Holding Fire

by Sarah Lyn

Last May, I stood in a field during a large community ritual, swathed from head to toe in gloves and sunglasses and hat and veil. I was fully protected from the sun. I was standing in the field. That was a feat for me.

Just six months earlier I had been in a freak accident. I had been on fire. I almost died. I almost lost my legs. I was in a coma. I woke up. I have fought every day since for my strides back towards independence.

Strands of a web were rolled out, followed by calls for those who would hold specific energies for the community, both in ritual and in the world-at-large after. These people were invited to come and hold the end of a strand.

They called for those who would hold Fire for the community. I was the most surprised when I stepped forward. One foot in front of the other, I began walking across the field. A few people around me gasped. I understood.

There I was, walking slowly but surely across the field to hold Fire for the community that so tenderly and urgently assisted me and my wife with deep, death-defying healing. I held the strand so that we could build a web of community. For me, it was a physical manifestation of the web of healing energy that had been created for me.

I could hold Fire for them. I had already become it and survived it.

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Photo by Trevor Hurlburt, used under a Creative Commons license

I can’t lie, though. As I was walking across the field, even before I held onto that ribbon, I wondered how I would hold it over the course of the coming year. It’s easy to be brave in the moment. How could I hold Fire when I was actively trying to heal from it?

What work would Fire and I do together through the year?

As far as outreach goes, I have been actively promoting and educating about fire safety, even though it was not a factor in my accident. Awareness matters. And I am currently on the search for the first responders who saved me. I want them to see that life exists on the other side of the fire. I want them to see the life they saved. I imagine they don’t always get the chance to see the good outcome. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.

The other work I have been doing with Fire has been simple and personal. I had been partially devoured by the elemental. No one lives through such trauma without fear, but I was determined not to allow that fear to creep into the spaces the fire cleared away.

I am pagan. I do not blame the fire for being fire.

I understand the fear others felt for me, for my life, for my mental health. There was reason for that fear.

But my community used that fear as a catalyst to come together in prayer and healing for me. I felt it. It pulled me out of the darkness I was drowning in. I stepped up to the challenge. I answered fear with love. The speed of my healing was unexplainable. Miracles happened. Not just for me.

Fire devours, but it also ignites. It sparks transformation.

I had to hold myself accountable for being the catalyst for my recovery. If it was going to get better, it had to start with me. Every time I stood up, even though I couldn’t feel my legs beneath me, mattered. Every time I walked an extra lap mattered. Every time I thanked those who were taking care of me, even when they caused me pain, I changed the trajectory of my journey. Every morning I get up and get outside and walk means I will recover.

Many times, in the hospital, the nurses commented about what a supportive community I had. One of my favorites went so far as to say she thought it said a lot about me, that people were so eager to help. But you get out what you put in. You become part of a community by plugging into it, by helping where you see the need. You become a strand of the web.

It was an honor to step up and hold the fire for a community that holds me.

Join us in holding this year’s web at Rites of SpringOnline registration is open through May 13.

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Gathering the Threads

by Sarah Lyn Eaton

Right now, the snow and ice are melting, the winds are warming, and I am dreaming of groups of people in the woods. I call them my gathering dreams. I have them twice a year. In the summer, they are in preparation of Twilight Covening. Right now I am dreaming about Rites of Spring.

At the end of May, in the beauty of the Berkshire Mountains, the EarthSpirit Community holds a gathering of earth-centered pagans from around the globe. Recovering from the darkness of winter, from our separate burrows, those of us who dream of fire and water, sunlight and starlight, start to count down the days till we can come together again. We are waiting to meet those who will step on the mountain for the first time this year. We are waiting, excitedly, because some of my closest friendships have been made at this gathering over the last decade.

The first time I attended Rites of Spring, I didn’t know the other attendees outside of the small contingent of

Photo by Maggie Schollenberger

people from my local community. I will never forget how overwhelmed I felt to stand among so many people who believed in being open, in being kind, in being loving, and in sharing that energy with each other. Rites is my annual pilgrimage to a land that exists within our everyday world, one which we sometimes lose sight of when the hardness of the world clouds it. Over the course of my week at Rites, that spirit renews.

That spirit is contagious from day one. As everyone arrives, they are excited, joyously crossing through the Welcome Gate. Some say they are coming home when they arrive. And yes, if home if where the heart is, then we carry it with us, wherever we wander. Feet on the earth, flesh on the mountain, heart open and present.

The setting of the established mountain campground is gorgeous. The rocks, woods, and water make the immersion in nature’s wonder easy. It’s easy to be open. I walk the campground with my head up, eyes and smiles meeting both friends and strangers. You don’t have to know someone to find yourself in a deep conversation. It’s one of many gifts the gathering continues to offer.

I wasn’t new to paganism when I first arrived, but I was new to the idea of a specific path. Throughout the gathering, whether you arrive on Wednesday, or on Friday, there are workshops and rituals and concerts and drum circles and dances and so much more! Over the years I have taken classes with over a dozen different practitioners, some using the words Shaman, Druid, Buddhist, Animist, Witch, Heathen, etc. Last year, there were over seventy workshop presentations offered over the span of five days. Bring a notebook and an extra pen.

For first timers there is a newcomer breakfast, where you get to meet some of the facilitators of the event, as well as get a chance to connect with the other people new to the gathering, insuring you will see familiar faces throughout the week. You become small touchstones for each other.

During the day, if there aren’t workshops or affinity groups that tickle your fancy, check out the Art Salon or any one of the community-built shrines throughout the camp. You might walk the Merchant Circle and check out the amazing crafts and artistic wares for sale, from beautiful hand-dyed silks to stained glass, from pottery to drums, from leather masks to hand-forged blades (some created on-site!). Then in the evening there are concerts, large and small, rituals, dances of varying themes, poetry slams, sacred drum circles in the woods, and more. The week, or weekend for some, culminates in a large community-shared feast.

There are larger rituals that connect the gathering, from the Firelighting Ritual to the Maypole to the not-to-be missed Web Weaving Ritual. Hand over hand, thread over and under thread as drum and song excite the air. I want to entice you. I want you to come and add yourself to that web. I want you to come and experience the community I have become part of. Because it follows you home. And the world you see when you cross back through the gate is forever altered.

Join us this year. Be present. Throw yourself into the rituals. Smile at strangers. Take some classes. Start up random conversations in the dinner line. Weave your own web and let us be part of it.


Join us this year on the mountain for Rites of Spring!  Registration is open for a few more days: through May 8 if you mail in your form or through May 9 if you register online.