Drum Circle Etiquette
    by Gunga Doug

   There is a sacred relationship between the elements that create a fire circle. The drummers, singers, dancers, witnesses, our traditions, our ancestors and the Fire itself meld together in a dance of energies that is simultaneously greater than all its parts and as intimate as a trance. Each of these elements is a necessary part, and no one piece is greater than any other. It is the interplay of relationships between the elements that creates the magic, and opens the caldron of transformation that is the difference between a fire and a magic fire circle.

   First there is the fire, and with the fire a container to keep us safe; a space to hold sacred. At Four Quarters, we start with a sand fire circle. This simple circle of sand is lovingly maintained by a number of volunteers, who each day clean the area and rake the sand; often in complex and pleasing patterns. A circle is cast to contain and direct the potential energy, a foundation of transformation and healing intent is set into the sand. Wishes and blessings for a hot fire, that the ground is kind to our feet, and that the drummers and other participants may be inspired by spirit are incorporated as well. Our wood is prepared and set ready to light. Often offerings of tobacco, herbs, and incense are laid in with the tinder. Candles are set ready around the edge of our sanded circle and in the four quarters. In the East is the forma entrance. And an empty chair sits in the North, ready for our honored ancestors.

   When the time is right, the fire tenders light the fire and the surrounding candles. Drummers begin to wander in. Dancers and witnesses gather around outside the circle, preparing nests and small gathering spots. The drums are restless. Anticipatory rhythms begin to sound as the drummers warm up. The fire begins working its way from a small flame to a roaring fire. Smoke drifts across the nearly empty circle.

   Slowly, slowly, the fire gets larger; the rhythms of the drums synchronize, harmonize. A lone dancer steps into the circle, performing the ritual she feels is necessary for entrance into a sacred space. She knows that this is a circle for all peoples, and for her it is good to smudge herself with sage. Finishing, she turns and respectfully offers the sage to another dancer waiting at the East Gate. He declines the offer and she places the sage in a safe spot to the side of the entrance for others to use if they desire. Entering the circle, she begins to dance to the beat of the drums, the roar of the fire. Soon others join her. Some salute the fire, some smudging themselves, a few just taking a moment to ground and center.

   During this initial opening, more drums and other instruments join in. The South quarter of the circle is where they gather. It is important for the drummers to hear one another so that their rhythms blend together. Often there is a jun-jun providing a foundation rhythm. Witnesses gather on benches and chairs around the remaining circle.

   After the initial set, a fire tender steps out, the drums take up a heartbeat. "Welcome to Fire Circle at Four Quarters!" he exclaims. He is here to provide the guidelines for the evening, to make sure that it all happens in a safe, sacred, and good way.

   Each fire and drum circle is different. The feeling of the circle will change throughout the night as the participants change. Drummers, dancers, witnesses, and fire tenders will wander in and out as their needs change. Each brings something to the mix when they enter, leaving a piece behind when they go. The fire tender stocks the fire with wood, occasionally changing its shape, size and intensity as the evening progress. Fire tenders and others work to ensure the energy flows smoothly, and that we remain safe.

   The energy will build and release several times throughout the evening, often going until the wee morning hours. The evening generally starts upbeat and high energy, slowing down gradually as the night progress, becoming more intimate and introspective. The energy will peak and recede several times just as the ocean rises and falls. A late night circle can be good for heavy trance work.

   Last there is the fire. When the drummers are done drumming and the dancers have gone to bed, the fire remains. The glowing mound of coals draws in those few remaining awake. Some come to share the warmth, some to stare into the fire seeking visions. Soon these few are also drawn to their tents and the dreams that await them. The fire remains keeping vigil with the Stones, welcoming the dawning of a new day.

Children at Fire Circle

   Kids love Fire Circle and it is one of their fondest memories of Drum and Splash. And we work hard to keep the Fire Circle open and welcome for the young people. Each evening we begin with a performance at the Fire Circle and sometimes our presenters will lead the children in their own performance for us all.
   But kids play harder than grownups and after an hour or so the heads begin to nod and you will see their parents bundle them up and find a nieghbor to watch; giving the parents a chance to drum and dance.
   By midnight the children are put to bed and the serious and magical work of fire, drum and dance will begin. A place for everyone around the fire.

Our simple guidelines for Fire Circle

   Our guidelines are simple and unrestrictive, but we do ask that they be respected. These requests are for our safety, both physical and spiritual. We hold this circle, this fire as sacred. This is a circle, cast with intent in ritual, and we ask that you enter and exit through the East Gate.
   Please refrain from smoking cigarettes or pipes while within Fire Circle. If you do smoke, step out of the circle through the East Gate, and make sure to pocket any butts or other debris. Alcoholic beverages may not be present at Fire Circle and public drunkenness will not be tolerated. Please keep all glass and ceramic containers of any kind off the sanded center. Fire jumping is prohibited.
   The inner ring is reserved for dancers, if you wish to dance slowly, while remaining still or wish to mediate, please move towards the outside. Always keep in mind that it is the interaction between the drums, the dancers, the fire, the sky above and the ground below that provides our energy.
   Be respectful of your fellow participants. Ask before taking a picture, this is taboo to some and disrespectful to someone in trance. Flashes are disruptive and startling, refrain from using a flash when you do take a picture. Have fun, be safe.
   If you have a question or request, ask one of the fire tenders. This circle, this fire, this night is what we make of it and what we bring into it."