Hearthfire

Our hearth serves as a connecting point for all of our Grove Members. When one becomes a Member, they light a candle from the hearthfire to take home. When we light those candles on our own shrines, we are connected to everyone else.

Our hearthfire is kindled anew each year at Bealtaine. Though the Indo-European new year was probably at the Vernal Equinox, our Grove follows the Gaelic custom. Grove Members ritually extinguish their hearthfires at home, and then come to the rite. At the rite, our Grove hearthfire is ritually extinguished, and then it is relit. Ideally, the fire should be a need-fire relit from the Sun, but we’ve never done that. The fire is hallowed with nine sacred woods — woods that are both traditional and local, and are the very beginnings of Grove tree-lore (far more work needs to be done here).  Into the fire is given the last remains of winter, which in the past has been the carline, the corn dolly of An Cailleach. (Unfortunately, our ritual site doesn’t allow bonfires, and she’s too big for the cauldron, so last year we buried the carline in our community garden plot.) Once we’ve established the fire, Grove Members are welcome to light their candles from the hearth to take home with them.

When we did this rite last year, it was also the first time we had separated the hearthfire from the sacrificial fire in our High Day rites. We carried the fire into our ritual space and lay it down with the line, “We build our Fire on the body of the Earth…”, claiming the land for ourselves. Though we use that line in each of our rites, when we light the hearthfire, at Bealtaine it has a more direct meaning. This year, we’ll be further exploring the land-claiming idea with the inclusion of beating the bounds in our rite, though I’m not entirely sure what form this will take.

Our hearthfire accepts no direct offerings in our rituals, except the initial offering to Brighid. Theoretically, offerings for Brighid (or even other hearth-specific deities) could be given into the hearth, though it’s easier in a large rite with guests to say that all offerings go into the sacrificial fire. The sacrificial fire is lit from the hearthfire, our Fire Tender using a long match to transfer the flame from one cauldron to another. The sacrificial fire is established as the means by which we communicate with the Gods, and it is the fire that will open as a Gate. At the end of the rite, it is extinguished.

The Fire Tender, by our custom (but not our rule) is often tended by someone who is a flametender of Brighid. Since we have four in the Grove, duties rotate fairly often. There is nothing in our liturgy that states one must be a flametender to perform this role. We consider the Fire Tender to be one of our “pillars” of ritual, as she must maintain both fires on the altar including adding more fuel at appropriate times, be prepared to handle any fire emergencies, and provide direction to those giving offerings. Normally, she also aids in setting up and tearing down the altar.

At home in my personal rites, there are different practices, as I believe that home rites do not necessarily require the same exactness that public rites do. (Home rites do not also necessarily require the opening of Gates, but that’s a different discussion.) At home, there is only the hearthfire, though sometimes there is a censer, but I see that as an extension of the hearthfire rather than a sacrificial fire. Brighid has her own shrine on which the Kildare flame burns, and that flame is only ever touched by me, though Lugaid is welcome to leave offerings at her shrine. The hearthfire is most often lit by me, which I believe is most correct but not required; it is my responsibility to light and smoor it each day. That is a combination of both my role as priest and an exploration of traditional gender roles within marriage. I’m also partial to covered hair for Brighidine flametenders, Fire Tenders in public rites, and for rites specifically focused on the hearthfire, but this isn’t something I’d ever require anyone else to do.

3 thoughts on “Hearthfire

    1. My apologies for the late reply. I’ve been experimenting with covering since about 2009, off and on. My initial interest came from monastic practice, and then I began reading Christian blogs, before finding several pagans who do this. For the connection with hearthfires, the Vestal virgins covered, and most married women in Indo-European cultures did as well, so, where it may not be a direct correlation, the idea for me is related to traditional gender roles and the roles that a woman of that status would perform. Sorry it’s so nebulous, I don’t really have a collection of sources.

      To be perfectly honest, I’m unsure if this is a valid practice for me or not. I like the idea in theory, but I often feel like I’m pretending, or become anxious about having to explain why I’m wearing a certain thing. I don’t believe it’s a necessity to practice, but I think that it could enhance it, if I could get over my hangups about what other people think. My gods have said to me that at this time, headcovering (and other clothing restrictions) isn’t a necessity for me, but is still a valid tool, so it is my choice if I wish to employ it. It’s more about focus than any sort of modesty rules.

      1. Thanks for replying. I’ve experimented with ritual clothing (stoles, headscarves, etc.) so was curious how that had worked for others. I too have worked with this as a focusing tool–a reminder that this is a time set aside from the rest of my day. I admit I’m less comfortable with the ties to gender roles–it’s difficult for me to see a way to work with that without accepting gender essentialism and the inherent patriarchy in the societies that much of our evidence is drawn from–but it is an interesting aspect, nonetheless.

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