Unfortunately, you cannot just light a fire in any dish, throw your offerings into a dish, and be done with it. There is, to put it simply, a lot more to it than that; safety, fuel, container material, and several other things are important factors to consider when deciding to burn your Offerings- or anything at all, really.
And so the research began… But I ran into one hell of a wall almost immediately.
Unfortunately, I discovered rather quickly that information concerning the ritual (and other) burning of offerings is hard to come by. Apparently no one has written about the subject… Or if they have then it is obviously not easily accessible. Instead, if it exists it has to be buried deep within the bowels of Google Search Results much further back than I care to go.
I spent hours on Google searching various search terms (over 100 in the first few hours alone), and the Pagan community- very surprisingly- had nothing. Of all the searches, only one gave me any useful results: A single video from a Hellenic Polytheist, Elani Temperance of Baring the Aegis. And while it is a great video showing the process of giving traditional Hellenic Offerings via fire… It was void of technical information and offered nothing in the way of information I was searching for.
To me, this lack of information was highly disappointing for a community who regularly suggests burning as a viable method of disposing of or giving offerings. It is also the sole driving force behind publishing the initial article detailing my preliminary burn test results, and later restructuring it into the multi-part series that you are now reading.
Alas, I did finally find the information I was searching for hours later, buried under obscure search terms in some incredibly odd corners of the internet.
Thanks mostly to Ellani’s video, I settled on Alcohol as a fuel- using this site to help me understand the basic differences between the various types of alcohols- and choose which I wanted to use. This is where (of all things) the Sailing Community came in: Through them I learned how to properly extinguish an Alcohol Fire, how to control one, the best ways to light one. MSDS sheets for Isopropyl Alcohol helped as well. The two combined gave me the following guidelines:
General Alcohol Fire Safety: Alcohol is highly flammable; poor your fuel into a container before lighting, and never add more fuel to burning flames once lit. Burning Alcohol creates Carbon fumes; use a well ventilated area and do not breath fumes if possible. High exposure may cause respiratory irritation, dizziness, vomiting, nausea, drowsiness, stumbling, headaches, and general Nervous System Depression. Spills or drips may create a fire hazard; clean up with a paper towel or rag, remove rag to safe place (preferably to another room), wash the spill area thoroughly with water and detergent to dilute, and allow to dry / evaporate. Store Alcohol in an air tight bottle in a well ventilated area- avoiding confined storage near heat or flames.
To Extinguish Isopropyl Alcohol Fires: Smother- especially with a material such as Sand; apply gentle and regular spray of water to dissipate Alcohol Vapors; heavily douse at a 4:1 Water to Alcohol ratio in order to dilute alcohol to non-flammable levels; or use Alcohol Resistant Foam.
I also learned that Alcohol actually burns fairly hot– and a hot burning fuel would meant that I needed a burn container that was relatively heat resistant.
Edit [5/18/2016]: My co-Author, Bree NicGarran, has since created an amazing video about general common sense fire safety that I think is a great addition to this topic while we’re on it.
From there I learned about various materials and how they responded to heat, and discovered a lot about something called Thermal Shock- a process wherein an item does not heat through equally and therefore expands to different levels at different points. Thermal Shock is pretty important because if the stress on the area exceeds the material’s strength, a crack will form or the container will shatter.
This can also occur when cool meets hot… And younger me had plenty of experience with that, funnily enough; I’ve cooked on Cast Iron my whole life, but at one point I thought dumping water on a skillet I caught on fire was a great idea. Unfortunately, it was so hot that doing so cracked the skillet in half. I did it again a few years later with a Coffee Pot when I pored cold water into a hot pot in order to rinse it and it shattered too. Both were the result of Thermal Shock, but until that point I hadn’t known about it.
What makes Thermal Shock dangerous when burning items, however, is that if you potentially need to use something like water in order to extinguish a fire that gets out of control… You can run the risk of shattering your container and creating a bigger blaze or spreading the fire. This is especially true when using a liquid fuel such as Alcohol, which requires heavy dilution to stop its flame; not using enough water, shattering your container, and spreading Alcohol everywhere could cause a major issue… So a resistance to not only heat, but Thermal Shock became important.
A metal container was the obvious choice. Even heat safe Glass and Clay doesn’t stand up to metal in several ways- and Borosilicate Glass (the type of glass lab equipment is made out of) wasn’t an option for me. But what type of metal was a good option?
The International Molybdenum Association’s publication of results concerning the Fire Resistance of various Metals helped determine that fairly easily once I stumbled across it. Through IMOA, I learned that industrial grade Stainless Steal has the highest heat resistance of most metals- up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit for up to three hours. Further research in other directions led me to information suggesting that it was also less susceptible to Thermal Shock and was therefore less prone to cracking. Impurities could make it possible, but it was still less likely than with other metals- including Cast Iron.
The best part was that it was also cheap and easy to obtain; Stainless Steal is used in most appliances now a days, as well as in kitchen utensils and serving and cookware. Finding an adequate container would be easy and inexpensive. As a bonus, it is easy to clean and maintain as well.So with that in mind, I set out to find the perfect dish.
Eventually I settled on a Vintage 1980’s Serving Bowl that included handles and a lid. It was decorated minimally with leaves, which also made it fitting concerning my path. The only thing left to do at the moment was sit and wait for it to arrive!
For a list of IriPol resources, including those I used to inform the opinions mentioned in this article, please view this page here.