Flickering flames. Silence. Paper set alight. It flares brightly and then dissolves into sparks, leaving no trace.
The fire ceremony is an annual January ritual for Unitarian Universalists. Based on the neo-pagan ritual of writing on paper, then burning the paper to release the words, UUs use the light of the chalice to move towards beginning again. Some fire ceremonies focus on letting go of the regrets of the past, others focus on hopes for the time yet to come. The flame represents that spark of life, of divine light, that is present in all beings. The power of life is embodies in fire which can create or destroy, a force of transformation that is dangerous, intense, and beautiful. We need fire: the light of the sun, the heat of the furnace – we are all dependent on the energy of combustion.
In honour of our UU fire ceremony, in January our spiritual practices will focus on the element of fire. We’ll turn our attention and awareness towards fire, grateful for its life giving energy, respecting its power. This week, our practice is the Fire Ceremony itself. This can be done alone or with the whole family. While meditating on the flame of a candle, we’ll focus on letting something go or to focus on a hope for the coming year. What do you need to let go over to move forward? What do you wish to bring into your life? While UU communities hold a fire ceremony once a year, as a personal ritual it can be done more often, when you need to release a burden or when you are seeking a new approach to a relationship or activity.
For this ceremony you need a chalice, candle, matches, paper and pen. Flash paper – which flares quickly and leaves no ash – can be found in magic stores, but you can use normal paper too. If you use regular paper, have a bowl beside the chalice to drop the paper into. Be sure to have some water close by. Decide on the focus of your attention and choose a question before you begin.
Clear some space on a table so that nothing else is nearby.
Light the chalice with simple words such as “I light this chalice as a symbol of the light within all life.”
Sit quietly watching the flame. Hold the question in your mind and let your thoughts flow over the question, returning to it.
When you feel you have an answer to the question, whether it is a word, a phrase, an action or image, write it down on the paper. (You may also simply hold the paper in your hand without writing).
Sit and watch the flame and when you are ready, light the paper and let it go into the bowl.
Sit for a few more moments, then extinguish the chalice, with words such as “I carry the light within me”.
The fire ceremony is simple to do with children, just be careful to keep young hands away from the flame. You may want to practice a few times before carrying out the ritual.
Ask a question in simple terms – what are you looking forward to? What bad thing do you want to put away? If they haven’t mastered small print, have them whisper their answer to the paper. Take the paper to the flame together, so you can release it quickly.