I attended the Sacred Fire Circle [SFC] this past Labor day weekend sponsored by Circle Sanctuary. This event takes place near Mount Horeb, just outside of Madison, Wi. Sacred Fire Circles have developed as individual events, each with it’s own character over the past fifteen years. Mainly building on the creative impulse and vision of Jeff Magnus McBride and Abigail Spinner McBride, these events are emerging all over the country and world. While total participation is relatively small [this event had nearly 60 attend], the impact on those involved is large. Many of your favorite songs and chants likely come from Abby Spinner and were written for use in Sacred Fire Circles. Below are interviews from eight participants.
Current Fire Circle event locations center on the coasts, but the upper Midwest is also a bastion of Fire Circle activity. They have spread to as diverse locations as Australia , Hawaii and Costa Rica. Each location, production team and process, and individual event develops its own character. In common, they are usually based on a shared responsibility for co-creating content, and embrace an alchemical process analogy for personal transformation .
“Alchemy is the gentle acceleration of growth through the use of the fire of nature.”
SFC’s ask engaged and active participation all night until sunrise, and so have the element of shamanic trial, ordeal, and sacrifice incorporated. Essentially they are a 6-8 hour ritual, repeated each night for several nights. Fire Circles generate an intense sense of, community, love, safety, and respect among participants, and this atmosphere is drawn upon as a source of support for personal analysis, self-expression, and growth.
Internet Research will generate all the specific information about Sacred Fire Circles that you would ever want to know.
What follows is a series of interviews of eight participants of very different back grounds and spiritual paths. I asked each why they were drawn to these events in addition to their personal Pagan spiritual practice, and why they keep returning.
or read the mildly edited transcripts below;
Michelle Boshears – ‘Dawnwalker’ ; Grovetown, Georgia, Wiccan Minister
Well I have been going to the Pagan Spirit Gathering for a number of years. And this last year, PSG 2010, I got up the courage to go to the one night Sacred fire circle there. I had such an amazing experience and connection with the people there that I could not see myself NOT driving eighteen hours to extend that experience that I had at PSG ! I love PSG, I have to go every year, it’s like a drug. The Sacred Fire circle is even more intense than tha, and I just have to do it now, I’m addicted [laughs].
At home in Georgia, I do military ministry work. My ministry is very transitional. I work with young soldiers predominantly, and so I don’t have that real ‘family’ connection. Where in the fire tribe, you are just connected, immediately, and you feel welcome, and safe, and nurtured, and I mean it is just amazing. It’s nothing like I can get at home. I mean though I love my ministry, this adds so much more to my spiritual journey than I could ever imagine getting at home.
Joey Brunbury; Madison,Wi ; Pagan
What brought me to fire circles in the first place is , well I’m Pagan, and so I’m involved in the community. I have a passion for bonfires, drumming, dancing. I like to get dressed up in belly dance outfits and kind of goofy stuff, and it gave my a good excuse to prance around and act foolish. That’s the truth of what drew me here originally. What I have found that is unique is the love and support of Tribe, community. I do a lot of festivals but this is the only festival that I come to where the community all gets together to help out and put the festival on together. Where there literally is no staff. That is unique.
What keeps me coming back is I enjoy it. I enjoy dancing. I am learning to drum. I am learning lots of new things, and I am learning about myself. Things that I didn’t think I could do, I can do. Exploring lots of new avenues. different cultures, different musical instruments, types of dancing, and drumming and chanting, and yoga. There is always different workshops, it is always a learning process. I enjoy that. I take something new away from every Fire circle. It depends on who comes together and what they bring from their part of the world and their religion, and their own back ground.
Billy Crow Staver; Madison, Wi ; Shamanism
We follow a shamanic path, and part of that is ecstatic ritual. We were really excited when Fire Circle came on deck here because it’s an ecstatic ritual, a three night building process. The thing that I love about that is it seems like the first night kind of ‘sets the stage’ for what you are going to be working on, then you have two more nights to exhaust yourself and allow that exhaustion to pull up what you need to look at. It’s both an ordeal and a joy . We are focused on ordeals, initiatory type ordeals because it takes us out of our comfort zone. The joy comes from fleshing out those shadow issues and I think it helps you ‘run clear. From a shamanic stand point for me, I need to be focused and I want to run clear. I want to connect with the rhythm of the people who I am around, my Tribe, and also the rhythm of the land, To do that sometimes I have to push past all the normal feelings of comfort, or whatever you do to disengage sometimes. They talk about ‘staying engaged, and it’s really key, the more you get tired, the more you push, the more you pull out of it at the end.
I know that I need to go and revisit that space, and I know I need to revisit that at least a couple of times a year. It helps me flash back what my expectations are, and open back up to the divine,. Open myself up to that medicine, unexpected medicine really helps me more than what I think is gonna make me feel comfortable. There are shadow issues that I think every human being has and when you pull them up and try to throw them in the fire, it doesn’t mean they are gonna go away all at once. They creep back in. A lot of those issues for a lot of people are things that are developed from childhood, they keep going. You can shove them down, and pretend like they are not there, but they are still there. That is what I find out when I get out to the Fire Circle . As last year, I was really ‘pissy’ the first night, I think that was ‘Shadow Billy’ going : “No, No, don’t go in there, you don’t need to deal with that stuff ”. I put my finger on it; you are coming to a place of ordeal and that’s going to help you start working on some stuff that will help you run clear, but that is painful. A part of you does not want to do that!
Jacki Saeemodarae; Wichita, Kansas ; Egyptian
I went to PSG in June and someone suggested that I do the Fire Circle. I got real emotional, and I got some stuff out. I talked to tribe members and they said if you liked this, then come to circle Sanctuary. And do the three-day event. They have nothing like this in Wichita! I really like the people and the energy, and I felt happy to be here. I didn’t know what to expect, you know what’s going to happen. It’s been everything I expected and more. It’s amazing.
In addition to PSG, it is something I’ll be back to every year. Even though it is an eleven hour drive, it is well worth it. It’s the people, the beauty, it is just gorgeous up here. The magic, just that it’s family. It is community and everybody loves everybody. I haven’t felt this since I left PSG, and it has really transformed me.
Colleen Koziara; Wheaton, Il; Pagan Witch
I attended the one night fire circle at PSG in 2009. I had an experience there that I had never had before, actually shape shifting. There was no way I was not going to go to the three-day! As I cam out of it, I was aware of it, and thought it had just happened for a few minutes and found out later it had been for quite a while. It was wild. This has never been part of experience here since then
What brings me back are other experiences that have been equivalent to that, and just as intense. Every time it is different. It is basically the same elements put together every time and you come up with something completely different each time. Part of why I am here particularly is because this one is closest to my home. In February I intend to go to Costa Rica.That is part of the reason, but the other part is you get very connected to the Tribe.
Jacob Caldwell ; Green Bay, WI ; Pagan Warrior
I actually was still in Iraq when I heard about this from a friend of mine. This sounded like a great way to help me cope with some things when I came home, coming back from my second tour. Coming back from My first tour there were issues that I knew I was going to have to deal with, that I was going to have some troubles with. These proved to not only be a great way to deal with those issues, but with the everyday stresses of life that just kind of build and become very, very intrusive. The things that clutter you up over time.
I keep coming back to this because the tribe is so amazing. The Tribe is the people, they become almost like another family., without all the trash, for lack of a better word, that come with your family. You get that odd mix of people and you never know what is going to come from that mix of people from one time until the next. There are certain things you know are going to happen. You know certain people will be there, but you never know what else to expect. Tonight will be the third and final night for this event, and I have no clue what to expect. I don’t know what will come, but I know it is going to be something.
Karen Yerby – ‘ Ladyhawke’ ; St Louis, Missouri ; Pagan Minister
I have several friends who attended and they were so excited, they were on fire, very passionate about it and what they brought back. It is an experience I had not had before. In my ministry work I need to experience a lot of different things so that when people speak to me about things I have some understanding/experience, so I know where they are coming from. For my friends this was a very trans-formative experience, very joyful for them. I’ve really enjoyed the experience myself.
I do see myself coming back to deepen the work done here. The people involved are incredible. The closeness of Tribe is one of the reasons we are able to do the level of work that is done here. Also, I am really interested in bringing this back to the Missouri area, and to other parts of the country. All night dancing, drumming, chanting, and trancing.. What could be better?
Christine Ponder ; Whitewater, Wi ; Northern Folkways- Asatru
As Heathens, Folks of the Northern Folkway, it is not unusual for our folk to be far-flung. It is not unusual for us to drive hours to get together with Kin. My husband and I were members of a Kindred years ago. When that Kindred disbanded, we have pretty much practiced as a gentle and more solitary way for those years since. We’re not adverse to reforming a group, but that is an organic process for us. The idea of Fire Circle appealed to me for the first time when I stumbled across it because of the idea of an ordeal. Of course all world cultures have some lore regarding the use of an ordeal to have a spiritual transformative type of experience. Now in Heathenry, Odin discovered the Runes after a nine-day ordeal hanging on the World Tree. There is a lot of debate within Heathenry and lore scholars about exactly what his ordeal meant. Whether he actually died, whether it was a death of previous ideas and a birth of new ones. Suffice it to say, within our tradition and others, Native American comes to mind, but again in Asian cultures, the ordeal is a transformative experience to bring you to a new awareness.
This is very common, and so that appealed to me because I don’t know of any other group or organization that does something quite like that. Sacred Fire Circle immediately resonated with me as an ordeal, a form of transformative experience. Can you do it by yourself? Yes, like Native Americans do that sort of thing off in the wilderness alone. But I personally think there is a point of critical mass reached, where a certain number of people come together and when in sharing that ordeal there is a certain amount of energy raised and maintained that is of a whole different flavor than that which you can raise and maintain on your own. If we had a Kindred this large this is one of the things we would be doing. It is tremendously valuable. It has to do with the basics of life. The idea that people’s lives get in the way. They have dogs that need boarding, or kids that need care, or work schedules that aren’t flexible, so even if it was conceivable that we did have a Kindred, and we got them all excited about it, well to carry it off might be tough. What is the point of critical mass? Does it work great with 25 but not so hot with 15? Does it work ok with 15 but totally breaks down at 10?
I don’t know what the magic number is, the first fire circle I was at was about 30-35 people I’m guessing. The largest was last time with 65 that we had. It’s a great number and that’s why we are here. We use to ask in orientation. “Why are you here?’. For us it was always for a sense of community. That sense of connection with the spiritual energy of others and what kind of sacred space that creates. Which is different that the kind of sacred space you create on your own, or with a small group. It is always about intent. I was joking earlier about what it takes to stand blot. I said, “Here’s the deal, you can stand Blot in a Walmart parking lot with a warm diet Coke and a half a MacDonald’s cheeseburger and if you are maintaining sacred intent, your intent is to gift to the Aesir and Vanir and your elder kin, to gift what you have to give, that makes it as sacred as it needs to be. The fact that we may be sharing that sacred space with those not of our path, because we are not dedicating that fire to, say, a Dianic path, or a Polynesian path or a Native American path, it does not matter. It is sacred space that we share just as Humans, finding our space together as that which we consider sacred. It totally works, totally works.
I consider this tribe my Kin, just in a different sense. As Kin we are prepared to defend our Innangard. The world is divided up into Innangard and Utlanders, inner Kin and outlanders. The fact that you and I may have different ideas about what is sacred, maybe we had a personality conflict, and maybe we don’t hang out together too much around the fire cause I know if you say too much you will say something that is going to get under my skin, well that doesn’t mean if an opposing force suddenly came marching on us, you and I wouldn’t stand back to back because we are Innangard. That does not mean we are lovey dovey, but it does mean there is a shared trust and mutual sacred intent. We will defend that sacred space because that is a trust that we have established. Doesn’t mean that I have to like you, but it does mean that I have to respect you, and that we have mutual respect for our sacred intent to being here, … that matters!
Nels Linde, has participated in six sacred fire circles; two at Circle Sanctuary, two at Pagan Spirit Gathering, and two at the Sacred Fire Circle in Paradise, he helps sponsor in Western, Wi.