November 11, 2005

Grounding: Tree and Flame.

Briefly, what is the purpose of grounding? It is, most simply, a way of connecting to and interacting with an energy beyond ourselves. Rather than drawing on our own limited supply of physical and mental energy, which can quickly burn us out and result in unhealthy imbalances, we "tap into" the Divine in its infinite potential and activity. We do not drain ourselves, but nor do we overload ourselves by trying to hold on too tightly to the energies that we draw on. Instead we allow ourselves to be conduits, to be vessels for the coming together, direction and manifestation of these Divine energies. Often people will focus on only one of the two aspects involved in grounding--either that of drawing in energy, or that of releasing energy back. Indeed, I suspect it is this second aspect--in the sense of "grounding" electricity and releasing it so that its build-up cannot do damage--that gives this practice its name.

Because of this dualistic focus on grounding, many people may only think of it as something one does at the beginning (to draw in power) and end (to release it again) of a ritual or spellwork. In fact, grounding and what is known as "centering" are two faces of the same coin, and both are on-going during any magical working, as well as during contemplation and, ideally, during mundane existence. The practice of calming the mind for meditation and centering in oneself echoes the practical activity of grounding in a greater Presence. Such grounding, like centering, habituates us to surrender, to opening ourselves up to being emptied or filled in rhythm with the tides and vibrations of the Divine Will.

"We ground so we are rooted and anchored when we do any ritual work. For us this includes beginning ritual, doing ritual, and releasing ritual afterwards. We ground because, for us as [Christian] Witches, any power that occurs in our ritual and story work is not our power. For us being a Witch is not about us having power, it's about us being powerless and surrendering to and into the power of the Divine. It is grounding which plugs us into this surrender and connects us with the power of the Divine so that any ritual work we do isn't us doing ritual but rather the Divine Spirit doing ritual in us and through us."

- Rawna Moon, on Grounding

With this quick review of grounding as a general practice, I'd like to move on to discuss two ways to conceive of the act of grounding--as tree, and as flame.


A most traditional way of grounding as understood by many witches (Pagan and non-Pagan) is to imagine oneself as a tree or plant, rooted in the earth and reaching up towards the sky. This concept stems mainly, I think, from the fertility-focused aspect of the older nature religions as revived in Wicca, etc. Such approaches emphasize our connection to the earth as Great Mother and Sustainer, the source of our energy and lifeforce. Meditations on the core of the world, to which we are held by the weak yet constant force of gravity, lead us towards contemplations of where we find our own spiritual and physical center. We find all four elements embodied in this way of grounding: the airy celestial towards which we reach, the water of lifeblood/"sap" that runs through our bodies, our bodies themselves and the earth to which they are rooted, and the heat and energy of a hidden molten core, both within the earth and within ourselves.

The image/embodying of the tree as a form of grounding may also be tied to the concept of the axis mundi--the world axis, often manifested as a mountain, hill, tree, or even a constructed pole or temple/spire. In this sense, grounding qua tree extends beyond merely tapping into the energy of the earth. The axis mundi is the connection between the material and spiritual planes, it extends from "heaven" through the middle world and into the "underworld"--bridging the realms of light/enlightenment and darkness/mystery through the realm of paradox, the realm in which we as human beings struggle and do our work. Grounding with this in mind emphasizes the nature of the practitioner as a conduit between the worlds, through which the power and forces of the Divine may flow and by which they are shaped into manifestation.

Both the tree-image and its extension, the axis mundi, illustrate symbolically to the subconscious a form of surrender: an opening to the flowing energies of the world that course through our veins. In some occult practices, the axis mundi concept is extended/reinterpreted still further into that of the lightning bolt, striking ferociously down from the sky while at the same time rising forcefully up from the earth to meet itself. Here we begin to see hints of another conception of grounding, that of the flame.


Grounding understood in the image of the flame recalls less of the core ideas of the fertility-cult and emphasizes, instead, a more ecstatic tradition (for example, that of Feri Witchcraft, or that of Sufi mysticism within Islam). Rather than imagining oneself as a tree with roots reaching deep into the earth and limbs spread out and upward into the sky, the practitioner feels herself as the dark wick at the heart of a blue flame. The wick of the material body reaches down into a semi-liquid/semi-solid "wax" of the created world, while the flame leaps up into the celestial, spiritual realm, a flame of spirit and will that is fed, shaped and moved by the breath of the Divine.

The movement and working of energy in this concept of grounding is slightly more complicated than that of the tree. Rather than energy moving clearly through a passive conduit, there is an intimate interaction between the particular material form (the wick) and the universal spiritual presence (the breath). The spiritual activity of burning (which, even when the flame is stilled, is essentially a process, an activity) is fueled both by the Divine breath and the material form of the individual. In this interaction, energy is not just moved or transferred--it is created through the process of transforming the potential of the wind and wick into the actuality of the flame. Energy is both generated and released through this process of burning, so that rarely does an "excess" build up which it is later necessary to "ground" (in the electrical sense).

The concept of burning is also associated closely with ideas of love and surrender. While the grounding of a tree is a kind of surrender which is receptive and passive, the surrender of the flame is an active surrender, that while still being "receptive" in a sense is also more engaged in the process. It may be a more accurate metaphor for the activity of love, which involves will and choice, a movement towards and a giving of oneself to the Divine.

Practically speaking, I find the concept of grounding in terms of the flame personally more flexible. It does not require me to sit still but is perfectly adaptable to walking, moving, and dancing as forms of meditation. On windy days, I sense my grounding as tapping into the energy of the wind itself as it is available to me; on warm days, the heat of sunlight and the closely-held warmth in the folds of the land feed the flame, while on cold days, the process of burning itself warms me.

I would recommend to those who have found grounding a difficult practice to sustain or benefit from to explore other possible metaphors for the relationship of energy and Divine presence. For me, the idea of the blue flame has opened a great deal to me, enabling me to ground and center more readily and more often, even during my everyday life. Explore such ideas, images that move you--do not stick only to metaphors growing out of a fertility tradition that may not speak so directly to your modern existence.


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