Contributed by: Crit Callebs, Eastern Band Cherokee Storyteller

“The man looked into the small bright flickering fire that sharply contrasted against the dark night. As he watched the fire he thought he could see some of his ancestors dancing around in unison with the flames. The man was mesmerized for hours by the hypnotic swaying of the crackling fire. No thoughts raced through his head or distractions from the outside world. Only a peaceful trance that gently held his mind. Although he was the only one sitting by the fire he knew he was not alone.”

The fire is one of our oldest ancestors. My people, Eastern Band Cherokee, believe that it was first sent down by the Thunder Beings into a sycamore tree. Eventually a coal was brought to the people by Grandmother spider inside of her silk bowl. I was taught that this is a sacred story and it can be told in full only when I’m either making a fire or in the presence of a fire. This is to show respect for our traditional ways of teaching and make sure there is a proper context for such a powerful story. It is also to make sure that the story is always connected to the sacred fire.

I have been taught by my elders that the fire is actually a spirit that we call up because we need its help. We may need it to heat up those Grandfather rocks for our sweat lodge ceremony or need coals for a tipi meeting. It may be that we need a fire to cook deer meat for our longhouse services or to smoke fish for later use. It could be that we need a fire to gather around to tell our traditional stories and to fellowship in a good way. No matter if it is for a ceremony, cooking, telling stories or just because we want its companionship there is always a reason that we call it up. We must always ask the fire if it will help us and express that we are happy for its medicine.

Fire is a strong and powerful spirit that is always used to hold down the spiritual energy of any type of ceremony or gathering. As a traditional fire tender for my families sweat lodge I must be very mindful of how I conduct myself. My Grandmother and Uncle taught me that the fire tender is the one who sets the tone for the lodge. It is because the fire is like a spiritual conduit that channels the emotions and thoughts of the caller directly into the ceremony. If I call up the fire when I have bad thoughts or in a distressed mood then those feelings could totally alter the entire ceremony.

The same way a fire can burn down hard wood to soft ashes it can also help cleanse our own hardened mind and body by burning away bad thoughts. When that fire is called up it should be done so with those specific intentions in your thoughts. We then feed the fire cleansing medicine like sage, tobacco or cedar. That smoke helps to restore our spiritual balance and bring us back into a ceremonial mindset. Thanks is given to the fire and the plant medicine for helping us. It is always good to say “Thank You” directly to the fire or any medicine you are using.

So, the next time that you are around a fire remind yourself that you are in the presence of an ancient elder. Remember, from the beginning your ancestors gathered around fire just as you do now. They told stories, cooked food and sought spiritual help from the fire. As you sit there gazing into the flames…remember, you are not alone.

Contributed by Eastern Band Cherokee Storyteller Crit Callebs critcallebs.com


Category: Stories
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