Friday, May 30, 2014

Pagan Festival Firepit Etiquette


Note: this is an article in a series about Pagan Festival Etiquette. See the label fest etiquette for other articles.

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One of the main attractions at pagan festivals is the firepit. As with the ancient people, the presence of a communal fire naturally draws people together, creating instant community (just add wood!). What happens around these firepits greatly depends upon the people, the program, and the weather.

What you can expect around a firepit is as follows:
* conversation and socializing
* bardic performances (singing, dancing, poetry, storytelling, etc.)
* dancing
* drumming
* ritual
* discussion
* all of the above
* none of the above

The firepit should be a safe place where everyone is welcome to share in the fire's heat and light. This shared experience creates a bond, but it is everyone's responsibility to maintain it. The firepit is a magical place where friendships are forged, beauty is celebrated, stories are shared, and where laughter reigns supreme.

But a firepit is also a surprisingly delicate environment. It can be easily destroyed by ego, rudeness, carelessness, or even physical danger.

Navigating the Firepit
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If you know where the firepit is going to be during a festival, take a moment during the daytime to visit it and get a feel for where everything is. When it's dark out and your night vision is shot due to the bright flames, that's not a great time to try to figure out where the bathroom is.

Take note of where the entrances and exits are, how big the area is, and chat with a staff person about what generally happens at the firepit at night.

Also, NEVER walk into a seemingly unlit firepit, day or night. If there was a bonfire the night before, it's very likely that there are burning hot coals right beneath the two inches of seemingly cool ash. It's a kind of hot-foot that's going to stay with you for a good long time.

What to Bring
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Because night-time temperatures can be a bit tricky, it's best to dress in layers. Right next to the firepit might be toasty warm, but just a few feet away can be quite chilly. You should have layers that allow you to sit, stand, and cuddle up to the flames comfortably.

You should bring a camp chair so that you can take a load off and rest occasionally. It's always more comfortable than the cold, hard ground. It also gives you a place to store your things when you're off wandering, dancing, or socializing.

Make sure your camp chair is not in anyone's way and won't be tripped over accidentally. If people are dancing or mingling around the firepit, don't put your camp chair in their path. A good rule of thumb is to see where the fire-keeper is sitting and put your chair about the same distance away from the firepit.

You should also avoid bringing any valuables to the firepit. We all want to believe that everyone is good and honest, but with a just a little inebriation, people can walk off with your things either on purpose or by accident. Don't bring anything that you cannot stand to lose (wallet, car keys, jewelry, electronics, money, etc.).

If you find anything that seems to be lost, you should bring it to the Registration office or ask a security/staff person about dropping it in the Lost/Found box. Karma: it helps everybody.

Fire-keepers
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Most firepits have a fire-keeper, which is a person in charge of keeping the fire bright, strong, and hot. Fire-keepers also maintain a level of security around the fire to keep the people safe. In recent years, some fire-keepers have also taken on the task of keeping the fire dancers hydrated by having drinking water on hand.

Fire-keeping is more than just tossing the odd log onto a blaze. There is skilled technique at work, there is strategy, and there is a living relationship being forged between the fire and the fire-keeper. The fire-keeper creates the fire, tends to it lovingly for hours, and extinguishes it when the celebration ends (sometimes as the sun is rising!). Some might even see fire-keeping as a sacred ritual being performed with the fire and fire-keeper as the only participants.

The bonfire is a sacred place, so unless the fire-keeper says otherwise, only the fire-keeper is allowed to feed a fire. Just as you would not give candy to a child you did not know (or whose parents you did not know), you should not poke, prod, or throw anything into a fire without the fire-keeper's permission. The sacred fire is not a place for your garbage, no matter how pretty its fiery consumption might be. Aside from upsetting the delicate balance that the fire-keeper is trying to maintain, it can also create sudden sparks and floating embers that burn, scald, or set others alight.

If a fire-keeper asks you for help, be honored by the request and do your best to help. Don't be afraid to thank the fire-keepers for their quiet, yet essential role in the evening's festivities. Enjoy the firelight, enjoy the fire's heat, and respect the fire-keeper's responsibility in creating that sacred, magical space.

The fire-keeper usually has a path cleared between the firepit and the stack of firewood. Make sure you don't put anything to block that path, including yourself. 

Smoking
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As the popularity and the population around a firepit increases, so do the complications of bringing lit cigarettes into a crowded space. Aside from the complications of second-hand smoke and allergies, having a tiny lit fire stick around too much exposed flesh can result in burnt skin or worse.

Smokers are invited to step away from the firepit area to enjoy their cigarettes in peace, surrounded by like-minded people. Please do not throw your cigarette butts in the sand (see the paragraph on burnt skin) and do not throw them into the sacred fire. Butt cans are usually provided to extinguish and contain your expired smokes. If there are no butt cans, then bring a Yuck bottle (a bottle with water/sand inside to hold your butts) or request some from the Fest staff.

If you decide to use non-tobacco based products, please take them far away from the firepits and consume them in private.

Proximity to the Firepit
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When standing around a firepit, keep in  mind that everyone wants to feel the heat and watch the flames, so as much as possible, try not to stand in front of anyone and denying them access. Sometimes this can be unavoidable, but do your best to be accommodating.

Also, don’t get too close! Skin burns are painful for a long time, so keep exposed skin a safe distance from the flames. If you are wearing flowing clothing, be hyper-aware of how the extremities of this clothing is moving in relation to the flames. Lit clothing is not only a danger to yourself, but to anyone standing around you.

Try to stay out of the way of the people tending the fire (the Fire-keepers). Not only are they trying to maintain the fire, but they also need to keep it from burning out of control. Try not to get between them and the places they need to be.

If people want to dance around the fire, give them some room to move. This might mean you have to stand farther away from the fire than you’d like, but try to be accommodating. Don’t stand so close to the firepit that it puts the dancers at risk of stumbling or falling in. We all need to do our part to keep everyone safe.

Sharing a Firepit
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What people do around a firepit depends greatly on the event, the time, and the location of said firepit. Some firepits are largely social gatherings where people sit or stand in groups and catch up on news, tell jokes, and just enjoy each other's company.


Try to keep the volume of your conversation to a respectful level so as not to drown out other people. You should NEVER use a video/audio recorder to record what is said around a firepit without *everyone’s* explicit permission.

The attention of the crowd might shift from intimate conversation to a group discussion, but this should be as organic as possible. In most cases, insisting that everyone stops talking to listen to you speak is regarded as rude.

If a Firepit is being built to allow people to dance, there are usually a few key elements: a ring of dancers, the muscians (drummer) in one corner, and the watchers on the outside. No one is obliged to dance, but the dancing line is open to all. Generally, the dancers will move either clock-wise or counter clock-wise, so you are expected to move with the flow of the group. When there are too many people for a single ring, multiple rings will form.

Sometimes people will take some or all of their clothes off while dancing around a fire. Whether this is allowed or not depends on the Festival Organizer, so consult with the Fire-keeper or Security to find out if this is appropriate. 

However, Firepit Nudity is not an invitation to anyone to touch, grope, or make lewd or derogatory comments. You can read more about Clothing Optional Etiquette here.

Potion Bottles
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As with many outdoor pagan gatherings (such as festivals), there may be a wee bit of alcohol making the rounds. Pagans tend to be quite generous in sharing their grog, but you should always wait for the offer rather than raiding someone else's cooler. Also, make sure you know and trust the person who is offering you a drink before you imbibe, just to be on the safe side. As the Sufis say: "Trust in Allah, but tie your camel."

Because many people walk in their bare feet around a firepit, especially when it is covered in sand, you should NEVER bring glass bottles to a firepit. No matter how careful you think you're being, it's very easy for a glass bottle to shatter and sow its sharp seeds into the sand, and more importantly, into people's feet.

Discarded glass bottles are also a danger because it's easy to trip on them or even shatter them with your feet. Leave your glass bottles at your campsite and out of foot-traffic's way.

Transfer your festive potions (alcoholic or otherwise) into a plastic or metal container (like a water bottle or travel mug) before you approach the firepit. You may want to identify your potion bottle in someway to distinguish it from all the others (after a few potions, everything starts to blur together).

It's also a good idea to bring a water bottle filled with plain, refreshing water. Dancing around a hot firepit can dehydrate you in a hurry, especially if you are being constantly libated with mystery alcoholic drinks. Pacing yourself with water ensures a safe evening and a (relatively) pain-free morning after.


Firepit Romance
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Pagans are an affectionate crowd, but sometimes the firelight can raise more than just the body temperature.  Please keep in mind that the firepit is a social gathering where everyone is enjoying the same space in friendship and community. If you are connecting with a new found love, or rekindling an established flame (pun intended), please take your public displays of affection away from the firelight and to someplace more private.

No one is saying that you can't be affectionate with a friend, but not only does overt sexual expression shut everyone else out, it's distracting, uncomfortable to watch, and even harder to ignore.

Once you make that connection with someone, go for a walk and enjoy their company without the prying eyes, allowing the rest of the people to enjoy the fire rather than your fiery passion.

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