Druidry and Paraffin

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Corwen
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Druidry and Paraffin

Postby Corwen » 22 Jul 2010, 12:20

I'd like to discuss the increasing use of fire labyrinths at Druid and other Pagan events. For those of you who haven't seen one, a fire labyrinth is made by drawing a labyrinth shape on the grass, usually in sawdust soaked in paraffin, and then setting it alight. They are made big enough for lots of people to walk through. Search on Youtube for Fire Labyrinth and you'll find lots of footage. I'm bringing it up now because of photos I saw of the recent fire labyrinth at Rainbow Circle Druid Camp.

They are becoming very common, I go to a lot of events and we see them frequently. The first one I saw was at an OBOD camp around 93? Ivan Macbeth created it, I think it was a relatively new thing, and it had a big impact, it was used as the climax of a camp on the theme of the fire element. I have seen more and more of them over the years until now every Mercian Gathering and every (Rainbow Circle) Druid Camp has one, and other camps have them occasionally. Last year Druid Camp also released lots of those paraffin powered flying lanterns (lord knows where their wire skeletons ended up and what harm they did to wildlife), and also had a big fire display during which a large container of paraffin was spilt, so the central area of the camp smelt of it for the rest of the weekend... We didn't go this year...

I watched the fire labyrinth at the Anderida camp last year, and from a distance I could see that the plume of thick black smoke was at least 100 to 150 feet high. At my Ovate initiation I swore to uphold the purity of the element of air (and so did all the other OBOD folk there of Ovate grade and above) and I couldn't see how these things were reconcilable. Do we take our vows so lightly? We hopefully do ritual for symbolic effect, what does it symbolise that we are prepared to scorch the earth, consume fossil fuels and contaminate our lungs and the air?

I worry a lot about the environmental impact of our 'spiritual' activities, every time I drive to an event, every time we buy timber to make instruments etc. We do our best to minimise the impact, and live lightly, but this fire labyrinth thing seems completely unnecessary. I am not a puritan, and I think that once in a while a fire labyrinth might be nice, but they are at almost every single large event now.

Rather like flying to a Druid event , this seems an obvious example of not walking our talk. Thoughts?
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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby celticmodes » 22 Jul 2010, 15:10

I have yet to see one but it sounds impressive. I also agree that it seems a tad irresponsible and I would have eventually come to the same conclusion.

I'm sure it can be done and be just as rewarding to the participants while at the same time being environmentally conservative.

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby Badger Bob » 22 Jul 2010, 16:00

Those chuffing lanterns really do my head in, I'm always picking the leftover bits up after a wedding at the local hotel. I keep complaining to them but they just reply that they are not illegal and are totally environmentally friendly (to which I generally reply "my arse").

As for the fire labyrinth, I am quite shocked to hear about them. It's one thing to have a bonfire fuelled by wood which can be replaced, re-fixing the carbon, but I would have thought that contaminating land with paraffin-soaked sawdust would have caused Druids to think twice. It just goes to show how little some people think through their actions.

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby treegod » 22 Jul 2010, 21:34

I've been to a fire labyrinth and I was impressed but I've had more impressive group experiences.

For me it's a once in a lifetime experience, done it once don't need to do it again. Next time I think I'll watch from distance.

It's an interesting experience to do once or twice, but not to do it at every, or almost every, event I don't think is worth while, and must have some environmental consequences (I think Anderida used citrus something rather than paraffin, don't know how that compares.

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby DJ Droood » 22 Jul 2010, 21:46

I once made a labyrinth course out of tomato stakes and twine, and it was lit with tea candles and citronella torches...it worked great, and left nothing behind except for trodden down grass...probablly not as visually impacting, but it looked pretty cool under the night stars. :where:

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby treegod » 22 Jul 2010, 22:13

Citronella, that's the stuff I think Damh used (when I went). How does it compare to paraffin in environmental terms?

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby DJ Droood » 22 Jul 2010, 22:28

Citronella, that's the stuff I think Damh used (when I went). How does it compare to paraffin in environmental terms?
not sure, but it is a renuable plant oil, I believe...and it does double duty by keeping the mosquitos at bay! (they probably have a low opinion of it)

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby skh » 22 Jul 2010, 23:54

Citronella is an essential oil, I doubt that you can make (and afford) whole torches from it. I guess they were made of whatever torches are made of (probably not beeswax), and scented with citronella.

(No opinion on the original question, I haven't experienced a fire labyrinth yet. I do use candles at home though. Stearin is beautiful, but pondering on the details of palm oil production, not necessarily better.)

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby katie bridgewater » 23 Jul 2010, 00:05

I think Anderida used citrus something rather than paraffin, don't know how that compares.
Sadly not. The most recent Anderida fire labyrinth was definitely done with petro-chemicals. Now, don't get me wrong, I love Anderida camps, but this is one of the things I find most appalling about modern pagan gatherings. I find nothing spiritual about breathing in carcinogenic, toxic fumes, and I don't enjoy playing music for rituals where the air is heavy with these fumes - it's hard enough to breathe when playing a shawm and you can't do it without big lungfuls of air, but in paraffin fumes it's particularly unpleasant. At the Rainbow circle Druid camp, I led 2 deep voice workshops, one in a yurt full of paraffin fumes caused by the burning of hundreds of paraffin tealights just before I was scheduled to work in the space, and then later in the outdoor 'ritual' space which stank of spilt paraffin. It wasn't an ideal atmosphere for leading people in deep breathing and singing exercises...

I'm with DJ on this one - I'm just as moved by burning candles (made of beeswax or vegetable oil), or a wood fire if I want to meditate on fire, and as for labyrinths, well I prefer mine cut into the turf and ancient, like the Breamore mizmaze or the one at Troytown near Bicester. I also think that many people these days (dare I say it, even Druids...) are so used to what I call 'Hollywood' fire (the sort of fire that magically appears and things go up suddenly in dramatic flames) rather than understanding the true nature of fire (ie that it is quite difficult to get stuff to burn without lashings of oil). If you make fire daily to keep warm in winter, it's not impressive to see big 'instant' fires. Instant fire tells me more about the people making it than the element I rely on for warmth and safety.

I propose a ritual in which the participants bring trowels and create a turf labyrinth which is then walked in silence by all. The ground could be returned to its original state afterwards if it can't be left as a permanent feature.

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby DJ Droood » 23 Jul 2010, 00:10

Citronella is an essential oil, I doubt that you can make (and afford) whole torches from it. I guess they were made of whatever torches are made of (probably not beeswax), and scented with citronella.
on furthur investigation, I think the citronella lamp oil we buy is kerosene (same as paraffin, I think...over here paraffin refers to a type of wax) with the essential oil added.

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby Aurora » 23 Jul 2010, 01:14

I've never seen one, I'm sure they are impressive to look at though the first time you see one. It's not something i'd be terribly keen to do here except by making it out of candles as the native flora here is very combustible and i agree that burning parafin smells horrible, even then the candles would have to be beeswax or vegetable based, though not commercial soya candles as you can't garuntee that the soya used has not been genetically engineered :-(
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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby DJ Droood » 23 Jul 2010, 02:08

though not commercial soya candles as you can't garuntee that the soya used has not been genetically engineered :-(
as long as you weren't eating the candles why would it matter?

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby treegod » 23 Jul 2010, 09:34

I think Anderida used citrus something rather than paraffin, don't know how that compares.
Sadly not. The most recent Anderida fire labyrinth was definitely done with petro-chemicals.
Well, that's changed a bit, and not for the better. Wonder what happened to the citronella used when I went.

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby Corwen » 23 Jul 2010, 10:15

Adam, citronella lamp oil is usually 90% or more paraffin/kerosene, as citronella doesn't burn too well by itself and is expensive. In fact all the citronella oils I've seen in the UK are just 3% citronella. I looked into this when we were planning the first Bear Feast and trying to avoid using paraffin lamps. Instead we light with soy and beeswax. Apparently citronella burns very smokily and smells too strongly so isn't any good indoors anyway.

Pure citronella if it were available in large amounts might be a good substitute for paraffin as its not a food (the idea of burning vegetable oil in a hungry world isn't good either) or a petrochemical. Would be expensive though.
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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby mwyalchen » 23 Jul 2010, 12:23

Just as a matter of accuracy: Corwen, I think you may be wanting to discuss the Druid Order camp which is hosted by Rainbow 2000 - I remember talking to you there last year about how unpleasant you had found the paraffin that was spilt during the fire juggling display. Rainbow Circle is these days a quite separate organisation. (By the way, I was sorry not to meet up with you there this year; I guess you were at Anderida instead. Though it sounds like you didn't escape the paraffin there either!)

Also as a matter of accuracy, since you wrote "I have seen more and more of them over the years until now every Mercian Gathering and every (Rainbow Circle) Druid Camp has one, and other camps have them occasionally." - I've worked on this camp (washing up in the cafe and doing music) for the last four years, and this is the only one which has featured a fire labyrinth.

Having said that, I do sympathise with your feelings about using paraffin like that. As Katie pointed out last year, the smell of (burnt or unburnt) paraffin is not only unpleasant, it may also be dangerous. We would do better to look for healthier, and carbon-neutral alternatives.
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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby mwyalchen » 23 Jul 2010, 12:24

though not commercial soya candles as you can't garuntee that the soya used has not been genetically engineered :-(
as long as you weren't eating the candles why would it matter?
Even if I'm not eating it, I'd prefer not to help fund the GM industry.

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby mwyalchen » 23 Jul 2010, 12:29

Those chuffing lanterns really do my head in, I'm always picking the leftover bits up after a wedding at the local hotel. I keep complaining to them but they just reply that they are not illegal and are totally environmentally friendly (to which I generally reply "my arse").
There's probably a case that this is a public nuisance, if you can face pursuing it. It might even come under littering regulations. Though, of course, going to law (especially with a neighbour) is a nasty business.

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby Corwen » 23 Jul 2010, 12:55

Also as a matter of accuracy, since you wrote "I have seen more and more of them over the years until now every Mercian Gathering and every (Rainbow Circle) Druid Camp has one, and other camps have them occasionally." - I've worked on this camp (washing up in the cafe and doing music) for the last four years, and this is the only one which has featured a fire labyrinth.
.
You are right, its funny, I'd assumed there had been a fire labyrinth in 2009 (I think someone had mentioned one - seems this was just a rumour) but we avoided the fire ritual and went to bed early because of the fumes so I didn't realise there hadn't been one. There was a lot of paraffin lighting and juggling/spilling for sure though. Apologies for my confusion.

Paradoxically while we were avoiding the paraffin someone in our corner of the field decided to add a big pile of creosoted railway sleepers to their campfire, stinking the place out so much with suffocating smoke that I emerged groggily from my tent to find a dozen or so other sleepy heads wandering about trying to find whose tent was on fire, as that's what it smelt like. I emerged in time to see the lanterns taking off. In addition to railway sleepers there was also a lot of green arsenic-tanalised wood in the firewood pile, I remember talking about it to you at the time, how the Druid camp was more toxic than the industrial estate I occasionally work on! Seems some builder had found a way to get rid of his demolition timber cheaply, get the Druids to burn it!

Yes we were at Anderida this year, an unfortunate clash, but the date for Druid camp was announced really late after the date for Anderidafest was already set. Same thing has happened with Mercian Gathering/Rivenstone.
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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby Badger Bob » 23 Jul 2010, 14:37

...(the idea of burning vegetable oil in a hungry world isn't good either)
Recycling the waste oil from the local chippie is my preferred option for oil lamps. I haven't done any large scale burning but in a small roman-style terracotta lamp it works well enough.
Though, of course, going to law (especially with a neighbour) is a nasty business.
Well it used to be a neighbour but it's now a large chain and with the new management have come regular firework displays and lantern-launching. We seem to be fighting on all fronts at the moment; open-casting, public transport, post offices, you name it and they want to do it. One more campaign won't hurt much.

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby bish » 27 Jul 2010, 21:22

Hi Corwen. I haven't been onto the OBOD boards for the longest time, but I'm glad you brought the discussion here that began on my facebook page. To finesse what mwyalchen kindly clarified, Druid Camp is an independantly crafted event unrelated to any particular Order, It is hosted by Rainbow 2000 and was until recently organised by Mark Graham of Charnwood Grove and Emma Restall Orr (Bobcat) of The Druid Network. This year was organised by Mark and a few volunteers (I now manage the web site), as Bobcat was unable to take part.

Fire Labyrinths have been a part of contemporary Druid events since (I think) OBOD crafted one in 1993. However, this was the first time such a labyrinth formed a part of Druid Camp. I've tried to check since our initial conversation and I believe every labyrinth ever lit has used fossil fuel as accelerant. It is true, too, that last years Camp included a ritual using 'Chinese Lanterns'. As an independant attendee of the Camp I can fully appreciate the (reservations is too soft a word) revulsion you have for what you see as a harmful toxic release, where what was intended was an immersive and provoking ritual. Provoking clearly succeeded...

Your words haven't simply flown into the ether. In any case, it is poor practice to repeat something that has been done - as I said, this was the first at Druid Camp - but I will try to ensure discussions will take place as to the ethics within ritual for future Camps. I don't necessarily share your abhorrence of the use of a small amount of paraffin (and it was small, otherwise the labyrinth would have gone up too fast), but then we live in different worlds - neither one wholly wrong per se - and I work with (and try to mitigate, minimise, eradicate) industrial scale emissions. However, if the ritual focuses one on the antagonistic energies rather than those intended, it has failed that person. I know from direct experience the overwhelming response to this years Camp was positive, but even so...

I've no idea what will form the next Druid Camp. If you have inspiration, do wave it over this way. :)
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