My south altar, on the mantle just above my fireplace, is strewn with smooth carnelian stones, strands of garnet, and chunky citrine crystals. A wooden rune marked with berkano, the symbol of rebirth, lies near dried roses and autumn leaves. I flick a lighter and watch the flame dance before lighting two candles.
The candlelight illuminates a statue of Hestia, the Greek goddess of the hearth, standing before her sacred fire. She holds the sacred fire in her hands, yet it does not burn her. One of her hands extends toward me, as if she’s giving away the fire as a gift. My insides light up with love. As a fire dancer, the south altar is where I feel most at home.
I pour a shotglass of red wine as an offering, then pick up a piece of white sage and touch it to a candle’s flame. The curled leaf catches fire and burns, then smolders. The cleansing smoke trickles over the altar and into my nose. I waft the aroma over me, then place the burning leaf on a flat volcanic rock before her. Bowing my head, I breathe deeply, acknowledging the delicate balance between life and fire.
We live in a delicate balance with fire, in our homes and in our hearths. We need fire. Too little, and we freeze; but too much, and we burn to a crisp. The saying “as above, so below” is true with fire — we live on a planet nourished by the sun’s warmth and light, but we also walk upon the cooled crust of the earth, where a molten core still burns deep within. Together, they’ve created the perfect place to sustain and nourish our lives — a perfect balance.
“As above, so below;
as within, so without;
as the universe, so the soul.”
– Hermes Trismegistus, Hermetica, about 200 CE
Our internal fires need the same perfect balance. We need enough passion, creativity, and love to enrich and sustain our lives, but not so much that we are consumed by those passions. We may dance and play with fire, but we must be cautious to not let it devour us completely. When we dance with others, we must be especially careful with the flames.
The author and Kristl Mapes doing a partner poi routine.
My heart starts to dance. A warm, fluttering feeling comes over me. Passion and creativity circulate within my veins, making me feel lighter. I inhale deeply. When I exhale, I notice ash on the altar where the sage leaf once was. It has become part of the sacred cycle — life, destruction, and rebirth.
From one end of my altar, the Hindu goddess Maha Kali grins at me. I nod to her with great reverence. Although I only call upon her when I desire great transformation, she waits, ready to guide me through the darkness should I need her. From the other end of the altar, Astarte winks.
I bow again to Hestia and to honor the sacred element of fire. I have heard her message. I resolve to feed my inner flame and tend it with care. With quick breaths, I blow out the candles. I go forth carrying the sacred flames within me.
Thank you for reading about my south altar and how I connect to the primal energy of fire. Check back for more about my elemental altars, including how I reconnected with water — my weakest element.