What are we trying to achieve at SpiritFire?
SpiritFire Festival is based on the all-night fire circle that runs from late in the night until dawn. The fire circle rituals are designed to create a transformational experience welcoming to all artistic and spiritual traditions. A place where creating spontaneous music, motion, vocal offerings, and acts of service (or Seva) together under the stars is used to celebrate and commune with each other, nature, spirit — whatever is sacred to you in your life. We strive to co-create a gathering with workshops, rituals, jams, and artistic projects in which we deepen our experience with each other during the day and at the fire — but we also gain insights and tools that, after returning home from SpiritFire, inspire each of us to interact with our environment, local communities, and personal relationships with more awareness, integrity, and strength. You can explore more about the specifics of this ritual tradition via the Resources page of this site.
Is SpiritFire a pagan festival?
SpiritFire is a retreat gathering, as opposed to a public or open-ended festival. We are non-denominational festival based upon music, dance, voice, art, and the many pathways that connect to them. We honor and welcome all paths, and recognize that in the circle, we are unified through our song and our joy. So the answer is, no, it’s not a Pagan festival at all — but you’ll find Pagans present, as well as Sufis, Buddhists, Hinduists, Yogis, Christians, Atheists, African traditionalists, and everything in between. You’ll also find people who aren’t following any particular spiritual path at all, and just enjoy the groove and friendly community of SpiritFire. So whatever your belief system, as long as you enjoy sharing sacred space with others around a fire with respect and an open mind, you are welcome!
Is a SpiritFire fire circle different than a drum circle?
A drum circle is a wonderful opportunity to gather with others to spontaneously create music using drums and percussion, often based on West African traditions. This idea of improvisational performance and creativity is definitely a part of our fire circle, but beyond this, the fire circle includes many additional elements, some of which are as follows:
- The fire circle is an intentional ritual shared by a community, rather than an explicit musical jam. It includes aspects of many different artistic traditions from all over the world, and spontaneous creations of poetry, song, or other ritual elements, as participants see fit to contribute throughout the night. But it is not a single religious organism, and the influences/inspirations change from fire to fire. It depends on who attends, and who feels drawn to offer their gifts in each moment! Each fire circle evening has a specific focus or intention, which you can read about as they are added to the Fires page, but within that each person is free to contribute as they will so long as it does not disrupt the larger experience of the circle.
- The duration of both the rhythms and the evening ritual are much longer than drum circles. We begin our ritual somewhere between 11:00 pm and midnight, not ending until after the sun has come up. Throughout the night, soundscapes that we create can last anywhere from a few moments to an hour or more, depending on the needs of the moment. So a rhythm set by the drums might go for a while, and then a quieter, more fluid layer of sounds — singing bowls, didges, hang drums, or frame drums might be the focus. It’s all up to each one of us to create those moments, with consciousness of feeding the “need” without dominating the space.
- A fire circle has room for many other voices than just percussion. Chanting, dancing, and other wonderful creative forms are encouraged at the fire and with the drumming create deep, sacred, spontaneous community of rhythm and ritual. We encourage all participants to consciously hold space for different forms of expression.
- Where a drum circle is usually a non- or loosely facilitated instance of spontaneous rhythm, the fire circle has a set physical layout, and from time to time different individuals (maybe you!) may step forward to present offerings of chant, poetry, or speak their Truth with the circle participating and supporting them.
- Drumming in support of deep sacred play, trance dance, and other ritual acts requires a consciousness by the musicians outside of themselves or their own personal needs. Just as the dancers are fed by the drummers, the reverse is also true — so even while playing what is in your heart and spirit, it is good to maintain a connection to what is going on in the fire circle around you.
Wow… does this mean I have to stay up all night??
Not at all. Many do view the all-night fire as a type of ritual process, but many sleep for part of the night, often rejoining the circle just before dawn. Do what works for you!
Are SpiritFire circles “staged” performances, or can I drum and dance as I feel called?
Parts of the night-time rituals are pre-organized, such as the fire lighting each night, but they are intended to be community experiences, not performances. The general course of the evening is meant to be a container in which you are encouraged to sing, recite poetry, dance, and drum as your spirit calls. Importantly, we remember each night that the fire is a space for group interaction and not personal or individual “performance.” Every gathering has its unique set of aesthetic and artistic agreements, and we try to make those things as explicit as possible via this FAQ and at the opening circle, or at meetings for drummers, etc. during the event. Both experienced and newer participants will all benefit by taking time during the night to breathe, view what is going on, and get a feel for how everyone is interacting with each other. You are welcome here, and we encourage you to ask questions of any of the staff or teachers. We only ask of each other that voices be honored and heard as each of us would want from our community, in a respectful and conscious way.
If I come by myself, will I have a good time?
YES! Each year, SpiritFire welcomes many new attendees, many of them attending alone. One of our main goals is to create a space where everyone feels welcome, and can step through a diverse range of open doorways via workshops, jams, rituals, community work shifts, and affinity groups. For those attending for the first time, we offer and recommend a special “Homecomers” affinity group, which has been quite popular. There you can ask questions, offer up a bit of who you are, and meet new friends. We also recognize that many first time attendees bring with them amazing expertise and experience in their own fields, and we welcome you to share yours. All of the presenters here are amazingly approachable, too — don’t hesitate to step right in and introduce yourself! You’ll be in the flow before you know it.
I’m not into all that ritual stuff – I just want to drum/dance/chant with like-minded folks. Do I have to participate in the rituals?
We don’t expect everyone to “plug into” the intention of each nightly fire in the same way. If you aren’t into the ritual aspect of the fire lightings, or if a moment in the circle happens that you aren’t comfortable with, there are many ways to participate or contribute! Feel free to participate only as deeply as you wish. However, keep in mind that the main idea of the gathering is to find the sacred through these paths, and that the work at the fire is focused and has the intention of doing into deeper states of consciousness. We ask for all attendees to attend the opening and closing circles, as well as the first official fire lighting on Wednesday night, as those moments help to outline the shared agreements that are held between the different pathways (music/motion/voice/seva). Again, while the themes of the fires are meant to be a way for people to share a common goal, all are welcome to plug in as they wish, as long as the larger intention stays solid.
What happens if it rains?
We have a very large pavilion with a wooden floor that can fit us all, and we’ll keep going! In the history of SpiritFire we’ve never just cancelled a circle.
I’d like to teach a workshop. Is there information on presenting at SpiritFire?
Yes there is! Click here to go to the SFF Presenter FAQ page.
Is it appropriate to find a good spot near the fire and hang out there and dance?
The fire and surrounding area is laid out very consciously for people to work and flow together. Dancers continue moving around the fire, with the chanters, drummers, and rattlers surrounding them as witnesses and participants. If you wish to hang out, take a rest, or dance in place by yourself, there are areas such as the circle perimeter, where you can support the circle by clapping, chanting, etc. without blocking the dance track, or the Zone of the Unseen Ones, where those experiencing deeper states of consciousness can take some time to focus on individual experiences.
What happens if I stop to dance in front of the drummers?
There is a marked area within the drummer’s benches called the “Gratitude Zone.” If you drop in there during your orbits around the fire, you’ll get a great dose of direct energy from the drummers! But if you stay too long, they will probably ask you to move. The drummers desire to connect with all the dancers and the fire, and stopping in front of them can be either a wonderful shared experience or disruptive to the flow, depending on how it is approached. Staying too long or dropping in that area every circuit could potentially block other dancers from continuing their movement around the fire or entering the zone themselves. As with many things, the more you look and observe, the more you will see and learn during the course of the evening!
If I get a bit tired, where can I go to just rest a moment?
The best place is the food altar, where you can nourish yourself with food brought by participants to share over the course of the four nights or drink some water, coffee, or tea. We will also be designating places where you can sit for a moment and rest, ground, or just witness the circle if you need a break from direct participation but don’t want to leave the fire circle area. Please be aware that both the food altar and nesting areas, while physically separate from the fire circle, are still considered sacred space, and we ask for restraint with loud casual conversation. In the nesting areas, you may leave personal items you need for the evening but may not be able to carry — instruments, warm clothing in case you get chilly, or a beach chair to sit on. We actively discourage large “camp setups” of blankets and community spots in order to support a more contemplative and connected space. If you wish to hang out with groups of folks on a casual basis during the evening, the community comfy tent will remain open all night!
Those drummers look thirsty! What can I do?
As much as drumming, dance, and chant, the circle is made strong by taking a turn offering water and occasional morsels to the drummers (and others around the fire!). Water and food are located on a food altar outside of the torches, and at any time you are welcome to grab a bottle and offer a drink to the drummers. If a drummer looks very involved (focused on a dancer, in their own space, etc.), he/she may not recognize your offer – nothing personal! The best way to do this is to get walk slowly in front of the drummers and make eye contact with those who are able. They will let you know… and will much appreciate the service you offer whether they say yes or no!
What about quieter instruments like frame drums, didges, and singing bowls? Will we be able to play and be heard?
The fire circle is all about creating space for diverse offerings, including what we call “Sacred Sounds.” There are frequent moments in the course of the evening that are gentler, or that have chant or spoken word, and Sacred Sounds play a large part in holding that energy. They are a wonderful medium underneath chants, and they have provided amazing moments of flowing, softer dance and song during past nights. Each night has its own unique flow, with the different types of instruments finding ways to weave with each other. Soloing is not so much the focus as is creating a joyous union of instruments and voices. So regardless of the kind of instrument you have, you will find many opportunities to share in the rhythm!
What other kind of instruments are appropriate for the Fire Circle?
Hand drums of all kinds, rattles, bells, shakers, any kind of ethnic or unusual percussion, didgeridoos, singing bowls … and your beautiful voices are all welcome! Drum sets (including timbales, etc.), xylophones, and in general most melodic instruments are not really used as part of the SFF fire circle, but there is always space during the day to play for and with each other. There are times when players who’ve had some years of experience at fires are invited to bring ethnic flutes, balafons, or other unique sounds to play at the fire, with the understanding that these instruments are best used for specific ritual offerings. In general, the SpiritFire circle is a percussive one with accents from other instruments. If you’re not sure about whether something you’d like to play is appropriate, contact the staff before you pack it. Remember also that the circle is open to the elements!
I have a guitar. Can I play some songs for everybody?
The fire is a place of spontaneous community ritual, rather than individual performance. Sometimes you might see a person step out and offer a brief spoken piece (for example, a poem or a chant). In addition to tuning issues, the performance aspect of melodic instruments like guitars are outside of the larger intentions of the gathering. We ask that participants refrain from using melodic instruments at the fire. But feel free to bring your instrument and share your music during the day, and pre-fire events.
Sometimes I get kind of emotional at these things… is there someone around to take care of me if that happens?
At SpiritFire, we strongly support individual responsibility and safety. We will have a medic on site and there will be many wonderful beings who are there to help ground, support, and guide you. At the same time, the circle is not the place for unsafe or disruptive behaviors. If during the course of the evening (or festival) you feel the need to talk with somebody, there will be a “Grounding Zone” where you can sit, receive energy work or help coming out of your work at the fire, have your hand held, or just sit and be near supportive people. Deep emotional work does happen at the fire, and this is good! Please allow those facilitating the event to gently guide you if you are blocking the drummers, dancers, or are otherwise in an unsafe place. We do not allow jumping the fire.
How can I help contribute to the festival?
We would love to have you participate in the creation of the festival space! There is opportunity to deepen your part in the gathering in the following areas:
- Affinity Groups – read about them in the Opportunities page and if you want to lead one, let us know.
- Creating sacred spaces around the festival site.
- Help with directing parking, assisting teachers for their workshop set-up, striking our circle after the gathering, etc.
Can I spin fire?
(Poi) Fire Spinners are welcome at SpiritFire! We’ll have a special area set up just for you to play, right in the middle of the merchant area and in front of the community cozy lounge. Due to the size of the fire circle and number of participants, fire spinning won’t be allowed in the circle itself during the night, but we may have an opportunity for you to contribute to various rituals. Check in with us if you are interested.
What if I have a work conflict on Wednesday?
Generally, our rule of thumb is that if it’s your first time to the gathering, you must arrive on Wednesday. However if you’ve been before, or have been to similar gatherings and have an unavoidable schedule conflict, you can contact the registrar and request a Friday arrival. There is a $20 late arrival fee due to the disruptions and need for additional staffing to handle parking, sign-in, etc. – and to encourage folks to clear their schedule to arrive Wednesday. Absolutely no Thursday arrivals are accepted, and the gate to the site will be locked that day. Please read about this on the registration page, and you’ll find the contact information, etc. If you register and then discover later that you have a conflict on Wednesday, contact the registrar right away.
What is the camping like there?
It’s a beautiful rustic mountaintop area with both shaded and sunny areas within a huge expanse of forest, with soft ground and camping space for either community or privacy, whichever you prefer! We have mainly tent camping with some cabin bunk spaces at no additional cost. The main cabin buildings are shared (2 people per room) and there are sometimes single person huts available (check registration to see if any are open). Please note that because parking space is limited and staff vehicles need access 24/7, there is no camping in your vehicle on the top of the mountain. If you want to sleep in your van or car, you can do so in the main parking lot, which is just a short walk from the main site. Please, let us know before you register that you wish to explore this option. You can drive your gear up to the top of the mountain, from where you’ll need to either carry or use a hand cart to bring it to your camping spot. We’ll have a dry “drum tent” near the fire circle area to store your drums/larger instruments, so no need to carry those around.
Can I bring my RV/Camper with me, or camp in my van?
In general, we discourage RVs and Popup Campers. Given the layout and size of the camp area, there is no room for larger sized RV or camper on top of the mountain at the festival site under any circumstances; additionally, the road leading up to the top of the hill is quite steep, and has one very sharp turn. Those who need to stay in an RV or camper will need to park at the bottom of the hill and walk back up to the main area, which is a steep climb. We recommend against it! If you don’t want to tent, register early and grab a cabin spot.
If you have a van or covered pickup truck and would prefer to sleep in it, you can park your vehicle in the main parking lot just down the road from the main camp and absolutely can sleep there.
What about food?
The owners of the retreat center where SpiritFire is held prepare 2 excellent meals for us each day: A brunch from 10:30 am – 12:00 pm or so, and dinner is offered at approximately 6:00 pm each night. Those arriving Wednesday between 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm will have access to soup and sandwiches, and on Sunday a breakfast after closing circle so you can return home full and nourished.
The food is mostly organic and vegetarian, and is included with your registration fee. The meal plan is part of the retreat center’s pricing structure and is not optional. Vegetarian meals are automatically included with your registration, and you have the option to purchase meat entrees (burgers, chicken, or other things depending on the night) on site during mealtimes. You are also welcome and encouraged to bring pre-cooked or prepared food to keep in a locked cooler at your campsite. Because of fire codes on site, no cooking or fires of any kind are allowed at individual campsites. (See the registration page for more details.) If you have special concerns about dietary issues or need any other questions answered, contact the registrar before you sign up.
I would really like to go, but money is tight. Do you offer scholarships?
We do offer a limited amount of scholarships, yes! These are made available by generous contributions from the SpiritFire community. Scholarships generally cover about half of the registration cost depending on the funding we have available. You can download an application here; applications are due no later than April 1st.
Can I contribute to the scholarship fund?
Yes, you can, and any amount is very helpful. 100% of donations are applied directly to scholarship funding for the current year, and we give them out until the funding is used up. See the scholarship page for more details.
Wow, there are a lot of things to be aware of! Is there anyone I can check in with at the gathering if I’m not sure about something?
Yes, absolutely. We don’t want to instill a sense of rigid rules or control, but as community/sacred space, this gathering does have boundaries and considerations that are easily picked up simply by being present. If, however, you are not sure about something — how to participate, whether or not a particular instrument or offering is ok for the fire circle, how to get more involved, or anything else — please do connect with a staff member (see the staff page to see the faces you will meet, but we will also introduce ourselves at opening circle). We will be happy to help you connect as deeply as you would like to go. For some wonderful information on the many magickal aspects of the fire circle, see the reference articles from our friends of the Hawai’i FireTribe.