Canadian fire spares polytheist’s altar and shrine

Cara Schulz —  May 17, 2016 — 5 Comments

SAINT ALBERT, Alberta – When a fire nearly engulfed a Canadian polytheist’s cabin, not only was the structure spared, but so was an altar and shrine to his ancestors and Brighid, both of which were, and still are, tucked in the woods.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]


Mhaoillain and his wife were enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon on the deck of their cabin, located in the woods near Saint Albert when they heard a voice call out for help with a fire.

“At first, I thought it was some stupid joke, as the whole of Alberta has been under a strict fire ban for weeks, and considering the recent devastation in Fort MacMurray, in northern Alberta, why would anyone purposefully start a fire?” said Mhaoillain in an interview with The Wild Hunt.

Then he heard the voice call out again saying that there was a fire. Mhaoillain said that he ran through the wooded area to the end of his property and was met with a growing brush fire. It was quickly spreading onto his property and up his very dry trees.

Mhaoillain said his first reaction was to attempt to stamp the fire out, “Here I was, alone in the trees, doing a little dance as the flames grew and began to move past me.”

When he realized the fire was too large and serious to be put out this way, Mhaoillain went back to the cabin. His wife was holding a garden hose. He explained, “She had seen the flames, and was obviously thinking much clearer than I was. I began spraying at the approaching flames, trying to chase the circumference with my pathetic garden hose, when I heard more and more voices all around me.”

The voices belonged to neighbors who were carrying shovels, hoes, and buckets of water. The neighbors helped him battle the blaze for almost an hour, until the Barrhead County Fire Department arrived and took over.
[Courtesy Photo][Courtesy Photo]
When the fire department had finally put out the blaze and was satisfied the danger was over, one fireman approached Mhaoillain and asked ‘Is that your set-up out there, with the candles and such?’ He was referring to an altar, which Mhaoillain had created in a secluded area tucked back in the trees.

“I replied ‘Yes sir,’ expecting him to begin accusing me of starting the fire,” Mhaoillain recalled. ‘[The fireman] said ‘Come with me,’ and so I followed him through the blackened trees. He stopped just before my altar, and motioned with his hand, ‘It didn’t burn. I thought you should see that,’ he said, then turned and walked off.”

To Mhaoillain’s surprise, while the fire had burned the area around the altar on three sides, the altar, the two upright tamarack poles holding deer antlers, as well as all the items on the altar were untouched by the fire.

“I stood there alone, just looking at it all. I didn’t know what to think at all.” said Mhaoillain.

Mhaoillain said that the cabin is a creative oasis for him and his wife to write and paint. He added that he may do a ritual of thanksgiving at the altar, “…but I haven’t thought about it enough to come up with something appropriate.  Maybe something with water!”

Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.