Posted on April 28 2018
Initiation by Fire Mandala
The Thomas Fire burned in the forest surrounding the Ojai Valley for 5 weeks starting on December 4, 2017. It ended up being the biggest wildfire in recorded California history. The valley was a bowl of smoke and ash for 5 weeks as the fire burned hot and long and became an unrelenting force that affected every single person in the valley.
As the fire was dying down Sage Stoneman called a community meeting which was held at Greater Goods in Meiners Oaks. About 50 people attended and each person spoke of how they were affected by the fire and of their needs and their offerings to the community, so we could best share resources. It was from that meeting that Susan Kelegian and I decided to blend our skills and offer a healing experience to the community. In the spirit of the Phoenix which rises from the ashes every 600 years we offered the Phoenix Cycle as a gift with the intention of healing through different modalities. We started with ritual and shared both theatre and therapeutic exercises, had council, and finished with a group Mandala, representing our initiation by fire.
With a group of 12 we went through a seven week cycle, meeting one evening a week. The four central meetings were each themed in one of the four directions starting with the North. When we started sketching the mandala it naturally became divided into four sections, a design that Ojai artist Heather Matoon created, as she began the painting with the North section. The four sections, representing the four directions, are divided by zig-zag lightening bolts that go from yellow, representing the fire coming from the center and as they broaden and reach the border they turn blue, representing water.
In the North, representing the air, a Raven, looking East, looks out over mountains covered in swirls of smoke with a blue sky and and clouds above. A harbinger of the in-between time when one thing is turning into another, this communal bird has two of her companions flying high above.
In the East, representing the Earth and the beginning, comes a figure walking from the burning mountains, she has smoke all around her body and she comes with animals in her pockets, in her arms and on her head. The figure was created by artist Vonder Gray and painted by me, River Sauvageau. Mountains burning in the night are to one side of her with a herd of running horses, painted by Susan Kelegian, are racing like the fire. Horses are powerful animals, and likes the people of the valley, they have beauty, strength and power. On the other side the iconic Ojai Post office tower stands out in the dark smoke. A flying pig above represents the miracle of our downtown saved from the advancing fire by a change in the winds.
In the South, representing fire, a figured fawn stands among honeycombs in patterned figures which go from the earth to the sky, with flowers and bees all around. The fawn appears as a shape-shifter in this otherworldly psychedelic tableau. Co-created by Kate Kilmurray, Evergreen Hericks, Breanna Valdivia and Ashley Osler. In true sky above are the head and tail of the Fire Dragon, drawn and painted by Chance Kelegian, which is looped around the center of the mandala and symbolizes the wildfire which circled the valley all around. In the very center of the mandala is the universe, painted by Nancy Gross and Oshun DuBellay, with Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, the Pleiades and stars sparkling.
In the West, representing water, the end of the day and the passageway into the Great Mystery, we find a Spirit Bear and Bear Angels, which illustrate the bears that were burned in the fire and who touched the hearts of the people They are shown in a calm green field with sage plants and a river running down from the mountains. Painted by River.
Painted by Kate Kilmurray, Daniel Ruark, Mare Bodo, the whole is bordered in white, purple and dark & light green waves - from the white hot feeling of the fire experience moving into the purple of transcendence and integration to the greening rebirth of spring. Life, as we know it, has its natural cycles which are ever at play, it’s up and down rhythms, it’s changing forms passing from one thing into another.
The surest thing we can know in intense circumstances is that “this too will pass” and when we live the passageway with clear intent and support both given and received, each of us personally as well as communally are strengthened. This Initiation by Fire Mandala represents the time when we in the Ojai Valley were unified through the Thomas Fire.