HEART ON FIRE: Sitting in Audience with Grandfather Fire

By Jonathan Merritt

We were sitting in a beautiful dell at the base of a mountain close to the sea. It was a small group, about thirty-five people, some of whom had come from hundreds, even thousands of miles away to sit in the presence of Grandfather Fire. Before the Tsaurirrikame, David Wiley, a fully initiated shamanic healer and ceremonial leader in the lineage of the Wixarika (Huichols) of Mexico’s Western Sierra Madre, approached the brightly burning fire to make his offerings and prayers, a statement was read that described how, in times of great turbulence and trouble, when the people have lost their essential connection with Divine Presence, the gods arrange to speak with us in a voice we can understand, to bring guidance so that we might regain balance and remember our dependence on and obligation to all that lives, so that we might transform our culture, so that we might live joyfully again in relationship with each other and the living world. This phenomenon, which is common in many traditional cultures, is very unusual in ours and signifies the dangerous precipice upon which we teeter. The statement described the Tsaurirrikame, his dedication, learning and sacrifice, how at a certain point he would go into a coma-like state and a very different distinct presence would rise in him and speak through his body. That presence, that voice, is known in Huichol as Tatewarí, Grandfather Fire, the Elemental God of Fire.

I have had the good fortune to sit in this way with Grandfather Fire more than a hundred times. Yet, each time, as the energy builds to where the Tsaurirrikame begins shaking and Tatewarí emerges, I feel my own excitement and trepidation—excitement because I know that we are about to be given Divine Wisdom; trepidation because I remember the fundamental situation, that we are living in an extremely dangerous time, and that what we need to hear may be both personally and culturally painful.

Like most people, I don’t want to think about the destructiveness of our culture and lifestyle. I enjoy the benefits of cars, electricity and running water, fresh fruit year round, easy entertainment beamed into my home. I don’t want to consider the costs of the destruction of forests and rivers, the fouling of the ocean, the pollution of the air. I want to ignore the incontrovertible evidence of Global Warming and I want to pretend that the great earthquakes and storms, the fires and floods are purely coincidental, that they are not the actions of the elemental forces trying to awaken us to the destruction that we cause. Yet, I can’t ignore it. And, thanks to my luck in sitting so many times with Tatewari, I know that there is guidance to a path that will let us thrive. And I follow that guidance to the best of my ability.

On that night in the dell not long ago, Grandfather Fire received the community’s questions and answered them with beauty and eloquence. It was as if He was orchestrating the evening so that His Wisdom, the things that this particular community needed to hear on this particular night, could be received in a coherent way. I know this is true. Many times I have gone to the fire with a list of vitally important questions, only to forget them as soon as Tatewarí arrived. Other nights, something that I had never thought of before burned in my heart. Sometimes, something I hoped to never ask, some question that pointed to my particular struggles and flaws, simply had to be asked.

That night began with questions on why we need to pray (because as humans we forget that we are divine actors and prayer helps us connect and awaken to our purpose and place in the Divine Dream of this realm); what is the ideal relationship between humans and God (to recognize that all divine manifestations, everything that is, also resides deep inside you so that you come to understand the deep mysterious Divine Presence that is your own life); how to pray without ignorance or arrogance (that true prayer comes not from the ambition to get something you want, but to open the door to what you need, connection to the Divinity inside you, in all people and all that is as the voice of the heart expresses the Divine Nature of being). I stopped taking notes then, preferring to let the questions and answers wash over me like a warm and gentle wind. And these answers that I’ve written are greatly truncated from the depth and generosity of His responses. I’ll remember what else was asked and answered as those questions arise in my conversations around the fire.

But what was remarkable is that every question that was asked had to do with our spiritual natures, how we connect with Divine. What we needed in that time and place was not a catalog of the catastrophes that await us or any admonition to wake up to the realities of our time (which I’ve heard Grandfather Fire address in many other settings), but a deep and timeless message to remember and renew our relationship with the Divine Living World and to recognize the fundamental legitimacy of all life. And when the audience ended, I felt a tremendous wonderment and exuberance at the beautiful blessing that we had been given.

Jonathan Merritt is a marakame, an initiated traditional healer in the lineage of the Huichol people of Mexico. The founding editor, and currently a contributing editor for Sacred Fire magazine, Jonathan keeps a Sacred Fire Community fire in Portland, Oregon.

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