The tiny Welsh village where I live, enclosed by a great river and ancient mountains, values peace and the steady rhythm of nature and timeless tradition. There are no fireworks nor burnings of effigies on this or any other Bonfire Night, but the smell of woodsmoke hangs in the frosty air as a reminder of fire celebrations all over the world, and of the imminence of winter.
I have had my own bonfire here too, to consume the brush and cuttings of trees needing the lavish abundance of summer growth to be reduced in order to protect them against the harshness of Welsh storms that will come. As I stoked and tended the blaze, beetles and caterpillars dropped into the ash from their summer home now under fire, wriggling to safety with human help: the fire destroyed but life was spared, and the mound of ash created by the fire will be the food for soil and growth in months to come. The fire destroyed, but in so doing it will enable new life.
The fires of autumn bring light and warmth and comfort to short cold days, reminding us of the importance of fire to our ancestors who depended on it for survival against weather and predators, as well as for cooking. It was a gathering place to love and nurture, to hear great tales of myth and legend, and to conduct spiritual ritual for healing and protection, also for reading the runes.
Fire was venerated, for the Element of Fire, the Spirit of Fire is formidable: she can raze a house in an instant, destroy swathes of land mercilessly and uncontrollably, but when respected and used wisely she can be a powerful force for good. A careless bonfire, a wanton use of fireworks, a disregard for her authority will bring a harsh reminder – as a disregard for any or all the five Elements will do. We have forgotten so much of what is important in human life on Earth, still.
Not everyone forgets, however. There are religious communities still where fire plays an important part in ceremonies for the dead, when the cremation of those who die is the climax of sometimes days of rites to help the spirit of the dead pass over to begin a new life in a new body, starting a new cycle of existence once again. In some countries the cremation ceremony is public, and great funeral fires burn all the time, day and night, often on the banks of a sacred river that receives the ashes of the people into its waters and then carries them away.
Some of the rituals for the dead have national importance, and we are witness to this now as the remains of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the highly esteemed Asian businessman and Chairman of Leicester City Football Club, are the centre of seven days of elaborate ritual in Bangkok before the climax of his funeral, which will be his cremation. For the mourners, the fire for him is the key to his liberation and salvation, and also theirs.
At this time of autumn frost, bring fire into your life, however you choose for it to be done. It can inspire and enflame you, warm and heal you, and through you it can help the world. Let the fire be within and without, for you and for others: above all, let it be sincere.