So ends the seventh year of my winter burning.
Some among my friends know the tale of how, from blackest darkness, I reached out to catch a single spark thrown across a desperate distance, to keep my own fires burning one long Yule night. How I took that tiny spark, and from it kindled the flame that sustained me until spring. How I have never forgotten the friend who cast it, and will treasure him to the end of my days.
Some among my friends know that for years, October plagued me with pain, and loss, and the fear of my own ending, how I guarded and fortified myself against it, building reserves of energy, and how I finally began to reach Samhain with some of that energy left over.
Many know how, each year, I gather my fire through the summer months, resting, dormant, to stand beacon from Samhain to Beltane, holding this space of flame for any who need it. How for the dark half of the year I keep an open vessel, tending the fire with my gathered fuel, releasing those far-flung sparks for those unable to find their way.
Winter brings me into my power, my brightest Fire, my strongest burning. I may be a child of the Sun, heliotrope, but I require the darkness to truly shine.
There are many kinds of Fire in the world. There is the hearth fire, which nurtures and sustains. There is the forge, which creates and challenges. There is the conflagration, which transforms as it destroys. I have been all of these, but my winter's fire is the candle in the window, the signal fire, the standing beacon. Here is home, it says, here is strength and power. Here are love and family, respite and healing. Here is a perilous enemy if you try to move against it, but a steadfast friend in need.
Each Samhain, as the sun falls, I step forth in flame. I hold out my hands in love and in Fire, and I carry them through the dark of the year. When I hear a voice falter, I lend it my own tale of strength. When I see a light begin to dim, I offer my own burning to kindle it. When a friend cries out lost in the Wood, I say "Here, here is the way to familiar ground." I do what was done for me, and carry it forward in service and in love. All winter long, I feel the gentle touches, the pulls, that mean someone has used the Fire I carry in need. Each time, whether I know the touch or not, I smile and thank the gods that I am able to offer it. Some nights I wake to the desperate, ungentle touch that says someone in great need has reached out to me. Those nights I'm even more grateful to be able to do this, because I know what it meant to me, for that last frantic grasp to catch and hold.
Each winter has been different. Some years, I barely notice Beltane's approach, taken by surprise when it's time to bank these fires. Some years, April stretches out as a long, bitter struggle of will, to keep going without risking my own stability. This year has been hard, but not bitter. In recent years I find that others are feeding this fire. A kind word, a thoughtful gesture, a moment of love or compassion, makes my choice an act of community. Though I never asked for and do not expect anyone else to help me hold this burning, I'm grateful for everyone who takes even a few moments to say, "I have a little light to share. Let me add it to the one you carry." That means that this year, the first year *I* have had to use the winter fire for myself , I could draw from those reserves without the fear that I might not have enough light to share through to spring.
Today, I have slowly been banking my flame, shifting the scattered coals to conserve the remains of the fire until Samhain, releasing the open flames themselves to the bonfires rising across the land. My power returns to the ember, buried beneath ashes, to smolder until the Wheel brings me back to winter.
Tonight, while my friends and loved ones gather to the Beltane fires in joy and celebration, I offer gratitude for all the many gifts of my life, and I rest now, in love...and in the cool, clear darkness.