The Alchemical Fire: An Inclusive Spiritual Community
By Hollis Taylor
Spirituality for gender benders? Spirituality for EVERYONE? I became more and more skeptical over the years of spiritual groups as a whole. Its not hard to do with crazy cults abusing children and manifesting mass suicides. Then the Christians come along with their forceful beliefs that would have you believing that being female was a sin. I explored all parts of Christianity with a deeper need for something really meaningful instead of the over ritualized Catholic experience. I even dabbled in the dark arts of Satanism in my teens and found deep disappointment based on my compassionate and kind nature. So when I approached Wicca in my twenties as a young mother I found meaning in the connection with the earth. However, again I found myself disappointed with some aspects, though it still resonated the most with me. When I experienced my first Alchemical Fire circle I was spiritually awakened.
It was the first Fires Rising at Four Quarters Farm. I had been part of the community for some time and very close to the DC Radical Faeries part of the community. I still lacked something in my spiritual life until the moment I stepped through the gate. After being smudged by what seemed to be a steady flow of sage smoke I stepped into a circle that was completely enclosed with prayer flags from the community. Earlier in the day someone had brought me a prayer flag to color with my intentions, since I was working registration. I had colored mine with my biggest and brightest dreams “Peace, Love, & Happiness” I tied mine onto the border and made my way around the outside. I stood beside the ancestors alter, a place I was comfortable with. I have been a lifelong medium and am often spiritually close to the unseen spirits of those that once lived. I felt my father’s presence, he had died a few years prior. I felt comforted and welcomed. Eventually after a lot of exploration around the circle I found that I was called to the small healer tents the community had created. When my hands were touching someone, when my ears were listening, when I was holding someone while they cried, when I empathized with the community members I was inspired to heal myself. I was inspired to take my own advice. I was inspired to love myself in the same way I loved them. I spent the entire night holding people crying, listening to secrets untold, and holding people’s hands as they found the bravery to dance the circle. I held a mother who just lost her child several days prior. I could do the other parts like with music and dancing but really my most inspired place was holding a strangers hand because I gave them the strength to finally dance around the fire. I was inspired by their bravery, their determination, their work…..to do my OWN work. Fear of raising a child alone, being alone, and fear of change had lead me to inaction for a long time. That year I admitted to my husband and son that I was a lesbian and I left my 15 year marriage to pursue my deep love, passion, and desire for women.
The Second year of Fires Rising was no less powerful than the first one but this time I was more prepared. I continued to pray for “Peace, Love & Happiness” but this time I began to really step up not just as a healer but now as a strong community member. I was loved and prized for my leadership with the children in the community at 4QF. I studied the Alchemical Fire circle in a way that inspired me to create a similar experience for spiritual families and children. I was inspired to lead a different event for children providing a very needed family alchemical experience that many found to be full-filling and transformative for their unique families. I was able to apply the same principles of celebrating our most authentic selves while simplifying the process in order to easily include families with young children. Allowing for the children to lead us in play. In what I provided for my community I was again inspired but this time with the inspiration to transform my own family. I had attended the Fire with a woman I shared deep love with, and still do to this day. I accepted an offer to partner with her in a way that would help me finish raising my teenage son. My son’s life could be blessed with two mothers, even if she was nervous about it. It turned out to be something amazing for both of them. Even though I no longer share my life with her, this fire was over 10 years ago, she is still in my adult son’s life and his child’s life. That, for me, is a big accomplishment in human evolution. Through my service to the circle my family was transformed and my son’s life was enriched as a result. The ripple effect from that transformation sent positive vibes all around.
By the third year of Fires Rising with the Alchemical model at 4QF I was excited for another transformation. This time I prayed for “Peace, Love, & Happiness” again. Somehow my instincts told me that this was going to be a process and it might take a while. I was honored that my son was a torch holder for the fire, he was an official fire tender and he plugged into the Alchemical Fire through the same place his step-mother did, the woman that had been helping me raise him for the past year. I was proud of him, he had shown a lot of maturity and responsibility at this event. He was a strong young boy and I appreciated how this community sought to encourage his very best. I was proud to see my son at that fire and inspired by others that had shown him some very authentic behaviors. That year I spent a lot of time sitting beneath a tree listening to my most authentic self. I desired some pretty big things to feel authentically me. I found that I needed to really explore my “gender dysphoria” and my physical/mental health. I wasn’t sure if I really was transgender or just very confused. Did I want synthetic hormones? Is this just a reflex from my job as a sex worker? I began my now long time gender bending blog “Do I have to choose?” Then of course there was the fact that I was a smoker, barely 5 foot tall and over 250lbs. I hated how I looked but felt I had no control of how I might look if I lost those pounds. My mental health was way off and I needed to make some big decisions about who I chose to spend my time with. That was the year the Alchemical team from Vegas passed the torch to the community of 4QF. It was also my last year at 4QF.
Almost 10 Years went by and I was never able to really get back to a fire. I had a lot of work to do. I felt like I was in the biggest and longest transformation since puberty. I began to exercise and naturally transform my body into what I am calling Androgyne. I haven’t had synthetic hormones or surgery of any kind and most likely won’t. I have lost over 100lbs, quit smoking and am continuing to build a healthy life. I had landed in Pennsylvania with my son’s step-mother. Again, I found myself step into a healer role. A different type of healer than I had done in sex work, now I was healer for the elderly. I had worked up to a daily yoga practice. I worked with faeries in my gardening and farm work. I honored what I learned about faerie magic from some of the best Faeries I know, the DC Radical Faeries. I am grateful for my self discovery as an Androgyne with Drag as Izzy Ahee, giving me a regular place to explore being a “man”. I began to host travelers and even welcomed them to live in the community I now called Faehaven. Many travelers came through and I was reminded by a very special young person of my love for the Alchemical Fire. At that time I felt I was better able to love myself and therefore be loved as a result of my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual transformation. We held a small, intimate Alchemical Fire in our yard. I prayed for “Peace, Love & Happiness” for everyone in the world. I know its a big order but I figured there was no harm in reaching for the stars even if we only made it to the moon. At that fire I was blessed with a special peace pipe they call a “Chanunpa.” It was a very special process and I was inspired to get back to the community that had originally inspired me. I knew the Alchemical Fire was my medicine and I was ready for the next step.
By now I had transformed a great deal and I was ready to continue my journey. Interestingly, I had met a very special woman that was part of many of the Alchemical fire circle gatherings around the country. It was coincidence about our mutual love for the Alchemical Fire since we met at the New York Faerie Festival where I love to attend dressed as the Hobbit, Tobi Longbottom. There is not a huge focus on the Fire at New York Faerie Festival but in hindsight I see that many were in the community, I just didn’t know it yet. More time passed and I worked very hard to improve my financial situation. I was inspired to attend an Alchemical Fire and I had shifted my schedule at the nursing home. I had high hopes to attend an Alchemical Fire as soon as I could afford. The woman I met at the Faerie festival was a very special musician, Bright Hawk. She had gifted me a CD to use at work called “Sacred Side Project” I had given her a gift astrology reading and she wanted to give something back. I love music and the way she played the Hang PANArt was most unique, uplifting and healing.
When I began to miss being part of the Alchemical Fire Community. I would turn on the music “Sacred Side Project” and it filled my heart. I was spending 10-16 hours a day at work and I began to play the music there for the elderly people I was working with. My job at the nursing home had me keeping 40+ people occupied so they didn’t stand up and fall. My main objective was to keep the entire group safe. I was encouraged to do activities with them. So I created a Magic Fire with the music player and “sensory machine” in the center as the fire. Then I surrounded the machine with the people in their wheelchairs, walkers and so on. I began to dance with them one at a time. Each one got at least a little exercise with me. All of them got my love, healing touch and attention. Again I stepped in as the healer. I validated them. I loved them. I inspired other employees to do the same program. This filled my heart and theirs, creating a healing experience for all of us. Even the RN’s running by noticed that something extra special was happening in my activities.
Later, I made a business proposal to Bright Hawk as a result of my work in the nursing home. I was ready to create a music therapy and movement program that would uplift residents and inspire interaction. She agreed. I gave up my chance to attend an Alchemical Fire and instead used the money to pay for the time I took off work to try on this new business. The business model was successful and many of my dreams came true, like moving to Colorado. Now we have a very successful business Let’s Dance. I have helped hundreds of elderly people experience that feeling of being loved and celebrated just as they are. We created space for the elderly that lifted them up with that same special love that I experienced in the Alchemical model.
My dreams came true, I was traveling with Let’s Dance, one of my life long dreams. I had never been off the east coast and was frankly itching to move. The new business helped fuel the travel in between festivals. As a result, I returned to the Alchemical Fire Community with Bright Hawk, well known in the community. However I returned warily, given my experience with being shunned, shamed or looked down on. It had happened many times in my past as a sex worker and now I was a”gender bender”, too. I was someone no one knew or heard of and suddenly found myself in the spotlight. Since I worked with Bright Hawk it was easy for the community to see me at her side and with our excitement about Let’s Dance I quickly met a lot of people. Being in the spotlight for spiritual gatherings is not always my most comfortable place, but if I wanted to do the fires I would have to accept this fate. For me it was like I was born just a few years prior and I often feel like an awkward teenager. My spiritual expressions are usually very private and extremely intimate. Also, I didn’t even know how it would feel to be in the community again, more than 10years had passed. Not only did I bring stigmas but I also brought an unusual instrument, tap shoes. I was very different and had experience in Fire Circles, but no one would remember me since I was not the same person as I was then. Today, I know that I challenge people with my views on gender, world peace, unconditional love, and sex positivity. This way of being my own authentic self has often lead me to being judged, shunned and shamed. This time was different.
At Unifier festival where the Alchemical Fire is not really the focus but its presence was still known, I could be found on the outer circle trying to manage my emotional state. I was working through some personal disappointments while being contrasted with inspirational dreams. I needed personal healing space and no one judged me for it. I didn’t want to be seen by the circle so I took private yoga space on the outer most edges. I wrote in my journal, danced around the circle in full male face, and slowly shedded my masculine make up each time I stirred the fire and returned to my personal space. I did this completely alone with not much interaction with anyone. That was okay this time I had done all I could to support Bright Hawk so that she could arrive in a good way. I felt like when I chose to stir the pot as the fire pixie I was making offerings to the community, it helped move the circle of dancers around the fire. The greater good for all people to share in the fire is to keep the faster dancers closer to the fire and the slower you move its better to get further out. This way no one becomes a speed bump. Some people don’t understand that but teaching is best done by example. Each time I entered the circle another pixie was inspired to dance with me or I was inspired to support them in the same type of fast fire dance. That same pixie energy inspired me to make more good health choices about my future. I was inspired to put my needs higher on the priority list. For that I am grateful. I also learned that instead of being judged, shunned and shamed that the community as a whole was able to instead love me just the way I was. The unusual ones, the freaks, the gender benders, the shiny ones all were celebrated at Unifier, truly a unification of uplifting folks.
Then I landed at the Alchemical Fire Circle for Starwood Festival. This circle was organized by the now Fires Rising crew from 4QF so I was familiar with several of them. This circle was tough for me because I had just suffered an end to a long term relationship and my heart felt broken in half. I understood why it must happen that way, I had transformed so much in the last ten years. My transformation had changed a lot of things, including our relationship. Regardless, my heart was dark with sadness, like anyone might experience in a heart break experience. This circle though they simply loved me up. I found myself drawn to the food alter where I made snacks for the entire circle and brought them out to serve. I made delicious Hobbit snacks and offered them to everyone. I always had one for myself both before and after each time. I was loved and celebrated. I also brought my tap shoes and was totally celebrated. This was my debut tap dancing at the fire circle I had been envisioning since I bought the shoes. These shoes are special to me and are a big part of Gender Activism through the Drag King Character, Izzy Ahee. I shared them with the drummers, this was the first time I really enjoyed playing music in an Alchemical Fire circle. I was not only playing a rhythm but I was also dancing. The community immediately accepted my new way of doing things and simply celebrated it. I danced all night long and loved myself for my sore toes. I was inspired to find new ways to do things. I met new people that also expressed how they experienced a welcoming and accepting feeling. Even people that claimed to be atheist and agnostic said they found comfort in the Alchemical Fire Circle, so they too could express their most authentic selves. I began to understand just how important it was for each of us to show up authentically as possible and I sought ways to help facilitate that. This was where I realized I needed to write about my experiences because other gender benders could really benefit from a community like this. Many of us are spiritual but have no community in relation to our spiritual selves.
The next Alchemical Fire was ForestDance in CT. This time things had unfolded in a way that I was asked to arrive as chef. As I spoke to the chef from the prior year I was a little intimidated by the no oven or hot water parts. I was cooking for 75 people and that part was challenging enough without adding issues with the kitchen. I was assured the community could help me with getting things to and from the nearby building with an oven. Honestly I walked into it a little afraid I had just walked myself into a similar situation from my past, that I didn’t care to repeat. I hoped the community would not fail me and truly step up to help me. Quickly I was inspired by the young people that came shopping with me. We connected as if we had been friends for years right away. The universe had blessed me with an organizer that wanted to be sure we paid close attention to being as environmentally friendly as we could, so we got to visit farms where we picked up the produce. The dairy we got and the foods we got were local and organic, some of my deepest values. We prepared from scratch food for everyone including gluten free, vegans, and even a small hand full that don’t do onions/peppers. We covered all our territories and did all we could to include every person in the community’s diet. I was inspired by the community members, each one of them arriving to help in the kitchen with great attitudes. I celebrated and thanked each one of them for their amazing efforts and overcoming all we had together. Together we had created such an inspirational space that it earned its own song. “Twerkin’ in the Kitchen” with lyrics like “we don’t need no stinkin oven” The community had arrived in a way that filled my heart with such deep dedicated love, I was moved to tears of gratitude each day. Surprisingly, my entire body was massaged by a blessed amazing thai massage therapist. Her touch was soothing and healing on the edge of the circle. After 3 days of meals for 75 people and 3 intense all night fire circles I was massaged among the now peaceful community. I was cuddle in their loving embrace in a snuggle pile on the edge of the circle. I had never felt so loved and supported in my entire life. I was reminded and inspired by this experience – I had overcome so much darkness in my life I could find the love and support I needed from a community. Finally, I had what felt like family, something I was not blessed with as a child.
Touch healing is at my center. The act of giving a hug is a great example of touch healing. Some people think immediately of sex and for some of us, that is the kind of touch we need. I am okay with doing that in private, at other times, but this space is meant for something else. I like the agreement to touch as loving endearing friends. Expressing our authentic hearts and love for each other as community members. Thats how I engage in Let’s Dance with my elderly friends, I always offer at least a hug. For some of us, we need more, we need snuggles and squeezes. Many of us feel the call to get close to our community in a non sexual way, with nothing more than back rubs, hand holding and smiles. Giggling and loving each other is encouraged and the celebration of community is the energy I experienced. I felt the love of the community on that nest with me. A big nest of everyone’s sleeping bags along side the fire as we listened to the music. We held each other, we smiled at each other, we held hands. We loved each other, unconditionally. We listened for the promised story, I didn’t want to miss it. The community was sure to tap me and encourage me to join them closer to the fire to hear the great storyteller, Bright Hawk, share her magic. I felt embraced, lifted up, and loved more than any other moment in my life, I was not forgotten. The community had really arrived not only to be sure I didn’t get slammed with too much work in the kitchen but also that I was healed for my service to the community. They also simply friended me. I was moved at the gifts of gratitude I was given and how I was lifted up as the two spirit dryad yogi and celebrated as a playful monkey spirit. In all my complexities I was celebrated rather than judged or shunned. In that I was moved by the ForestDance community.
The next event I was blessed to attend was the Vegas Vortex FREE event, BoneDance. This time I knew two people as Hollis the rest wouldn’t remember me from Fires Rising. No wonder with all the transforming I had done, I had no expectation to be remembered. To be a trans person this is where I really understood what trans people talk about when they revisit communities after they transition. In this way there were a few people I recognized but mostly because I was staff at 4QF and had helped them get settled into their space. I actually didn’t want them to remember me because frankly I wasn’t me back then. When I explained to the organizer that I had been through a transformation and I didn’t want her to remember me from back then, but I did want her to know that I had been in several circles with her. She smiled and said, “Well then I know you as Hollis, pleased to meet you.” Since she was the organizer this sets a tone to the entire event for loving celebration of all we are today. I was grateful that I was honest about my past fire circles with her and relieved she was happy to understand my transformation. My gender bending became a celebration rather than something I was shamed about. My mediumship wasn’t creepy, instead it was a path of healing. Now I was even blessed with a few friends in a way that I hadn’t had in a long while. What I could now define as sincere friendships that I treasured and loved, something that was not easy to hold through my transformation. I know my gender bending brothers and sister understand this most. I was inspired to harvest friendships that offered healthy exchange. I had to heal some old wounds and Vegas did that for me. The community removed the band aid to look into my heart and celebrated me as a person, as the person I am today.
Then I was blessed to offer my chef services at San Diego’s Sacred Flame Fire Circle. The space was most inspirational with a view that could be compared to that of an eagle in its nest on top of a mountain. The community quickly got the idea that it was fun to be in the kitchen and I loved having everyone in there. We were blessed with sweet music and uplifted with positive spirits determined to celebrate life. I was provided space by a very special yogi, to offer chanunpa in a public gathering. It went extremely well offering gratitude and healing for those that needed it most. I witnessed people doing their personal work, even the hard stuff. I watched people forgive each other and settle their conflicts. I witnessed true intention towards peace. I was proud that a community of people with such diverse views, backgrounds and lifestyles could come together in a spiritual gathering. Together we created space that celebrated each one of our most authentic selves. I was inspired by the community members that arrived with authentic caring hearts and uplifting souls. Many of them had an authentic set of traits that served as medicine for me. I was offered touch healing while deep in the circle, which truly inspired and helped to increase the overall healing. The energetic and touch healing that we can receive along side a fire circle is truly a spiritual experience. I know from both giving and receiving that this healing is greatly amplified by the spiritual space of the Alchemical Model in a way that can only be experienced. I knew so deeply how it feels to be asked to help with healing. It is also a special feeling for healer to accept when your in need. I was in need after my service in the kitchen physically and an amazing healer was honored to offer her healing services at the fire side. With pure intentions in both our hearts we were both lifted up in special ways that felt good for both of us, a reminder of my first circles. We were grateful for the healing space provided for the community and how the community respected it as such. I was being inspired even more to stand up for myself in a way I had never done before, I asked for help and I got it. This event empowered me to know my worth and to celebrate my strengths.
As I prepare myself for the next Alchemical Fire, ForestDance Costa Rica, I am inspired to write this because I feel I want to call out to my fellow gender benders, my fellow positive uplifting souls, and those of us that feel like we can’t find spirituality in any other place. I call out to you my fellow free spirited souls, regardless of how you show up, I want you to hear me. There is no religion in this community. This community celebrates our most authentic love for ourselves which can inspire others to love us as well. This community can celebrate you as you are but be ready for some true transformation. Hold on tight because for sure the work you are faced with will certainly change your life. Each circle will transform you, celebrate you, and lift you up – with that comes change. So if your hoping for things to change and you need a spiritual community that loves and celebrates all souls, then this is the one. A spiritual experience that is life changing and transformative without feeling shamed and controlled. As a person that carries a lot of stigma as a result of who I am authentically, this community was able to welcome me with open arms. I hope I get to welcome the most authentic you someday soon.