by Michael Wall and Abigail Spinner McBride
Revised February 2009
We are not healed by others – we work to bring and maintain a state of wellness. Others may guide us with their gifts and talents to help us discover a path or perspective which enables our healing, but we are the ones who do the work.
The AlchemiFire Ritual is a practice which encourages us toward physical, as well as emotional and spiritual health. Together, we form an intensively creative, substance-free environment, in which purification and transformation can occur naturally. As we cultivate our physical well being, we are able to expand our play and explorations in the circle.
We are all responsible for our own experiences. As adult individuals, we take response-ability for our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves. In the AlchemiFire Ritual, we’re mindful of people’s personal space, and do our best to respect other’s boundaries. We honor the skills and gifts that each one of us brings, and our shared goal is to honor and empower each other to become our highest, healthiest visions.
Alchemy, Dark and Light
The AlchemiFire Ritual is a process based on ancient and modern principles of personal transformation. Many of the metaphors we use at our Fire Rituals are related to Alchemy and the tools with which we transform lead into gold.
Metaphorically, lead can be compared to emotional and physical heaviness, endarkenment, ignorance and self-absorption. When we talk about “lead”, we’re referring to the issues that drag us down, our fears, doubts, insecurities, self-deception, the pain that keeps us from opening our hearts, creative blocks, difficult decisions, childhood hurts that didn’t get healed, etc.
Gold corresponds with enlightenment, illumination, self-awareness and sovereignty. When we talk about “gold”, we’re referring to the open heart, unfettered creativity, healthy connection to others and to Spirit, skillful expression, clarity, honesty, artistry, loving communication, presence, authenticity, wholeness, and deep integration of body and mind.
The AlchemiFire Ritual as a Personal Wellness Practice
The Fire Ritual is a microcosm for the macrocosm of our existence, and, therefore, any core issue or challenge we encounter in our daily life will inevitably be activated and echoed within the vessel of the Alchemical Circle. As we encounter and sometimes collide with these issues or challenges at the Fire, it is our ability to negotiate the situation inside the Circle, while remaining engaged in the process, which affords us the prospect and probability of returning to a daily life where these matters no longer activate us. The magic we co-create in the sacred container, through sustained engagement, ripples out exponentially into the rest of our lives, for the highest good. Though it can be challenging to stay fully committed to the creative process from midnight, or earlier, until after sunrise, it is specifically this kind of initiatory, inventive ordeal, virtually unheard of in our culture, that furnishes us with the utmost opportunity for personal and collective growth.
How Best to Remain Engaged, Even in the Midst of Emotional Challenges?
We’ve found that when inner resistance, creative blocks or difficult thoughts and feelings arise, there are several ways to stay engaged. We make it a point to keep moving in the planetary orbit appropriate to the issue at hand. For example, if a person is working on moving through a feeling or concern related to clear communication, they might find it useful to move in the Mercury orbit, while speaking, out loud, to the Fire. Or, a person who wishes to move through a relationship challenge might find it helpful to dance in the Venus orbit, using the motion of their dance to pull pain from their heart and offer it to the Fire. Or, a person seeking to know what their life purpose is, could stand on the perimeter of the Mars orbit and focus their attention on the dancers moving in the inner dance tracks, seeking a sign or signal that would give them an idea of what direction to take.
Another useful approach is to “take it to the fire”. Some of us have found it helpful to talk with the fire, or to dance a dance of energetic release into fire. Sometimes it can be helpful to visualize where in our bodies we’re feeling a blockage, and to dance or move from that place. Many people have found that emotion can be moved and released through vocalization, or making sound without words. Another useful tool is to write about whatever is going on, and then burn the paper in the Fire. Also, sometimes people will burn objects in the Fire which are symbolic or representative of what they want to release.
Serving Others at the Fire
At our Fire Circles, every one of us is on the “Wellness Team,” and we are all empowered to be care-givers and care-takers. We give care to each other, responding authentically as we are guided to in the moment, trusting the process of alchemical transmutation. Although the journey may be uncomfortable at times, the Work is effective. Sometimes, a simple hug or just being present with someone while they move through their process is enough.
In the 1960’s, when Dr. Carl Rogers was reflecting on the encounter groups he had created as an alternative to traditional psychotherapy, he said that he was most impressed by the extraordinary healing abilities of ordinary people. Presented with honest expression and given the opportunity to be helpful, people will often rise to the occasion, empathizing and providing skillful intuitive support for the emotional and psychological needs of others. Rogers believed that we are each our own best experts and that we are naturally predisposed to strive towards greater wellness.
Special Situations and Personal Support
Please respect personal space boundaries. We refrain from touching, or speaking to a person deep in their process, unless she or he explicitly invites it.
At our events, there are trained, licensed medical professionals on site at all times. These nurses and/or doctors have the authority to make any and all medical decisions regarding the health and safety of all gathering participants. There is always at least one medical professional accessible by cell phone or walkie talkie at all times. We request that all participants familiarize themselves with the medical professional on-duty and are informed about emergency procedures. Please bring any personal medical or first-aid supplies you may need, such as band-aids, ibuprofen, sunscreen, etc, and remember to drink plenty of water.
Further Thoughts on Wellness
The AlchemiFire Ritual is a melting pot of all the world’s magickal traditions. It is our vision to create a container that can embrace and encompass diverse spiritual traditions and paths. The AlchemiFire Ritual model is a personal growth modality, focused on transformational evolution, looking honestly at our issues, seeing what our lead is and turning it into gold.
We achieve this transformation by staying engaged in a creative ordeal, stretching past boundaries and limitations by taking risks through creative expression, witnessed and supported by a compassionate community. Anyone who wishes to engage in the alchemical process of transforming their personal lead to gold is welcome.
We are all healers; we are all healing. We are all dancers, singers, drummers and servers too. In the AlchemiFire Ritual, we’re moving away from old paradigm healing metaphors of “healer” and “patient.” We are moving toward a self- and spirit-empowered state in which we are all transmuting our lead to gold, with the insight and encouragement of trusted friends. In the AlchemiFire Ritual, we are all response-able for our own experience, and witnessed in a compassionate, loving community. Our gatherings are designed and based around Alchemical language, symbols and metaphors. It is our intention to bring our vision for community wellness into alignment with these symbols and metaphors.
One understanding of Alchemy is that it is a personal practice in which one works with one’s “lead” and endeavors to turn it to “gold.” Whether the “lead” being referred to is one’s personal past, relationship issues, creative process or spiritual goals, the focus is one in which the individual IS the practitioner.
What Aligns with this Design?
There are many different contexts for personal growth. One context is a retreat or workshop, lasting multiple days, in which there are a number of different kinds of activities going on; lecturing, arts and crafts, team building work, group celebration and catharsis, creative expression, etc. These are primarily self-facilitated or group collaborations, with everyone working from the same clearly defined set of principles and metaphors. All of these kinds of activities may be found within the boundaries of an AlchemiFire Ritual.
A partial list of other transformational modalities, which would not be found during an AlchemiFire Ritual might include: psychotherapy, primal scream therapy, rebirthing, breath work, beating pillows, childhood or past life regression, etc. What all of these other growth technologies have in common is that they are one on one coaching relationships, done in the privacy of a therapist’s office. The nature of the work is clearly explained and agreed to by the client. Permission is requested by and is given to the therapist to make certain kinds of interventions. There is an agreed upon starting and stopping time, and the boundaries are clearly defined and carefully preserved.
One wouldn’t find this kind of work happening during a three day workshop over on the side of the room while the rest of the group was involved in a separate process, because it wouldn’t be the right context. It would not be secure or provide an appropriate environment for focused partner work and would also be distracting to the rest of the group who are engaged in a different type of process.
In the AlchemiFire Ritual, we’re working with our own specific language and symbol set. The biggest difference is that alchemy is not done to you by someone else. The AlchemiFire Ritual is a place where we can each come and work our own unique personal magicks AND be in collaborative creation together.
The Old, the New, and the Ancient
“Popping and dropping” is old terminology that came out of an old lexicon related to experiences at past fires. This mode of expression, where a person dances themselves into a place where they can no longer control their body, drops to the ground, and is carried away and tended to by one or more “healers,” also leads to designated “healer/facilitators” getting burned out or overworked, by taking on other people’s response-ability. We want to encourage the use of less explosive terminology than “popping,” such as “opening,” (as in heart or soul opening) or “releasing,” (real -ease). These are gentle terms that do not predispose a celebrant to exploding or throwing themselves on the ground and rolling in the dirt.
As the AlchemiFire Ritual continues to evolve, there is an increased focus on wellness, artful offerings, refined musical inspiration and heart connections.
Does this mean we do not embrace tears and fears, shaking and screams of personal darkness? No! There are many ways to “work your personal lead” at the AlchemiFire Ritual. You do not need to be, or pretend to be “golden” or “in your gold” all the time. We actively encourage celebrants to transmute their lead, to calcinate, go into their dark places, their nigredo, and embrace the shadow… and to do their own work and to do so at their own pace.
We honor our human ability to heal and assist others to heal. We are happy to support others’ good intentions and healing abilities, but not at the risk of our personal and legal liability.
What we’re moving toward:
- Individual and collective response-ability
- Every one of us is a healer
- The individual is empowered to be the source of their own transformation
- The circle provides a container of safe, supportive, and mindfully responsive witnesses
What we are asking people to move away from:
- Any behavior that encourages someone to spin out to such a degree that they could not remain responsible for their own mental, emotional or physical state
- Uninvited laying on of hands
- Doing “extractions” (from the Merriam-Webster dictionary: the action of pulling or taking out forcibly) or “exorcisms” (from the Merriam-Webster dictionary: the expulsion of an evil spirit from a person or place) in the AlchemiFire Ritual
- Setting up architecture in or around the circle which formalizes or validates any particular healing modality
One of the primary symbol structures of the Western Hermetic Tradition, which permeates our Alchemical work is the caduceus. It also is one of the symbols associated with healing and the medical profession. The caduceus is the staff of the Greek god Hermes, also called Mercury. The link between Hermes and his caduceus and medicine seems to have arisen through Hermes’ links with alchemy. To learn more about this connection, look at Asclepius.
By the end of the sixteenth century, the study of Alchemy included not only medicine and pharmaceuticals but also chemistry, mining and metallurgy. According to some, the caduceus was originally a tool used to induce both healing and dreaming in the temples of ancient Egypt. Throughout time, this symbol has been found in many other cultures.
The caduceus is a symbol of balance and wellness. The staff represents the spinal column and the ball at the top represents the brain. The serpents represent the balance of opposing forces, similar to the Yin-Yang symbol. The caduceus emphasizes that the supreme state of strength and self-control (and consequently of health) can be achieved both on the lower plane of the instincts (symbolized by the serpents) and on the higher level of the spirit (represented by the wings). The wings on the caduceus are symbolic of the liberation of consciousness from the warp and weave of dual systems, once it moves up the staff between the serpents and further, beyond their reach.
Esoterically, the caduceus exists within every human being. Through the conscious process of Alchemy, we explore our interior world by activating and purifying our subtle energy centers. These centers, called “chakras” in Eastern esoteric texts, are symbolized in the Western Hermetic tradition as seven different metals, each having a correspondence to the seven visible planets in our solar system, which also correspond to specific alchemical processes, related to various issues or possibilities, which are explained in detail in the Universal Fire Circle Alchemy article.
We can imagine that we have a caduceus inside of us. This “medical staff,” or magic wand, is a useful tool to guide us upon our journey from endarkenment to enlightenment. The journey begins in the lowest centers of the body, moving up through the different energy centers, rising toward the crown. These different archetypes help us express in words and in images our often elusive inner states of consciousness.
The bottom line is: we’re not interested in imposing rules on anyone’s belief system. We’re interested in continuing to follow our own highest vision, where each one of us is the living caduceus, capable of healing, transforming and transmuting our own lead to gold in a continuing experiment of Art… and, friends, we do honor you and empower you to be who you are. We hope you will choose to play this “golden game” in this way at this time with us. If our vision is too far away from where you want to go; we honor you and empower you to continue creating your own containers to make the fire circle be in accordance with your highest vision, and we’ll come dance in your vessel when we can, too.
Paracelsus, the great physician and Alchemist said: “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician. Therefore the physician must start from nature, with an open mind.” Abraham Maslow, psychologist and philosopher reminds us that one “can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can we act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” Finally, let us remember that the concept of total wellness recognizes that our every thought, word, and behavior affects our greater health and well-being. And we, in turn, are affected not only emotionally but also physically and spiritually. We are all on this journey of transformation together, growing toward wellness as one. We are all here to help each other in the journey, to guide and inspire, to teach and to learn. May we continue to melt away the lead and dross that separates our hearts from embracing the sacred in each other, and to grow in our magick together.
Moment by moment, let our thoughts, words, and deeds move us toward an optimum state of wellness as we become our highest visions.
continue reading with Wellness, Part 2