In our house, the first person that gets home from work makes the fire in the woodstove. Most nights, that would be me, although I work an extra shift two nights a week. On those two nights, my husband uses a piece of one of those store bought resin fire starter blocks to get the fire going. Not me. I carefully arrange two of the smallest pieces of wood that I can find in the pile, and then between them place good tinder, overlaid with whatever twigs or shavings I can find in the tinder box. My goal is to start the fire with just one match.
Hubby’s method definitely gets him on the couch in less time. The resin does catch quickly, and burns steadily and strong enough to get the logs going. My method requires patience. After the initial flame catches, I carefully continue to add twigs and splinters of wood of gradually increasing size, in a crosswise fashion so there’s always plenty of air between those pieces. If I add them too quickly, the fire snuffs out for lack of oxygen; if I am not attentive and don’t add enough as the flame starts to gain strength, it dies for lack of fuel. A balance of the basic elements is required.
So I have to sit before my baby fire a little bit before I can add some bigger pieces and walk away. I’ve never timed it, but it does take me longer to get the fire going than my husband.
So why do I do it this way?
Ah well, the aspiration to light a one match fire comes from two sources. A book I read in the fifth grade, and love to this day: My Side of the Mountain (I still have a copy). And my treasured experiences as a Girl Scout, at camp, where I first learned to build a good fire. Ok that’s really corny, but it’s true. I never had the gumption to run off and live in the base of a massive tree, that’s one of the few regrets in my life. But I can light a mean fire. And although my fire requires more direct attendance to get it going, it actually burns hotter and starts warming the room more quickly than my husband’s fire (and he would agree with me).
I think there’s two reasons. One is intrinsic in the way the fire is built, the fuel is added gradually, with sufficient fuel, and also adequate airspace between the fuel. So that there is always fuel present with the oxygen, which helps the fire burn more intensely.
And then there’s the matter of intent. What I put into making the fire, comes out of the fire.
This evening as I was sitting cross legged in front of the stove, adding the gradually bigger pieces of kindling, I began musing that building a fire was not unlike carrying out a magical working.
Many who follow a pagan path work with some form of magic at one time or another; there are many of you who are much more experienced and adept than I. So I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, and this definitely is not a “how to” post! I’m going to speak in the most basic of terms.
When I’m building my fire, it’s a rare night that I don’t have to go out to the wood pile and kindling box and replenish the stack by the stove. And I usually have to clean out last night’s ashes too. If I don’t, the airflow is not as good, and it’s harder to get the fire going. So first, there’s preparation. From gathering your thoughts and assembling materials, to creating a time and space to work in. Cleansing the area and putting everything you’ll need in your grasp.
As you proceed, focus is required. On your intention. If the phone rings at the wrong time after I light that single match, if I answer, my preparations may go to waste – the baby fire will die out due to lack of attention. Focus. Intention. A sense of mission.
Once the focus is successfully established, and the intention defined, energy must be built to support and carry out the intention. When I’m building my fire, I sit there, adding one small piece of kindling at a time… gradually adding bigger pieces….building the energy….
Sure, I could use the fire starter. Sure, I could just recite the words that somebody else wrote, and be done with it. Not the same. Ideally, you would use your own words, your own thoughts; but many folks have difficulty writing their own rituals. Understood. I have used the words of others myself. But, I try to spend time with those words, put my own thoughts into them….then they become my own, in some sense, expressed through chanting, singing, dancing.. whatever seems right to me.,
Intention, effort, energy building. I build my fire, I build my energy working. So many parallels. And then, you release the energy, the intention, to the universe, so that it can be manifested.
Once this is accomplished, there is one last step – grounding. Releasing the excess energy to the earth, coming to center, balancing. Banking the coals on the fire, so that you can safely close the grid, quieting the flames so that they will continue to provide warmth, but in a safe and controlled way, as you at last head upstairs to bed.
May you find magic in every day living.