From inspiration through initiation
What draws women and men to become Firekeepers within the Sacred Fire Community? What on earth have they signed up for, and what does the role demand?
In December 2016, eight new Firekeepers were initiated into this lifetime commitment. They join 70 Firekeepers already tending fires in seven countries around the world. Even as every Firekeeper’s journey is unique (we’ve shared many of their stories in previous issues), Around The Fire thought it time to share more broadly about the discovery and preparation process that is required of those stepping up to this form of community service.
Whether the inspiration to become a Firekeeper is heard by a long-time Sacred Fire Community member or an individual who has just heard about it in an online post (like this one!), the first step is to have a conversation with the Firekeeper Training Coordinator. That role is currently held by Buffy Aakaash, whose own hearth is in Seattle, Washington (USA). Buffy is extremely passionate about the work of Firekeeping and wants to help people understand the importance of the role. “In our Western culture, the phrase ‘lifetime commitment’ often goes right over people’s heads. Sometimes those who approach me have never even been to one of our community fires so that is where we begin, so people begin to have a sense of what they would be signing up for.”
The next steps involve a three-tiered approach to prepare an individual to fulfill the role of Firekeeper. The first is the review of a document that outlines the guidelines and requirements – both physical and mental – for the job. For instance, there has to be a dedicated space for the fire pit, one that the Firekeeper has complete control of. There is a commitment to hold no less than one community fire per month, and also to attend continuing education regularly. Most importantly, the Firekeeper candidate needs to appreciate that she or he will become an anchor for the growing hamlet, and there needs to be a commitment to stay in a location and be of service to that community of people.
Secondly, the candidate fills out an application that includes important self-inquiry questions. This can prove invaluable to the candidate, either helping to reinforce the call to Firekeeping, or to guide him or her to a different, equally valuable life path. Finally, once the application has been reviewed and approved by the Firekeeper Training Coordinator and the Fire Chief, a sponsorship process with an initiated Firekeeper begins. This continues for as long as necessary until the Firekeeper candidate is fully prepared for initiation, which means there is a considerable commitment by the sponsoring Firekeeper as well. It is common for “learning experiences” to arise during these sponsorship community fires, and the post-Fire debriefing discussion between candidate and sponsor often end up being rich and mutually beneficial. To learn and grow in skillfulness, to facilitate fluid expression of emotions while maintaining a safe container is, after all, a never-ending part of every Firekeeper’s work.
Buffy continues: “One of the biggest challenges for Firekeeper candidates is understanding the importance of the subtleties in this work, and then to trust that they have been called to it and that Fire is there to support and guide them in a lifelong learning. So trust is big. Both in terms of coming up with the time and finances required to get trained and initiated, as well as in holding the role itself. It is especially important that we train Firekeepers to ride the waves, to stay focused during the highs and lows, to understand that community can be messy, and to trust in what we call ‘the fire effect’. If one stays committed and engaged, there is a level of connection and intimacy that only the spiritual aspect of Fire can provide. It doesn’t mean that everything is beautiful all the time, but there exists an unprecedented degree of learning, for both the Firekeepers and their communities, as well as ever-deepening connection and appreciation.”
Newly-initiated Firekeeper John Walden has been associated with the Sacred Fire Community for a very long time. He had previously considered stepping up to be a Firekeeper, but was wisely counseled that the timing wasn’t right. In fact, life threw him several personal, growth-promoting challenges before he and his young family were truly settled in their home in Grand Junction, Colorado. “It was when I finished cleaning up the backyard – an apparently mundane suburban backyard – that everything gelled. I had hosted a Harvest Festival and people told me how inviting the Land there felt. There was a need for a new Firekeeper in my community, but it was really the Land, and my evolving relationship to it, that ultimately beckoned me to this path. I was able to listen because I have come to recognize that the Spirit that is alive in me is also alive in what others might see as an inanimate object, as merely a resource, or in this case, as ‘just a backyard.’”
Autumn Peterson, also initiated in December 2016, lives in a very small and rural community on a mountain in Southern Utah. Her family settled there in the 1800s. “There is a degree of ‘us and them’ politics between the new ‘move-ins’ and the old time Mormon settlers”, Autumn relates. She wants to be a bridge between the groups and to contribute toward building a sustainable, supportive community. Autumn grew up with an intimate relationship with fire, as her childhood home was heated with wood and there always seemed to be people gathered around the outdoor fire pit. “The fact is, I have so many things going on in my life right now that I didn’t feel like I had any extra bandwidth for hosting fires, but every time we make the offerings (to consecrate the fire), I can feel the Fire taking over and beautiful things happen. Probably the biggest gift has been when people from my community that I never thought would show up do in fact come to a fire and contribute in such beautiful ways. I feel so touched and supported in this work.”
Also part of the December 2016 cohort, Colin Lenhart was initiated as the first Sacred Fire Community Youth Firekeeper. At age 28, he has made the same lifetime commitment as other Firekeepers have, but without having to commit to a place just yet. Colin did not become aware of the Sacred Fire Community until his early 20s but felt an immediate sense of joy and connection when around Fire. He was moved to share this experience with his peers, and when he asked about how to do that, he was directed to start holding Young Adult fires with the assistance of an initiated Firekeeper. Colin started doing this in Asheville, NC and now continues to offer monthly Youth Fires in Seattle, Washington (USA). “The trickiest thing is to reach my friends and other young adults without sounding preachy or woo-woo, to share my enthusiasm without being attached to how many show up. The Firekeeper training and initiation, which took place in Tepoztlan, Mexico was so very special. I didn’t really know what to expect. It was like opening a door without seeing what is on the other side, and putting my trust in that, because it is scary at my age to make this kind of a life commitment. Now, though, I really want to support other young adults who may feel called to provide this kind of community service.”
The path to initiation for a Firekeeper is just one leg of a lifetime journey of personal growth and service to the world. The calling can be challenging at times, and so the support offered by the community and fellow Firekeepers is critical. Nevertheless, the newly initiated Firekeepers have joined a family of peers who can vouch for the rich rewards this path brings.