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Thoughts on a Burning Bowl Ceremony - (inspired by the writings of Ralph Metzner)
Bertita Graebner, Ph.D

A few words about the intent of the ceremony:
This ceremony, performed as a ritual, offers us the opportunity to leave behind something that no longer serves our life. More precisely, it is an act of letting go. The purpose is to release a pattern, belief, emotion or experience that impedes us. We offer our behavior patterns of thought and deed to make room for a new way of being. This ceremony is a request for transformation of something specific we individually wish to let go of, something to be returned to us renewed and in a form that serves and supports our lives in the present.

Together we ask for the possibility of transforming a negative condition into a positive replacement. The more precisely we articulate our request, the more clearly we can see what needs transforming and where the transformation needs to take place. Together we bind our intention to the individual and collective good. The value of this ceremony is to bring our collective intent to support and strengthen one another, by doing so we intensify and solidify our feelings and emotions for transformation.

A few words about the design of the ceremony:
Each participant writes on a slip of paper that which they wish to release for transformation. It is offered to the flame in the bowl to be consumed to ash, sending the smoke upwards and the ash downwards to the earth.

A few words about the process of transformation:
It is important to know that we are all in process, we are all involved in a series of actions resulting in change. If we accept the fundamental law of the conservation of energy, matter is neither created nor destroyed, it is simply transformed. This is another way of saying All is One, dualities and separations are resolved in the end. We can never "destroy" a pattern or process, we can only transform it into another pattern or process.

A few words about fire:
You may ask: “Why fire? Why not throw the pieces of paper into a bowl of water and drown the darn things? Why not tear them up into tiny shreds, toss them into the air to be vacuumed up the next day and taken out with the garbage? Why burning?”

Because: Fire is equated with purification.

Here is a CNN version of the history of how fire is held in the psyche of humanity. From earliest times, people noted that the Sun, a fiery, hot, ball of flames originated and sustained life. They were in awe of the forces of nature that produced fire, like lightning, volcanoes and wildfires. People observed the raw power of these natural energies and understandably created an analogue between the Sun/fire as a creator, spiritual source and sustainer. This analogy permeates human thought.

The domestication of fire is huge in the history of human kind. It transformed human life on earth. With it, we could cook and forge metal. Our ingenuity with fire created technological inventions and industrial applications for human lives. And we created firearms. Throughout time, humans have bonded around the warmth and comfort of the hearth. There they have shared stories and visions. Many rituals and rites involving torches, bonfires, burning embers and ashes are recorded. They were thought to be capable of stimulating "growth and well-being in plants, animals and humans."

Over time, people observed the properties of fire, its qualities and processes. They began to equate what they observed in external fires to internal fires of the body and the psyche. "Ardor, sexual passion, anger, excitement, vitality, inspiration and vision" are experienced as feelings coursing through the body. People drew parallels between external and internal fire and flames. Because the dramatic power of fire brought about total destruction or transformation of matter, inner and outer fire became associated with "purification, purgation, destructuring, and the dissolving of limitations and obstructions." The literal external fire consumed and transformed, just as the internal fire of a fever could be felt to quite "literally burn off and purge or purify something alien and harmful."

You have heard such expressions as "trial by fire," "burn off the excess" and "sprung from the ashes." Each of these has a very purging ring to it followed by a statement of transformative fire. All the dross is burned away, leaving nothing but the pure gold, i.e., that which is valued. For those of us undergoing a transformative experience, the importance of what might be called "the purgatorial attitude is this: listen to the pain, learn from it, remember your intention in this process and remember it has a beginning and an end." If we pay attention to our experience of purification of body and psyche it can guide us to a period of growth. It can signal we are in the process of transformation.

Religious traditions note fiery beings that can and do interact with humans, they impact our reality. The major impact of these personified realities is purification. By burning away the impurities of human tendencies and impulses toward harmful behaviors spirit/fire metaphorically melts away what is not necessary and leaves us whole and pure. Fire is used to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Perhaps you can think of the purifying fire images in your own religious or cultural tradition. In the Jewish tradition, God speaks to Moses from a burning bush. In the Christian tradition, Jesus is baptized with water for repentance but later baptizes his followers by the Holy Spirit and by fire (Luke 3: 16). In the Chinese traditions, fire breathing dragons are symbolic of the creative forces energizing and vitalizing ceaseless transformation. Then too, think of the Phoenix which consumes itself in its own flames only to be reborn, arising from its own ashes.

In short, transformation by fire has a long and rich human history. The Burning Bowl Ceremony captures the rich meaning of fire in all its symbolism and can be a means to honor those undergoing a personal transformation.


Copyrighted. Bertita Graebner.  All rights reserved.

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