The Power of the Flame

Students from the 3 week Personal Storytelling Course in Amari last October gazing into the flames.

When I was at school, I learnt that the discovery of fire was an importance step for human beings because it enabled us to keep warm, scare wild animals away at night and if we caught any, cook and eat them. Recently I was with a colleague, Kate Cowie from The Chaos Game, when she told me of some recent research in this area. The research showed that across the world, in all cultures, people become more reflective in the presence of firelight. I was interested as I’ve often observed that when I’m sitting by a fire, whether inside or outside, the stories seem to flow more easily and people often speak more slowly, with longer pauses, as we all gaze into the flickering flames.  

It seems that around the same time as the discovery of fire, two other things happened. The earliest rock art was created as fire enabled humans to go deep into the cave systems where the paintings can still be seen today. And the human larynx began to develop and drop and the range of sounds it was able to make increased dramatically. It is thought that the longer hours of light which the discovery of fire gave early people, enabled them to sit around and talk to each other more, hence the capacity to make more sounds developed. As storytellers, we all know what they were doing – telling stories! In these ways, firelight enabled the creation of both art and speech.  

In my own work, I have seen how much it helps to have a substitute fire in the form of a candle in the centre of a storytelling circle or at a performance. People seem to be able to drop down deeper into themselves and connect with others far more easily in that golden presence. At this dark time of the year in the northern hemisphere, you might like to light a candle or a fire, gather your loved ones around you and take the opportunity to talk to each other and share some stories. You might find as you reflect together, that things can be spoken of then that cannot be spoken of in any other way.