Calcinatio – What of the Fire Beneath the Cauldron?

Calcinatio is the first step in most alchemical processes. Elements are submitted to fire, superheating them until all impurities dissolve into ash. What’s left is only that which is essential – only that which can embody the transcendent.

We all have a built in life force that knows when we have to cast off part of ourselves to achieve something new. If we submit to this drive we can emerge cleansed from sacred fires. To others we may seem like a different person, but we know we are simply more ourselves. It can be hard to trust the inner fire because it calls forth things we don’t want to see. Darkness is distilled before it is transmuted. We may have to face some demons.

Calinatio is both epic and intimate, cutting large swaths through our lives, indeed through the history of our country. The Civil War was a conflagration of gargantuan proportions. Our nations future was offered up to this extraordinary conflict that took hundreds of thousands of lives. Yet its blaze could also be measured in the families torn apart by sides taken, and the individual freedom ultimately won by African Americans. That blaze was so great its embers have not yet completely died out.

I’ve stumble into my own Calcinatios quite a few times. Some were intense shamanic experiences where I was allowed to witness the essence that remained. Others took place in the blender of daily life, everything upended by its challenges in a culture that prefers calm water over raging infernos. Only in hindsight did I realize something had been consumed.

At one time or another, family, friends, work, relationships, and even spiritual practices have undergone Calcinatio. Especially in my youth I gravitated to its fires, begging it to strip away things I thought were cancerous. Often I asked for too much. I’m sure to many people I looked like the wandering dead at times, however I attribute my merciful ability to feel both of my feet solidly on the ground to my time in its sacred flames. Loved ones still bare the singe marks of those days.

Its not uncommon in shamanism to find oneself working intimately with Fire. When speaking with the spirit of Fire I’m always struck by how responsible and devoted to its task it is. It is the great renewer of life. It remakes the world so that we might plant seeds anew. It seems to have little time for human concerns about its impact on our lives. It knows its doing the important work of the world.

These days I find Calcinatio working on our land. Surrendering to work, surrendering to the baking sun is one way I can consciously offer myself up to transformation. When I resist the burning of the sun and the burning of my muscles I usually pay for it later. Mercifully age has lessened my fear of and ardor for consuming fire. I’ve come to understand Calcinatio as one way to remove that which is not fully authentic. Things in us that may waver are put to the ultimate test, we’re always better off without them.

Life hints at what might serve as tinder. This or that habit creates conflict, I become less yielding, filled with the telltale sign of misplaced Calinatio: anger. In those moments I find myself asking – “what am I not receiving right now?” Always there seems to be something life is offering with grace that I have not allowed in. Always receiving the gift makes me available to giving up something new to Calcinatio. Ultimately it just comes down to saying “yes”. Yes to the sun, yes to the hot dirt, yes to the fire. Certainly the same fire will be waiting for me in the garden tomorrow. I am preparing my “Yes” now.

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