Rings of Fire: Creating Community Beyond Time & Space
It’s the eve of Samhain. You have just completed the last harvest of the year: potatoes, a few cabbages, some berries, the last sheaf of corn, barley, or wheat. You put a portion of each in a basket to take up the mountain to the ceremonial passageway cairn at the top of the hill that is oriented toward this cross-quarter holiday. Today you will place it in the cairn so that the sun can bless it tomorrow. The rest of your community is doing the same.
Tonight you may give thanks for the harvest in your home and with your family. Tomorrow morning, you know that when the sun rises, it will enter the passageway, and light up the chamber where you have placed your offering and bless it. In the meantime, you prepare a special dish to share at tomorrow’s Samhain celebration.
The next day, on Samhain, as the sun goes down, you look up the mountain and see that the quartz which is lining the sides of the ceremonial cairns has started glowing. All of you have let your fires go out in your houses. Then you and your neighbors climb the mountain to celebrate. A big bonfire has already been set.
Since you are at Loughcrew, you and your neighbors go up early to make sure the fire is strong. Your community will be the first in the land to take the fire to the top of the highest cairn and light a special bonfire there. Since it is a clear night, you know that people on the outermost mountain ranges will see this fire.
Connected Beyond Time and Space
Nevertheless, once you light the fire, you watch. In every direction, fires pop up on other ceremonial hills around you. And then fires pop up further out and further out, forming great rings of fire throughout the land. Finally, you see fires popping up on those very distant mountain ranges. Later, after the festivities are over, each household will take a torch from the central bonfire and light a fire in your own hearths.
The circles are complete. You are connected beyond time and space with all the other communities on this island. It doesn’t matter who your “king” or “queen” is; you are connected with everyone else in a way that goes beyond power lines and “politics.”
No matter where you are, you dance and sing, you share a meal, and together you give thanks for the harvest. At the same time you celebrate in person with your own small community, you actually also celebrate the great wheel of the year. You participate in the circle of life with every other person on this island that will come to be known as Ireland. It’s 5500 BCE.
Here is one artist’s rendering of what that celebration might have looked like at Loughcrew.
We don’t know all the details of the rituals and celebrations of these people who lived 7500 years ago. But we do know that such celebrations (with variations for geography and climate) happened all over the world. We also know that the ancients somehow knew of those other peoples. The rings of fire would remind them not only of their connection with the peoples of this island. The fires would also connect them with others celebrating in their own ways and with their own traditions around the world.
Symbols of Unity and Hope
When the people returned to their homes and rekindled their own hearth fires from the central bonfire, that rekindling was a powerful symbol of unity and hope. Prayers for the winter and for protection would accompany the rekindling. Each family would give thanks for the harvest and for the celebration. They would also give thanks for the fire itself that would be a source of light, warmth and cooking for the winter.
The fire was also a symbol of unity — a reminder that you all kindled your fires from the same central fire, and that others around the land were doing the same. And from now through the winter, you would not let the fire burn completely out. At night, you would bank it so that it could be brought to life again the next morning.
Rings of Fire, Creating Community
Standing at the top of the main hill of Loughcrew at the beginning of October fired my imagination. I could envision the ceremony, the fires popping up on every ceremonial hill throughout the land, and the celebrations that went with it. What has stayed with me was the way in which light and community went hand in hand. The rings of fire themselves create community.
There is so much more to say about the ancient feast of Samhain: it was the Celtic New Year. It marked the beginning of winter, the shift toward the darkest time of the year. The days begin to get much shorter that far north. It was also thought to be the time when the veil between the worlds was thinnest. It was therefore also the time to celebrate the ancestors and those who had gone before.
This celebration is the root of both Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve), and All Saints Day. The ancients would have asked the ancestors’ blessings to be upon them as they moved into this darkest part of the year. All of that is a topic for another Samhain.
What has haunted me since my visit to Loughcrew is the vision of those fires and the sense of community that goes beyond time and space. We have so much to learn from those people who lived 7500 years ago.
Recovering our Connections
So many of our cultures have lost that connection with light, with land, and with the rhythms of the year. I started writing that we are the poorer for it. But that’s actually not true; it goes way beyond that. Recovering our connection with the earth is vital to our survival on this planet.
Our relationship with the planet needs to shift if we’re going to survive. We need to get connected with the wheel of the year. We also need to connect with the rhythms of the earth where ever we live. Last, but not least, we need to honor those rhythms and honor the earth itself. Here we can learn much from the ancients.
But even more fundamentally, we must rekindle the sense of community and connection that we have with all sentient beings. We are connected in one great dynamic web.
Every human being, every plant, every animal, every part of creation, is a part of that web. But we need to learn that with more than our minds.
We need to remember. That word actually means to re-member – to reconnect, to actualize that memory within us. It’s not just a mind thing, but it’s something we do in our bodies and our spirits.
And here the ancient cross-quarter celebrations, such as Samhain, have much to offer us. We don’t need to celebrate just like the ancients did, but we do need to connect with the earth. We need to honor the home that the earth provides for us, especially the bounty that gives us food and clothing and shelter.
Even more importantly, we need to honor our fundamental connection with others. We need to re-member that we are connected beyond politics, beyond divisions, and beyond what is often on the surface. We need also to re-member that we are connected beyond time and space.
Because so much is unraveling right now, you may not be aware that there are groups of people doing these very things throughout the world. The People’s Health Alliance and the People’s Food and Farm Alliance have newly formed to foster such connections. Another place to see what’s going being birthed in this time of unraveling is Future Crunch. These are just a few to get you started.
I hope you will take time this Samhain (it’s occurring at 5:36 am et on the seventh of November this year), to connect with the earth, with the rhythm of the year where ever you are. It will be the festival of Beltaine and the beginning of summer in the southern hemisphere, for example. I hope you can find one simple way to re-member in your body and spirit that you are always connected with every other being on this planet.