Sunday, June 13, 2010

4 My First Fire?

Monday May 31, 2010:

I am a bit scared of fire. It is unpredictable, and when at too close a proximity, harmful and dangerous. It is a singularly difficult element for someone like me who is blind, or so I believe.

I don't know how to make a fire." I say to all and sundry. I ask for fire teachers. On a dull Whit bank holiday Monday therefore, a fire companion and I meet in my shady quiet North London garden so that I may learn how to make fire.

When first I walked the pagan path, I had contemplated making a fire pit in my garden. Deciding that I was unlikely to make use of it by myself, I abandoned my plan and bought an aluminum cauldron instead. I thought I would make fires safely in this vessel. But such was my disconnect with fire, this only happened once, and only when someone more expert was there to make the fire.

So it is with some diffidence that I pick up the cauldron from its accustomed place at the foot of an apple tree, beneath a swinging witch lantern and take it to the path by the slate bench and my main garden alter.

My fire companion has bought kindling of various kinds. I have gathered twigs and bark from the garden, and bought out my store of twigs and wands of wood, gathered in my journeys over the years. I also fetch out the shredding file.

Waving a rolled up letter from the bank I cast a cheerful circle. I then set to folding old bills and confidential documents into "jacks", an intricate way of folding paper to lie at the base of a fire that I learned from my father. And as I do this, I suddenly realize that I do know something about how to light a fire!

I picture him, crouched down beside the coal fire in our plain square post-war council house. He carefully lays the jacks, places coals on top, lights the tail of one of the jacks with a spill he has made out of newspaper. He blows the tiny glimmer of light into being. It reddens, glows and begins to expand until little red, yellow and blue curling tongues of fire, lick at the coals, begin to nibble and then seize and possess first one shiny fissured black coal and then another and another until the whole bank of them upon their writhing, rapidly disappearing paper jacks are aglow.

My twin and I prance in front of the big French window, made into a mirror by the black night beyond. We watch ourselves dance, wrapped only in red and green towels, our backdrop, the crouching man who holds something to the fire, something in a spoon that he is warming. I see through my myopia, his shape, monochrome, black, white and grey against the red and grey fire surrounded by the neat grey tiled sureness of the plain and austere fifties mantelpiece.

My fire companion instructs me in the laying of a good fire. I place the jacks and some loosely screwed up bits of paper at the bottom of the caldron. I lean thin twigs and then bigger sticks across it tee-pee style. We work slowly, purposefully, carefully arranging the most inflammable nearest the heart of the fire, leaving spaces for air corridors to feed the flames, building a structure by which the fire below will warm and ready the bigger twigs for their turn to succumb to the fire. Our finishing touch is three solid branches, as thick as my wrists.

Fires like to be sung to, I remember, thinking about a huge fire made for a long dance and how we night dancers sung to it as it slowly gained strength. With each rise of the energetic refrain, it seemed to me that the fire gathered pace and grew warmer. Before long it was hissing and crackling merrily and it was time to dance.

It is time to light this fire. On instruction, I strike a match and plunge it into the centre of the pyre. A thin trail of smoke immediately catches my nostrils; I breathe in and ask anxiously if the fire has caught. It has, I am gratified to learn.

We fan the flames with master card bump. I blow into the heat and begin to hear the first crackle as the small twigs catch. We sing to the fire.

"Blessed be the fire of our desire.
Blessed be her courage, blessed be our love."

The fire hisses and hums. I sit close, my hands in the heat above the flames, I conduct the fire, and I shape its heat, my dancing hands hot but safely out of reach of the leaping tongues of fire.

And in its heart, I see a small dragon, red and yellow, glowing brightly. Here at the heart of the fire sits the dragon at the heart of the molten earth. That place in the centre which is the red hot core. The dragon breathes, it's fire breath seats the weak points in the earth's crust and breaks through. Hot rocks spill out and roll down, consuming, destroying all in their path. Great gouts of ash burst into the sky and are taken by wayward winds to lie above the land.

The spring skies are empty for six days as aircraft are grounded. The fine ash, so insubstantial, so light it is tossed on the gentlest of breezes has this power. We stand beneath silent skies, rejoicing about the peace and worrying about how this will affect the way we are.

The fire spits and snaps as though to say "Pah, that'll teach you!" Under instruction, I gently stir the twigs and the fire bursts into a frenzied roar.

I shift my stool back slightly. I am hot. I take off a layer of clothing.

But the warmth of the fire is wonderful. I love its heat on my face. I breathe in deeply the resinous smell of burning wood. I toss a handful of incense into the flames. The fire rears up. My companion tells me that the flames burn more intensely orange as the incense is scattered amongst the merrily burning twigs.

The flames leap exuberantly above the top of the caldron. The perfume of the forest floor swirls through the smoke, which my companion describes as light and almost see-through. In the rising aroma, something spicy and something flowery wrestles with the green mossiness that is the base-note of the incense.

We begin to tell each other stories inspired by the fire. We speak of a strange forest of fossilized trees, shaped into fantastic beasts, some composites, and some known creatures. I meet a horse with a bird's head and have a conversation with it. I find a great bear of a tree and feel comforted by it. The fossilized forest, my companion and I walk to the edge of the cliff and greet the prancing sea, the waves dancing a galliard for our delight. We dance too, my companion, the stiff fossilized tree creatures and I.

The fire is subsiding now. We feed it and it climbs greedily out of the caldron. We sing to it some more and it hums and hisses back as though it is happy with the state of things right now.

"Circle round the fire.
Raise the cone of power.
Get what you desire.
So mote it be.
Weave the magic round the firelight,
Dance in circle all night long
Weave the magic round the firelight,
Dance and sing the witch’s song."

There isn't room to dance round the caldron, so I imagine myself doing it. I remember other fires and other dances, other voices singing along beside the fire in a dark field of tents. I hear the drums, skipping pulsating and joyful. I briefly contemplate fetching out my drum. But we're in a North London Garden at dusk on Whit Bank Holiday Monday and I don't think the neighbors would be too pleased. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I'd like to share that part of me with them anyway.

The fire is low and quiet. My companion describes how the embers glow. It is safe to leave. We say our farewells, and go.

Later, I sneak back into the garden and stand by the rowan tree with a cup of tea. The fire smokes quietly. I prod it with a stick and then drop some small pieces of dried bark in. The fire roars and rises up, the heat fierce. I step back anxiously, for there is no one to ask if the fire is ok. I step forward and begin to sing to it softly.

Make of my heart a burning fire, fire.
Light burst
As from the sun, the moon the stars

The fire hisses softly, gradually becoming quieter until I have to bend low to hear it at all.

"Goodnight." I whisper into the still warm caldron.


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