by Sarai Shapiro, Founder & Director of Gaia Girls Passages.
During our fall camping trip with our Rite of Passage group, the girls were sent on a group mission into the wilderness. They came back with dirt on their faces, mud between their toes, and a fire ignited within. The wild had opened something deep inside of them– something that yearns to be touched by us humans.
When they returned to the fire that night, the youngest girl in the group struck flint with steel and brought forth fire to warm ourselves for our evening. This was the first time that a girl in that group had started a fire without a match. The spark that she brought forth was a spark that was created by her hands, but only after being infused by the wildness of the landscape of their day. The spark within allowed her to create a spark without that provided warmth, light, and comfort for the whole group.
Most people remember a stage in our youth when fire became a fascination. I believe this urge towards fire mirrors an inner fire that is growing in our pre-adolescent years into our teenage years. We can see the fire physiologically in hormonal shifts that bring on heightened passion, creativity, sexuality, anger, jealousy, mood swings, and a need to express one’s unique self in the world. These are all qualities that we might associate archetypally with the dynamic energy of fire.
Just like an external fire, if girls do not learn how to properly tend their inner fire, they can end up burning themselves or others. Sometimes their fire can appear to go out altogether. There is an African proverb that says, “If youth are not initiated into the village, they will burn the village down to feel the heat.” Girls need the village to model tending a strong yet contained fire. They need the village to model what to do when our fire is becoming dangerously large or hauntingly low. Without this modeling, girls can be left in a situation that can become harmful to self and others. And – most poignantly – they may not be able to skillfully harness their personal gifts and voice in order to share them with the world.
At Gaia Girls, girls learn to be the fire-starters, builders, and tenders. We encourage them as they are humbled and stretched in the feedback they receive from the fire, and watch how that process builds their personal resilience and stokes their inner fire. The fire mirrors processes that are happening within that we can only begin to talk about with our pre-teens. As the fire becomes the mentor, we realize that the natural world is our original and most ancient teacher.
In a world where we are so academically and psychologically oriented, we must remember to leave room for the most ancient of methods of learning to come forth. Humans have co-evolved for millions of years with the magic, spirit, and technology of fire. Women were often the tenders of the hearth fire. These vital fires were used to cook, to warm, and to brighten nights. Vital council was received and prayer was offered by these fires. Do you have a fireplace in your house, a fire pit in your back yard, a candle that can be lit at dinner? May we honor the spirit of fire within and without so that our girls may access their strong inner fires and warm all who they touch.