Finding Our Way ‘Round the Fire
Michael Wall, Abigail Spinner McBride, Joshua Levin, Jeff McBride
“The Tao that is written is not the Tao”
This familiar quote reminds us that words can only reflect the actuality of the AlchemiFire Ritual. We hope you will do your best to read this Orientation “between the lines” and meditate on the possibilities implied within.
The AlchemiFire Ritual can be thought of as a microcosm of the daily world we live in. We define our Ritual as a unique expression of that reality by ringing the outer perimeter with prayer flags. This reminds us that the space within is Sacred and co-created by all of our intentions. Please enter through the Smudge Gate, which is a place to be cleansed and purified. Breathe, center, and be aware that you are entering an extraordinary realm each time you step through. Linger a moment and prepare yourself to engage artfully with others, evoke healing energy, pray, do personal magic, or simply celebrate the multitude of blessings in life.
Many cultures have healing practices or rites of passage organized around ordeals. Whether they involve pain, non-stop dancing, sensory deprivation or other mechanisms, all ordeals share a common thread of challenging the celebrants to maintain focus and participate fully for the purpose of personal and community transformation. Together we journey into uncharted territory, where mundane life can be understood from fresh perspectives.
AlchemiFire Ritual gatherings are designed to create a safe environment, free from distraction and intoxicants, within which we commit ourselves to a dark-to-dawn ordeal of creativity and artful interaction. Our practice is to mindfully engage with each other as a way to discover more about ourselves, our relationships, and our own highest vision.
There are four portals commonly recognized by those familiar with the AlchemiFire Ritual: Voice, Music, Movement and Service. Each is a doorway through which we can access the deep magical potential of the Ritual. This document hints at ways to open these portals for your own fulfillment! Bring a willingness to risk and become a SOURCE for these creative modalities. You will soon depart the domain of spectator, animated by the synergistic potency of contributing your inventive essence to the organically unfolding rite.
PORTAL OF THE VOICE – East / Air
“Find where your breath begins. Sing from there.”
- One easy way to energize the Ritual is by singing. Simple chants will emerge throughout the night, thematically aligned with the current stage of the alchemical working – please join in! Part of our adventure is devoting the attention needed to learn the words “on the fly.” If it takes a while to pick up all the lyrics, so be it – we have ALL NIGHT!
- We generally chant in English, allowing us to connect emotionally with the meaning of the songs. It is understood that anyone can start a chant, and that we’ll all dive in and make it soar! You might cluster up with a couple of friends, making it easy for them to learn the song, and then bring it out together to share with the group.
- Some of us were conditioned to think that our singing voices aren’t “good enough.” Release that limiting belief! Sing with gusto, and without fear. Spiritedness is more important than perfect pitch. Our hearts and voices bring energy that empowers everyone in the Ritual.
- Some of our chants have multiple parts. If a second song layer begins, new people are encouraged to continue on the original chant line, riding the magical wave as the two melodies interweave. New chants are often invented around the Fire. Feel free to contribute to the lyrics as ideas and themes blossom from the group mind.
- Our Ritual also features periods where there will be acapella chanting. During these periods, drummers will be asked to refrain from adding rhythmic accompaniment and encouraged join with the group in song.
- The Portal of the Voice has many other expressions: humming, howling, whistling, moaning or laughing with delight! You are invited to share a poem, recite a quote, invoke spirit or ancestors, or spontaneously speak from your heart. Ritual theatre celebrating deities, seasonal cycles or sacred days, transition rites and more are all welcome. Spoken word segments tend to be brief, allowing us to return to shared group expressions such as chanting, music making or movement.
PORTAL OF MUSIC – South / Fire
“Add your Fire to the Prime Rhythm. Play from there.”
- Our Ritual is not a “drum circle.” It’s a time and place of personal discovery through artistic interaction and self-expression. The musician’s role is to be in balanced, harmonious relationship with all who are accessing the four Portals of Music, Movement, Voice and Service. Sound is the one pervasive element throughout the night that directly affects everyone. Our instrumental music is predominantly percussion based. Within this domain, we embrace and integrate a diverse range of expressions: fast and slow, soft and loud, different “feels” or styles, and the DEEP STEADY GROOVE that is foundational to trance.
- The approach to music making at AlchemiFire Rituals is unique in that the drummers utilize a method designed specifically to magnify the group alchemical process. The essential idea is that there will be structured periods when drummers will take turns wordlessly creating and guiding a mono-rhythm that all other players will nurture into a unique, deep grooving, soul swirling, hip turning, polyrhythm.
- Please Note: Anyone who wishes to drum at the AlchemiFire Ritual must attend the scheduled Alchemical Rhythmatism Initations. These sessions are designed to explore and refine group understanding and approaches to this method.
- You can learn more about Alchemical Rhythmatism here.
- Our 5 core agreements are:
- We play only in the designated places provided.
- We rotate out of the ensemble area, so others can play.
- We transition into, and then fully embrace total silence.
- We honor and empower the full range of musical expression and diverse instrumentation.
- We learn and empower the root rhythm created by the current Groove Messengers
- In general terms, it is helpful to remember that as a musician you are in Service to the entire Ritual. You will note that the seats are set in an arc to allow all players to easily see and hear each other. Drummers are expected to keep their eyes open, heads up, and be fully present and engaged. Rather than trancing-out, in the AlchemiFire Ritual, drummers strive to trance-in to deep relationship, pin-point focus, and clear open awareness. The seats in the Circle are for use when making music. At other times, please move your personal instruments aside and make room for other players to sit.
- Please allow everyone ample time to learn the chants before adding rhythm. When you start to play, enter quietly, carefully accompanying the singers. We avoid abrupt starts and stops in order to nurture trance, allowing the music to gently fade away into silence. Let complete stillness hold us for a while in rich anticipation of the next offering to emerge (Silence is fertile soil from which new chant seeds sprout!). One drum played thoughtlessly can short-circuit the birth of a delicate new song.
- In terms of etiquette, please ask before using anyone else’s instruments. There are shakers you are welcome to play on the Rattle Altar. Be sure to remove rings or bracelets before drumming to prevent blistered hands or damage to the drum-head. Remember to return any instrument you use. To help avoid clutter in the musician’s area, leave your gear bag at your nest.
- In addition to djembes and dununs, we also value frame drums, doumbeks, congas and other Sacred Sounds! We cherish immersion in the softer musical magic of didgeridoos, crystal singing bowls, gongs and chimes, temple bells, berimbau, mouth harps, conch shells, shruti boxes and rainsticks. Occasionally a melodic instrument may contribute spice to the sonic swirl, accenting a chant, or offering a brief interlude before the return of chanting or dancing.
Musical Diversity Article
- Listen, watch, feel . . . and listen some more. If all you can hear is your own drum, you’re playing too loudly. Hold awareness of how your sound fits in with the whole. Finally, remember that music making is just one of many magical portals in our spontaneous ceremony. Be sure to also go chant, move, and be in service to others in the Ritual.
PORTAL OF MOVEMENT – West / Water
“Find where your water flows. Dance from there.”
- The flow of energy moves around the fire. During moments when we wish to be still, we pause near the outer edge of the ring of torches (Saturn), taking care to avoid standing between the drummers and the Fire. Feel free to express yourself through dance, moving around the fire as you relax into the Ritual. You don’t have to be a professional dancer to move your body in the circle. Listen for the flow within, and follow where it leads. Your dance might be a simple steady walk, or become animal-like, or be like the movements of an animal, god, or goddess. You may feel the rhythm flowing through you, with your various body parts expressing different parts of the rhythm. Improvise partner or group choreography, add symbolic movements to more fully express the words of a song. Mirror the steps or gestures of others dancing, or simply walk around the circle. As our dear circle sister Katlyn Breene wrote:
Dance each step with only now
with the spirits of place
with divine intent
with a prayer of perfect presence
Dance where the roots of ancient trees meet underground
like the hands of the ancestors speaking in signs
Each movement filled with grace, not of form
but of surrender…
Dance your prayer into the present.
Spiraling between heaven and earth
Dance for those who have no bodies
Not too fast, not too slow
Be their heartbeat,
Then bid them on their way with a breath and prayer,
Dance for the Gods
Every cell a shrine for the divine
Be a vessel overflowing with the water of life
Let each movement be born in a place of prayer.
Let each gesture be filled with thanksgiving.
Let each step come from that place
Where you and spirit become one,
Where You are One,
With every One.
We encourage personal responsibility and safety. Please be mindful of your body in relationship to others in the space and around the fire.
PORTAL OF SERVICE North / Earth
“Find the center of gratitude within. Serve from there.”
- Service is the easiest portal for everyone to access. During our journey, there are many opportunities to tend to each other’s needs! Make a new friend, or strengthen an existing connection by nurturing someone deep in the night.
- Contribute to the process of building the physical Circle, and bring your personal altar, banner, ritual attire, or other art offerings to adorn the area.
- Bring a nourishing or otherwise delightful treat to share at the Food Altar. Deliver food or water from the Food Altar to someone making music or dancing (be sure to make eye contact first and check that the time is right!). Take care to move in the same direction as those circling, and to keep water off drum skins. Devote a few moments to go and restock the food altar, light candles which have blown out, refill torches, or re-chalk the Earth track.
- Come to the circle dressed in your wildest, most beautiful and inspirational attire.
- Check in with the Fire Tender and help feed the flames of our sacred Fire.
- Settle in for a turn at the Smudge Gate, purifying people with sage smoke and your blessing as they enter the Ritual.
- You might give a hand or shoulder rub to a drummer, or help care for the entire crucible by picking up litter, sticks or stones underfoot, or return unattended instruments left in the musician’s arc to the covered area nearby. When you seek ways to serve others, remarkable opportunities will arise!
- Let love show on your face as you witness the mysteries of co-creation.
The Dance Orbits
- Many people gain an understanding of the architecture of the AlchemiFire Ritual through the metaphor of the planets and their orbits. The Fire in the center represents the Sun, source of energy, heat, light, and transformation.
- The inner orbit around the Fire is the Mercury track, a fleet-footed ring of motion for active, energized dancers. Moving outward from the center is the “medium speed” path of Venus, an orbit attuned to the sensuality of movement and song, rhythm in motion.
- Next is the Earth track, often marked by cornmeal or flour, a slow moving orbit for those in walking meditation, doing rattle work, or personal grounding.
- The Mars track is a standing place for witnessing, sonic guardianship or energetic support amidst the inner ring of torches. The flow of people and energy moves continuously around the Fire. If you wish to be still, pausing to chant or play a rattle here helps to physically define the container, and contributes much to the safety and intensity of the vortex we create together.
- The Jupiter track between the inner and outer torch rings is an zone for interactions that would be distracting within the ever-moving orbits of the trance circle. Here people feed each other, share water, breathe together, hug or rub shoulders. This is a place for conscious encounters of a stationary nature.
- The Ring of Saturn is the outer perimeter of the Ritual, including the prayer flags, torches, wood pile, and altars or shrines. The Comet track is an outer pathway for walking meditation, magical exchanges, and container work.
- The Gratitude Zone is a heart shaped area directly in front of the musicians for those who wish to interact directly with the drummers. Visit occasionally, and then move onwards to create space for the next dancer.
There are four temple spaces in the AlchemiFire Ritual circle, any one of which might be an appropriate place for inner work.
- Temple Nigredo is the black temple, which corresponds with the first part of the Great Work, transformation and release. Here, you will find a basket with paper, pens, and small sticks. In this temple, you can meditate on what you’re ready to permanently release or transform, write it on a stick or piece of paper and then offer it to the Fire.
- Temple Albedo is the white temple in the circle, corresponding with the second stage of the Great Work, dissolving, purifying, and visioning. Here, you will find a basin with scented water in it, with which you can symbolically wash, cleanse, or purify yourself and whatever issue is activating you.
- Temple Citrinus is the yellow temple, which corresponds to the third stage of the Great Work, unification, connecting, and creating. This is a place to go for eye gazing, energy exchanges, or heart-to heart connection with one other person or with yourself, to move in or through processes of relating.
- Temple Rubedo is the red temple corresponding with the fourth and final stage of the Great Work, revision, completion, and gratitude. Here, you will find rosewater and annointing oil. This is the space to come to when you feel your Work is complete, to give thanks and gratitude.
Please note that the temples are areas reserved for people actively engaged in intentional work. Those looking for a place to sit and socialize, or to lie down for a nap, are encouraged to visit their nest outside the prayer ties.
…the AlchemiFire Ritual community shares about our work and play within the Ritual include:
- We enter with a willingness to dive into and enagage with whatever is happening.
- We access fresh possibilities by inventing ways to stay engaged with each other, self and spirit.
- We take casual conversation outside and away from the Ritual.
- The Fire is Sacred and only receives material for transformation (No trash please, and no jumping the Fire).
- Drugs and alcohol are not appropriate for this ritual. Please respect the integrity of this work and challenge your perspective through what you do and say, rather than what you ingest.
- Please keep all audio or video recording devices away from the Ritual.
- No flashing lights of any kind, please.
- The seats in the musician’s area are reserved for people playing instruments.
- The organizers of the event reserve the right to ask someone to leave the event if they exhibit disruptive or violent behaviors.
A Few Final Thoughts:
- Be sure to take care of yourself. The most common reason people unexpectedly leave the Ritual is dehydration! Drink plenty of water, be sure to eat occasionally, and plan useful times for sleeping. Your alarm clock, or a friend, can ensure that you awaken at the time you desire.
- No one is required to stay awake all night, although we do encourage you to be a part of our dedicated dance to dawn! Some people join us until 3 or 4 am and then sleep; others sleep first and then join the Ritual in the pre-sunrise hours.
- Your Nest is a comfortable space you might prepare outside the Fire Ritual, ideally with a good view of the Fire. Most nests include a low beach chair and a blanket, as well as personal items like a journal, oils and incense, divination tools, etc. Your nest is a nurturing place to go and relax, reflect, stretch muscles or visit quietly with a friend.
- Real magic is no accident. Investing time in reading the various articles and resources on our Web site will serve to deepen your understanding of our intentions and central concepts. You will be fully empowered to become a co-creator of our collective magic.
When, over the course of the evening, our minds begin to drift and the brilliance begins to fade, a deep kind of work begins. In order to stay present and engaged, it is helpful to remember that we are each other’s inspiration. To find and renew this inspiration, we need only to discover and rediscover the mysteries within our relationships. We create and explore relationship through our artful interactions in the Ritual.