wildcraft perspectives: fire

Copied directly from the Embercombe blog

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Fire is one of our most important elements in nature. It is our paradox: it is a destroyer and creator of life. But in its hearth modern humankind was forged.

We can date back the controlled use of fire over 1.5 million years through our capture and preservation of fire from natural sources (lightning, volcanic activity, forest fires etc). Its use enabled us to unlock the calorific potential of certain foods, thereby reducing the need for the evolution of large stomachs and putting our evolutionary energy into the creation of bigger brains instead. It also meant that we could make safe our water, preserve foods, ward off insects and animals, light our way, extend the productive day into night, make better tools and to inhabit colder climes.

Fire was at the centre of our societies – where people took embers from the centre-fire to their dwellings a short distance away. It was in part the use of this heat that fused communities together. Communal ovens were still in evidence in very rural France as late as the middle of the 20th Century. Fire has marked our journey from the tree to the ground and has marked just about every important part of our evolution and technology in the past 10,000 years when we learned to make fire ourselves. Our love affair with fire has in turn stripped our land, sooted our atmosphere, powered our technologies and propelled our population to a tipping point.

We teach about fire in Wildcraft because on a practical level we need to be able to make and use fire safely and efficiently. We need to understand its fragility and respect its power. Mastering it enables us to recreate the interdepenence with nature and a link with our ancestors. It helps us survive. It also teaches us about preparation, patience and overcoming failure when your ember gets extinguished and you have to start over. We aim to show Wildcraft particpants that fire is not just about destruction but it is about preservation and creation. Whilst many would point to rubbing sticks together as the pinnacle of achievement, carrying an ember for a long journey and keeping it alive enough to light your fire at the end of the day is just as fundamental and was used for hundreds of thousands of years before we discovered how to make it ourselves.

For us on Wildcraft it is the fire that is a constant life at the heart of our woodland community for the week. It welcomes you in the morning and lulls you to sleep at night. It is around the fire we exchange stories, experiences and revelations. It is the fire that will be a beacon for us when we return after a long day in the wilderness – a place of gathering and joining as a single tribe.


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