48: The Well
General Meaning: Throughout various cultures and political systems of the world, the well has served as a universal symbol for that which sustains life and provides a constant, inexhaustible source of life-giving nourishment for mankind.
Like the well, human nature is the same around the world. The passage of time does not change its essential dimensions, nor take anything away. Still, just as a well can be deepened to produce clearer, cleaner water, so can we enrich our lives by delving deeply within — into our natural selves, or souls.
Beware of shallow thinking. Like a little learning, it can be dangerous. The image of the well suggests that along with depth comes clarity. Be patient, and penetrate both your problems and your own nature to the core. If you do not lower your bucket to the depths, you’re very likely to come up empty. When greater depth is desired, a lessening of speed is often required
Strong, clear energy and the possibility for major opportunity exist today. Focus on work and planning, and avoid the emotional cobwebs of others. Your intuition is strong, so rely on what you know and don’t take someone else’s word for it
About the Number 4
This Tarot Deck: Morgan-Greer
Often including the image of a fulcrum which helps to balance competing needs against the greater good, and a two-edged sword to symbolize the precision needed to make clear judgments, this card reminds us to be careful to attend to important details. It’s a mistake to overlook or minimize anything where this card is concerned. The law of Karma is represented here — what goes around comes around.
It’s no fun when someone gets on your case, but you may as well save your complaining for another day. You won’t likely receive a lot of support if an idea of yours cannot stand up to fair criticism. Thankfully, the circumstances aren’t as dire as you think. Your contribution can have significant impact if you’re willing to learn a tough lesson now and stepup your game as needed.
You’re still busy, even if you’ve recently been trying to slow down. Today is a turning point and you can finally begin to regain control. You have been running around chasing your dreams, yet now are required to stop so you can focus on a single issue that demands all your attention. Fortunately, redirecting your thinking process toward real world considerations enables you to set aside extraneous issues and produce more tangible results.
You’re not interested in listening to the cool voice of reason today, yet your options could be limited by the current circumstances. Without an apparent way out of your present dilemma, you might have to get serious now and face the music. This is a critical time because you understand that your casual attitude can’t make a very real problem disappear. Fortunately, sound thinking can.
You may have recently lost any objectivity that you had, yet today your daydreams can run into some cold, hard truths of reality. Unfortunately, you don’t want to leave your fantasies behind, but the longer you avoid your obligations, the more of a challenge it will be to face them in the long run. Starting your work now is smarter than procrastinating any longer.
Reaching your long-term destination might feel impossible today as you try to sort out where you are in your life. But there is no time for self-pity; you have important work to do now. Don’t waste precious time because this small window of opportunity won’t remain open too long. Acknowledge anything that isn’t working and make changes as needed to get back on track.
You may feel as if you’re now being taught a lesson you already know. Unfortunately, your ruling planet Mercury forms a stressful square with taskmaster Saturn today, requiring you to learn what you can, even if it’s uncomfortable. Thankfully, the Sun’s shift into your futuristic 11th house takes your mind off the present moment and aims you toward your goals. Don’t blame others if you have a hard time with criticism. Make the necessary changes within yourself, without trying to change anyone else.
Blind optimism transforms into enlightened realism today as your big ideas collide with a serious dose of the truth. Others may believe that your new and open perspective is more life-affirming than if you shut down your heart in fear. Don’t judge yourself too harshly, for you cannot possibly know what you don’t yet know. The most important thing you can do now is to make the best choices in the present moment before moving on.
You may want to have a deep conversation with an intimate friend today, but he or she is able to skillfully avoid talking about something unsettling. Or perhaps you are the one cleverly engineering situations to prevent an uncomfortable topic from coming up. Don’t let this chance to connect with someone you trust slip by; the opportunity to share your feelings will continue to grow throughout the days ahead.
Normally, you are able to see the positive side of nearly anything. You can make just about everything sound better when you are trying to inspire others. Although you get a kick out of banishing gray clouds from the sky, you still might have a tough time today finding something to smile about. Nevertheless, it’s imperative for you to hold on to your unique vision, for your optimism touches more people’s lives than you realize.
Your key planet Saturn presents you with a complex dilemma today, for your success appears to be in jeopardy. Your natural reaction is to close down in fear and anticipate the worst. Although your negative expectations aren’t enough to skew your whole day, it’s not easy to muster up your self-confidence now. Your hard work, coupled with a positive outlook, could put you right back in the driver’s seat where you belong.
Your approach to your job could turn a notch more serious today as Mercury in your 6th House of Employment dynamically squares sobering Saturn. Think about how you can sustain your recent gains and solidify working relationships. If differences of opinion arise now, there’s no need to force resolution. Rise above the conflict by acknowledging the opposing viewpoints and then moving on to something you can mutually agree upon.
Disagreements with a lover or a playmate can drain you emotionally today, especially if your partner believes that you’re making a fuss over nothing. But your tender feelings may be wounded if someone forgets to respect your wishes and appreciate you for who you are. Resolving discomfort in any relationship still requires your commitment to meet the other person halfway.
Seeking (and Finding) Beauty, Mystery, Wonder
by Janice Van Cleve
Beauty, mystery, wonder — these are the fundamental forces underlying any religion or spiritual experience, according to Steve Blamires, a Scottish author who lectured recently at the Theosophical Society in Seattle. He is a native of the Scottish island of Arran, and the purported subject of his talk was the Celtic spiritual tradition, based on beauty, mystery and wonder. The advertisement said he was going to strip away all the additions and complications that later have been added to this originally simple, practical spiritual path.
There certainly was beauty, mystery and wonder in the room that night. I, for example, openly wondered how long this short little man with the affected accent could drone on and on about the wee little village where he grew up. I wondered why it is in talks like this that a speaker’s mystique and credibility are supposedly somehow enhanced by the difficulty in understanding him. It must be a “speaking in tongues” thing.
Another wonder I had was when would he finally get to the subject that was advertised. I have read a good deal about Celtic traditions, particularly as they apply to the neo-pagan movement in the United States. It is amazing to see how far wishful thinking, misinterpretation, ego and greed can go, grinding out endless books with pretty covers to sell to the unsuspecting. One only has to scan the shelves in the bookstores to realize how much bunk and bullpucky has been fabricated.
Those are the things I was wondering. Then I got to the mystery. The mystery for me was how in the world someone like this could attract an audience on a Sunday afternoon to listen to a talk that really wasn’t going anywhere. It must be marketing. You write a few books, get them circulated, they resonate with some key people and presto, you get to speak. It’s also the macaroon cookies. The Theosophical Society offers macaroons that must weigh in at about a pound apiece. The one I had held my attention and kept my sugar up for a couple of hours.
The beauty, besides the nice room and the spiritual ambiance of the place, is that I stayed to the end and allowed my imagination to interact with the presentation. I go to these things not to get one, two or three rote facts, but to stimulate my thinking. The topic is only one factor. The room, the speaker, the other people — even the droning — all spin threads from which an open mind and an active imagination can weave a pattern or at least a story. Besides, I was not about to invest a couple of hours of my time and walk away empty-handed. In this case, I began to see an application of these three concepts of beauty, mystery and wonder in the creation and performance of ritual.
Ritual is all around us. It is in almost everything we do — dating, dining, political rallies, business meetings, worship and workouts at the gym. Even the process by which we get going in the morning can be a ritual of sorts, what with shower, coffee, the news and so on. What separates ritual from habit or accident is that ritual is an intentional series of actions, appearances, sounds and words that move our psyches beyond logic and tap into emotional energies to alter our consciousness.
A good example is fundraising. On the logical level, the objective is to move cash from the donor‘s pocket to the fundraiser’s cause. Logic alone may move a few donors, but they are never enough. For most, the fundraiser needs to employ rituals of conversations, lunches, tours and building connections — the rituals of schmoozing — to achieve the desired results. The fundraiser paints a picture and paints the donor into it in a way that the donor can see. Strict accounting and profit and loss statements will not move the donor there. The ritual of fundraising has to tap into the emotional energy of the donor to alter his or her consciousness to help him or her become invested in the project. When their emotions are invested, their money is never far behind.
Conversely, we all know what it is like to get out on the wrong side of the bed in the morning. Interruption of or missing a comfortable ritual can put us out of sorts very quickly. That’s an altered consciousness our significant others and co-workers would rather not see!
There are many ways to think about and plan effective rituals, but beauty, mystery and wonder are not a bad approach. As I sat there listening to the Scotsman’s brogueish monologue, I imagined applying these principles to the Wiccan rituals I write and in which I perform.
Beauty is absolutely necessary for effective ritual. Symmetry, color, grace, simultaneous movement and repetition, harmonizing sounds and building to a climax — these principles of beauty have been understood and employed by the Catholic Church for centuries. Smells, bells and stained glass windows are no accident. They are designed and intended to build upon chants, processions and fancy robes to weave another world, an altered consciousness that will give participants the feeling that they have experienced a heavenly place and connected with their saints and angels.
Neo-pagan ritual writers today do not have the advantage of following centuries-old customs that tap into the well-trained responses of their followers. In spite of claims to the contrary, most Celtic or other “traditions” have very shallow basis in the modern world, and today’s pagan audience is usually untrained, eclectic and very independent. Ritual writers have the advantage, however, of being able to call upon the skills of storyteller, magician, choreographer and playwright to put together effective ritual. They get to create something new! By paying attention to tried and tested theatrical, military, business, political, social and religious techniques for crowd engagement, they get to build new vehicles to move our psyches beyond logic and tap into emotional energies that alter our consciousness.
Isn’t this just crowd manipulation? That’s where the mystery comes in. Mere manipulation only attempts to move a crowd into one uniform behavior, like buying a certain product or supporting a certain candidate. The mystery of good ritual is that it helps each individual open up to his or her own unique experience of another world or a unique experience of this world. To do this, the ritual must first engage the people. This is why the old Catholic mass with a priest up in front with his back to the people was much less effective than the new format of moving the altar into the middle. This is also why film houses employ wraparound screens and sound, and why sports teams use cheerleaders.
Once engaged, the people need to be moved from passive observers to active participants. Chanting, dancing, singing, toning, drumming, trance journeying and a host of other techniques are useful. While the participants may outwardly be moving closer and closer to the same behavior, what they are actually doing is letting down their logical restrictions. They are depending upon the mutual support of the others within the safety of the circle to let go of the mundane world and experience an altered state of consciousness.
The wonder is what they behold. If one believes in a single deity or truth, then the wonder is to behold it and to connect with it emotionally outside the narrow limits of the mind. If one believes in immanent deity or many deities, then the wonder is to swim among them and to experience them directly. If, on the other hand, one believes in the individual divine nature of each human being, then the wonder is to behold one’s own disembodied goddess/god self blooming like a flower from its pod. Perhaps the wonder is a glimpse into the future or a profound insight into the past. Perhaps it is simply an indescribable sense of beauty or love or peace. Whatever the wonder is, the ritual is successful if it helps participants get there.
That’s as far as my thoughts got when the speaker began winding down his talk and the effects of the macaroon were wearing off. I began to notice the people around me again and to feel how stiff my backside had become in this hard chair. Perhaps I had been daydreaming. Perhaps, however, my little Gaelic friend had slyly managed to slip me into an altered state of consciousness to behold a truth I could not have reached otherwise.
I wonder how he did that? It’s a mystery to me. Sure’n ’twas a beautiful talk!
Janice Van Cleve is known to doze off in lectures and concerts, but usually comes away very satisfied.
the daily humorscope
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Did you know…
From Wikipedia’s newest content:
On this day…
June 21: June Solstice (17:16 UTC, 2011); International Surfing Day; National Aboriginal Day in Canada
In the news
Celebrating Midsummer Eve the Latvian Way
by Mark Dalton
It was a sunny early evening on Midsummer’s Eve, years ago when I was a footloose young college student. My friend Dace came bursting through the door of our communal hippie household with a couple quarts of beer clanking in a paper bag and announced, “We’re going to a Latvian party tonight — it’s St. John’s Eve!”
I should explain about Latvians. Latvia is one of the Baltic countries, three small nations along the Baltic Sea, on the cusp between the Germanic lands of western Europe and the Slavic peoples to the east, and between the northern lands of Scandinavia and the plains of central Europe. Latvians saw a lot of traffic and heartache during the twentieth century, as they moved from Russian domination, to a brief flowering of independence following World War I, to German occupation during World War II, to becoming a Cold War republic of the Soviet Union, to an eventual, ecstatic return to independence after the collapse of the USSR. Many Latvians fled to the west as refugees when their country was overrun by the Soviets at the end of World War II. Sometimes after years in western European resettlement camps, they came to the United States — particularly the Midwest, where large, settled communities of German-Americans welcomed them like long-lost cousins.
My city in Nebraska was no exception, and I grew up with so many Latvian friends I sometimes felt as if I had been adopted into the tribe. Latvians as a rule are friendly, outgoing, smart and often creative people. My friend Dace (say it “Dot-suh”) was a sunny art major with blond hair streaming down her back and an air of sophistication and mystery. She seem wise beyond our years, which was then about 20. She was a great dancer and loved James Brown and the Motown Sound, having spent her teens in Detroit. Dace showed me Diana Ross’s senior picture in her high school yearbook. A home economics major, Diane, as she was then known, was voted by her classmates as “most likely to succeed.”
I’d been to a number of Latvian college parties by that time, either with Dace or other friends, and they were invariably a great time, always with plenty of beer, music, dancing and good-natured fun. “Where’s the party?” was my question. “This one is out in the country” was the response. “I’ve got the directions.” We polished off one of the quarts, and then piled into my old station wagon as dusk started to set in, driving quite a ways out of town down those Nebraska gravel roads. Fragrant breezes wafted around and through the open car windows, with the sounds of crickets and cicadas making Midsummer Night’s music as we drove along.
“So what’s the deal with St. John’s Eve?” I asked. “Well, it’s the night of the Summer Solstice — you know, like in Midsummer Night’s Dream? The fairies and goblins come out, and everybody parties? In Latvia, St. John’s Day is a big deal. Everybody named Janis [Latvian version of the name] gets to lead the celebration.” Anyone familiar with the Latvian community knows that Janis is an extremely popular name, so it didn’t surprise me that they had their own holiday — but more about that later.
At this point, Dace was counting mailboxes as we drove along, and she suddenly yelled “Here! This one! Turn in here!” so we did — pulling perhaps 500 feet down a winding dirt drive, coming into a clearing where there was already a large crowd of kids milling around, rolling beer kegs out the back of a pickup truck — and also working on a large pile of brush, tree branches and logs in the middle of the clearing. “You always gotta have a bonfire on St. John’s Eve,” said my hostess. “The bigger, the better!”
And an incredible bonfire it was that night — the sun went down as it crackled into life, sending flames and showers of sparks high into the sky as the keg foamed, the music rocked, and we danced in a great circle under Dylan’s diamond sky. Later in the night, as the fire simmered down and the crowd mellowed, I was sitting with some of the guys when they jumped up and said “Come on, man! Tonight you’re going to leap over the fire with us and become a real Latvian!” Sure enough, there was an unruly line forming to one side of the somewhat tamer, but still vigorous blaze. “You jump the fire on St. John’s Eve, you’re gonna have good luck with the women all year long!” said my mentors. And so I did. And that delightful night was my introduction to the survival of real pagan ritual in the Western world.
The thing about Latvia and the other Baltic countries is that Christianity never really triumphed there, certainly not to the extent it did in western Europe and the English-speaking world. The Baltic countries were never a part of the ancient Roman Empire, and they were not incorporated in the later Holy Roman Empire until well into the fifteenth century (and then only after great reluctance and resistance). For hundreds of years, Latvia’s neighbor Lithuania, which had converted its local folk-pagan beliefs into a powerful and coherent pagan state religion, served as a buffer between the Baltics and the advance of Christian Europe.
Baltic and Latvian paganism was an earth-centered set of beliefs. Around the year 1400, Father Peter of Dunsberg wrote “[Latvians] worship all of creation… moon, stars, thunder, birds… they have their sacred forests, fields and waters in which they dare not cut wood, nor work, nor fish.” Important deities in the Baltic pantheon include Dievs, the sky god; Mara, goddess of earth and water; Laima, the goddess representing destiny or fate — and Janis (John), son of Dievs, the fertility god of the summer solstice!
In spite of the official “Christianizing” of Latvia and the other Baltic states, pagan beliefs were neither eliminated, nor outside the major cities even driven very far underground. The language of Christianity was Latin, and later with the rise of Luther German, and they were also, as in many nations, the language of the oppressor. Latvians, in response, perpetuated their folk customs and pagan beliefs through songs and celebrations in their native language. Early in the twentieth century, the pagan oral tradition of Latvia was collected and published in six volumes (the “Laviju Dainas”), followed by the collection of sacred Latvian folk songs in the 1920s (the “Dievturi”). These works offer invaluable documentation of the survival of pagan beliefs and folkways down to the present time. Lithuanian paganism was again officially recognized in 1967, and since 1988 a shrine-site at Romuva has again become a place of pilgrimage and celebration for modern Baltic pagans. Similarly, after a long period of repression under the Soviet Union (including a total ban on Midsummer festivities), modern Latvian paganism is experiencing a rebirth under the name “Dievturi,” after the sky god, and has become a national movement, “Dievturiba.” Again, in Latvia, the Midsummer’s Eve festivities, or “Jani,” are back on a large scale!
Indeed, the reality of Latvian paganism and its survival into the twentieth century very closely matches Gerald Gardner’s description of Wica (as he spelled it) in the British Isles:
“Although its adherents might be of any class of society, they were mostly drawn from the peasant population of outlying districts. These people lived close to the earth, and their livelihood depended on the fertility of animals and crops. Hence they continued to do what they had been doing from time immemorial — namely, to follow a religion of nature and the fertility thereof, and to hold regular festivals at which the concept of cosmic fertility was worshipped, and the attempt was made to induce it by ritual to manifest upon the earth.”
Now, we understand that, in Latvia, as across the nominally Christian nations of Europe, St. John’s Eve is commonly and officially associated with John the Baptist. But the association of the Baptist with the “John” (or Janis) of midsummer is one area where the clever syncretism of the Christian church is thinly veiled. St. John himself has often been clearly associated with the pagan Oak King, all across Europe, and in fact, many existent statues show him with little horns! (Pan the Baptist!) This persistent association of the Baptist with nature and the rustic shrines offered up to him through the ages offer substantial clues to the more ancient reasons for his attachment to a powerful pagan holy day.
In the Latvian midsummer festival, for example, the arrival of Janis is heralded by much music-making, and he is pictured as tall and handsome, with a wreath of oak leaves on his head. The use of oak, birch and other leaves, branches and flowers is very important to this celebration, as Latvian men, women and children bedeck themselves and their homes with wreaths and garlands to celebrate the arrival of this beloved deity of fertility and plenty. The villagers gather to sing songs to and about Janis — and there are many of them, all ending with the same word, “ligo,” meaning good cheer or to make merry. As the bonfires are lit, the more amorous couples in the village tend to slip off into the night at times in search of a magickal (and possibly mythical) pure white flower that blooms on this night — and even if the flower isn’t found, the search is reportedly sure to be enjoyable! As the song goes,
“Here comes Janis on Janis’ eve, with his steed all adorned;
“Run little sister and open the gates, so Janis can ride into our yard!”
With bonfires on hilltops throughout the land, the celebration of St. John’s Eve, or Jani (John’s Days), on Midsummer’s Eve goes on throughout the night across Latvia, and wherever the sons and daughters of Latvia congregate. And wherever you are on this holy night of celebration, love and thanksgiving, please give a good thought to the Latvians and their Baltic neighbors, for their bravery and tenacity in keeping the spirit, joy and sense of oneness with the natural world of pagan religion alive and intact, and join them in communion with the glory of our beautiful universe!
- Gerald Gardner: Witch, by J.L. Bracelin
- A History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick
- “The Country of Latvia”: http://www.angelfire.com/al2/LatvianStuff/Latvia.html
- “Ancient Latvian Paganism”: http://www.pagan.drak.net/wwcrew/
- “St. John’s Eve in Old Ireland”: http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/article1035.html
- “The Bonfire Tradition in the Orkney Islands”: http://www.orkneyjar.com/tradition/bonfire.htm
- “A Midsummer’s Celebration,” by Mike Nichols: <A HREF=”http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/7280/midsumr.html Copyright © 2006 by the article’s author
Heating Up Litha With a Bonfire
by C. Cheek
Is there anyone who doesn’t associate bonfires with pagan festivities? Fire is the element of Midsummer, when the Sun King is at his highest. Sweet herbs laid upon coals purify the air, and the smoke from burned prayers or offerings rises to the heavens. Some revelers dance around the fire to infuse the night with life and laughter and lust, others gaze into the flickering light to see what the future holds. What could be wilder, more carnal, more appropriate to the Dionysian festival of Litha than a huge, roaring bonfire? All you need is a little planning and forethought, and you too can set the night aflame.
Most people want to host Midsummer on their own property or in a public park. Keep in mind that not all parks allow fires. In Seattle, for example, only Alki Beach and Golden Gardens allow fires at all. If you’re in a national forest or state park, fires are generally allowed except on no-burn days. You can call the park warden to find out the conditions in advance.
If you’re having a celebration on your own property, you’ll be restricted by your city’s backyard burning rules. Most cities allow small fires, as long as you’re not burning garbage. Call the fire department to find out if a burn ban is in effect, or check your city fire department’s Web site.
The safest place to have a fire is in a permanent brick or stone fireplace. Second safest is in a covered fire barrel with mesh sides, over a concrete or other non-flammable surface. You have to admit that this doesn’t have the allure of a fire built in a more primitive setting, but safety is still important. You don’t want to chance having the wind or a careless guest spreading the fire. If you have the fire pit on the ground, remove any grass underneath, and replace peat or bark mulch with sand or stones. Make sure there are no trees, bushes, buildings, picnic tables or other flammable objects near your pit.
No matter where you put your fire, you’ll need something ready to put it out. A fire extinguisher is good for emergencies, but you won’t want to use a fire extinguisher every time. Not only are they expensive to purchase and recharge, but some of them contain toxic chemicals. For a campfire, water is best. A single gallon isn’t enough. Have a hose or several large buckets of water ready. It may seem like a good idea to put sand or earth on a fire instead, but earth or sand can bank the coals, keeping them dormant until the wind stokes them up again. Every year, people who fail to completely extinguish their campfires start forest fires. Don’t be one of those people. If you leave a fire unattended, your karma will get so bad, you’ll be audited yearly for life.
Bonfires are communal events, so your best bet is to make everyone bring a little bit of wood — like a flammable potluck. That way everyone has contributed to the event, and the burden of gathering or buying wood isn’t all on the host.
Many people like to use Duralogs, firewood made from compressed paper. These are good because they burn cleanly and are made from recycled materials. Duralogs can help you start the flames, but cost about a dollar an hour per log to burn. They also aren’t structurally sound once they start burning, and you won’t be able to stack them very high.
Cordwood is a good choice, because most wood sold for fires has been well dried and comes from ecologically sustainable forests. Places that sell camping goods often sell small bags of firewood, but you’re paying for the convenience. Like many things, wood is cheaper in bulk. Depending on the type of wood you get and where you live, it will cost $100 – $200 per cord. (A cord is a stack of wood that measures 4′ x 4′ x 8′) Check the classifieds, or visit www.firewoodcenter.com for a list of dealers near you. The disadvantage of buying cordwood is that you usually have to buy at least half a cord, and you may need to pay delivery fees as well.
Another option is to use gathered branches. If you are having a fire in a national or state park, you are not allowed to gather wood for fires. If you are on private land, you can do it as long as you respect the wishes of the owner. Don’t cut down living trees. Not only is it bad karma, the wood will remain green and wet for far too long. Gather only dead branches. Dead wood is free and removing it helps the tree grow better. You’ll know it’s dead when it snaps off sharply. If it bends, it’s still too green.
If you’re on the beach or near a river you can gather driftwood. It burns much hotter than normal cordwood, and is generally free of rot and insects. Driftwood from a river will gather on the banks, especially on a curve, after floods. Don’t count on finding all the wood you need at one time or in one place. Plan ahead, and pick up a little at a time. It will add up.
If you are willing to invest the time you can get free wood in your city. It’s too late for this Midsummer’s bonfire, but next autumn, walk around your neighborhood, especially on days when trash collectors pick up yard waste. With a saw or a pair of loppers cut pruned branches into manageable sized pieces (one to two feet) and store them in a dry location, such as a garage or carport. In a few months, your yard waste will be burnable timber. The advantage of gathering the wood yourself is that it’s free, you can get to know your neighbors better and you can choose woods that have magical or emotional importance. Also, since you put more foresight and work into your fuel, the fire will have more meaning. Meeting the tree, cutting the lumber, and anticipating your fire for months and months is very different from picking up a couple of Duralogs at Circle K on the way to the park.
Don’t burn broken furniture, cardboard boxes, or other trash. Most city laws prohibit burning garbage, and with good reason. Plastic, varnished wood and even some papers release harmful gasses when burned. If you have mementos or items of spellwork that you want to burn for ceremonial reasons, either make sure they’re clean and free of chemicals, or use only a tiny portion.
A fire needs fuel and air. Place the fuel in such a way so that the air can get to the flames without extinguishing them. If you have patience, you can start with just kindling. Light a match under grass and slowly add small twigs. When you’ve got a decent flame, but before the fuel turns to ash, add larger thumb-thick sticks to the pile. When those sticks have lit, you can gently teepee or stack the larger logs on top. That’s how experienced campers do it. The rest of us use an entire box of matches, curse at everyone nearby and blame the damp earth and the wind for our failure.
If you’re one of those, try the cheater’s way. Clean and prepare your fire pit, whether metal or a hole in the earth, and pour in a pile of charcoal briquettes. Douse them with lighter fluid and toss a match on top. When the coals have been burning for a while and glow red, stack logs on top and fan the coals till the wood catches. If you do this well before your guests arrive, you can tell everyone you started the fire by rubbing sticks together. Hide the briquette bag and they’ll never know.
Once you’ve got your fire going, what to do with it? An old German tradition is to burn Sun wheels: everyone would bring a handful of straw, tie it to a wheel, and set it on fire. The men would roll it down the hill, past cheering women. Your local fire warden will not approve of this. An even older tradition (decried by the Romans) is to cage condemned men and women in a wicker effigy and burn them alive. This is also a bad idea.
Instead, give everyone an unlit torch. The leader begins a prayer, then lights each torch as they pass in procession. The torchbearer joins in the prayer as soon as his or her torch is lit. As the firelight rises, the chanting will grow louder. Once everyone holds lit torches, use them to light the bonfire simultaneously. As the bonfire burns, have everyone join hands and dance a simple grapevine step in a circle. Your coven leader can sing out couplets for all to repeat, other members can offer songs of their own, or people can simply sing whatever nonsense is on their mind. The important thing is to make some noise and loosen up. There’s nothing like the flickering glow and heat, the communal voices rising like sparks to the sky and the warm grip of palms on either side to make anyone feel fiery and sensual.
Some people might want to jump over the bonfire, but unless it’s very small, discourage them. Loose clothing and open flames don’t mix! I once had a cloak catch on fire while I was wearing it. Cotton lights quickly, hair burns faster than paper and synthetic fabrics melt and stick to skin. This is not fun.
Another ritual that’s great for bonfires involves preparation. Ask the guests to prepare a sacrifice (homemade incense works well) as an offering. Say whom the offering is for as you toss it into the fire. Conversely, you can invite your guests to burn that which they don’t want anymore: mementos of an ex, their pink slip, strands of pre-diet clothes. As they toss it into the flames, they ask the gods to remove it (and its implications) from their life.
Once the party gets going and the mead starts flowing, people might feel inspired to toss clothing too. As long as they don’t toss stinky polyester into the fire, why not? Hey, it’s Midsummer! What better time to go sky clad?
Enjoy your bonfire!
· Have the fire only in designated areas, and keep flammable materials away from your fire pit.
· If your wood has been stored outside, wear gloves and watch for wildlife. Snakes and spiders love woodpiles, and they might bite you for disturbing their home. Also, build and burn your fire on the same day so that you don’t unwittingly kill innocent creatures.
· Make sure you have a sufficiency of water and/or a fire extinguisher. It’s easy for a fire to get out of control.
· Don’t have fires on windy days, or when the land has a lot of dry brush. Sparks can fly.
· Keep children away from the fire. Watch the adults too. There’s often a joker who thinks he’s invincible, especially when he’s had a few beers.
· Don’t have fires under trees or other flammable structures.
· Don’t pour lighter fluid or any other flammable liquid onto an open flame. Flames can travel back to the source of the fuel, causing explosions. Also, never ever use gasoline to start a fire unless you want to see the inside of a burn unit firsthand.
· Keep the fire attended at all times.
· Make sure the fire is completely out before you leave. A cold puddle of ash is good. A smoking heap of coals is not.