suggestion, maybe a way to cope with innate clairvoyance and premonition, and can we prove it works?
These questions are age-old and the answers., if any, have a lot to do with the belief system and religious inclination of whoever poses and answers them. In the days of the Inquisition, there was little doubt that it did work, but the Church saw it as an evil, devilish phenomenon.
Even though nearly everybody has had synchronistic experiences or unexplainable coincidences, proof that magic works is hard to get There is a lot of debate on how magic works and of course, whether it works at all. Opinions range from total denial and refutation to the belief that all and everything is governed by the laws of magic and our normal causality is just a small and rather insignificant subset of the wider magical reality. Some believe that what you believe comes true, the Credendo vides (I believe, so I will see) approach, others see magic as a separate discipline, open only to the initiated and well trained.
Can we prove it works? Proving anything of this kind in a so-called scientific way, which means a repeatable and verifiable experimental setup, turns out to be very difficult. There are numerous so-called para-psychological experiments, but very few yield repeatable results on a wider scale, although if done in a small circle of believers the results are usually quite impressive. One of the few scientific results is that there are perception phenomena whereby human subjects seem to be able to anticipate the future, certain body responses occur before the event that should cause them actually happens or before the signal could normally travel to the brain and cause the reaction.
Correspondences or links
Among the magical and ritual tools are the correspondences. They are instrumental in changing the consciousness involved, of the people, but also of the energies and objects involved. Magical correspondences have old roots. They seem to defy the normal rational logic, but have their own rationale. The idea is that objects (in any world) resonate somehow with members of another category of objects For example, the astrological sign of Aries has long been associated with the hermetic element of Fire. Many of these correspondences are not directly obvious, but have been handed down for generations, and have come from many different times and cultures.
The Qabalah gave rise to establishing the first systems of correspondences, allowing things to be substituted or amplified by other associated representations. The Sepher Yezirah classified everything in the universe under the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet. Seven letters were for the days of the week and the Seven planets. 12 letters corresponded to the 12 months and Signs of the Zodiac. And the remaining three represented Earth-Heaven-Hell and Air-Fire-Water. The foundation of the Qabalah is the diagram called the Tree of Life, representing the underlying structure of the sacred Universe.
Correspondences are usually organized in layers or spheres, writers like Aleister Crowley have given extensive lists of correspondences. The deep meaning and knowledge about them is sacred and usually secret and passed down by initiation. They are usually symbolic with sometimes many layers of meaning and provide the frame for the magical work.
When designing rituals or spells, these links are very useful to align the outside powers with the ritual purpose and help concentrate on it. It adds to the individuals strength by tapping into the archetypes of the universal unconscious. Many of these correspondences have been used for millennia and have stored the power of repetition of a great number of rituals.
A special class of correspondences are the inner correspondences. The relationship between body parts, emotional body, astral/etheric body, energy channels and energy centers like chakras plays a distinct role in magic. People like Alice Bailey have offered complex explanations about how this works.
The Ajna center between the eyebrows, commonly called the third eye and not to be confounded with the pineal gland has a unique and peculiar function.
According to Baileys Treatise on white magic;
The third eye manifests as a result of the vibratory interaction between the forces of the soul, working through the pineal gland, and the forces of the personality, working through the pituitary body. These negative and positive forces interact, and when potent enough produce the light in the head. Just as the physical eye came into being in response to the light of the sun so the spiritual eye equally comes into being in response to the light of the spiritual sun. /
/This is only fully utilized in the magical work when the monadic aspect, the will aspect, is controlling. By means of the third eye the soul accomplishes three activities:
It is the eye of vision. By its means, the spiritual man sees behind the forms of all aspects of divine expression. He becomes aware of the light of the world, and contacts the soul within all forms.
It is the controlling factor of the magical work. All white magical work is carried forward with a definitely constructive purpose, made possible through the use of the intelligent will. In other words, the soul knows the plan, and when the alignment is right and the attitude correct, the will aspect of the divine man can function and bring about results in the three worlds.
It has a destructive aspect and the energy flowing through the third eye can have a disintegrating and destroying effect. It can, through its focused attention, directed by the intelligent will, drive out physical matter. It is the agent of the soul in the purificatory work.
In each of the subtle bodies in the three worlds there is a corresponding point of focus, and the center between the eyebrows is but the physical counterpart (for etheric matter is physical) of inner correspondences. Through this point of focus the soul looks out upon, or contemplates the mental plane, including the mental mechanism. Similarly on the emotional plane, the soul is brought into a state of awareness or vision of its emotional sheath and the world of astral phenomena, and the physical parallel exists for the etheric body. All according to Alice Bailey.
One way of looking at correspondence is that some objects, names, symbols are the witness of other things or entities and can be used as a link to influence them.
The notion of correspondences, associations or identifications pops up in many books about magic, and it has become kind of fashionable to give extensive lists of these correspondences like Crowley did in Liber 777. Antoine Faivre (1994) wrote about it extensively, but the origins of the correspondence notion are already in the Vedic literature.
The Vedas, which are essentially books of hymns, songs and sacrificial formulas, date from between 1500 and 500 BC and have roots that go back to the period when the Aryan/Vedic and the Iranian cultures were close, as is illustrated by the similarities between the Vedas and the Iranian Avesta. In the Vedic literature, notably the Rig-Veda Brahmanas (Aitareya and Kausitaki, manuals for vedic rituals), many correspondences are mentioned. They are regarded as a major connection between act and result, influencing the efficay of a ritual act. There are some recent publications, like Clemens Cavallin (Goteborg 2002) The efficacy of sacrifice that explain the origins of the correspondence-idea in the Brahmanas in detail.
The ya evam veda or the one who knows thus phrase is central to the correspondence-idea, but the interpretation that he who knows the most data about these links, connections, identifications, relations (of acts, objects, words within the ritual enclosure/context to events/energies/gods/ objects outide) is the most powerfull priest/shaman is not the only one. I personally believe that knowing these correspondences, links, bandhus, identifications, is a result of the state of lucidity of the priest or magus, acquired by initiation, experience, awareness or with the help of soma. So awareness of these correspondences comes automatically, they are more about the way or state of knowing than about knowing data or facts. They are the markers on the path to realizing the union with the all.
Kurzweils notion of magic
Ray Kurzweil was briefly mentioned in relation to the mind over matter issue, but in fact his worldview deserves a broader description. Although his ideas about downloading humanity into a (future development) of a computer seems absurd and has met with wide criticisms, his view of reality and magic is an interesting one and far less materialistic than is generally assumed. He even agrees with Spinozas, God reveals himself in the harmony of what exists.. For him the magic of technology is transcendence and technology is evolution by other means, an actually accelerating continuation of the evolutionary process. He sees consciousness, the seat of personalness, as the ultimate reality, and also scientifically impenetrable.
He poses questions like: Whats the problem with the so-called material world? Is the world of matter and energy not profound enough? Is it truly necessary to look beyond the world we encounter to find transcendence? Theres transcendence everywhere, as he sees it, one does not need to go to an ornate dualist view that regards transcendent levels of reality (e.g., the spiritual level) to be not of this world. We can go beyond the ordinary powers of the material world through the power of patterns. Rather than a materialist, Kurzweil prefers to consider himself a patternist. Its through the emergent powers of the pattern that we transcend. Consider humans It is the immense, indeed transcendent, power of our pattern that persists.. He also states: The pattern is far more important than the material stuff that comprises it./ A pile of components is just an inventory. Ordered in an innovative manner, and perhaps with some software (another pattern), we have the magic (i.e., transcendence) of technology.
Kurzweil accepts, that precisely because these central issues of consciousness and reality are not fully resolvable by scientific experiment and argument alone, there is a salient role for philosophy and religion. However, for him this does not require a world outside the physical world we experience. He points out the paradoxical and profound nature of consciousness, how one set of assumptions (i.e., that a copy of my mind file either shares or does not share my consciousness) leads ultimately to an opposite view, and vice versa. He states that the universeall that isis indeed personal, is conscious in some way that we cannot fully comprehend, but this does not require to go beyond the mere material world and its transcendent patterns. The world that is, is profound enough and he takes the reality of a single photon as an example, where we encounter deep mysteries, the photon simultaneously taking all paths available to it, only retroactively resolving the ambiguities in its path. We notice the photon taking on the properties of both wave and particle, an apparent mathematical contradiction. Photons are part of the material world, and weve got trillions of trillions of them. Is the world of matter and patterns not profound enough, he askes?
Kurzweil steps away from materialism denying that the issue of consciousness as a powerful natural design principle introduces any mystery into our investigations. One of the ways in which the universe of evolving patterns of matter and energy that we live in, expresses its transcendent nature is in the exponential growth of the spiritual values we attribute in abundance to God: knowledge, intelligence, creativity, beauty, and love, he says and thats not so disturbing, maybe his future computers will help us understand ourselves and consciousness better.
Future, present and past
One interesting question is whether a ritual not only changes the future, but also the past. In a psychological sense forgiving, contacting the ancestors etc. does change the perception of the past, but can we change the past in a more real sense? Since Einstein we stopped seeing time as a strictly linear dimension and in my more general theory of magic I postulate that for any observation or event the outcome is a function not only of the observed, the world state and the observer but of time past AND future. This what we could term future value of an event weighs in. I sometimes describe the science/art of magic as the manipulation of that future value function. But then, as the effect of time is two sided, why not assume that also the past is changeable, can be influenced (from the present)? In that sense, I believe that changing our perception of the past actually changes the past and those changes can be observed in the present.
Modern science now accepts that the observer of an event (or of all events) plays a significant role in the manifestation (or collapse of the probability function) and so consciousness comes into play, but the (fundamental) science of quantum-magic has yet to be explored.
A model of magic
Magic is a broad field and its not easy to develop a model or graphic representation of what magic encompasses. Isaac Bonewits has designed some interesting Venn-diagrams, but there are few simple representations of magic.
The factors that define magic like:
the man, the knowledge, the act, the will
are concepts which have broad and varying connotations and definitions.
One simple model of the aspects of magic is a pyramid with four sides: reality/matter, time/frequency, data/essence, love/chi and the bottom as the spirit plane. In the top of the pyramid the divine, represented by an eye, frequently figures in freemason imagery. The space within the pyramid is consciousness and spreads out along the different directions/axes. The magician (magus) moves along these axes and in the consciuosness space. Will (magnitude of intent) is the vertical axis, the divine will (at the top) is what matters most, at the bottom of the pyramid there are many options, many energies. The correspondences in this model are internal connections in the pyramid.
This pyramid model has an invisible underside, the mirror of the secret magic, this hidden pyramid constitutes the diamond image we encounter in mystical traditions and tantra.
Although a list of books and references is given, many references and quotes these days are from websites and other digital repositories. Where possible and practical they are traced to underlying literature, but in some instances the web is the sole source. This is not without risk, one day we might find that important source material has been corrupted this way, but is a development we cannot ignore anymore.
Fire: a brief history, Stephen J. Pyne British Museum Press, 2001, ISBN 0714127620
The Psychoanalysis of Fire by Gaston Bachelard, translated by Alan C. M. Ross. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964. ASIN: 0807064610
Fragments of a Poetics of Fire by Gaston Bachelard, trans. Kenneth Haltman, ISBN: 0-911005-17-X, 1991
Fire and Civilisation by J. Goudsblom,1991, Penguin Press ISBN 159057136074 and 0713990775
Myths of the Origin of Fire, Sir James George Frazer, 1930, Penguin ISBN 0140189319
The Golden Bough, Sir James George Frazer, 3 editions 1890-1936, abridged edition 1922
Primitive Cultures, Edward Burnett Tylor, 1871
La gestión del Hombre en la Tierra, Carl O. Sauer 1956, Simposio El Papel del Hombre en el Cambio de la Faz de la Tierra, Princeton, 1956
Beyond the Stony Mountains: Nature in the American West from Lewis and
Clark to Today, Daniel B. Botkin, Oxford University Press, NY 2004
The making of religion, Andrew Lang, 1900
Mystiekin de hedendaagse wereld, A.L.S. Bär, Servire, 1969
Le Totemisme aujourdhui Claude Lévi-Straus, (1962, Totemism, trans. Rodney Needham, 1963)
La Pensée sauvage, Claude Lévi-Straus, (1962, The Savage Mind, 1966)
The Origin and Growth of Religion, 1st Ed., Schmidt, Wilhelm, New York, N.Y.: Cooper Square Publishers, Inc.
Wicca, the old religion in the New Age / Vivianne Crowley, 1989, The Aquarian Press ISBN 90 215 1584 9
Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition by Peter Kingsley, Oxford University Press 1995, ISBN 0-19-814988-3
Homa and other fire rituals in Gandhara , Giovanni Verardi. - Napoli :Istituto Universitario Orientale, 1994 [i.e.] 1995. 79 agli Annali vol. 54 (1994), fasc. 2)
The Tantric ritual of Japan : feeding the gods: the Shingon fire ritual , Richard Karl Payne. - New Delhi : International Academy of Indian Culture : Aditya Prakashan, 1991. - ISBN 81-8517976-x
A manual of ritual fire offerings / transl. [from Tibetan] and comp. by Sharpa Tulku and Michael Perrott. - Dharamsala : publ. Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, cop. 1987. XV, ISBN 81-8510266-X and ISBN : 81-85102-75-9
This manual contains translations of texts required to perform the Ritual Fire Offering for Peace associated with six meditational deities: Thirteen Deity Vajrabhairava, Solitary Hero Vajrabhairava, Guhyasamaja, Heruka, Vajra Yogini, and Cittamani Tara, according to the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
Agni, the Vedic ritual of the fire altar / Frits Staal. - Berkeley, Ca. : Asian Humanities Press, 1983. - 2 dl. in collab. with C.V. Somayajipad and M. Itti Ravi Nambudiri ; ISBN 0-89581-450-1 Reprint. Delhi, Motilal, 2001, 2 Vols., 1548 p., ISBN 81-208-1660-9.
Communication and Culture /Tony Schirato - Susan Yell, 2000, Sage Publications ISBN 0 7619 6826
Ritual Theory and Techniques by Colin Low 1990 at http://wiccanhistorian.home.att.net/bos/ritualtheory.html
The encyclopedia of religion / editor in chief, Mircea Eliade ; editors, Charles J. Adams ... [et al.]. - New York, N.Y. [etc.] : Macmillan [etc.], cop. 1987. -16 dl. ISBN 0-02-909480-1 (set)
Myths by Alexander Eliot ; with Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell ; 1977. ISBN 90-215-0652-1
The Pravargya Brahmana of the Taittiriya Aranyaka : an ancient commentary on the Pravargya ritual / introduction, translation, and notes by Jan E.M. Houben. - Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1991; ISBN 81-2080868-1
Srautakosa : encyclopaedia of Vedic sacrificial ritual comprising the two complementary sections, the Sanskrit section and the English section. Poona : Vaidika Samsodhana
Mandala, Mythological and ritual symbolism : a study with reference to the Vedic and tantric Agni / Dipak Bhattacharya ; with a foreword by Govindagopal Mukhopadhyaya. - Calcutta : Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, 1984.
Hymns to the Mystic Fire : (Hymns to Agni from the Rig Veda translated in their esoteric sense) / Sri Aurobindo. - 2nd ed. enl.. - Pondicherry : Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1952. - XXXVI, Sanskrit.: 1946.
The daily evening and morning offering (agnihotra) according to the Brahmanas / by H.W. Bodewitz. - Leiden : Brill, 1976. - XII, (Orientalia rheno-traiectina, ISSN 0169-9504 ; vol. 21)
Light, soul and visions in the Veda / by H.W. Bodewitz. - Poona : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1991. - IV, 53 p. ; - (Post-graduate and Research Department series ; no. 36)
Magic : a sociological study / by Hutton Webster. - Stanford, Cal. : Stanford University Press etc. ; London : Geoffrey Cumberlege, Oxford University Press, . - XV
Magic: its rites and history, Maurice Bouisson ; transl. from the French by G. Almayrac]. - Repr. - New York, N.Y. : AMS Press, 1984.
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777 and other Qabalistic Writings by Aleister Crowley, Samuel Weiser Inc. 1973 ISBN 0-87728-670-1
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Real Magic: An Introductory Treatise on the Basic Principles of Yellow Light, by Isaac Bonewits, October 1989
Man the Machine, Julien la Mettrie
Are We Spiritual Machines? Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong AI, 2002, Discovery Institute. Also KurzweilAI.net