According to Mac Macartney – elder, storyteller and founder of Embercombe – The Children’s Fire was a small fire which was placed in the centre of the Native American council of Peace Chiefs to remind them of their pledge that any decision they made should not cause harm, directly or indirectly, to their children or the children of any species for the next seven generations. It is a powerful myth and a transcendent ideal, one which I have spent much time reflecting on in the seven or so years since I first heard Mac tell the story.
A blog about my deep and long standing relationship with Embercombe, an ambitious and inspiring land-based educational project in the heart of Devon which promotes authentic leadership, ecological and social responsibility and community values, was recently published on their website. I’ve also published blogs on this site which have described my profound experiences on Embercombe programmes over the years.
This post represents what feels like the final chapter in my romance story with Embercombe. This is not because I love the place and it’s ethos any less, despite the fact that it’s changed a great deal over the years, but because I’ve changed. I believe I’ve finally stepped over a threshold in my psyche, made the transition from Boy to Man, meaning that I am no longer over-identified with the Hero archetype, which I’ve also written about a fair amount. This has put my relationship with Mac and Embercombe over the years into a new kind of perspective.
My first, and arguably my most powerful experience at Embercombe was on their flagship programme The Journey in 2012. At that time I identified as a radical left-wing environmental activist, an identity which was intimately wrapped up with my over-identification with the Hero archetype, an aspect of my psyche which led me, again and again, to overstep my limitations so much that I would get hurt and retreat, frightened, confused and deflated into a sort of introspective depression. Through various processes and experiences on The Journey and since, I’ve painfully lived this pattern out again and again, but I’ve resolutely refused to learn the lesson, until now.
I’ve learned, from my experience of participating in A Band of Brothers initiation and subsequently from reading Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette’s bestselling book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, that the Hero archetype is the immature version of the Warrior archetype. The Hero archetype is an extremely important energy in the formation of individuality and the healthy separation from our parents at an appropriate age, but crucially this archetype is unaware of it’s own limitations, meaning that it expresses a kind of heroism which refuses to admit to it’s own vulnerability, making it fragile and prone to collapse. On the other hand, the Warrior archetype, in it’s healthiest expression, wields it’s significant power from a place of self-awareness and authenticity.
The Children’s Fire is the third and final mix in a trilogy of musical mixes I produced in the winter and spring of 2018, a period of introspective creativity which was forshadowed by the most recent repeat of the pattern I’ve just described, my fall from over-inflated, over-identification with the Hero archetype following my vision quest last September. The mix takes the story of The Children’s Fire, as told by Mac at QI Global in 2010, and self-consciously mixes it with some of my favourite music. I think the result is beautiful, powerful, moving, strange and frequently cheesy, but – for me at least – overwhelmingly satisfying.
During the long winter in which I produced my trilogy of mixes I often worried that I had become a bit obsessed, that I was stuck in a navel gazing rut without any clear sense of how I might move on apart from a kind of embodied feeling that I need only trust the process and it’s meaning would eventually unfold. With the completion of The Children’s Fire mix two months ago I clearly understood I had completed the process although I did not yet understand it’s meaning.
I suggested earlier that this post represented the end of my romance story with Embercombe. It’s probably more accurate to say that it represents the end of my romance story with myself. There’s something deeply paradoxical about the process of growing up, what Jung called individuation. He suggested that a significant step in this process which usually takes place in early middle-age is the reconfiguration of our relationship with our inner child. Many of us are forced, often painfully, into premature adulthood when we are required to take on heavy responsibilities at a point in our lives when we are, to all intents and purposes, still children. This is the reason why, at the level of our emotions, our inner child continues to rule the roost in our twenties and thirties. The formation of an appropriately boundaried, healthy and balanced relationship with our inner child allows the profound energy which this part of all of us contains to be effectively harnessed by our adult selves, as opposed to allowing it to unconsciously sabotage our adult efforts.
I believe that my music mixing over the winter was an early expression of this reconfiguration process, as it began to unfold in my psyche after my vision quest and the subsequent crash. There was something deeply childlike about the way in which I involved myself obsessively and joyfully with this creative task. For a good few months I was completely absorbed by the process. As I’m writing this I can clearly picture myself at points throughout my childhood, serious little boy that I was, sitting alone in my room or at the kitchen table next to my mother, concentratedly applying myself to the task of creative play – drawing, painting, singing, dancing, designing and building the world in which I wanted to live, without any sense of limitation.
I recognise now that The Children’s Fire is a story which is just as much about honouring, protecting and bringing forward the child inside each of us, and working to heal the damage that has been done and that we continue to do to this part of ourselves, in order to prevent the destruction that this part can wreak on the world around us if we are not in proper relationship with it.
I realise too that Mac’s final words in the version of The Children’s Fire story which I sampled for my mix are an invitation to each of us to step into the full sovereignty of our King archetype and embrace the tremendous power we all have to effect positive change in the world:
‘The Children’s Fire is a gift from the indigenous elders of many, many countries, saying to us, people, teachers, businessmen, church leaders, whoever you are – you wield power, honour that which is sacred in nature.’