THE ELEMENTS
We have been conditioned by a culture and an education system based on a Classical metaphysic to think in terms of four elements. And just as readily, we will name them as earth, water, air, and fire. We might even go so far as to say that this extends well beyond the Mediterranean conception of the world’s basic substances, because the idea of four elements is found all over the world from antiquity.

Except, of course, that this is not quite true. As with so much, it is not that the idea of four elements is universal, simply that the world is viewed through the distorting lens of a culture that accepts the validity of four elements. And in interpreting other cultures, false interpretations are made in order for them to make sense. This is, in some degree, inevitable. Whenever you interpret something, you have to use the tools with which you are most familiar, not only to make sense of things, but also in order to communicate to others in a way they will understand.

That this is imperfect is all too easily seen in the world at present. Too many people fail to make the effort to understand the world from a perspective other the one in which they have been brought up to believe. There is rarely deliberate intransigence in this – although those most entrenched in their metaphysic are those most likely to resort to violence. I say that it is not deliberate, simply because most people do not realize what is happening. They are born and brought up in a particular culture that is based on a metaphysic so deeply embedded as to be invisible. They see the world in a specific way because that is how everybody else in their culture sees it. When confronted with another culture that views the world differently, most people simply cannot comprehend the other person’s point of view.

This is not a modern phenomenon. The Mediterranean cultures of Greece and Rome (whose materialistic metaphysic is the basis of the metaphysic of the modern western world) clashed with another culture two millennia ago – that of the Celts. There was much that was common between these peoples; but there was enough (in language and beliefs) that was different. Enough for there to be a constant feeling of conflict.

One of these differences will be sufficient to illustrate the point being made. Classical thought, as already mentioned, considered the world to be composed of four substances. These elements were abstract in nature – although they were related to the everyday experience of people. Earth, water, air, and fire were seen all about and they were familiar substances. But once in the hands of philosophers, these became abstracts, ideals, viewed through the analytical, materialistic metaphysic that dominated Classical thought.

From this starting point, we eventually had alchemy and then chemistry – disciplines which may have increased our understanding of some things, but which have also moved us inexorably further from a different vision of the world. We cannot say where that different vision would have taken us over the course of two thousand and more years, but we can at least look at the starting point and wonder. For that, we need to understand a little of what ancestral Celts thought about how the world was composed.

In one sense, the four elements are apparent. Earth, water, air, and fire can easily be recognized as elemental substances in ancestral Celtic thought. However, the way in which we recognize them is not how our ancestors thought of them. They were undoubtedly every bit as sophisticated as ancestral Greeks and Romans (if not more so). And whilst they did not consider philosophy a separate occupation, Druids and others were renowned for the depth of their wisdom, their understanding of the world. Yet their tendency was not toward an analytical view of the world. That is, they did not try to understand it by taking it apart.

Ancestral Celtic thought tended to the synthetic, the holistic. A thing was understand not only as a unified thing in itself, but also in terms of its connection with all other things. This is much more difficult and leads to a vision that is often disregarded, in this day and age, as being mystical. That there is an element of mysticism about such an approach is true. That it should be dismissed as peripheral or worthless is a great shame, in a very literal sense of the word.

Not only were our ancestral Celts synthetic thinkers, they tended not to be abstract in their ideas. They framed erudite notions in very concrete ways. This is not to say that they did not recognize the abstract world (they had extremely sophisticated abstract notions), simply that their metaphysic dealt with things in other ways. To return to our example of the elements, ancestral Celts thought not in terms of earth, water, air, and fire – four elements - but in terms of the Land, the Sea, and the Sky. Fire was not disregarded as elemental, but stood in a different relationship to the other three. And the other three, far from being analytical abstractions, were considered as an interrelated triad of realms, in much the same way that the Otherworld, Faerie, and the Outworld (as we now call them).

This view of the world related directly to the everyday existence of the Celts who were, for the most part, farmers. It is part of a larger conception in which the everyday and the extraordinary are one and the same, in which there is no supernatural because the world of spirits and faerie are part of the natural world and of everyday life. And woven in with this elemental division of the very tangible world are a number of those complex notions that we now tend to call abstract (but only because our metaphysic tends to separate them from the rest of the world). One good example of this is the fact that the notion of Sovereignty and its concordant ideas of responsibility and health and right living are all tied in with the Land and our relationship with it both as an idea and as the landscape in which we live and from which we must wrest a living.

These ideas will be looked at in a little more detail in what follows. However, rather than set these out as analytical arguments, I have tried to give an exposition on each in a way I believe that our ancestors would have viewed them.

LAND
All that we are - in a material sense - is derived from the Land. Many cultures and societies have recognised this, probably since humans were able to think about such things. Everything we are, everything we have, everything we grow, everything we make, everything that surrounds us - all are derived from planet on which we stand. That is why so many cultures recognise the Land as sacred and the Earth as our mother. All that lives is born from her womb; all that we have is a gift from her being.

Being mammalian creatures, we tend to think in terms of there being two principles to the bringing forth of life, to the act of creation. The Earth is our mother. But there is also a fertilising principle. The Earth would be a lifeless place were it not for the Sun. Hence the common (though by no means universal) attribution of fatherhood to our nearest star.

To follow this to its conclusion, we are children. Children of the Earth. Children of the Sun. As are all other living creatures on the planet. They are our siblings and no matter what the differences might be between us, they are as nothing to the common bonds that unite us.

We are also children of the stars, for the very stuff of which the Sun and the Earth are composed was made in the first generation of stars that came into being at the beginning of this universe.

The Earth, however, has bequeathed us more than just a material heritage. Her form and the way in which she has clothed herself have had a profound effect on the way we understand things and our cultures have developed. That is why those who live in desert places view the world and behave differently from those raised in forested areas or on islands.

Much that we understand of our inner being is derived from an observation of the natural world and an understanding of the way in which it works. That natural world, like ourselves, is entirely dependent on what is provided for it by the Earth and the Sun. Those that deny this, deny not only a self-evident truth, but also their own nature.

Our understanding of this works at two levels. The outer or exoteric understanding can be approached in many ways, but is generally concerned with the material aspects of the world and ourselves. The inner or esoteric understanding is concerned with the non-material. This ranges from aesthetic and emotional response to the much more profound spiritual link we have with the world.

Although we must, of necessity, talk of these things as distinct, they are, in fact, inextricably and intimately linked. Those who try to understand the Land simply as a material phenomenon will fail, just as those who try to understand it solely as a spiritual phenomenon. It is both; and each aspect is a facet of an even more subtle manifestation that is beyond our power to comprehend.

That is why the clearing ponds of rubbish approach to the environment will never succeed. Unless we can also understand that ponds and all life therein are sacred, they will always be filled with rubbish.

It is inevitable that in discussing the Land in its widest sense we must also discuss issues of personal and collective responsibility to the Land. There are those who claim to be Druid who feel that such involvement is political and should be avoided.

Whilst it is true that such involvement is political, that is no argument to avoid it. It simply displays a lack of understanding about politics (the way in which communities organise the distribution of resources in order to maintain those communities), conflating it with those individuals, organisations, and structures that come under the heading of Politics.

What is important is that we recognize our place within the various communities in which live (human and otherwise [other-wise]), the parts we have to play, the responsibilities inherent in them. We may have a right to life, but it does not stop there. The world does not owe us a living. Life is also a privilege and with it comes responsibilities - not just to ourselves, but to all life.

Some things in life are given to us freely. The Land gives us her beauty and the wisdom that is inherent in the multiform structure of which her children are part and in which they reside. It is there before our eyes. Learning how to see it is another matter.

Other things in life we have to work for, cultivating or gathering plant life for food and building materials, gathering other found elements, ensuring we do as little damage to the rest of life whilst we live our own. All this has to be worked at. Once it was instinctive, but we have long since traded that faculty for others.

Unfortunately, we have lost all sense of what we are and from where we have come. Those who cannot see the connection between the world and ourselves are content to tear things from our mother's being. Wholesale slaughter of species of flora and fauna, pollution, the destruction of habitats... Such is the scale of this destruction, we often feel helpless in the face of it.

But there are many ways in which we can connect with and work for the Land. Each action we take in that direction, no matter how small it may seem, is a positive and worthwhile step. After all, it is with equally small steps that we acquiesce in the destruction.

There are obvious and practical things that can be done and there are many excellent guides that allow you to empower yourself and choose which products and material objects cause least damage in their production, use, and disposal. It is a sad fact that these things invariably cost more and are difficult to find. But one's commitment to the Land cannot be swayed by this. Besides, it is not simply a matter of material objects, but how one lives one's life.

Satisfaction with life comes not from the material, but from one's relationship with the world. We can all be well fed, watered, sheltered and warm, entertained, and engaged with the world without the need for much in the way of material goods. We can certainly help to cut down on our impact by a series of simple measures.

All this exoteric work is more easily accomplished when it is done from a spiritual perspective. The spiritual relationship with the Land, the source of Wisdom, the place from which we come and the place to which we will return, is essential. If all that we are is derived from the Land, so, too, is all understanding of what we are. But to understand more deeply about the universe, we must also consider the other realms.

SEA
The Land, we saw, represents rootedness, density, and solidity. The Sea, with which the Land is most closely linked, represents fluidity. It flows; exists readily as a solid, a liquid, and a gas; always finds its own level; is in many ways insubstantial, yet has the power to dissolve mountains and sweep away cities. And without it, we could not exist. The Land would be dry, no life could grow, there would be nothing but desert.

That it should be the Sea which so represents water may seem curious to us. For most of us it is remote, a barrier. We play at its fringes and fly if we wish to cross it. Yet for our ancestors it was vital and they treated with the reverence with which it is due. They knew how precious it was, how important to their wellbeing. All water was accorded a level of sacredness not afforded the other elements. This is partly historical. We live on an island. In times past, the major routes by which people travelled were rivers and coastal waters. An intimate knowledge of the moods of water - its currents and torrents - as well as the hidden dangers within was extremely important from a purely practical point of view. But they were also aware of the importance of water as a source of food, in the growing of crops, and in the cycles of health of the tribe and the land.

Because of this and some of the physical properties of water, rivers, lakes, wells, waterfalls - all became the focus of ceremony and mystery. Water appearing from the ground in springs was especially recognized as a gift from the Great Mother. Springs (and wells) were sources of pure water (unmuddied by animals and people) and many of them had curative properties derived from the particular bedrock through which the waters had flowed. These properties led specific springs and wells to be identified with specific deities and ceremonies and rituals were often performed.

Even today, well dressing survives (albeit in a debased form, bowdlerized by Christians and prettied up by Tourist Boards). Not all, however, have been turned into pretty shows for tourists. A recent satellite survey of Wales revealed a series of springs in a remote region where nobody lives. The nearest house was some ten miles away and the springs were in difficult terrain. When a surveyor, using GPS to guide him to the spot, finally visited them, he found that each of the springs had had offerings left at them, including cut flowers, which were still fresh.

Many of the most important hoards of Celtic metalwork have been found in lakes and wells and springs. They are of the highest quality, were often deliberately broken or marred in some way, and then thrown into the water. Sacrifices. It goes on to this day. Wherever you see a fountain - whether it is a shopping centre or a city square, people will throw money in. It is often an instinctive gesture (and much welcomed by the charities who benefit when the fountains are cleared). It shows that we are, subconsciously, still aware of water as a sacred element to which we should make some sacrifice.

Water is also seen as a gateway between this world and the Other. Our ancestors did not believe that the Otherworld was under water (a confusion that has led many modern interpreters to assume there must be some connection here with Atlantis). In a world where mirrors were rare and expensive, water was a more common way of seeing one's self. All reflections are fascinating. It is the only time we see ourselves, but the reflection shows a different world. It is our world, but it is not. One of the perennial attractions of Alice is that the world within the looking glass was our world looked at from a different perspective. Water was the mirror, the reflecting surface, that allowed our ancestors a glimpse of the Otherworld. As water is most often still and reflective in the summer, it is no wonder that they saw the Otherworld as a Summerland.

The healing properties of water have already been mentioned. These are well documented through the centuries, but are still little understood today - especially by scientists. To many people (scientists included) water is simply a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. But it is far more than that. Quite aside from all the trace elements that water holds (the composition depending on the source of the water), it actually has an incredibly complex molecular structure that enables it to be imprinted with the pattern of other things without those things being present. In its simplest form, this can be demonstrated with the melon test. Place a jug of water and a whole melon into a refrigerator. Leave for a day. Then drink the water. It will taste (if faintly) of melon, yet the melon has not been immersed in the water, and you would be hard pressed to find any molecular trace of melon. Homoeopathic remedies work on the same principle. A substance is constantly diluted in distilled water to the point where not even a single molecule of the substance could be present. A scientist would say that the water is therefore just water. However, it has been demonstrated that the molecular structure of the water has been altered and carries the imprint of the substance. As someone who has used homoeopathic medicine to great effect, I am happy that it works.

Unfortunately, water has become a common place in our society. We take it for granted and are lost when it is not delivered directly to our kitchens and bathrooms. And taking it for granted extends to much else connected with water. We waste it, we pollute it, we have no regard for it at all. At the same time, we drink less and less of it and have become almost obsessed with bypassing what comes out of our taps in favour of water in plastic bottles.

Much of the water that reaches us in our homes today is heavily polluted. Water companies often say their water is clean. What they mean is it conforms to standards that actually allow certain amounts of pollution. There are simple and cheap technologies available for the companies to use to purify our water to a much higher degree and much more cheaply, but they refuse to use them. The water we drink contains elements of pesticides, herbicides, organo-phosphates (developed as a nerve gas), fertiliser, sewage, heavy metals, not to mention the deliberately (and illegally) added fluoride - all of which poison us (because they are not diluted to a homoeopathic level where they might just protect us). Drinking bottled water is no answer. For one thing, it lets the water companies off the hook - we should all be pressing them the clean up their act. Worse is the fact that the majority of it comes in plastic bottles that end up in landfill sites.

If you are concerned about the water you drink, water filters are a much better option than bottled water. There are many varieties from jugs to distillation units. Some can be fitted to the tap with long lasting filters so that all the water you ingest is cleaner.

Of all the things we can do in working with water, the simplest is to ensure that we drink enough. Most of us drink far too little. Six large glasses a day should be a minimum (and should be in addition to any other drinks we might take). Water quenches our thirst the best and does not introduce artificial stimulants into the system.

Tea and coffee have become standards (along with hundreds of 'soft' drinks that have high levels of caffeine and sugar). Too much caffeine is not good for us, inducing headaches and sleeplessness. Milk is also one of those drinks that have been so promoted for its health benefits that we tend to overlook the harm it does. Cows milk is for cows. Most calves do not benefit as they are removed from their mothers after just a few days so that humans can have their milk (from cows bred to produce more than would be natural). The calcium in milk (and butter and cheese) is not easily absorbed by humans. And most of the world's population is actually lactose intolerant (including a large proportion of people in this country). They drink milk out of habit and they suffer a low level of discomfort because of it. Water, fruit juice, and herbal infusions are much better for us.

When drinking water, take just a few moments to give thanks for it. Appreciate the fact that you have not just had to walk ten miles to get it from a disease infested pool in a dried up river bed. Give thanks that this most basic of elements is refreshing and fulfilling. Just a few seconds.

Water is precious. We should all try to use it less wastefully. Showers in preference to baths (although baths are undoubtedly therapeutic and to be indulged in). Taps turned off, washers replaced so that they do not drip. We can also encourage our gardens to become more drought tolerant by planting native species and allowing them to establish with the weather as their guide (rather than our desire to get the hosepipe out once a week). Plants, including grass, are incredibly tolerant of drought and if they are allowed to get used to it, they will survive and revive when the rains return. That does not mean we should not have water in our garden, especially for wildlife, but a carefully managed pond need not use a great deal, and if it is carefully placed will become part of the micro-ecology.

Regard for working with water in other ways is also beneficial. When we wash (ourselves or other things) this should be done with a thought for how blessed we are by its presence and abundance. It should also be done with a thought to what we put in the water and where it goes after we tip it away. We do not need harsh and poisonous chemicals to keep our clothes, our houses, and ourselves clean.

Our time spent with water can also be sensual, and we should never neglect our senses where natural stimulation is available. We are, after all, 70% water and touching water, immersing ourselves, and relaxing in it, can be joyful and beneficial to our health.

Beyond the material realm, the Sea touches many aspects of our being, but it is most notably connected with three aspects of our being. Because all water is affected by tidal differences that, in turn, are caused mostly by the moon, water is associated with the cyclical nature of our being. In the outer world, this is readily seen in the hydrological cycle in which water falls as rain, runs down rivers to the sea where it evaporates and forms clouds. But within us, it represents all those cycles that inform our lives. Menstrual cycles (also lunar) are particularly strongly associated, this being a flow of liquid as well. Some see connection with the moon as a form on inconstancy, because it changes. This is a misreading as the changes of the moon are one of the most constant cycles in our life and have for millennia been the basis of calendars and measures of time. That is why we still talk of a fortnight (fourteen night) as a measure of time - it being a half lunar phase. It was probably one of the main units of ancestral Celtic measure, falling between the day (which always started at sunset) and the month.

As a distinct (although strongly connected) aspect, water is a symbol of the feminine. It shares this with Earth, both being aspects of the Great Mother. The obvious female connection has already been made with the connection to the moon and menstruation. But being female is not the same as being feminine. Being female is a biological condition, related to one’s part in the reproductive arrangement of the species. Being feminine is cultural. What counts as feminine in one culture may be regarded as masculine in others. In Scotland, for example, a man can wear a skirt and not be thought feminine (as long as it is the right sort of skirt). This is an important point to bear in mind. To be fully integrated persons, we each need a balance of Land, Sea, and Sky within us. People who deny or try to eliminate the Land or the Sea from their being are unbalanced, disconnected, and will burn themselves (and everyone else) in a firestorm of destruction. Similarly, people who deny the Sky and the Sun within them, become psychically dense and spiritually cold.

It is unfortunate that the words feminine and female come from the same root word as it conflates the two in the minds of most people. And it has all too often been used as a means of imposing roles on people for which they are not suited. A person may have the Land and the Sea predominant in their make up (that is, they are feminine), but they do not have to be female, any more than they should be left holding the baby. We need a balance - and that is what the Druid Way works to restore.

The third inner aspect is the link between the Sea and dreams. Dreams are fluid; they slip through your fingers, break up, run away, and re-form. They also have great power and hidden depths. Such is its symbolic power that the Sea speaks directly in our dreams - calm water means serenity, rough water means difficult times ahead, and so on. Deep water, especially wells, or water from a deep source associated with the Land, like springs, speak to us of hidden and spiritual things that come from the Land and from the Mother.

SKY
The Sky, as we might expect, is the most difficult of these elements to pin down. Its physical presence is especially elusive as it is beyond physical reach and its main constituent, air, cannot be seen unless it is contaminated by other elements. However, we can certainly feel and see its effects for the Sky encompasses the weather, which is the interface between our world of the three elements and that of the Sun.

As living, breathing creatures, our distinct material existence is defined by air. Our very first autonomous act is to inhale; our last is to exhale. Once air is no longer with us, the other elements that make up our material being begin to dissipate. While we breathe, the air is taken into our being and its active element, the oxygen, is taken into our blood and distributed to each cell of our body. It is an inward journey, much like our spiritual one - deep into the heart of our very existence. Returning outward, it helps the body rid itself of waste and is finally exhaled into the atmosphere, where the great engine of the weather and the vast lungs of the planet (the forests) scrub it clean. We do breathe out purely air. Our breath contains moisture as well as warmth and the minutest of solid particles.

Each time we breathe, we become connected with the whole planet. Sadly, it is no longer possible to breathe clean air, no matter what remote place we might seek out. Although most parts of the country are now free of the great palls of coal smoke that caused smogs in the 'fifties and early 'sixties, the pollution that is carried by the wind is now hidden from the eye. Yet it is there.

In moderation, the air is a gentle friend. Just think of a cool breeze on a hot day. That and a glass of pure water are the simplest and most refreshing of experiences, yet they have the profoundest effect on us. The Sky, however (like the Sea and the Land) does not always behave in moderation. We know very well what destruction a strong wind can cause. The Great Gale of October 1987 brought down 15 million trees in just over twelve hours. It reduced houses to piles of bricks. Moreover, on a global scale it was little more than a minor storm. Some countries take years, even decades, to recover from the effects of the wind blowing for a few days.

Ancestral Celts recognized different sorts of winds - twelve in all. There were four chief winds (corresponding to the cardinal points) and eight subordinate winds. Each wind was associated with a colour (although some of these colours are not ones now in common use - many colours in ancestral times related to identifying cattle and horses). The colours were as follows:

North - Black
East of North - Speckled
North of East - Dark
East - Purple
South of East - Yellow
East of South - Red
South - White
West of South - Greyish Green
South of West - Green
West - Pale
North of West - Dark Brown
West of North - Grey

A great deal of our weather lore (of the 'when the North wind doth blow, we shall have snow' variety) derives from our ancestral Celts and has been adapted through the centuries to suit the times. They have changed little because we have been an agricultural society until the last few centuries. Each of the winds has always been seen as an omen of good or bad harvests, sickness or health in people and livestock, and so on.

It is inevitable, because of this intimate association with everyday life, that the Sky also has a strong symbolic existence. This is even reflected in the anatomy of the human being. We have seen how the air is drawn into the lungs and from thence into the rest of the body. Diagrammatic representations of the lungs, if viewed upside down, bear an uncanny resemblance to the structure of trees. Trees, of course, are the lungs of the planet and central to druidic thought.

And there is another tree within us. Air is associated with the intellect and with the soul. Ancestral Celts believed the soul resided in the head (which is why the head is such an important image to them) which is where we also place the intellect. The nervous system has its trunk in the spinal cord and its branches in the nerve pathways that extend into the brain. Indeed, the medical term for the connection between neurones is 'dendrite' which derives from the Greek 'dendros', meaning 'tree or branch'. An increased flow of air to the brain through deep breathing increases the brain’s effectiveness. A clear head is achieved by allowing air to blow through our mind, by allowing the Sky within our heads.

In turn, increased use of the intellectual and intuitive faculties of the brain increases the integration of the Sky into our being. Without this physical and symbolic aeration of the Land and the Sea of our bodies, we are lifeless and soulless. Too much emphasis on the Sky can, however, lead us to becoming disconnected. Many academics are in this situation. They have lost touch with the real world and their minds become unbalanced (sometimes in more senses than one). Some Druids, too, have come to this pass. They have become so immersed in book learning about Druids, that they lose touch with the balanced nature required to be fully Druid.

SUN
Given the importance of fire to any people, it seems at first curious that ancestral Celts did not appear to accord it elemental status. But this is because they recognized fire as something other than the triune elements of the world. Fire was the catalyst, the transformative power. Furthermore, fire was the manifestation of the prime source - the Sun.

Care must be taken here, as it is all too often cited in popular thought that Druids were Sun worshippers. They were not, any more than they were tree worshippers. Our ancestors were far too sophisticated a people to behave in this way. The Celtic pantheon undoubtedly contained solar deities – make and female – many of them major characters. But this is very different from believing the Sun to be a god or goddess.

Indeed, given the nature of fire and of the Sun, extreme care would have been taken in the past – as it should be taken today – not to conflate the symbolic nature of an object with its physical existence. The same is true for belief. That we believe in gods and goddesses does not mean we worship them in any crude sense of the word. The Celtic notions of free will, personal responsibility, and honour would make such behaviour meaningless.

Fire is the most volatile and potentially dangerous. Part of the danger lies in envisioning fire too literally, for that will bring only the flame, which has its own life and its own, will. Fire is much broader than that. It is heat, it is light, it is energy, it is the vital spark that brings quickness to the other three elements.

The most apparent and all encompassing physical manifestation of fire in our everyday lives is the Sun. Because the Sun rises and sets everyday, we can become so accustomed to its regular presence that we forget all about it. Even after days of rain, when we have a sunny day people will generally spend no more than a few minutes acknowledging the glory. The same with a spectacular sunset. So many of us now live in cities, that the beauties of the sky and the light of the Sun are obscured.

One of the first things any Druid should do is become aware of their orientation so that they know where and at what time the sun will rise each day and where and when the sun will set. It is not always easy with the lives we lead, but at some stage, each Druid should also spend a few weeks when they rise early and greet the Sun (even if it is cloudy), meditate quietly during the day, and then make their farewells as the Sun sets.

The purpose of this is two-fold. In the first instance, it allows one to become aware of the daily rhythm of our being. In physical terms, this rhythm drives the weather without which the other elements would not mix properly. The rhythm is a dance of courtship. The Sun is our father as the Earth is our mother (although this is not an absolute, as our ancestors knew very well that each contained aspects of the other). She is composed mostly of Land, Sea, and Sky - the egg. He is composed mostly of fire - the fertilising principle.

The second purpose is to enable each of us to awaken the Sun within. Just as we gather about the hearth where we commune with others, feel the warmth of flame and companionship, so our personal being needs its own inner hearth, its own light, and its own centre. Some call this our spirit, but even our spirit needs a focus, a centre of gravity. And this, in the very nature of the thing, is both the tiny spark at the very heart of each of, the blazing Sun about which the world orbits, the pure light at the very heart of all existence.

The Sun within also relates to enlightenment. The more in tune we become with the universe, the greater is the level of our enlightenment. Working in accord with the principles of being will shine forth from us. In many cultures and traditions, this emanation is known as an aura - the purer the light, the more one is in harmony. Auras do not always manifest as light to people. The Sun within can also be read in other ways. We all know of people who radiate calm and warmth and wisdom, people who are good to be with, people whose presence affects everyone around them.

In ancestral times, one of the centres of life was the hearth. In the great round houses, the hearth stood at the centre of the building and all life was lived about this fire, which was a Sun of its own. It provided light and warmth, cooked food, was a place for people to sit and discuss things and tell stories, a place of comfort and life, a place to stare into the embers and dream. Our ancestors were also much more aware of the dangers of fire than we have become - a stray spark from their hearth could destroy their home with ease. Fires were tended with great care.

Fire is also intimately linked with four of the eight annual festivals. These four festivals (Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasad, and Samhain) were lunar festivals. Held at evening and through the night, fires were lit for warmth and light. These were the great open and public festivals over which Druids presided but which were primarily for the people. This is part of the woven paradox. The open festivals were held at night under varying phases of the Moon, whose light is reflected sunlight.

The four solar festivals, held during the day, were the four inner festivals marking the stations of the sun. Although these times were acknowledged by the people as important moments, their celebration was low key. It was the Druids who worked their most potent magics at these times in their Groves and away from the common eye.

Deepening the paradox is that the most important of these solar festivals was at the Winter Solstice when the sun was at its 'weakest' and the daylight hours at their shortest. The modern emphasis on the Summer Solstice has resulted from an over masculinization of the Druid Way.

Fire, too, is the passion within each of us that carries us along the Way we take. It is an extremely powerful driving force, but it needs tendering with care. We cannot safely work only with fire any more than we can safely stand all the time in the full glare of the Sun. Without the balance provided by the Land, the Sea, and the Sky, fire will burn us all just as it is burning so many around the world today.

© Grace Forester

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