“The light is what guides you home, the warmth is what keeps you there.” ~ Ellie Rodriguez
On a recent adventure exploring Scotland, I became absolutely captivated by the design and charm of the stone cottages that dot the lush, rolling landscape and verdant hills. I was attracted to the variety, shapes, and colors of their front doors (works of art in and of themselves), as well as the unique windows, ancient hinges and hardware, gardens, and overall sense of simplicity and minimalism that emanated from each property. But what literally took my breath away were the fireplaces – so many astoundingly beautiful fireplaces! I was connected with an almost primal fascination with what home and hearth connote to each of us and began to dig into some of my anthropological training.
Fire improved the lives of early humans not only by giving them a means by which to cook food, stay warm, as well as stave off enemies and predators, but it also served as a delicious source of light and a magnetizing force.
Once we learned how to create fire and control it on our own, this led to the development of campfires and campsites. Anthropologists assert that we, as early humans, began telling stories around the campfire thousands of years ago. Such story telling is believed to have promoted the transference of knowledge and culture among family and tribe members. In addition to serving as key conduits of culture and meaning, these stories shared around fires deepened ties and encouraged a sense of bonding and entertainment.
There is no question that we as modern humans continue to be attracted to the light, warmth, ritual, ambiance, and beauty of fires in our indoor and outdoor fireplaces. We have developed designs and materials for fireplaces, hearths, and mantles that suit every taste and budget. But have we lost something of our ancient connection to our individual and collective hearths? Are we making enough time to gather together as families and friends in fellowship to share stories, enjoy each other’s company, and put aside the rush of modern living?
When was the last time the focal point of a family night or a gathering of friends was the fireplace? A simple element around which all focus while enjoying the art of conversation, joke telling, the lifting of burdens through speaking one’s truth, and/or the transformative power of pure silence shared together.
The chimney pots and fireplaces in Scotland, in all their splendor, conveyed an almost relentless message to me as I wandered through narrow streets and up steep hills: connect to your ancient roots and search for ways to bring the heart-warming culture and life-affirming and bonding essence of the hearth into more of my everyday living.