“One must arrange that one’s creative life has a consistent fire under it…without the fire, our great ideas, our original thoughts, our yearnings and longings remain uncooked, and everyone is unfulfilled.” ~Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With The Wolves
Fire has been around for millions of years. But it’s only recently in Earth’s history that humans have been able to bend fire to our will in any capacity.
Man has always had a complicated relationship to fire. Anthropologists claim that the earliest definitive evidence of control of fire by early hominids hails from South Africa’s Wonderwerk Cave Range almost 2 million years ago.
This first stage of human interaction with fire was probably opportunistic. A well-trod theory states that lightning strikes may have caused massive wildfires. As those fires slowly naturally extinguished, early hominids noticed that animal dung kept smoldering. They developed and honed the ability to conserve those embers, carrying fire with them as they traveled from place to place.
Fire gave warmth and light. The smoke would not only keep away biting insects and predatory animals, but serve as a beacon for other nomads. Fire fueled early man spiritually and culturally. Warm, well-lit caves created a more comfortable winter hibernation, giving rise in the process to art in the form of fireside stories and cave-wall paintings. Fire empowered our ancestors to adapt to cold climates, allowing humans to migrate over the land bridge on the Bering Strait and settle into North America. Homo Erectus started eating more cooked meat, and our digestive system became far less complicated (it takes far less energy to digest cooked protein than raw bones or dried tree bark). Raw food, it turns out, isn’t all that economical for our brains’ energy budgets, as we’d spend a lot of energy on simply digesting that food. Over the next several million years, that extra circulation from our bellies traveled upward to our brains. The more streamlined our digestive system became, the more that energy became available for our gray matter.
Fire gave humanity many gifts. But we continue to be at her mercy. Early man was screwed if a thunderstorm extinguished his embers. Some anthropologists suggest that protecting the fire was, for our earliest ancestors, as important a survival skill as finding food, potable water, and shelter.
You might say that fire is what makes us human.
We are still drawn to the warmth and light of a flickering flame. Fire reminds us instinctively of our connection to the natural world and to each other.
The Sanskrit word agni refers to the Hindu god of fire. With flaming hair and sitting atop a goat, he is regarded as humanity’s friend and protector, overseeing the sun, lightning, comets, sacrificial fires of offering, domestic fires, the fire of the funeral pyre, our digestive fire, and the creative fire which is within all humans. Agni reminds us to tend to our creative fire and share its warmth and glow with the world.
Lately it feels as if my writing flame hasn’t been burning too brightly. I seem to have lost my spark and have been asking myself how I can stoke my creative fire. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, suggests taking Artist Dates, or weekly solo expeditions to explore something interesting or enchanting as a form of creative renewal. Literally anything can be an Artist Date as long as it’s enjoyable and inspiring. I have set an intention to go on more Artist Dates this year.
Live music is a big one for me, whether it’s attending concerts or playing my guitar in the living room. I also love visiting art museums and learning about other artists. I like to collage (the attached photo shows a collage I made one day when I couldn’t think of a single thing to write about). Listening to audiobooks about creative endeavors is another go-to. And when nothing else works, moving my body and sitting in silence holds the space until the words flow.
When we don’t protect the embers, the fire might be tragically lost. What would be your dream Artist Date? Inspire me!