Published: May 8th 2009May 8th 2009
After the asceticism and equanimity of the Vipassana experience, I make my way to Glastonbury to celebrate one of the most important festivals in the Celtic calendar: Beltane. Beltane is the festival of love, of fertility, of sexuality and the sacred marriage: it is a time when the God and Goddess meet in sacred union and dance the wild sensual dance of creation. Flowers and trees are blossoming, there’s a heady beguiling scent in the air, and young animals abound. It’s a wonderfully exuberant time that celebrates life and growth. I am not sure what exactly I am going to do to on Beltane Eve, but there is always something interesting happening in Glastonbury. I envisage a fire ceremony on the land, maybe by the Tor.
The night before, I walk down Glastonbury High Street and a poster stops me dead in my tracks. ‘Beltane Eve FIREWALK’, white letters exclaim on a fiery orange and black background. ‘Walk the Beltane Fire - An Evening of Empowerment with optional Firewalk’. Mesmerized, I stare at the poster for a while. The idea of a Firewalk has always fascinated and scared me in equal measures. The first person who told me about this
practice was my American Priestess sister Mary-Lisa, about eight years ago. Just like with Vipassana, at the time I thought, ‘Walking on Fire? Why?
Is this possible? Doesn’t it hurt?’ It’s always been a thing I liked to hear about, like a magical story, but I wasn’t quite sure whether I would ever want to participate in it. But this Beltane, with my ever-growing connection to fire, it feels right. Excited, I take down the number and resolve to call it first thing in the morning.
‘Sorry, we’re fully booked’, says Max, one of the workshop leaders, regretfully. ‘Ohhhh’, I say, ‘really?!’ Just as I am about to put down the phone, Lisa, his partner, says in the background, ‘Get her to call this evening, maybe there is a cancellation.’ I promise to call back at 5.30 pm with a very strong feeling that I will walk the sacred fire tonight. And indeed, when I call at the agreed time, Lisa instructs, ‘If you can get here within the next five minutes, you can join.’ I hastily get dressed, grab a blanket and some water and run through the drizzly rain over the hill to Bushey Coombe, where the
A Druid in the flames
Photo by Sandie Darling
Firewalk is set to take place.
The sight of a yurt and a huge stack of logs, about one and a half meters high, greets me. We’re going to walk on that?!
Impressive. I enter the yurt, where about fifteen people (and a beautiful greyhound) with anticipatory looks on their faces sit in a circle. I sit down next to a woman with long blonde hair. ‘Have you firewalked before?’, I ask her. ‘Yes’, she responds with a smile, ‘and I got really badly burnt last time. I had to go to hospital. But I want to try it again.’ Great.
I didn’t think it was even possible to get burnt during Firewalks - I met so many people over the years that had done it and remained unharmed. My feelings of nonchalance begin to waver. This adds a whole new dimension to it. I convince myself that, of course, I will be the one who will get burnt this time.
When the workshop begins, the first thing Lisa does is to ask us to sign disclaimers in the event we do get hurt. We understand that we choose to walk across hot coals voluntarily, that it is
Jai Agni Devi!
Photo by Sandie Darling
our choice and hence our responsibility, and that we have been fully informed of the risks, i.e. that it is
possible to get burnt. Of course, the organizers take all possible precautions to ensure risk minimization, such as using soft wood, but, as Lisa says, the coals are still hot. Extremely hot: ‘ between 1000 and 1200 centigrades’. She adds: ‘In the end, this is between you and the Fire. You will know whether it is right for you to walk across hot coals. We are only opening this gateway for you - the decision is yours.’ My glance falls on an Aloe Vera plant (good for soothing burns) and a First Aid kit in the corner of the yurt. The feeling in my solar plexus intensifies. What crazy idea of mine was that again, to sign up for a Firewalk?!
We go outside and open up a ceremonial space by invoking the elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth. We call to the energies of Above and Below, and we call to Spirit and our hearts. We then collectively light the huge fire with paper torches to the hypnotic sound of drums. It is an awesome sight as
Photo by Sandie Darling
dusks set in and we can see the outline of the magical Tor in the background. The flames leap sky-high, burn brightly, dance passionately across the logs, towards the sky and towards us. The heat charges at us and envelops us in a massive wave.
Whilst Max tends the fire, the rest of us attend a two-hour workshop in which we talk about our fears, meet them and address them. Fear is a big reason as to why people firewalk. Here, we learn how to welcome these feelings - how to become aware of them and accept them and walk through them. Lisa tells us that in their workshops, the Firewalk is used to break through illusions, and to ask the question, ‘If firewalking is possible, then what else?’ For thousands of years, she says, people have practiced walking and dancing barefoot on hot coals. ‘If you can alter a universal law and render fire harmless- then what is that saying about reality and your role in its creation? What are your limitations, really? What other possibilities remain untapped, unrealised?’
We raise power and work with one particular technique in which we remember all of the times we
overcame our fears and how good that felt. I think of the times when I accomplished things that I didn’t think were possible. I think of all the initiations I underwent, my journeys to the Underworld, and more and more memories flood my consciousness. I realize that yes, I have done some amazingly brave things in my life, and not only this, throughout it all, I have been so blessed with grace. In the end, no matter how grueling the situation, I’ve always been okay.
In the break, we go out to the fire that has now burnt down to about knee-height. I can’t take my eyes of the passionately smouldering flames. I feel the heat and melt into the fire, communing with it silently. I begin to dance to the drumbeats. I dance for the fire, I make love to it, I dedicate myself to it again as its Priestess. It is a very intimate communion, as though only the fire and I exist in a tantalizing, electrifying sacred marriage dance.
We go back into the yurt. ‘What do you want to give birth to this year? What is your intention? What is worth walking across hot
Walking across hot coals
Photo courtesy of Wizard Wellbeing
coals for?’, Lisa asks us with blazing eyes, and we visualize and connect with our heart’s desire, shaping it into a symbol or word. ‘This will manifest in your lives without a doubt’, she adds. We continue to raise our power and energy. We become really fired up and jump around the yurt, dispelling fears and limiting beliefs. ‘We are powerful!’, we shout on top of our voices. ‘We are One!’ The energy runs sky-high.
Then it becomes serious. We are getting ready to go out and step onto the hot coals . Or not. I take my little bag of talismans out of my backpack and place it around my neck. I glance towards the fire. But it is still burning! How can we possibly walk across that?! Lisa gets us to kneel down next to the fire and hold our hands and feet close to it, so we can really feel the heat and get accustomed to it. It does not serve to make me feel any better about it. ‘Is this a risk worth taking?’ I ask myself. I think of all the other things I have planned for Beltane. How will I get up the Tor with bandaged feet? Dance around the Maypole? Go to Avebury in a wheelchair maybe? Somebody suggests a test run besides the fire so that we know how to walk on the coals. I run across the grass. A concerned woman comes up to me. ‘It might be better to walk slowly across the coals’, she says. ‘Otherwise, the impact will be too strong and you might burn yourself.’ Oh. Of course. We use a shovel to flatten the coals somewhat. They are red-hot and the sparks fly. Then it’s time.
‘The Beltane Glastonbury Firewalk is open!’, Max declares triumphantly. The drums intensify. The energy builds. We clap and chant and walk and sway around the fire. The first person bravely steps on the coals and walks across to the beat of ‘One-two-three-four-five-six-off’. I look on in awe and we all cheer. It is not until I stand in front of the fiery runway that I begin to feel fear. Real
fear. ‘This is crazy!’, a voice inside my head pleads. ‘These coals are still burning!’ ‘No way! You can’t do this.’ ‘Don’t go.’ ‘You will get hurt.’ I am already second-last in the queue and when it is my time to go, I let the lady behind me, who looks just as nervous as me, go first. Again I look at the burning coals. ‘I can’t do this.’ I step back. I step forward again. I turn around. And then suddenly I think, ‘Let’s just go.’ I take a deep breath, conjure all of the courage I have and step quickly on the coals before I can change my mind. I repeat the mantra of ‘I can do this, I can do this’ with every step, each of which seems like an eternity, until I am off the coals and on the damp grass. The group cheers and claps. ‘Well done!’, somebody says. Incredulous, I check the soles of my feet. Am I burnt? Are there blisters? No. They are in pristine condition. Wow! I just walked across fire!
The drumming continues, and the energy rises more and more. People walk across the coals again and again. I think, ‘No, I’ve done it once, that’s enough to prove I can do it’, but before I know it, I’ve walked across it for a second time, this time slower and with more confidence. As I come off, a thought flashes through my mind. ‘I’ve got to do this a third time, and this time without my clothes on. I want to give myself fully to the fire, the elements, the wind, the rain, to Mother Earth and Grandfather Sky’. Again, my rational mind thinks, ‘Can I do this? There are spectators and photographers around!’. But at this point, I don’t care anymore. This is Beltane Eve and nothing is going to stop me. I sneak into the yurt, take my clothes off and emerge wrapped in a blanket. When I stand before the fire again, I let it slide to the ground and walk across the coals skyclad whilst repeating my intention for this Beltane Firewalk under my breath. It feels wonderful and so liberating. After this, I decide that I’ve done enough and stand back.
We go back into the yurt in an ecstatic mood and congratulate each other. We share our experiences and we all feel so elated and proud of ourselves, of each other. We have faced our fears and walked through the fire of transformation. We return to the glowing embers and give thanks to the elements and elementals for this powerful Beltane night.
I stagger back on tingling feet to Shekinashram through the dark, feeling exhilarated and alive. Back in my room, I look into the mirror. My face glows with a beautiful light. After tonight, I feel like I can do anything.
For more information on Max and Lisa’s Firewalks, please visit http://www.wizardwellbeing.co.uk/firewalks.html/