A Letter from Erynn
Winter Solstice 1996
It all starts with lighting a match. A simple thing, really. When the match is touched to the candle wick, I offer quiet prayers with upraised hands before the altar. Quiet seems to be the focus of those days. To keep the flame has been a calming and centering process, a ritual of no-ritual, a meditation on quiet and the flickering quality of candlelight.
I have not had major revelations on the days and nights of my shift since I began, back at the founding of (Daughters of the Flame). Instead, the flame has been a steady, connective presence. I take the spark from the woman who precedes me and pass it with care to the next woman on the list. I imagine that the earliest priestesses of this light were bound together with similar silence, their only sounds the crackling fire in the sacred hearth, the murmurred prayers, the rain falling softly outside.
What did they do together in their devotion, I wonder? Did they lie at night in darkened chambers, composing poems? Did they tend a garden of healing herbs? Were the sparks of the sacred flame carried to a forge where bright blades were beaten out in her honor? Were their days spent carrying wood, or later, when the wood was gone, bringing dried peat into the enclosure to keep the flame burning? I think they knew the wisdom of chop wood, carry water as a path of spirit. I think, in some ways at least, they were like me. There are wild hazel nuts on my altar. They come from Lincoln Park, down the hill from my house. A red silk cloth, woven with gold, from the sari of a Hindu saint covers the small shelf that is my altar. There is a black and white photocopy of the triple Brighid from a Celtic League calendar taped to the wall above. Seashells, which are used in Ireland and Scotland to decorate the Brighid dolls of imbolc, are scattered on the cloth, piled at the foot of the red glass candle. Rowan and juniper berries are mingled in a small wooden bowl, for protection and for purification. There is a sprig of cedar here as well, with its tiny brown seed pods. This reminds me of the land on which I live, the spirits of Puget Sound. Ogham fiodh, burned into hazel twigs, lie in a pile here awaiting her pleasure, and a tiny cup of hazel honey mead. These are the tools of my poet's art.
I do no magic at this altar, I raise no power here. Instead, there is poetry in my house. Notebooks open, scribbled lines that try to capture the flash of a dream's image or the subtle light of an autumn afternoon. I meditate on the continuity of the flame, one hand to another, one match lit in prayerful attitude.
Sometimes I miss my shift for one reason or another. I look at the calendar a day late and feel a pang of regret, a little embarassment at the fact that I am human and fallible. Despite my flaws, I continue to tend the flame. There will be another shift in a few days, and I can redress the accidental neglect at that time. I've never felt that Brighid was unforgiving of my occasional lapses. Somewhere in the world, some sister remembers and carries on. She starts with lighting a match.
(Letter from Erynn Rowan Laurie. Art by Rowan Hagen.)