Fire is one of the most versatile and powerful elements we have available to us as witches. It provides many benefits to humans and animals, such as light and warmth. It also has the ability to harm and destroy. Because of this, we often view fire as one of the most dangerous elements.
Personally, I find ritual fires to be a beautiful expression of my magic. I grew up going to camp in the north woods of Wisconsin, and evening campfires were times for singing songs, telling stories, deepening relationships, and admiring the abundant power of nature.
Traditionally, a ritual fire is a magical practice involving a large outdoor fire. This can be a campfire, a bonfire, or a fire in your backyard fire pit, but you’re certainly not limited to those types of fires. You can even have a mini ritual fire by burning paper, wood, or herbs in your cauldron. Ritual fires allow you to work with the element of fire in a different way than with other magical tools such as candles or incense.
Ritual Fire Safety
Before we get too far into this topic, let’s talk about fire safety. Again, fire is a powerful element, and we must treat it with the respect it deserves. Just because we’re performing magic with fire doesn’t mean we can bypass any of the necessary safety precautions. The safety tips in this article are meant to serve as a starting point. It’s not an exhaustive list, so be sure to do your own research before using this magical tool.
Choosing The Location Of Your Ritual Fire
Make sure that the location you choose for your ritual fire is a place where you can legally and safely use fire. Different neighborhoods or forest preserves may have regulations regarding fires. It’s not uncommon for parks and neighborhoods to place fire bans when the weather has been dry and the risk of forest fires is high.
From a magical standpoint, it’s ideal for the location of your fire to hold some kind of meaning for you. You might want to pick a place where you’ve created many positive memories over the years or maybe you pick a location for its natural beauty. You might just pick a place that you feel drawn to for some unknown reason. If possible, honor that intuitive pull. It might mean that you are meant to work with the energy of that particular space.
You’ll also want to take a moment to walk around the area, making sure that the energy of the space is a good match for you. Consider inviting anyone else who is taking part in the ritual fire to do a walkthrough of the space as well. If something feels “off” to you, you might decide to pick a different spot.
Starting Your Ritual Fire
Wear clothing that isn’t too loose or baggy. Capes are fun and witchy, but they can be a fire hazard. If you have long hair, pull it back with a hair tie.
When you’re ready to start your fire, check that there are no overhanging branches near where your ritual fire will be. If you see any bits of flammable matter near your fire such as pine needles, small twigs, or leaves, brush them away. Make sure your fire will be contained in some form or another. A ring of rocks or a ring of metal are common ways to contain your fire.
Creating a circle around your ritual fire with rocks or metal can also hold powerful symbolism. Circles represent completion and cycles. Fire is sometimes viewed by witches as a demonstration of a life cycle. A fire grows from a spark, creating beauty, light, and warmth in the physical world before transitioning from flames to smoke. Humans are born into this world, create change, and finally make some kind of transition through death.
That may or may not resonate with you, and I invite you to create your own ideas, beliefs, and symbolism for your ritual fire.
Holding A Ritual Fire With Others
Ritual fires are typically practiced with others, but this isn’t a requirement. I recommend for safety purposes to have at least one other person there with you, particularly if you’ve never started or put out a ritual fire. It’s nice to have someone else with you to share the responsibility of tending to the fire. You want to enjoy your fire and your witchcraft, not spend the whole time stressing about it.
Tools For Your Ritual Fire
A large bucket of water
Depending on the size of your fire, you might want to have more than one bucket of water ready to go. Make sure you have enough water to douse the embers of your fire before leaving the site, and extra water just in case.
A shovel or long stick
You’ll use this to tend to the fire and the logs. You’ll also use this at the end of your ritual fire when you stir the remaining embers to extinguish them.
Matches or a lighter
You’ll need something to start your fire. Depending on your preferences, you can use matches, a lighter, or even rub two sticks together. I use a lighter for the sake of convenience, but again, this is completely up to you.
Some campgrounds have regulations on what wood you’re allowed to burn for environmental reasons. Check the local laws. If there are no regulations, consider choosing your wood based on what kind of energy it holds. Think about what memories, beliefs, and stories you associate with different kinds of wood. Maybe birch trees make you think of your childhood home because you lived on a road called “Birch Street”. In that case, using birch wood in your ritual fire might be perfect for home blessing spells or “inner child” healing work. Get creative here and make your own connections if you feel called to do so. This will add meaning and power to your ritual fire.
You may consider adding herbs to your ritual fire. If you do this, pick herbs that are safe to burn and that support your magical intention. I love charging a bay leaf with my intention (by holding it in my hands or writing my intention on the leaf) and burning it in a ritual fire. This is one of my favorite ways to work with fire in my magic because I work so closely with the spirits of the plants in my craft. If you’d like to know more about how to build closer bonds with your biggest magical allies, my Magical Herbalism class is where I detail exactly how I’ve built my herbal practice and deepened my relationship with these wonderful spirits.
You can also burn journal pages with manifesting intentions written on them, or notes about things you want to banish from your life. It’s very satisfying to watch your paper blacken, curl and disappear into a ritual fire.
Use your ritual fire to heat your cauldron. Make potions, drinks, or soups over your ritual fire. Or create a mini ritual fire in your cauldron.
Other Magical Tools
If you feel called to use other magical tools with your ritual fire, use them in your practice as long as it is safe to do so. For example, you can hold a crystal that supports your intention as you gaze at your ritual fire, but don’t put the crystal near the fire because heat can cause crystals to crack. You can also use kindling or fire starter to help get your fire going.
Ritual Fires & The Elements
You can acknowledge and honor each element as you come across it during your ritual fire. Earth is represented by the wood. The flames and heat represent fire. Air is represented by the smoke rising up from the fire. Water is used at the end to douse your fire. Think about the relationship between different elements. Observe what elements feed the fire and which extinguish the fire. This can allow you to understand the energy of each element in a new way.
The Magic Of A Ritual Fire
When you’re enjoying your ritual fire, take notice of all the different qualities of the fire. Create your own stories and meaning around each quality.
Light & Shadow
There are many ways you can find symbolism in the light and shadows that fire displays. For example, you might associate light with your conscious mind and shadow with your subconscious side. Maybe the relationship between light and shadow makes you think of the sun and the moon, or even the different phases of the moon.
You can practice scrying with your ritual fire, using the flames and the movement of the shadows to receive messages. You can also scry with the embers of a dying fire. Move the embers and ash with your shovel and see if you receive any messages.
The warmth of a fire can be incredibly soothing. You can use the sensation of heat to energetically cleanse yourself or call in love.
You can place a rock (or a nonflammable object) that represents a person or energy and use the magic of your ritual fire to “warm its cold heart” or any other phrase that resonates with you.
Burning & Releasing Energy
Your ritual fire has the power to consume matter, transforming it into ash. You can use this energy to release and banish any unwanted energy. Think about the fire burning away your unwanted energy just as it burns through the wood.
Smoke naturally rises up into the sky, and because of this, you can use smoke to send intentions, messages, or visions into the universe. Picture your intention riding on the smoke all the way up to its destination.
How To Put Out A Ritual Fire
Never leave your ritual fire unattended. Make sure your fire is COMPLETELY out before you leave the space. This includes making sure the flames are extinguished, the wood isn’t smoldering, and all the embers have been put out.
Just because a ritual fire looks like it is out, doesn’t mean it’s actually out. Sometimes all it takes is a gust of wind or even the heat from the sun to get a fire burning again.
The safest way to put out a campfire or bonfire is to wait for the flames to burn down into embers. Then douse the embers with water. Use your shovel to stir the embers, separate burning pieces of wood, and mix in dirt to help extinguish the last bits of the fire. Keep pouring water on your fire until you can’t see any more smoke rising from it and you can’t feel any warmth coming from the ash.
To learn more about fire safety, here’s a video created by the USDA Forest Service on how to start and put out campfires.
Occasions For A Ritual Fire
Hold a ritual fire whenever you want! You don’t need a specific occasion for doing this kind of magic. If you happen to be looking for a special way to celebrate a sabbat or esbat, ritual fires are associated with full moons and most of the sabbats. Some sabbats have traditions that call for ritual fires like Beltane or Yule.
Other than that, if you feel called to have a ritual fire or if you think the symbolism of a ritual fire will support your specific intention, by all means, use this magical practice in your witchcraft. If you do so with respect for the potential dangers, you’ll be able to reap the many benefits of this powerful magic.