THe Mystery of the Hearth Fire

The Mystery of the Hearth Fire

Traditional Celtic culture accords an important place to the hearth fire in the home. Many customs in recent times have been associated with St. Brigit, who is generally understood to be a Christian reflex of the ancient Gaelic goddess of the same name. In this, Celtic tradition parallels similar precedent in Hellenic and Roman culture centered on the hearth goddess known as Hestia and Vesta.

Looking farther afield, but still within the Indo-European context, in pre-Hindu India, the main ritual fire for community ritual was lit from a “householder’s fire” brought from the hearth of the sponsor of the rite. This tradition also sees the fire as a living divine entity–known as the god “Agni”–which is both “sacrificer” and “sacrificed”. There is good reason to assume that the Druids had at least a similar conception of the role of fire in ritual.

Some people choose to associate Brigit with the fire, others the Gaulish god Belenos–but whether or not an authentic name for the divine presence in the fire can ever be determined, it is undeniable that fire presents itself as a living thing that must be nurtured and is capable of growth, generosity and destructiveness. And it is precisely this identification of the fire as companion and ally and holder of the place of celestial power in our daily lives that we recognize and honor as the “mystery of the Hearth Fire.”

In FoDLA, the fire is given a central place in our rites, just as it held such a place in the daily lives of our forebears. Members are encouraged to take at least a moment–preferably in the home–to light a flame on a daily basis and use that as a focus for such activities as prayer, offering (as, for example, of incense) and meditation or contemplation. For those with the ability to do so, the daily maintenance of a perpetual “hearth” fire in the home is highly encouraged. In any case, though, the daily devotion at the hearth flame is an opportunity to renew vows of study, piety, and hospitality.

A simple prayer (inspired in part by the Gaelic hymn and prayer collection, the “Carmina Gadelica,” and partly by a verse in the Rig Veda) that encompasses commitment to tradition, the deities, and the community is as follows:

I kindle this fire for the hearth, for the home, for the whole of the people
One flame for light, one flame for warmth, one flame to encircle us all
Earth under heaven, heaven down to earth
This day and every day
May it be so.

May I pray with a good fire.

As the Ancestors have done in times before
I honor the Gods in the old ways
That my hearth and my heart may give cheer.
Bíodh sé amhlaidh. (Irish, “May it be so.”)

This can be accompanied by offerings and/or oaths for the day, directed to one or more of the deities or ancestors…but remember that you are at the very least offering the fuel for the candle’s flame and your time spent in pious activity.

Todd Covert – May 2006