"They walked up the slope to enter a clearing, like one long line of ants. Meanwhile in the small temple, monks offered fresh water to the gods and lamps flickered in the evening light. Something passed through the air, expectation and fear all in one, guests gathered for the all important fire blessing." 

Tingling in anticipation, we joined the retreat guests in the courtyard for the welcome gin cocktail. There was much chanting and praying, and incense smoke rising through the air, until suddenly orange robed-monks appeared.
We had hardly noticed the piled timber waiting in the nearby clearing. They stood just feet away and as more blessings rose under a dark sky, an eerie silence fell upon the guests..

All was set for the fire blessing, a purification rite and highlight of the retreat. Watched by ancestors eyes, an official ignited the fire and the flames shot up, burning smoke and ash filling the air as in one massive surge, each guest moved forward, offering flowers to the fire to cleanse their soul and ensure good luck for the coming year. Overcome by the heat, I moved further back, stunned, entranced.