What is a hearth, to you?
Is it an image of the fireside, cats curled in the glow? A bonfire, a beach fire, a fireplace? Friends gathered around… or flickering solitude? Rubbing your hands to get warm, or curled in a blanket with a book and a whiskey?
However you go fireside, now is the season for it. I stoke up the fire on my boat, or build a blaze in the living-room stove of the house where I’m staying. Billie and the cats draw near to bask in the heat, the cold wind whipping round outside.
I drew the Eight of Bows in a tarot reading for a client today. Hearthfire, says the card – the image is of a community gathering around bright, cheery flames.
Around a fire is where problems can be shared and talked out, wrongs set right, acceptance and forgiveness practiced. Fires bring people closer – the presence of that magical element somehow burns away barriers and intimacy is created.
Back in August, before I left Todmorden, we had a fire at the marina.
There was pie, and wine, and cake. Clare and Tony played guitar and sang, and Mel sang too. There had been bad feelings on the marina for some time – strong personalities, bullies who chose to set people against each other and stir up confusion. But that night, gathered around the warm glow of a blazing brazier, it was all put aside, forgotten, even.
I was grateful to that fire, and to the close-knit community of boaters around it, that we could celebrate our odd lives and enjoy each other once again.
Autumn is deepening.
Now is a time when people gather to ward away evil spirits, and honour their dead. A time when we are aware of our mortality perhaps more than usual. Death is in the air, and change, and the knowledge that days are getting colder, darker, tougher.
We light fires to bring life to dark nights, to bring warmth and comfort when it’s cold, to feel a closeness to nature and to our community. We need these rituals, these coming-togethers to remind us we are safe, that we are all here, in this burgeoning winter, together. It’s a time for facing fears, and letting them go, scattering them into the flames before bedding down cosy and tight.
A gathering of friends and family around a place of common emotional significance, symbolism and safety is a powerful experience. It acknowledges the shared consciousness of the human spirit and the bonding experiences that evolve and grow with comrades and family, whether blood relatives or those that life has randomly thrown together.
Mark Ryan and John Matthews, The Wildwood Tarot