Summer in Australia can be a rather difficult time of the year to get through, especially as the soaring temperatures often mean the threat of bush fires. Even the proposed respite of a cool change can often mean more danger as the approaching winds fan the flames. With the official summer season only having commenced just over two weeks ago, the Australian “purification season” has arrived early as parts of New South Wales and Queensland have been aflame since early September.
This ancient land upon which we live has long sought cleansing and the clearing out of the old in order to make way for the new through fire. In fact, many of our native plants only germinate through the scorching flames. The Aboriginal people understood this and used to start small bushfires to clear the fallen bark, dried twigs and dead bushes. These fires were slow-burning and the native bush quickly regenerated after the heat of the fire. This practice also helped to prevent larger and more destructive fires, especially as the native eucalyptus gum trees contains an oil within their leaves that is susceptible to bushfires, making them burn faster and hotter.
When I read Starhawk’s book The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Natural Rhythms of the Earth (HarperOne, 2005), what struck me were the similarities between where she lived in northern California, and where I live in Australia. As such, when I wrote Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats, I sought permission to include an adaptation of a ritual that focused on protecting one’s home from bushfires. This ritual can be found on page 168 within the chapter dedicated to “Lughnasadh”, the Sabbat more often associated with bush fires – yet, as we have seen (and are seeing this year) there are always exceptions to the rules.
In light of what is currently occurring in various areas around Australia, I include the excerpt of this rite in the hope that even the visualisations may assist anyone who finds themselves in danger of purification through fire.
Visualise the boundary of the land that you wish to protect. Invoke the elements, reflecting on each in turn in their natural environment. Feel the air on your skin as a natural cool breeze; visualise the waters as the most immediate water source (this could be St Vincent Gulf or the Murray River, etc); try and understand the element of fire as an integral part of the landscape, regardless of the danger it brings in the middle of Summer. Feel the earth that is under your feet, that makes up the land upon which you reside.
In the centre of your circle, have a small earthenware bowl into which you pour some water (preferably from a local spring, although normal tap water is fine). Reflect on the water and the gratitude that comes with being provided with it. Add to the bowl a small handful of dirt from your own land. Again, when reflecting on the dirt, conjure up feelings of gratitude.
Make a fire charm that consists of the alchemical symbol for fire, an upright triangle within a circle, the latter representing containment. Starhawk uses bay laurel branches, a protection herb. However, native flora can also be used. If in a group collective, have each participant also ties onto the symbol either small branches from bushes and trees on their property and/or sprigs of herbs and plants from their gardens.
Alternatively, other protective charms can be made including Ojo de Dios (“God’s Eyes” from Central and South America) as well as pentagrams (star shaped).
Once completed, the charm is then passed around the circle whilst the participants recite a chant, such as the following which has been adapted from Starhawk:
Sacred fire that shapes this land
Summer teacher, Winter friend
Protect us as we learn anew
To work, to heal, to live with you.
When the charm has gone around the circle, all participants then hold it together and chant, raising a cone of power, a request of protection, as well as a request for knowledge. Prayers that homes and lands will be preserved can be said.
We need to learn how to integrate fire with this land, as well as how to restore the balance that has been lost. The charm can then be hung from a tall tree, preferably in an area where it can survey the land that it is to protect. It is to remain there until the rains come, where it will then be dismantled and sections of it burnt by each of the participants in their own homes as a further means of protection for the coming season.