What to do when your world is on fire

photo by Diana Rajchel
this was taken at roughly 4 pm, the sun sets at 7 in October in the Bay Area.

It’s apocalyptic here in the San Francisco Bay area. This is the second night where the haze from the fires from Sonoma County and Napa Valley has so obscured the sun in San Francisco that it is nothing but a red disk glowering at the streets below. People routinely wear breathing masks in San Francisco – air quality here has historic issues, likely worse in Los Angeles. Now even those who never wear them have them. When I woke up this morning, I saw clouds rolling along the ground from my bedroom window. Gods I hope that’s Karl*. 

I went outside to move my car for a guest that spent the night and as soon as I inhaled, I smelled the smoke, felt the acrid burn against my tonsils. That’s not Karl.

We tried a ritual to call the rain – this time the thunder wheel was sluggish until moisture arrived at the last moment. I am carrying more than last year, fighting more from a psychic attack from an unknown, persistent, pathological party. Someone has been using djinn, and daemons, and abusing their ancestors for this. Someone doesn’t want me doing anything – not writing, not exercising, not making love, not watching television, not sleeping – not doing anything that allows me self care in any way. The effect is close to if I’d moved closer to my family after college. My abuse used to be invisible; now it’s my abuser – but the abuse is the same old shit, and I find ways if not to ignore than to go and do and be and live anyway because the option whoever this is wants just sucks, and whatever the reason is, the reason is bullshit and about them and not me. I don’t pause to blame myself or anyone. There is no one to blame, and at the last minute a member of my group arrives with blessed water that I add to the wheel and at last I feel it move. I am less effective than I might be, but that’s still pretty damned effective, and I am pausing for self care as I can. My self care is part of my responsibility to others. The trauma is still real, and still continues, even as I do work for others. This is one beast of many in my line of work

A woman stopped to talk to me immediately after our ritual. She was a refugee-  her assisted living home in Santa Rosa had  been evacuated. She talked about her fear, about starting over, about who had helped her and what resources she had. Later that day two women in Ross who hadn’t bought jeans in ten years were puzzled  by stretch jeans, so I explained about Lycra and Spandex with denim. They told me they were running from their homes being burned down, and wanted some things to wear comfortably in the next shelter they needed to be in. They needed to know where else in San Francisco to get plus size, comfortable clothing. They weren’t sure where they would be sleeping over the course of the week.

The world is on fire. People are losing their homes. They are dying. Hundreds are missing. They are watching every piece of history they’ve accumulated, a building has accumulated, every footprint, memory and wandering spirit …burn.

This happens somewhere in the world, every day. The world is on fire every day. It is bucolic somewhere else every day. Some patches of earth have been downright tranquil for fifty years – just the human dramas raising dust, not weather or winds or a piece of broken beer bottle getting too hot under the sun and lighting a vine aflame. Burning, loss, hurricanes, disasters – they’re an abstraction until the atmosphere itself gives you a concrete experience with it. Even then, you can only give from your excess. Despite my own continuing condition, I have something to give, but I monitor myself closely because I am too tired these days of dark smoke.

This is not the time for “spiritual babble.” Burning allows for new growth, everything happens for a reason, oh there there it’ll all be alright, this was God’s will. NO. These are horrible things to say, a way of saying something without having to stop and feel this profound discomfort of grief and total loss. Don’t do this.

The world is on fire. Stop, listen to the stories from the people living it much more than from the newcasters and bloggers, and pay attention to the emergency resources made available even if you yourself don’t need them. Information is power, and this kind of power is meant to be shared. Everyone is in trauma – the people running from the fires, the people dodging from the ash, the people walking and working with all these people in pain. If you have medicines extra, offer them, but some will not want them. If you have masks, wear them. If you need sleep, take it.

There will be small practical things to do, but people can only partake of them if they want them. I made a tea to offset the smoke inhalation. I have given away ounce bags for free, also offering it for sale so I can repurchase the main ingredient, ashwagandha, in bulk. I am watching our Spare the Air forecast. I will perform the Thunder Wheel rain ritual in a different part of the Bay this weekend, with different people and one of my lovers at my side. The energy will be different. I am putting out bowls of water each night, seeding the air with any moisture I can.

If you can, set out a bowl of water at night. If you are in the affected areas and want to try calling the rains too, here is my rain blowing powder recipe. Do thos only from your excess energy:

  • 1 c. sugar, colored with blue food coloring
  • 1 chip camphor
  • 1 eucalyptus leaf (I get mine from the floor of Golden Gate Park)
  • Petals from 1 white rose
  • 10 drops jasmine oil, diluted

Grind together in a food processor. Bake the sugar on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet at 350F for 7 minutes. Allow to cool. Store in a jar, and use when calling for moisture.

The parameters are set on the weather – perhaps I can talk through how all this works someday.

We must tend to ourselves before we can fight the effects of this fire, and the grief ahead will be long and dark. Prepare for the trauma, for the PTSD. Prepare to be kind and to strive to be your best self with those you love. Soon will be days of washing away ash and looking to the wounds revealed.






*Karl is the nickname Gen X and younger San Franciscans call the fog.

About the Author

Diana Rajchel lives at the western edge of San Francisco, where sea creatures and hippies meet, breed, and glower at gentrification. From this liminal place she runs the Emperor Norton Pagan Social, writes about magic, herbs, and human quirks, and looks to both sidewalk and sky for wisdom. She is the author of Divorcing a Real Witch, the Mabon and Samhain installments of the Llewellyn Sabbat essentials series, and a title on Urban Magic to be released by Llewellyn in 2018.

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