The Path of the hearth-fire

Wiccan Rede * Autumn 1986 by Merlin Sythove

Don’t you have the feeling sometimes that you’re not a witch at all? That you’re not even spiritual? Actually, the feeling that you’re no different than anyone else, part of the masses?

There are some days when everything seems to go wrong. Maybe there was a problem at work, maybe there was a long queue at the supermarket, maybe the children were particularly tiring today, maybe there was a traffic jam which irked you. And all you went to do once the day is over and the problem has been dealt with is to flop down in front of the TV, read a good book, get down to the pub or go see a film – ANYTHING as long as you can forget this lousy day.

And of course there are days when everything goes just right too. The guy you had an interview with turns up 15 minutes early, and save you losing time to wait for him. A few chores take a lot less time than you thought they would. The bus was empty, the train for once right on time. Lunch hour was nice, warm and sunny and when you come home, still full of energy and in good spirits, you spend part of the evening getting down to those odd jobs which have been waiting around for months. And when everything is done, you feel like sitting down, maybe in front of the TV, of with a book, or go to the pub to have a nice chat – all to celebrate al well-earned rest.

And very occasionally, maybe during the weekend, or on the first of November, you think back to the time when you were searching for spiritual meaning to life. The time when evenings were filled with meditation exercises; the time when the Monday open evenings at the local coven were eagerly awaited – the dreamtime when life was sparkling and full of promises, when witchcraft was full of mystery and darkly sensed excitement, when you were SURE you were NEVER going to be part of the masses. No Sir! You were special, unique, part of a spiritual path and working towards Human Evolution!

Does your life look like this most of the time?

Then chances are you’re ready for the path of the Hearth-fire!

Many people find themselves, at one point or another in the course of their life, deeply involved in the daily routine of living. It may be that they just got married and are busy raising a family, or maybe they have chosen for a career and need to spend a lot of time and energy towards this end. There are times in one’s life when we hat to devote a lot of attention to the material plane, be it money or housing, jobs or children. It is a time in one’s life when we take what life is offering us, and with whatever skills and talents we have sculpt this into a niche which is all our own. It is a period when form and format is given to our own course in this life.

For many people this period coincides with the years between late twenties or early thirties and somewhere in their forties. Purists would say no doubt the time between age 28 and 42 covers this episode: the time when we are most intimately involved with the physical, tangible world. And make no mistake: to many people this is a happy period, a time when they are able to realize some of the ideals they had when they were younger. True, many ideals hall by the wayside. One may have trouble getting a job, or circumstance may have led to a profession which does not reflect one’s ideals at all. Children may bring unexpected problems, or a much wanted family may not materialize. In spite of difficulties and all the surprises life can come up with, more often than not it still is a happy period. But during the occasional moments of reflection we may also feel some regret. Regret for lost ideals maybe, or for seaming unable to keep a fit control over one’s life. Regret for having to spend time on such trivia things as tax forms and other bureaucratic paraphernalia. Regret for having to take any job that comes along, instead of being able to follow (what you NOW know is) your true vocation. Regret maybe for not having done things when you were still younger, single, without ties or family.

Such a period of reflection can also lead to some new insights, to some new plans and ideals. One may come up with the incentive to realize some of the lost ideals of childhood after all, in spite of the present difficulties and day-to-day worries. These are the thoughts which may not be as high strung as the one’s we had when we were in our teens. Ideals which can stand the test of reality, ideals which are practical and could be implemented today or tomorrow. Ideals which can transfer plain day-to-day living into a proper ‘path’ in the spiritual sense.

“The Path of the Hearth-Fire” is a term which I first saw used by Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, and it describes a period in one’s life when most spiritual work is discarded or neglected, simply because the material plane needs to be taken care of. It is quite interesting to see this principle reflected in the ages of the people involved in spiritual societies: more often than the age group between 30 and 45 is virtually absent, whilst there are plenty of people over 50 and a fair segment of people in their twenties. I have noticed this both in astrological, theosophical and anthroposophical societies. Whether this would hold true for the Craft I can’t say – in my experience it doesn’t, but then I’m talking about fairly small groups anyway.

The path of the hearth-fire is about making this period in one’s life meaningful in a spiritual sense as well as in a material sense. The craft was never meant to be ONLY about performing rituals or working magic on the appropriate days. It has many, many practical applications which can be woven into life on all levels, even the very materialistic plane. Maybe it is true that one has no time to meditate at the moment, maybe one doesn’t feel like going to all the trouble of performing rituals. Let’s have a look at some ideas which are just as rewarding, which will change the ‘materialistic’ period from one of daily drudgery and lost ideals into something more meaningful, into a proper ‘path’, which is concurrent with Craft ideals. Most areas of ‘everyday living’ can be meaningful in this sense, provided that we are willing to put a bit of effort into it. On the other hand, we may have to be realistic as well in acknowledging that some things in life just can’t be helped and we will have to make do. Take for example one’s job (or lack of it as the case may be!). Some people may be fortunate to have a job which they really like, and which they feel is meaningful. Others may have come to realize the only reason for them to have their job is because they need the money.

But for now let us confine ourselves to the house and family as an area where we can start on the path of the hearth-fire.

Starting with the house we could consider changing the interior so that it reflects our outlook on life more. It is amazing what a few relatively minor details can do to the atmosphere of a house. A painting or poster on the wall which have some special meaning to us for example; a large ornamental candlestick or a special statue; some wild flowers in a vase, or a bunch of dried flowers – these are just a few of possibilities.

One doesn’t need to change all the wallpaper and furniture in order to change the feel of a house: quite often a few well-placed spotlights which draw attention to something special will accomplish the task as well.

To some people this may be an adventure in itself already – people who believe that they have to keep their interest in the Craft and the occult secret, lest their family or colleagues notice anything peculiar in their house. For the benefit of such ‘friends’ acceptable explanations such as an interest in folklore, in ‘antiques’ or ‘modern art’ can be construed.

However it is important to realize that in all areas, such as the house, it is not the actual changing which is the desired end, but the fact that we try to live up to the ideals to which we adhere. If we have chosen the Craft, or paganism, as a way of life and as our religion, than it is important that we practice what we preach, even when time (or energy) to be actively engaged in spiritual work fails us. It is important to realize that ‘living’ is not merely a way to stay alive whilst we earn money, but something creative which gives us the opportunity to express what and who we are…

If we don’t feel like working on the house there are dozens of different crafts which could serve as a hobby with a spiritual angle as well. Knitting (ever tried designing and knitting your own Celtic patterns, and learning something of the spiritual p\ideas behind Celtic knit work at the same time?) is just an example. Glass etching or silverwork is less common hobbies. Another fairly common one is gardening, or keeping plants in the house when a garden is lacking. Have you ever considered changing the garden into an herb garden? Or planting some famous witch-herbs such as Bella Donna, aconite, henbane and hemp? Not recommended when one has small children or the garden is unfenced though! Or we could choose to make our garden into a medicinal one, planting many useful and safe herbs to combat common ailments such as colds, coughs, bruises, cuts, indigestion and various aches and pains. We could opt for a ‘scented’ garden, concentrating on plants which are famous for their scent and making some toilet waters, potpourris and herb sachets in the process. Or we could experiment with plants such as ‘adders tongue’ and ‘witches broom’ – often quite common plants with colorful names. Or take our own back-to-nature attitude seriously and start a vegetable garden, growing some of the older vegetables which have now gone out of fashion alongside the beans, cauliflower and potatoes. Plenty of ideas, and many plants and herbs can be grown indoors too!

Again – the idea is not so much to grow plants, although this may be difficult enough on its own, but to make it into something which is spiritual in the sense that it reflects our outlook on life, and our ideas of what paganism is all about.

One of the most rewarding areas in which to bring our pagan ideas into practice without doubt is the raising of children. Each parent will have his of her own idea of what this entails (not to mention the child itself!) and at times we will have to choose between our ideals and what is practical. still, it is possible to help the child in developing some of the ‘feminine’ side of its nature – being creative, having a close rapport with the forces of nature, being considerate to plants and animals as well as humans etcetera. One might think that choosing the right school might be one of the tougher problems, but in my mind what stands out most as a real challenge is to be a good example to the child. Not, I hasten to add, “mommy trying to show what she wants you to do – something she obviously never does herself” but an example which is natural because it is who you are.

If we are in a position to celebrate some seasonal happenings with the children, involve them in the various activities which have a spiritual significance, or teach them the basics of gardening, harvesting herbs and making teas – so much better. Even baking cookies in the shape of rune stones,  astrological sings or suns, moons and stars, together with some appropriate explanations, can become a satisfying experience which entails far more than the child just ‘helping’ in the kitchen. I think it won’t be realistic to expect one’s children to follow the Wiccan path later on, but the least we can doe is try and instill some of the values which we hold sacred into them.

On the subject of raising children within a pagan family a lot can be said, but this is not meant ho be the essence of this article. What is important is that there are many areas in life, which can become meaningful to us, rather than just being time wasting necessities, provided we are willing to put some effort in it.

I think it is vital to realize that although one may be concerned with mundane problems all the time during a certain period of one’s life, that is exactly the period as well when one is building the physical foundations of that same life. Too many people are forced to look back when they are in their forty’s to discover that they have spent a life solving problems, sorting out a career and raising children, mostly in an ad hoc fashion, without consciously working TOWARDS something. But the time to start anew is not after menopause and divorce – anytime will do., the present for example.

If we look at this period in someone’s life within the broader perspective of the total life span, we can see that it forms the middle period of three distinctive phases. The first phase starts for most people with the last school exams. Finally one is ‘grown up’, many children leave home at that time, to start with their first job, to study or to go to college. It is a time when one is full of ideals; the world is still largely unknown and full of promises and possibilities. During this period many people start searching for some form of spiritual activity to give meaning to their life, and often it is this period which brings our first contact with the Craft. It also is a time of disappointments, when our ideals turn out to be unable to stand the test of reality. After some time, after finishing our studies or having tried one or two different jobs, we find a place that feels right to us in society, and we start to settle down.

The second phase I have tried to describe in the previous pages: it is a phase of consolidation, of working on the foundations of our life in this incarnation. Quite often it is a materialistic period, and little time or interest is available for spiritual matters. Within the Indian ashram-system this is the time when the man and his wife are sent out into the world to fulfill their destiny.

Within the Craft it is the best time to practice all the skills we have mastered in the previous phase, when we still had time to do meditations every night and try out rituals every weekend, and read tons of books. The witch is basically a social figure; her skills are there to be used and to help other people, as well as herself and her family. It is the time to practice what we have learned so far. If we call the first phase the idealistic phase, than this is the realistic phase when we find out if our ideals can be realized. The third phase commences when the children have left the home. The career does not need all that much attention anymore, and we look back on our life up that point, from a changing situation. Now we pick up the threads again from the first period. We try to recapture some lost ideals and in many ways we feel like staring our life all over again. Some people do just that: they have a divorce, remarry, and change their profession, etcetera. But in essence this is the time when we should work with the ideals which have proven they can stand the test of reality, and spiritualize them. We can build upon the material foundations which we have laid in the previous period; we don’t have to worry too much about the job or money anymore, but can concentrate our efforts on bringing new ideals and spiritual impulses into the world. This could be called the spiritual period.

Within a craft context this is the period when we pass on our knowledge and skills – the period of the teacher, the High Priestess of High Priest.

In terms of the threefold Goddess these phases are easily recognizable too, the phase is represented by the Maiden – an ideal image which in the end will not stand the test of reality, but the is beautiful while it lasts. The Maiden is complete within herself, full of ideals and fragile beauty, her view of life still unspoiled, sometimes rather black-and-white, and untouched by the time and age. Once the Maiden is forced to deal with the real world anger and aloofness may cloud her face until her armor crumbles away and leaves room for the Mother to emerge/

The Mother is intensely physical. She has come to see that real life is very different from the ideals she had when she was Maiden. Her insights are mellowed by time and some experience. It is a time when she nurtures, cares for, and guides her children through the first phases of life’s obstacle course. The Mother is concerned with the realities of life and is representative of the path of the Hearth-Fire. The third phase is that of the Crone- the time when accumulated knowledge and wisdom is concentrated and eventually passed on to the next generation. The Crone is no longer concerned with the material world. Her needs have been taken care of long ago. Caring and nurturing is up to her children, who have reached the Mother-stage by then. No, she recaptures the ideals of the Maiden, often reflected in her grandchildren too. Ideals which are mellowed through life’s experiences, and can now be remodeled into something which can be of benefit to others. She removes all the unnecessary bits and pieces and passes on the kernels of spiritual truth as she has found them to be.

In summary, I have tried to suggest that there may bet times in one’s life when a really active involvement in any spiritual stream is not possible. Our daily, materialistic mode of existence may be involved in building a career; we may have started a family or be otherwise occupied. In spite of all this it IS possible to weave in many ideals and spiritual practices into an otherwise rather mundane life. I have the examples of the house, the garden, and the raising of children, but this certainly does not exhaust all the possibilities, ranging from the ‘five minute mediation whilst waiting for the bus’ to planning ‘magical holidays’.

The path of hearth-fire is concerned with this period in someone’s life. A period which can be a very rewarding time on a spiritual level too!

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