Christine Staub (North Carolina, USA SFC firekeeper) conducted the following interview for ATF. Lucy and Michael tend their hearth near Church Stretton, Shropshire County, Great Britain.
Christine (CS): Hi Lucy. Hi Michael. It is so wonderful to get to talk to you. In fact, I’m really enjoying doing these interviews for the “Meet a Firekeeper” feature in Around the Fire. It is fascinating to hear about the different parts of the world where SFC hamlets have been established, the Nature and the people of those places, and especially how the various firekeepers have found their way to this work.
Lucy, I remember when we first met in Portland, Oregon at the inaugural “Dancing with Emotions” training led by the Process Work Institute for SFC firekeepers. I’ll never forget my mother and I waiting for your late arrival at the airport and your brilliant smile, which I see on your face again right now!
Michael, we also met…I’m trying to remember when…
Michael: I was initiated as a Firekeeper in Asheville, North Carolina in 2004…
CS: That’s it! That is when I was initiated also.
So, I don’t really know my way around the U.K. Can you paint a picture for us about the place where your hearth is?
Lucy: Well, we live just outside of a small town called Church Stretton. This lies in the county of Shropshire, along the border with Wales. We are at the foot of an ancient hill, the Long Mynd, which is an old English-Welsh word for “hill”! It is a really amazing beautiful wild place and our hearth is basically in the valley of a bowl of hills. It has a little stream running behind it and is underneath some very old silver birch trees.
Michael: Very big trees…
Lucy: We are sitting in what would have been in ancient times a very big glacial river. The hills are 560 million years old. Our hearth is in a pretty pokey (ed note: powerful) place. The natural environment is very beautiful and pretty wild.
Michael: We are also in a flood plane…
Lucy: …so we have to have an alternative arrangement for fires when there are occasional flooding rains.
CS: My next question is always “what brought you to firekeeping”?
Michael: I took Plant Spirit Medicine in Massachusetts 1999-2000. Eliot introduced me to the Fire, which I found peculiar to begin with. By the end of the course I was very keen to sit by the fire.
CS: What brought you to Eliot and PSM?
Michael: I had an experience with a plant in Spain in the Pyrenees. I was travelling on my bike on my own and ended up having a difficult experience. I asked a plant for help and got a response. It ended up being a revelation.
CS: What made you go the distance to the life commitment that being a firekeeper is?
Michael: It’s my life really. The things I do day by today are back-up things to being a FK and also the other stuff I’m doing with Eliot. If there is a FK meeting, I go. Everything else makes way for that.
CS: Lucy, how about you, what brought you to firekeeping?
Lucy: Similarly I came to PSM via Eliot’s book and that came to me during a period when I was unhappy. I had been a long-term Taichi practitioner. At a qigong weekend workshop, I was sitting having tea with some acupuncturists and they asked, “Have you read Eliot Cowan’s PSM book?” I just knew I had to read that book, without even writing the title down. There is also a good story about when I went to the local bookshop to order it. I’d ordered it and it had come in and I picked it up. Then I got a second call, “your book has come in”, and in fact a second book had arrived so I bought it also and gave it as a gift. That happened a THIRD time, and so I ended up giving away two PSM books.
CS: That book is quite the calling card. I’d heard about it from someone but discounted pursuing it because I’d just ordered an expensive traditional herbalism home-study course. But when I was browsing the alternative healing section of my local bookstore, there was one lone copy of Eliot’s book and it called to me. I couldn’t read it fast enough and hated it to be finished all at the same time. I just knew I had to study with Eliot and figured I’d have to travel to Mexico. Come to find out, he was starting his first PSM class in North Carolina, just one hour from my house, that same year.
Lucy: Similarly I thought, “I’m going to have to go to Mexico”, but not long after finishing the book I got a note that there was going to be a “Phenomenon of Prayer” workshop with Sherry Morgan just across the border in Wales. There were about six of us there and it was my first time making offerings (to the Fire). Something like a switch turned on. Then the first UK PSM training took place in the same spot. At one of those meetings, Gail (a PSM practitioner/acupuncturist who had come to the UK with Eliot) spoke to us about firekeeping. It was a complete no-brainer. There was no thought process in it for me, just a knowing. I have always been where I can have a fire, have always lit a fire.
CS: So when where you initiated?
Lucy: In Kinnersley, Herefordshire in June 2006, the first time that Grandfather (Fire) visited the UK.
What it entailed later was quite a massive disruption, a flood to my house a year after my initiation. Not long after the flood I went down to Cornwall. Michael was living in a place I had had a connection with some years before. We were just friends. I thought I could come to one of his fires, which were usually pretty busy. I made this journey and it turned out it was just Michael and I at the fire. Grandfather was working in his mysterious ways!
Eventually we needed to move back up here to Shropshire. We were looking for somewhere to live and this was an unusual place as the house was being sold to be demolished and rebuilt but both of us thought we could live here. Even though it was a Monday morning there was a fire burning in the garden, just by where our fire pit now is and above the fire a buzzard and a red kite (a bird of prey) were circling and calling. It’s very rare to see these two together. Anyway, we got it and have been here for two years now.
CS: So what is the make-up of your community and how are you growing it?
Lucy: We are in a good position geographically here so we have people who travel to our fires from North and West Wales, Nottingham and Lincolnshire in the East of England and from Yorkshire in the North. Church Stretton is a small town of maybe 4000 residents and we have a few local people who attend. Then there are others who come from nearby towns. It is quite a moveable ever changing clientele.
At the last fire a week ago it was absolute pouring rain. Last week there were 12 of us under an emergency gazebo. A time before we had put up our structure and the wind took it down. So we are getting ready to build a wooden structure above our earthwork fire pit. I had a real clear vision of it when I moved here. It will be an octagon about 15-foot diameter.
CS: Can you say more about the flora and fauna where you live?
Lucy: Well, there is one exotic visitor who we call a firebird, a sort of Chinese pheasant – bright yellow and red. It isn’t native. It might have escaped from somewhere. It often crosses the fire pit area in the garden and seems to be like our very own personal phoenix.
Michael: The house is named after the huge silver birches that are just behind the fire pit and we have a magnificent Douglas fir at the entrance to our house.
Lucy: There is also a big stand of nettles behind the fire pit, some hazel, a big ash tree, damson plums, marsh marigolds, water hemlock…
CS: How are you connecting to new attendees?
Lucy: I’ve done various PSM talks, and I’ll always present the fire as an option to look into the Divine nature of everything. We also play music so we have a tight network via that, but we sometimes find that people are somehow disappointed by the simplicity of the fires. People might come once but then might want something more formal and ceremonial, or they have an idea about something shamanistic and exotic. There is something that is changing now because even though we are relatively new in this area people are starting to get that we are doing this regularly, and they are starting to feel that difference. That this is not a social thing. It is a special space, a mysterious influence.
Michael: I go to art class – if it comes up in the course of conversation, then yes I will make an invitation. My art teacher and his partner are regulars at our fires.
Lucy: When the SFC had those new pamphlets with the beautiful images I put one up in town and it got taken down pretty quick. I think it is about conservatism. This is not a very alternative type place.
Michael: Quite conservative.
Lucy: I don’t know how it is in the States. Some people around here are not thinking that they want anything new even though I know the fire isn’t new. And then out of the blue, we’ll get a call from someone who is so excited to be able to come to a fire, there’s not really a pattern to it.
CS: What question should I ask?
Lucy: We had a really interesting gathering of a few of the UK FK’s last weekend. We did a go-round about how the Fire had changed our lives. It was incredibly eloquent. That was around a consecrated fire pit. It was very moving to hear from each of us how important the Fire is and how it affects our whole life, how it is a priority. Very frequently I feel so grateful to have this work in my life because in these times there seems to be so much disintegration in the systems – political, educational, healthcare, etc. To have the Fire, hold the Fire, feels like an incredible honor.
CS: Thank you Lucy and Michael. This has, as expected, been a delight talking with you and I certainly hope I can come sit at your hearth some time sooner than later.