I never realised how much I would miss a fireplace until I never had one. Having grown up in an Edwardian town house with a fireplace in almost every room I guess I took them for granted. It was only when I moved into our last place, a 1970’s ‘two up two down’ type house that I really felt the absence of a fire place. Having the chimney opened and log burner installed in our new home was number one on our list. Not a cheap job, and certainly a long and messy one but now after the lighting of the first fires I can say for sure it’s all been worth it.
Fire is raw, ancient and magical…watch a fire and you soon realise you are seeing something that isn’t really there…you can feel it and see it, but you can’t hold it or contain it in the same way you can water or earth. Fire is a gift, a gift bestowed by the Old Ones to humanity, a symbol of life, magic, civilisation, art, industry. Stories from almost every culture speak of fire being given to mankind, usually being stolen from heaven by one means or another, or by one who takes pity on humanity. However, it doesn’t really matter who you are or what you believe, fire, like deep caverns and crashing waves, speaks to us on an intensely deep level, it speaks to the primal in us. Which is probably why most ‘men’ insist on taking control of the outdoor barbecue (’man make fire <grunt grunt>’). As soon as we gather before a fire we instantly feel safe, we sense the light of the flames keeping the hidden monsters of the night at bay, fire invokes that abstract feeling of being ‘cosy’, fire lulls us into a drowsiness unlike anything else and it’s a feeling no modern central heating system can replicate.
Perhaps it is fire’s ability to sedate the senses that lends itself to magical work, and I can’t pretend there is a pretty strong magical motive to wanting a fire and hearth in our new home, not just a nostalgic, romantic or even cosmetic one.
With this being said, I felt it appropriate to formally inaugurate our new hearth and fire (I do love a little bit of ceremony every now and then). Like all things magical, it’s important to start with intent…I’m dedicating a hearth yes…but to who and for what?
The hearth has always been a traditional location for the family to gather, today that has largely been replaced by the TV, but still, sitting before a roaring fire speaks to us through the ages….fire has been the main stay of households since the dawn of civilisation. The hearth is a liminal space where the living meet the dead, it is a place for the ancestors, for eating, drinking, reminiscing and telling tales, it is the essence of home, of blood and bone.
The stove is also reminiscent of the forge, the blacksmiths altar where one thing becomes another through the transformative power of flame. Before the burning wood, magic will be wrought, everyday objects will become powerful charms, herbs will infuse in oils and fats to become healing and magical salves, cold solid lead will be melted into a hot liquid means of divination, a simple meal of bread and mead or wine will become a holy sacrament dedicated to the spirits, desires and wishes, either written or knitted will be burnt and transformed into petitions of smoke rising up to the starlit sky, just like the spirit of the Witch, again transformed and entranced by the flames. Even the wood itself will be transmuted into ash for the garden, meanwhile the flames become a potent oracle….each crackle, each spark telling tales of what has been and what’s to come. The Old Smith God, as progenitor of magic and teacher of mankind would be asked for his blessing upon our newly installed stove and hearth…for his is the iron, the stone and the flame.
However, before there was light and before there was fire, there was night, there was only She, the incomprehensible Foremother of all things. The Mother of all Mothers, the beginning and the end, without whom there would be no light, no fire….nothing. She, as the source of all creation, and is also its end, just like fire she has the power to create and destroy, to purify and regenerate. It is She who rules the winter night skies, the time when the fires burn to warm our frozen feet and hands and cook our comforting soups and stews. Stella Maris, Holda, Old Mother Goose. She is the waters which cleanse and cool the Smith’s red hot iron, She is the black void within the stove out of which light and fire issues forth.
By Iron, stone, blood and bone in the names of The Dame, The Smith and the ancestors the first fire was lit and the dark room was at once aglow with its soft warm light. Bread was offered to the fire and quickly consumed by the flames. For quite some time we just sat and watched, already finding it intoxicating and hypnotic. The house spirit’s lamp and vessel were placed upon the hearth and it was finally starting to feel like Yuletide and I’m looking forward to burning an actual Yule log this year.
Annually, at a time that seems appropriate, the hearth and stove will be swept, washed with spring water and hearth blessed again with blood before lighting the first fires of the year once more.
To everyone, I wish you all a warm and peaceful Yuletide…”May you live as long as you want to, and want to as long as you live”