My introduction to the experience of a firecircle was life changing. Lothlorien nature sanctuary in southern Indiana was hosting “Chants to Dance,”- a Beltaine festival celebrating spring and fertility. It was a perfect place for such a celebration. As soon as I came through the gates, I could feel that there was an important difference in how things worked “in here” compared to “out there,” in the “real world.”
Obviously, a nature sanctuary in southern Indiana is going to be green – and it was. There was green everywhere. Spring was springing, and it was beautiful. But there were other things going on in this place, too. There were faeries, and elves, and trolls (ways in which people referred to themselves and each other) and glittering baubles hanging from tree branches. There were little areas off the path with names like heart tree circle, lightning shrine, and shaman’s circle. Clearly, there was some strange stuff going on in this place!
Unfortunately, my writing skills are not up to the task of describing the magical beauty and mythology of this place, nor is it central to the intent of my post. But it does play a role so I will return to it later.
I wasn’t at this place more than a couple of minutes before I heard the drums. We were supposed to be camping. I completely forgot about picking a space to camp, or setting up my tent – I took my CP Aspire congas and headed in the direction of the sound.
The sound was coming from a big wooden and block geodesic dome built into the ground. The blue-gray rainy sky was visible through an opening at the top. It had four arched entrances, one for each of the cardinal directions, and arched openings around the base. At the center was a softly smoking fire pit surrounded by stones.
In this place was a small collection of exotically dressed folk. Some were sitting on the wall, a few were milling about the circle; someone was raking the sand floor in a circular motion, and a couple of people were drumming. I set up my congas next to them and joined in. It was nice, comfortable, and welcoming. I immediately felt like I was home. I passed a couple of hours in sound and conversation about drums and drumming with my new friends. That dome is pretty much where I stayed for the rest of the weekend.
When the sun set that evening the place was transformed. People filed in as the fire was rekindled and built up. If I thought they were exotically dressed during the day, I was amazed at the variety of costumes I was seeing now. More drummers arrived. I could see that there were many of us. People with congas, bongos, shakers, antlers, rattles, doumbeks, ashikos – some sitting, many standing. As the sound accumulated and reverberated through the space colorfully and elaborately garbed dancers started moving. The night grew darker and the fire grew brighter.
Beyond this description I can say very little about that night. I was swept up in an experience that had been happening for thousands of years – an alchemical process that transformed the drummers, dancers, and fire into a spinning cone of beauty and love. There are no words that are adequate to describe the experience of dissolving into sound, mystery, movement and light.
In the last fifteen plus years, I have attended many more circles. I became a regular part of the community at Lothlorien and started teaching there. I participated in group meetings that focused entirely on approaches to making the magick that happened in that dome more powerful and transformative. I have also attended circles in Pennsylvania (Stones Rising) New York (Starwood) Nevada, Georgia, Maryland, Ohio, California and Florida.
Little did I know at the time that my experiences at Lothlorien were pretty unique and extraordinary. It wasn’t just the people that attended these events; it was the intention of the attendees and organizers. Throughout that community (not just among the fire circle community) there was a focus on creating sacred space. Certainly, this means different things to different people. For some, sacred space is about connecting with symbols of Gods, Goddesses, Forces of Nature (Sun, Moon, Lightning, Water) – and so symbols are used in the space. For some sacred space is about ceremonial clothing (see Catholicism, pope), something that makes you physically conscious of yourself in a different way. Others find that a sacred space is manifested through the incantation of words acknowledging divinity, as it’s understood. All of these approaches have their place and are used all over the world and into the far reaches of history as a means of creating Sacred Space. While they differ from culture to culture and era to era, what makes them work is the same: intention.
While I know of no recipe that is guaranteed to bring about divine consciousness, there are common ingredients that, when properly applied, can create a space for transcendental experiences. The creation of Sacred Space is only one of these ingredients, but it is critical. It is up to us to discern what is most important in creating this space. Sometimes, the space can be brought about just by focusing on your breathing and silence for a little while before you begin. Or perhaps you prefer a more theatrical approach with costumes, a script, and incense – or maybe just a prayer. It is worthwhile to explore this from the point of view of what works to bring clarity to your intention. Most important to this is the (at least temporary) removal of your day-to-day sense of things. Stop thinking about your bills, the problems in your relationships, your self-image issues, or whatever else is holding you to your limited self-awareness. If possible, just stop thinking and open yourself to the possibility, the miracle of dissolving into union with divinity. Know that if you seek transcendent experience, then, like the folks at Lothlorien so many years ago (and some say still) you must make a space, and really that space is within.
To learn more about Lothlorien visit http://www.elvinhome.org/index.php