Invitation to the Sacred Fire

I invite you, friends.

Come with me to a place of celebration.

The forest stands, ancient. It is night. The tents and pavilions have been set: your bed awaits you if you want to go.

It is midnight.

And you don’t want to go there.

None of us does.

The scent of the damp earth and the old wood, stained with a little smoke, perfumes the air. All is dark save the odd candle, the odd lantern that marks the trail to the Place.

There are drums. Incredible drums, rising and falling, pounding into ecstasy, diminishing into intense, near-silent fervent rhythms. The drums call us to the torch-circled Place. The Place of magic, where burns the fire.

There are already many of us there, dancing in their bright finery, flying close about the fire or moving stately, slowly in an orbit at a distance. They are dancing, they are singing about life, about living. The drums quiet and they are listening to the night, they are moving in slow motion, they are reciting poems.

We are an old people, we are a new people; we are the same people, stronger than before

There are altars, flickering with candle flames, gems and flowers and feathers and chalices and bones. Those who dance will sometimes slow to contemplate them, to reflect on what they mean.

I have seen this, friends. It is real. You can come.

Dragon’s blood resin is on the air, and burning oak, and the jettisoned pain of those who have shed their wounds, and that flickering light in the darkness from the Sacred fire.

It is Sometime O’clock now, deep in the night, and you step away for a snack at the food altar, and beloved friends are there, and you talk about the deepest truths of yourselves, your challenges and beauties. Because that is the only currency in this place: the trading of soul truth.

We believe in a better world
We believe in justice
We believe in peace
We can heal our planet
We won’t bow down

And at that sometime o’clock, as the drums strike up again, there is fresh wood on the fire and you enter, feeling the heat lick against you, and you dance as though–as it is–no one, including yourself, is judging you. You dance to the sky, you dance to the sacred ground, you dance in love to those you love. You dance as you feel best expresses the you that is You.

Around you, magical costumes and sheer nakedness. Frenzied motion, slow marching. Deep in trance, the People of the Earth dance together.

When the sky lightens, there is a pang: must this night end? And yet it must, as all do, and when the Sun peeks golden over the horizon all are there to raise hands high, to say “good morning!” and weep at the sheer beauty of this: another day of Life, gifted to us.

Wrung out, stumbling, we hug our hugs and kiss our kisses, and head for our beds to sleep. There has never been a night like this before, nor will there be again. But we were there.

We saw, we felt, we made it. Love is the ground, love is the air we breathe.


For the people of the Fire Family community. Photo by Leo Avalon.

Atheopaganism for Solitaries

We’re a subgroup of a subculture. Of a couple of them, actually: atheism and Paganism.

So it’s not a surprise that though there are many of us collectively, we are spread thinly and may live far away from anyone else who identifies as practicing the path of Atheopaganism. Thus, this post, about practicing as a solitary.

That said, I do encourage folks to meet up as best they can. I have heard many heartwarming stories of folks from the Atheopaganism Facebook group meeting in person and establishing friendships. I think that’s wonderful!

I myself mostly practice as a solitary. Though I have a ritual circle that meets 8 times per year or so and the rituals of which don’t generally involve invocation of deities, most of my day-to-day practice is things that I do by myself, or sometimes with Nemea, my partner in crime.

My solitary practices fall into several categories: Daily practices, contemplation, craft projects and solitary rituals.

In my daily practices, I often have very little time in the morning before leaving for work, as I am not a morning person and typically sleep in until the very last minute when I must prepare for work. Still, I stand before my Focus, and ground myself. The Arrival Phase of ritual is particularly important in solitary work, because it is there that we submerge into the Ritual State, or trance. The creation of a sense of being safe and protected is particularly important when working alone–you’ll want to ensure you have privacy and won’t be interrupted.

I then draw a Tarot card, and contemplate its meaning. It will become a theme for reflection throughout the day. And then I’m off to work, and my day.

In the evening, mostly I just like to spend time by candlelight, to enjoy the dreamy entrancing feeling of the flickering candles on my Focus. But sometimes I do more formal solitary rituals (see below).

In contemplation practices, I typically lay out a selection of ritual decorations and tools to create a Focus, and then read Tarot cards by candlelight. I am a very poor meditator, as my attention tends to be drawn away, but Tarot or other “divination” practices work well for contemplation for me.

Similarly, when creating Pagan craft projects, I like to lay out a Focus and play music that puts me in a proper mood. Generally, you need full light to work with cutting tools and so forth, but beginning with Arrival and declaration of Qualities you would like to be imbued in the product of your crafts can make a ritual out of a crafting project. For examples of such projects, see here.

In a solitary ritual, I plan an intention in advance, and do what I can to create the setting that will enable me to go deeply into trance. So I play appropriate ritual music (see link above), burn incense or dried herbs, light candles or oil lamps, and perhaps dress in special ritual apparel or put on a special piece of jewelry. I go through the five phases of the ritual structure for Atheopaganism that I recommend (Arrival, Qualities and Intentions, Deep Play, Gratitude and Benediction). Such solitary rituals are usually planned in advance.

However, bear in mind that such personal rituals may not involve prior planning. It is perfectly legitimate to simply ground, establish sacred space, and perform an impromptu ritual without thinking about even the goal in advance. Sometimes the goal is simply to experience the ritual state of trance itself, sheerly for the symbolic meaning and pleasure of it.

And now, a word about mind-altering substances. Many find dropping into the deep Presence and warm, glowing feeling of trance to be easier—particularly when solitary—if they have some chemical assistance. I make no judgements about this, but suggest that if you choose this route, you start from the standpoint that less is more. I find personally that a single glass of wine is helpful to me in establishing the Ritual State; any more than that and I am unfocused and not really in the best state for doing rituals. Others may prefer a little cannabis or even something stronger.

If you choose to experiment in this direction, one route I highly suggest avoiding is that of stimulants. The effects of such drugs as caffeine, cocaine and amphetamines are directly opposite that of trance: they tend to lead to people being hyper, scattered, and unable to focus very well unless taken in very small doses. Not to mention their addictive natures.

There is a lot of literature on the usage of chemical drugs in ritual contexts. I’m not familiar with much of it because that isn’t my area of interest, but if you root around the Internet I’m sure you can find a lot. One very good resource on psychoactive substances generally is the nonprofit site Erowid.

Obviously, you should be aware of the laws in your area and take care of your personal security in making decisions about use of chemical enhancement.

Explore your solitary practice and I hope you find much joy and meaning in it! Feel free to remark on your experiences in the comments.


Beautiful as this image is, please: don’t EVER wear sleeves like this when working with naked flame.

Ritual Hygiene: Preparation and Recovery

I made a mistake this week.

I assigned the creation and completion of a solitary ritual to the students in the Atheopaganism U. class, and neglected to cover how to take care of yourself before and after a ritual. One of the students had a very powerful experience in her ritual, and then spent hours unable to sleep thereafter.

Whoops.

In all my writing here at the Atheopaganism site, I have completely overlooked the basic physical/psychological preparation and post-ritual self care that are necessary for health and safety. These are practices I engage in myself–it just never occurred to me to write about them.

So here goes.

Depending on their contents, rituals can be physically taxing. They can work up your feelings and metabolic and heart rates, and simply attaining and being in the Ritual State of focus, presence, emotion and awareness can burn a lot of calories.

Accordingly, we need to take care of our bodies and our minds prior to and following a ritual.

Pre-Arrival phase: Generally speaking, it is good to prepare for a ritual by eating a light, healthy snack of some kind, like a piece of fruit, and ensuring that you are sufficiently hydrated. Get a good night of sleep the night before if at all possible.

There are exceptions to these rules. Sometimes fasting is employed in the lead-up to a ritual, or sleep deprivation, or both. These can contribute to a ritual being very powerful, but are also dangerous unless thorough grounding and return to a normal state are employed after the ritual’s closing.

Hydration is always a must. Have water available for participants during a ritual and be sure you are sipping water, whether or not you feel you need it.

Post-Benediction phase: After a ritual, you may find yourself feeling lightheaded or dreamy, still in the Ritual State, or you may have had a profound emotional experience that is still lingering with you. The limbic system of the brain is highly activated during the Ritual State; this creates an altered state of consciousness which can be dangerous when it comes to engaging with physical reality: do not, for example, jump right in a car and drive while in this state.

Instead, do what you can to “ground” or re-orient your body and mind to an ordinary state of consciousness.

Eat something hearty. Touch the soles of your feet or your bare palms flat against the Earth and just breathe for a few minutes, concentrating on your breath going in and out. Then sit quietly and just notice your surroundings: pay particular attention to their details. Soon, you will feel more “normal” and will be able to go about the business of cleaning up from the ritual and moving on with your day or night.

The Ritual State is pleasurable and powerful, but it is also an altered state of consciousness and should not be combined with operating heavy machinery or other dangerous activities. Be sure to take care of yourself as you conduct your ritual work.