Around the Fire caught up with Roger and Reyna Menadue, SFC Firekeepers in Alice Springs, Australia in late March 2016. Fellow Firekeeper Christine Staub conducted the interview.
CS: Hello Reyna and Roger. I’m so glad you have the time to talk with me today. It’s wonderful that, with these “Meet a Firekeeper” interviews, ATF readers have been introduced to firekeepers in the United States and the United Kingdom, and now here we are in Australia. It really shows the international presence of the Sacred Fire Community (SFC). I wonder if you could start off and tell us a little about the Land where your hearth is.
Roger: Well, we are in the center of Australia, in a place called Alice Springs. When we purchased our land 18 years ago it was undeveloped here, just four miles out of town. We thought, “This is the place.” We actually put a deposit down and purchased it, then dug the fire pit. There were no houses around. Very shortly after, David and Eliot came and we had our first (non-public) Grandfather Fire in Australia. There were six of us, a hole in the ground and no one around and that was the beginning of our introduction to the enormity of this Land, and what we call the Australian Walk Project, which became our focus. We then built a house. Grandfather’s words to us previously had been, “Build relationships with indigenous people like ‘Ngangkaris’ (traditional healers), and wait.”
Reyna: The country here is untouched desert; it has a very potent, wild feel to it that you can sense. Traveling through coastal parts of Australia there is a lot of agricultural country. But here it is quite untouched, “as it always was” and we are very fortunate to have a beautiful fire pit in a fairly secluded place just outside Alice Springs.
Roger: Our house faces north on to a mountain range. The range features importantly in the local indigenous creational story of an ancestral caterpillar. It runs East-West through the town and is a powerful songline for the Aranda people of this area. Kangaroos move through the backyard, foraging and looking for water. We also have wild dogs, called dingos (Canis lupus dingo), which walk through looking for rabbits and peoples’ chickens to eat (they often threaten pet dogs too, over territory, not food).
It is really the wilderness here – the untouched natural world, infused with 60,000 years of ritual custodianship, which we feel incredibly privileged to share. This Land still has an immense presence.
Reyna: Also, we have very venomous snakes, called Brown Snakes (Pseudechis australis) that we see periodically in the garden or indoors. We’ve come to live with them, saying our prayers and try not dwell on them too much!
Roger: Temperatures can be very hot – for 6 months over 100° F (38° C) degrees, and now (in April) we are just coming into the cool months. It still is in the 80s, but we can sense a change coming. Winter is really beautiful here, with blue skies, not much wind and a clear, crisp atmosphere. With little to no pollution, the stars are extremely bright at night. Evenings in June/ July can get down to anywhere from 32° to 16° F (0° to -9° C). As the climate is dry, we don’t see snow.
CS: What about the flora there?
Roger: Acacia is predominant here. A common one is called Desert Mulga. This plant is very significant and is used by indigenous people to form hunting and digging implements. We also have a special eucalyptus tree called Ghost Gum. This has a bright, white trunk with hardly any imperfections on it and is very slow growing.
Reyna: This is semi-arid land like in Arizona, and has the same types of small bushes. We have Witchitty bushes (Acacia kempeana) and edible grubs (larvae of the cossid moth Endoxyla leucomochla) are found in its roots.
CS: Where you both from Australia originally?
R and R: Yes.
CS: And were you from this part of Australia?
Roger: No, I was born in New South Wales (between Sydney and Melbourne), but I came up here in my early 20s, worked on a remote station / ranch for 2 ½ years, alongside indigenous people mustering cattle on horseback, which I loved, then returned with Reyna to settle here, in 1998.
CS: How about you, Reyna?
Reyna: I grew up in Sydney and then travelled for a few years, spending 5 years in India pursuing spiritual interests. We met Eliot in Mexico in 1997 after reading Plant Spirit Medicine. He was staying at Don Lupe’s house and we joined him there. Next, he invited us to participate as visitors at a pilgrimage site in California the following year. After this trip, he said we needed to move to central Australia, as our site was there. We were living in Sydney at that time.
CS: That is, for your project work, beyond firekeeping…
Reyna: Yes, that was our reason for moving here. Later, in 2003, we bought our block of land and built our home.
CS: Wonderful. As you can tell from reading the previous “Meet a Firekeeper” articles, Eliot is not a small player in this. It seems Grandfather often uses him as the calling card or the lure because I am hard pressed to find many of us FKs who didn’t find our way to firework first through Eliot’s book, then next having the thought “I’ve got to go meet this man” and the rest is history, right?
R and R: Yes.
CS: This for me is the best part about doing these interviews: if we FKs ever doubted what we were up to, there is too much coincidence in how our journeys, though very unique, are also so parallel. Why don’t we continue with: What brought you to the Fire and ultimately what was the road to becoming a SFC firekeeper? For some people, like me, that meant first being a PSM student and being introduced to Fire. Perhaps your relationship to Fire began way earlier…
Reyna: Well, I had spent a lot of time in India and fire ritual is everywhere there. I remember fire ceremonies I attended where 40 Brahmin priests chanted 10 hours a day for a week. The energy of Fire was really palpable – with offerings being made from their tradition (ghee, sesame seeds, essential oils etc.). I came to love Fire there.
Roger: Reyna and I met in India in the mid 1980s and had a lot of fire connection attending long fire rituals called Yajnas. Further, where I grew up rurally, fires were common in peoples’ backyards. I was born on Guy Fawkes Night, so I remember there being big bonfires each birthday!
Reyna: Our first GF Fire was in David’s house in Cuarnevaca in 2000, while I was heavily pregnant. That pretty much gave us the big picture and was definitely a game changer.
CS: Wonderful. What was your experience (Roger)?
Roger: We’d moved up here to Alice Springs by then. When I met Grandfather for the first time, I knew this was it. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to do this work. I’d been around spiritual teachers and met some great beings…but this was entirely different. What I felt was that there was a meeting in such an accepting space. Grandfather essentially said, ‘with your warts and all, this is your job, and whatever you bring to it, it is fine.’ Notwithstanding, I also knew that at some point my rough edges were going to have to be broken through! But there was a humor, and an acceptance, and I felt that this was the type of atmosphere I would like to work in, that I could do this and that it suited my style of operating.
Reyna: Yeah, that would go for me as well, actually. Then with firekeeping, in 2009 GF Fire gave an audience here, on one of his numerous visits since 2001, and He suggested we become firekeepers. I was doing some work with women and he wanted to ground that.
Roger: GF asked me to become a Firekeeper at that audience too. Our initial and on-going training with FK Retreats and Dancing with Emotion, has been amazing too. Learning the facilitation approach to hold space – I have grown so much, and that stumbling and tripping over and bumping up against things is SO accepted. Even in my education it wasn’t quite like that. At the Fire, there is space for me to really explore and grow.
CS: Wonderful. So you guys have actually been involved with some important work with Eliot and David for a really long time but you have not actually been SFC FKs for that long yet.
Reyna: No… though we did have fires quite regularly after meeting Eliot. We lived in Sydney back then and we had fires on the little balcony of our apartment, in a wok resting on 3 bricks. Every month we’d light the fire because we could feel that connection with Grandfather.
CS: Anything else you’d like to add?
Reyna: Fires in Australia have had a particularly bad rap in recent years with mega fires and numerous fatalities creating great fear of fire. In the cities now, the permits required and the restrictions around holding fires are tight: a friend in Sydney was going to have a fire for some friends – the local council approved only a candle on a table outside, with a screen around it!
Roger: One thing I’d like to add as a side note to firekeeping is around the whole idea of having a fire in this modern world today. When you light a fire and you have a natural environment around you – as we are fortunate to have here – that alone is potent and dynamic. Then people come and you sense this mystery that is magnificent and beautiful. Fire’s mystery is right there where our culture left and forgot it…ready to respond.
CS: Who is being called to your Fires? What is the guest list that GF is creating and how are those people coming to you?
Reyna: Mostly friends and then friends of friends, plus workmates. Alice Springs can be a transient place. As a small town (pop. 27,000) isolated in the vast center of the continent, with a significant indigenous presence, it’s a place that people want to experience. Over time we are attracting more locals, bringing depth and steadiness to the fires.
CS: Are there children who come?
Roger: Some parents have brought their children and they have slept around the fire. There is one lady who comes with her pre-teens; they hang around the garden for a bit and then come to the fire. I can see how as time goes on, that fire element and that natural setting will become such a unique place, because people don’t do that…you know sit out in the dark, around the fire and talk. Or they’ll do it…with a beer, but not actually in a sharing mode, not connecting with the fire as an energy of transformation and healing.
CS: You say that so beautifully: it’s a perfect ad for the SFC.
Reyna, you mentioned earlier that you have worked with women and maybe because of that GF invited you to become a FK. Can you say more about that?
Reyna: Well, I was holding women’s fires related to our Walk project. When we were initiated as FKs, I started a monthly Women’s Fire in Alice Springs and it’s been going for these past six years. We meet monthly, and quarterly we have a sleepover around the fire – which people love actually – people bring food and their swags.
Reyna: Swags are a roll-up, envelope type bed with a soft foam mattress inside. You add a sleeping bag and pillow and it’s pure bliss! Everyone who goes camping in central Australia takes one, as it rains so rarely.
CS: Roger, are you doing any Men’s fires?
Roger: We’ve done a few over the years. I’m finding it hard to keep people committed. About 3 years back we were having some success for quite a few months. Now some key guys have left to go back to the East coast. I’ve got one or two interested men at the moment so we’ve started to talk about having them again. Without me pushing too much, I want them to say, “We are ready, we are longing for it.” Not that I’m tired of it, but it might give it more regularity if they ask for it.
Reyna: Over the last 6 years we have had quite a few Lifeways programs here, including the Relationship workshop, 3 Ukilai retreats and a Fire Keeper retreat with David Wiley, a Ukalai retreat with Sherry Boatright, and Prema Sheerin’s Peaceful Dying workshop. People flew in from all over Australia for these.
Reyna: Yeah. With such a sparse population and everyone struggling financially, we’ve been through all the friends in our database and now we just don’t have the numbers to cover costs for the teachers to come out from U.S. We’ve put a lot of energy into it and offered whatever we could.
CS: Well, I’m sure that each one of those events blessed, and put an additional layer of energetic on the land there where you live, which in its own way is a blessing. Is your hearth consecrated?
CS: So is ours…and you know how those events make that beacon (of your consecrated hearth) just a little bit brighter…
Roger: Last Sunday night we had a guy come out for the first time. He had been put on our mailing list six months earlier, and he said, “I can’t believe this is being offered here.”
CS: Yes, we’ve had people who came one time because sometimes they came from far away and were invited by someone. Each time they either left a strong (positive) impression on us, or vice versa. It was good enough. The medicine was delivered and on they go. It’s nice to have the core community, of course.
CS: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Roger: Several years ago I invited a friend of ours, an indigenous Ngangkari (shaman), to a GF Fire.
He sat very quiet throughout the entire time listening to the conversations and interaction that were going on. At the end of the evening, I was eager to hear how it was for him. He said for almost the entire time that GF was talking he was staring into the fire pit, watching the old person that was in the fire, talking back to him. My friend didn’t seem surprised, as if this was what happens when the Spirit of Fire wants to pay a visit. Even though his English was basic, he said that he understood the discussions very well. Often when GF visits Australia he talks a lot about the ancestors of this land. For this man it all made perfect sense.
Roger: I am also enjoying the role of a SFC Board member. We have a wonderful working team with Bill Sutton as the Board’s ED.
CS: Great. Yes I know that Bill Sutton (SFC Executive Director) is preparing to start unveiling some of the new branding efforts. We are all on the same team, we want the same thing – to bring our people back to Fire. Thank you so much for your time today. Connecting with and deepening my relationship with fellow SFC members from around the world is one of the best parts of this assignment as ATF content editor.