Druidry and Paraffin

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Paul Mitchell
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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby Paul Mitchell » 28 Jul 2010, 08:15

I've pondered on this a fair amount for a while.

I like a good fire maze. There is something quite moving about them. However I did find myself seriously questioning them as a tool the last time I emerged from one. This might be the mind set of some one who has had the opportunity to engage in them a fair few times, mind, so a bit selfish perhaps. I also love to spin fire with poi. Again, this relies on the use of paraffin as a fuel. Your reference to paraffin being spilled during a fire demonstration speaks of one I was taking part in. The spill represents a significant safety issue and was an example of poor preparation and awareness on behalf of the younger members of that demonstration.

I'm not sure this is about paraffin, but more fully, as you have highlighted Corwen, about how willing we are to walk our talk. Or perhaps it's about how we agree just what our "talk" is. The idea of using candles instead of paraffin has been raised, and straight away there are concerns about those. The search for something that satisfies everyone could go on for ever. Then another area could be challenged.... why are people allowed to smoke in these fields? The number of cigarette butts left is always amazing to me, and I tend to pick them up when I see them. Smoking creates revenue for a seriously dodgy industry... and then we see people drinking coca-cola as if it was the most acceptable thing in the world.... people with caravans use LOADS more diesel to get to a camp, only allow tents, and then only with cars under 1000cc..... Where do all these things sit in peoples vows?

However, I believe you are very right to challenge the use of the paraffin fuelled fire maze in many of these settings. They represent a very intense use of significant pollutants even within the scheme of an event drawing people to make car journeys they otherwise would not. I believe our challenge, as "the challenged" individuals, is to craft something else. I think a maze of tea lights in (sand weighted) paper bags has been done before. A LOT of tea lights, probably a lot of issues as well, but it would look wonderful if done well. Also easy to tidy up. It might also suggest to people a different relationship with fire, more absorbing and gentle than the scary roaring flames we so often see. Or find a suitable replacement for paraffin that works, source it, demonstrate it, and contact the camp organisers to make the case. Or find some other spectacular that offers the same sort of shared and yet individual experience for those that get so much from a good fire maze. Make use of the very energy intensive technology and industry you are using right now and form a virtual working party to try out different things across the globe and report back. Some one could set up a forum for just that here. Work on it over the winter ready for spring and marketing out to the many and various.
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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby mwyalchen » 28 Jul 2010, 17:34

Thanks, Paul, for a well thought-out post.

While we're thinking alternatives, I'm also wondering about the current fad for burning a Green Man. (Or at any rate, I get the impression it's happening a fair bit.)

Not so much an environmental concern this time (though the Green Man at Druid Camp also seemed to have been doused with paraffin). More about ritual coherence, and again some of you may feel I'm being over-particular.

But while burning a wicker figure, or many other figures for that matter, seems fine to me and possibly very powerful, there's something that sticks in my throat about burning a figure that's supposed to be a Green Man. Let alone singing Sumer is icumen in while doing it!

Is there any mythical coherence here, or is it just that it's fun to burn things?

By the way, I've done candle mazes before, and they can be quite beautiful. But I'm also sure there must be some non-paraffin-based way of doing a fire maze.

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby skydove » 29 Jul 2010, 13:44

It could be a lovely spectacle if people could be costumed and danced a fire maze, after all they process through it, or how about collecting coloured rags from charity shops from things they cant sell cutting them into strips and knotting them onto ropes which could be moved and swung anything to give movement and colour, that people could walk through along with atmospheric music chanting singing etc. It's theatre in the open as much as anything, theatre that makes you feel part of something bigger.
It would take a bit of organising and of course may be looked on as too feminine an occupation compared with the primal energy and excitement of walking through fire and smoke, which is something extremely stirring to the senses and emotions and gives you or me at least a gut feeling of stepping back in time and for a short while enjoying being part of a
primitive tribe, doing something that may of been done in the past by earlier societies. How many of us would get the chance of enjoying something like this normally?
I do agree though that flooding the place with paraffin is not the way to do it from a more enlightened ecological point of view. I share people's horror when I saw gallons of the stuff being used to light the wicker man and labyrinth at recent pagan gatherings when it was wet and windy. I wonder what our ancestors would have done at their major celebrations when the elements were against them and there was a huge crowd waiting to be entertained and uplifted and no paraffin?
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DJ Droood
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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby DJ Droood » 29 Jul 2010, 13:55

I wonder what our ancestors would have done at their major celebrations when the elements were against them and there was a huge crowd waiting to be entertained and uplifted and no paraffin?

Toss a few prisoners from the neighbouring Boar Clan onto the kindling..they have a reputation for being rather greasy. :wicker:

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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby Merlyn » 29 Jul 2010, 14:33

Seems a bit dangerous to me, many people + burning maze = who knows what?
We simply use straw to make a maze, simple and no burning robes :D
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ac o garu, caru Duw.
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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby bish » 29 Jul 2010, 17:26

I wonder what our ancestors would have done at their major celebrations when the elements were against them and there was a huge crowd waiting to be entertained and uplifted and no paraffin?
These are the same ancestors who cut down most of the forest that grew across early Britain? :) Don't get me wrong, I am not fighting the corner for the paraffin patrol, but we have to appreciate that the main difference between us and our ancestors in terms of environmental consideration is that we understand far more fully than they did what our effect is upon the planet.

I do like the idea of a rag ribbon / flag labyrinth... may steal that. :) We've clearly done Fire Element to death, perhaps it's time for Air... Thank you.
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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby Claer » 30 Jul 2010, 11:39

I walked a fire labyrinth at my first Anderida Camp. It was a very, very powerful experience for me which put me on the right track to helping me deal with issues of coping with a fear of fire that was a risk of bordering on a phobia. This was later helped a lot further with the opportunity to do a fire walk at the same camp a year or so later (which as I understood it did not include the use of paraffin). I admit that at the time of walking the first labyrinth, the paraffin issue did not come into my head. I am now much more aware, and I now try to use much less paraffin by no longer purchasing paraffin lamp oil or paraffin wax candles. Still, some alternatives do beg other questions - much soy wax is from genetically modified plants, if I use olive oil there food miles or, even using local chiltern rape seed oil - there are questions to do with monoculture agriculture and its impact on wiIdlife and biodiversity. I did not walk the last fire labyrinth done at the Anderida camp. This was because I did not feel the need. May be we should ask ourselves "do we need to do this?" much more. Are we burning things with or without paraffin just because it is a fun thing to do, or are we really getting something out of doing this. For me, I couldn't justify the use of paraffin to walk that last Anderida fire labryinth, so I didn't do it. There is no doubt that the previous fire labyrinth and fire walk were a turning point for me and I will always be very grateful to have had the opportunity to do them. In future though, when events are planned it would be good for all people involved (and not just organisers) to think and suggest more ethical alternative sources of materials if possible. Sometimes there is a cost involved in the alternative option and if we wish to see paraffin free burnings we may need to be willing to pay a bit more for our tickets or provide it ourselves?
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Re: Druidry and Paraffin

Postby Corwen » 30 Jul 2010, 11:51

Claer, you are right, burning vegetable oil is just another can of worms, I was taught not to waste food as a kid and I still try to hold to that, as food is life and is sacred. Burning large quantities of a food crop in a hungry world is no solution. A firewalk is a great fossil fuel free alternative, it is much more of a rite of passage than a fire labyrinth, and involves more commitment from those taking part. I would like to see more of these, though event organisers may feel that the quick fix of a fire labyrinth is an easier solution to putting on a show for large numbers of punters who might not be trusted to act safely and respectfully with a firewalk, which after all has a higher risk of causing injury.

Bish, thanks for popping by to join in the discussion here. I appreciate that we are talking about relatively small scale use of paraffin when compared to industrial pollution, but it is, I suppose, mainly the symbolic significance of these events that bothers me. That said, every little counts. I am reminded of a talk by Starhawk I went to in London, where she argued that part of the business of Paganism and Pagans is culture creation, that we shape the mainstream culture by what we do, and thus have an influence beyond our numbers. What effect on mainstream culture does the recreational burning of fossil fuels have- especially when these events reach a wide audience via Youtube etc? How long before these things cease to be a Pagan spectacle and reappear across wider festival culture? Because of us?

I can appreciate the beauty of Chinese lanterns, but again we are following a trend from the mainstream culture (how many tv adverts feature these things at the moment?) when perhaps we should be questioning it.

The image of the Druid in the public imagination is still redolent with 'Green' symbology, do we want to lose that?

Skydove, talking about cloth labyrinths, I remember an early OBOD camp where we took a massive length of blue cloth up onto Dragon Hill near Uffington and ran about with it in the wind, it was quite a spectacle. Good if the cloth could be borrowed/hired, not so good if its purchased just for a one off event, as cloth production is also highly environmentally destructive...

Candles are also generally made from fossil fuels, though soy and beeswax alternatives are available. We used (organic non GM) soy candles at the Bear Feast last year, and will try to use beeswax this year. This had a symbolic meaning in itself, by lighting the site with something rare and expensive we return to the truth known by our Ancestors- that light is precious in the depths of winter. There is, as Claer says, a cost to this, probably £3 per head of the ticket cost is for the lighting.

Mwyalchen, I agree with your reservations about burning Green Men. What do our Wicker figures represent? In folk culture we burn people we want to get rid of and don't like. In France there is an old tradition of burning a giant who has been put on trial and found guilty of causing all the bad things which happened in the community that year, a sort of scapegoat. I have some old Folktrax footage of these events, and there is music and dances and other revelry that goes with it, a very interesting and possibly very ancient custom. I'd like to discuss this more.

Paul, your point is well made, it is about walking our talk. I'd love to have a camp where people would come by foot or bicycle or maybe public transport, a camp with zero environmental damage, but sadly I think few people would be able to spare the time to come, as we are all so tied into a destructive mode of life that is embedded in our culture like a cancer. It is a dream I have though. I did experience something like that once, a gathering of Dongas and friends on St Catherine's Hill, Winchester (the location, incidentally, of a medieval turf labyrinth). The radical edge of 'alternative' culture seems to have blunted somewhat since those days, or am I just out of the loop?

I think the best idea is Katie's, lets make a proper turf labyrinth together. It might still be here in hundreds of years time (a few do survive from the middle ages), it could be a permanent ritual space, and a gift from us to the future. Until Druids walk their talk in another way- and get together to buy land, then this too will probably remain a pipe dream.
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