I hope you are all well.
I'm sure there've been a couple times when I mentioned how much I enjoy Jenna Woginrich' Cold Antler Farm blog www.coldantlerfarm.blogspot.com
And I'm telling you again today! Below you'll read an excerpt from her upcoming book, Days of Grace. She describes a ritual of beginning anew - after problems - within one's neighbourhood or community: the Need Fire. Specific religions may be set aside; what's important is the "coming together to work through pain" and the work done by people to begin the Need Fire.
It is likely that many of you have been following the tragic events in Elliot Lake, Ontario, and hoped that the people trapped in the collapsed building would survive. Like me, you might be struggling to remind yourself that families and neighbours and communities do pick themselves up, come together and continue after awful things happen ... and that the recovery takes many forms, unique to the people who come together. Still shaking my head at the latest news coverage and the pain in the eyes of those whose loved ones died, Jenna's book excerpt helps me take a breath and feel a bit more centered. I wish friendships to everyone in Elliot Lake who is affected by the deaths and the job losses.
And I wish friendships for all of you. I hope you find your own meaning in Jenna's post.
from Jenna Woginrich' blog, Cold Antler Farm
"There’s an ancient tradition in the Scottish Highlands called Tein'-éigin (Tine-Aye-Gan), In English: The Need Fire. Whenever a group of farmers or clansmen felt a particularly bad patch of luck had hit their cattle or community, all the home’s hearth fires were put out and a new fire was started for all. This fire was special, incredibly so. It was a fire for the commons, started not with a match or fuel, but by friction. You needed to light embers with the traditional methods of rope against wood because it was a blaze to be earned. Once it got started in earnest it burned high and wet wood was added to create smoke. Lots and lots of smoke. Farmers would run their cattle or horses through it, a baptism and cleansing, a prayer on the ashy hoof. The smoke was supposed to heal, and all it touched would aid those in need.
After the fire was smoldering, prayers sent up to the likes of Brigit (Saint or Goddess, depending on personal leanings or time period)—everyone grabbed coals and burning logs from the common fire, and took it home to start anew. They lit their own hearths again from that ritual, knowing that the whole clan was there together in whatever happened. They’d deal with the cattle, the limping horses, the bad crops—they were a community and they had the embers to prove it.
I have yet to gather my own clan up here for a Tein'-éigin, but I can assure you this much, they would all come. Everyone will have different ideas about religion, some will have no faith at all, but the Need Fire isn’t necessarily about deity, it is about each person’s trust in the larger community. That as a group we are more and capable of support and the healing of each other than any household or farm alone is. If my farm hosted a Need Fire I’d know Jesus, Buddah, St. Brigit, and Gaia would be present in the hearts of the attendees. Each religion would walk us separately to our bonfire. All those beautiful internal fires of belief just add to its strength. Like different woods create different sparks and slow burns, they come as one under the heat of the moment, the need.
And whether your friends and family actually create a smoky fire in a state park or just meet for coffee, the point and spirit of the Tein'-éigin lives on. It’s about coming together to work through pain. We see examples of it every day: Town Meeting Night over in Vermont, Personal interventions with addicts, prayer groups in church basements, Rotary Club and Girl Scout meetings alike. These are all examples of common hearts and minds coming together in support and change for something bigger than themselves, something better. Perhaps it is the farmer in me, or the romantic, but I can’t see a difference in any of these examples. I see the same hope swirling from the smoke of a 1356 Bonfire in the Highlands and the steam coming off a coffee cup in a church basement’s AA meeting. Strength comes from community support, so does change for the better.
So, dear friends, who would light a Need Fire with you? Who are the members of your clan? If there is something you ache for, or wish to heal, why not gather the support of your people? It took moving to a farming community for me to fully understand the idiocy of self-suffiency. Either in survival or spirit, community is what has the ability to thrive.
You don't have to be a religious person to let the Tein'-éigin burn in your heart. You just need to believe that a better life is something worth believing in. May your clan light the way.
-Excerpt from Jenna Woginrich' upcoming book, Days of Grace.