At the start of this year, I decided to put some 35 years’ worth of letters, journals, pictures, diaries, mementoes, photos, and a ton of “personal stuff” that I’d been carting around with me between many moves, into one big pile, and set it all on fire.
And my goodness, I was astounded by the results.
As the embers were still hot, I began to feel an elation rising in my body. My self-doubt cleared, my relationship improved, and my energy levels skyrocketed.
The effects are still unfolding to this day.
Putting your whole past to the flame is not a simple process. It took a whole lot of letting go, pushing through resistance, inner-battling, acceptance, forgiveness for myself and for others, and some sturdy inner-resilience.
But it’s amazing when we do it.
In fact, if you’re feeling stuck, living in the past, holding onto old relationships, friendships, former jobs, or an earlier version of yourself, then one of the most effective, transformational, and powerful ways to shift that energy is through the alchemy of ritual fire.
And note I said “ritual fire”—this is a crucial point.
I work as an energy healer and am a huge fan of ritual fire. Ritual fire is not like a normal fire. Yes, it is still hot and burns, but when you put something on a ritual fire, it is not with the intention to destroy it, annihilate it, or efface its existence from your life.
No, what you are doing is offering the manifested expression of an experience—say in the form of a photo or letter—to the divine fire, so that that experience, whether good or bad, can be transformed and upgraded into another form of energy that is in alignment with who you are now.
This is deep inner-work that goes beyond a normal spring clean or declutter. It can be hard to grasp in its profound subtlety. So let me tell you a bit of how it went for me.
I returned in January from my Christmas holidays in a real slump: feeling down, heavy, uninspired, and dense, the kind of lying-on-the-bed-staring-at-the-void lethargy that makes breathing feel like too much of an effort. After about four days of living in this airless void, the answer just came to me:
It’s gotta go. It’s all gotta go.
What’s gotta go? Well, at the back of a large wardrobe in my bedroom, I have kept three large boxes of “memories”—a disorganised mess of old love letters, letters from friends, letters starting romances, letters finishing romances.
There were birthday cards, Christmas cards, Valentine’s cards (even the one from “unknown,” just to remind myself I was secretly admired once), Sorry You’re Leaving cards (my goodness I’ve left a few jobs in my time), even a Get Well Soon card.
There were business cards of people I’d long forgotten and flyers from bars and hostels in Asia, South America, and India. I had notes and telephone numbers scrawled on screwed-up pieces of paper from an era long before smartphones. I had old work contracts, apartment leases, mobile phone contracts, and— my goodness—even bank statements.
I had shoeboxes full of photos of sleepovers, school discos, university parties (did I really used to drink that much?!), beach holidays, nights out, backpacking, work parties, day trips, and the time in 1993 when I celebrated the new year in Moscow’s Red Square.
But in this moment, I knew: It’s all gotta go.
And so I hauled it all out into the back garden, built a ring of stones, and lit the first letter. As the flames grew, letter by letter I added fuel to the fire.
As I burned each item, I said thank you for the times I’d shared with people, apologized to the people I’d hurt, and forgave the ones who had hurt me.
I forgave myself for the ignorance of my youth, the mistakes I’d made, and the chances I’d missed.
I gave gratitude for all the sights seen, the love shared, and the experiences had.
I let go of the way things used to be to allow myself to imagine a new and possibly better way to exist.
I let the souls who had passed move on and wished them well, in addition to those still living who no longer played a role in my life.
For three days, I burned and burned and burned. And cried and cried and cried.
And then, the liberation came. It was almost like flying, I was so light. The atmosphere around me felt tangibly different.
I felt freedom and space.
Here’s how to create your own ritual, using the alchemy of fire, to release your past:
1. Create a sacred (and safe) space for your fire outdoors—a circle of stones or a metal container, perhaps.
2. Prepare the content of your fire. Remember you are not burning to destroy but to transmute, to change the energy from one form to another. You can release good and bad memories and experiences. All can be honoured and thanked, for we each owe who we are today to the sum of our experiences.
The hardest part may be burning things we want to keep about people who have passed or good times we believe will never come again, but bear in mind that sometimes the very things we want to hold on to the most are the ones that will bring the biggest transformation in the burning.
3. As you burn, keep centred. Ask the divine fire to transform the energy from the past for the highest good of all beings.
4. Stay present during the entirety of the burning to ensure you receive all the benefits of the ritual.
Author: Jill Cartwright
Editor: Callie Rushton