In difficult times, organisms find new symbiotic relationships in order to expand their reach. Crisis is the crucible of new relationships
– Merlin Sheldrake Entangled Life
Throughout 2022 Dark Mountain held a series of online creative workshops, revolving around the eight fires of the ancestral solar year. It was an investigative practice, based on a reconnection with deep time and the mythology of place. Led by Charlotte Du Cann and Dougie Strang with invited guides, each of these workshops was held on two Saturdays with a week in between for a group of ‘firekeepers’ to engage in two tasks. One was to encounter their local territories with a certain attention and to share their experiences in a creative form; and the other to build a ceremonial fire to mark the turns of the year, either solo or with others on the workshops, each with a distinct focus and theme, encompassed conversations and performance, storytelling and practice-sharing, .
The series title ‘How We Walk Through the Fire’ was originally chosen for the spring gathering we planned to host in Bristol in 2020 but which, like so much else, was cancelled by the pandemic. In lieu of the live event, much of the original programme was transferred online. Over the following years, we have held virtual gatherings that have included storytelling, plant teachings, book launches, making sessions, a film show and writing workshops. The dramaturgical focus and fireside exchanges, which have been at the heart of so many Dark Mountain events, lived on in this series.
The dramaturgical focus and fireside exchanges, which have been at the heart of so many Dark Mountain events, lived on in this series
It was an exploration, an experiment, an immersive practice, a collective witnessing which turned out each time to be utterly surprising – often because of the generosity and ingenuity of the people taking part. Artists and practitioners tuned in from their homelands in Australia, Japan, Mexico, Canada, across the United States from Alaska to Kentucky, from the wilds of Finnmark and the Outer Hebrides to the cities of Paris, Berlin and Vienna. Some people had only just encountered Dark Mountain, some were contributors or subscribers to our books, some had been following our work for some time and were keen to meet their fellow voyagers.
What we discovered was that our frame of ecological and social breakdown, rather than turning people away, drew us out, and together. As we reported back from the fires we had held in deep winter or high summer, we shared stories about the creatures we had encountered and the rivers we honoured, the winds we named, the plants we connected with, and the mythic layers of the earth beneath our feet. It felt, despite the current state of collapse, that this shared attention to place and time helped us engage in what Aboriginal academic Tyson Yunkaporta describes as an ‘increase ceremony’: an intentional strengthening of the web of connections between people and places, the ancestors and the more-than-human world. An invisible mycelia that you could feel in the sessions, even though we were not meeting in the physical world.
An intentional strengthening of the web of connections between people and places, the ancestors and the more-than-human world
The workshops set out to host a regenerative culture that could both weather the storm and lay the tracks for a more ‘biospheric’ relationship with the planet, a practice that was both modern and ancestral. Each of the fires explored different approaches but all aimed to foster resilience and to strengthen our creative voices within an ensemble. They also provided a container for the rigorous inner work of relinquishment and restoration: what poet Gary Snyder once called ‘hard yoga for planet Earth’. At each of the eight ‘doors’ of the year, we ‘walked through the fire’, letting go of what no longer served, and discovering what might bring repair and regeneration to a world, and a culture, in crisis. Above all, we voiced and celebrated what we experienced.
By the end of the series, as the year dipped back into the winter months, many of us felt we wanted more people to be able to enjoy the practices we forged together, and the kinds of work that can emerge when you engage creatively within a frame with a common purpose, wherever you live.
Our next special issue will be called Eight Fires and it will likewise follow the wheel of the year, each section picking up seasonal themes. Around our fires we invite contributions of art and writing that either respond to the whole year, or the individual focus of the sessions. It will also host work based on creative practice, ceremony and making.
We’ve included here, for inspiration, brief descriptions of the gatherings, each with a link to the original invitations for further details. All contributions based on these themes are welcome (details for submissions are below).
Halcyon Days (Winter Solstice, 21st December) Our first fire gathering revolved around the 14 days that surround the winter solstice, when it was once believed that the mythic Alcyone, transformed into a kingfisher, would nest by the shore in peace because her father, the god of the winds, had calmed the waves. An invitation to pause at the turning of the year, to enter a contemplative space and to create a piece of work from within it. The series began in the dark transformational moment of solstice, following the track of worldwide archaic and Indigenous cultures that have always looped back to their ancestral beginnings in order to know how to proceed towards the future.
Kinship with the Beasts (Imbolc 1st/2nd February) This collaborative journey started by looking at our core human relationship with the animal kingdoms. Imbolc traditionally marks the first stirrings of spring in the northern hemisphere, and as amphibians begin to move, the plant world to unfurl, we asked what it means to re-enter kinship with our fellow creatures. and find ways to articulate and to strengthen that archaic relationship in this time of emergence.
Walking into the Wind (Spring Equinox) As the year shifted, we stepped out and connected with the elements, and especially the wild wind, in times of storm and climate breakdown. By tuning into the weather systems of our local territories, we examined the art and practice of liminal walking, as we crossed the bridge from the dark watery realms of winter into the light and air of spring.
Plant Dialogues (May Day/Beltane, 1st May and Summer Solstice, 21st June) These two celebratory fires heralded an immersive voyage into the growing world of plants to discover how we might re-entangle ourselves with its intelligence and beauty, working with the key leaves, flowers and trees of spring and midsummer. We experienced how plants help root us in place and time and remember the role human imagination plays in communication with the sentience of the planet.
Waterland (Lughnasadh 1st/2nd August) This time of harvest is often celebrated by visits to springs and holy wells in thanks for water’s powers of restoration. As the summer’s heat intensified, we focused on the joy of our physical connection to water and how it runs through our lives in our language, our myths, our stories, our poetry and our dreams. We explored bodies of water local to us – lakes, rivers, streams and seas – in a time of ecological crisis.
Mythos and Mycelium (Autumn Equinox, 23rd Septenber) An exploration of what it means to make art that engages with myth and the underground networks of Earth. Myths threaded themselves like a mycelium through the series, from the shapeshifting Suibhne (Imbolc), to Olwen of the White Track (summer solstice). As the year shifts towards the Underworld, we went in search of the myths and stories held in our own local territories and ancestral memory and the mysterious role fungi play in the fabric of Earth.
Honouring the Ancestors (Samhain, 31st October) At the hinge of the ceremonial year, as the light descends towards the dark months of winter, we looked at how to maintain a dramaturgical practice. Our year-long journey deliberately engaged with a time frame that goes beyond this civilisation’s history, towards a past that is held in the planet’s rocks and its many life forms, as well as in our own human ‘bone-knowledge’. In this time of unravelling, we turn to our ancestors who can teach the creative moves we need to make in our everyday lives.
How to submit
Following the shape of earlier books, this will be a work of collaboration. More than 80 participants gathered round those fires and a core team of the practitioners who took part will be helping shape its look and feel.
Our books have always been ensemble works, a mixture of genres, mediums, people and places, writing and art that cross-reference and form an interconnected whole. We consider these imaginative gatherings eminently practical, building a networked culture that can withstand advancing crises, one with wild nature at its heart. Eight Fires will be a gathering place, a handbook for the head, heart and hands of that culture: a book where poetry and essays can sit happily alongside new and ancient practices and techniques.
For this issue we are interested in submissions of non-fiction, fiction, artwork, poems, photo essays, portraits, interviews, testimonies, ceremonies – as well other contributions that might not fit any of those categories. As with all our anthologies, do read the Manifesto for an idea of the uncivilised writing and art we might be seeking. We look forward to seeing what you send us between now and May.
Please note that you do not have to have taken part in the How We Walk Through the Fire or other Dark Mountain workshops to take part in the book. All contributions are welcome!
Dark Mountain: Issue 24 will be published in October 2023. The deadline for submissions is Friday 12th May. For details on what and how to submit, please read our submissions guidelines. Please note this is an online submission process and form, so do read carefully. Thanks! We cannot read or respond to work that does not fit within those guidelines.
Dark Mountain: Issue 22 – ARK
Our full-colour Autumn 2022 edition is an ARK carrying a cargo of testimonies, stories and artwork gleaned after the flood