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FIRE: Fascinating, Friendly and Fearsome

by Marion Eaton(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 252 - February 2019

I have written about the elements of Earth and Water in previous articles. Now I turn to the element of Fire.

Depending on circumstances, the word fire can bring a feeling of warm comfort or send shivers of fear down the spine. This year in particular, the thought of fire probably causes more fear than delight, because the extra-hot temperatures have caused wild fires to break out all over the globe, many of them catastrophic. However, while we must respect this element, we must not allow the devastation caused by those wildfires to outweigh the comforts that fire brings to our everyday lives.

After all, we depend on a great ball of fire, the sun, for life itself. Without fire, and its companion light, life on this planet might exist, but it would be in a very different form.

Loy Kratong Festival Buddhist Monk Fire Candles

Loy Kratong Festival, Buddhist monk fire candles to the Buddha and floating lamp on in
Phan Tao Temple, Chiangmai, Thailand.
ID 99201359 © Aliaksandr  Mazurkevich Dreamstime.com

 

Sacred Fire

When you consider all that the sun provides - fire, heat and light - no wonder our ancestors paid homage to it, and that fire is considered sacred in many traditions to this day. Many cultures and religions use fire for prayer, the smoke, rising towards heaven, takes prayer with it. In Europe and elsewhere smoldering coals in a censor are used to spread incense smoke, while from the Far East comes the use of joss sticks and from the Americas the use of smudging. In each case, the smoke is considered holy and purifying.

Candles and lanterns are used in ceremonies across the globe to bring darkness into light and warmth into coldness. Remember the Yule log? And the lights of Diwali? And how often do we light a candle in remembrance of a loved one, or to give thanks to the Devine? Bonfires are used for celebrations and beacons for warning. Burnt offerings were the highest form of sacrifice in ancient Israel.[1]

In the Christian tradition Jesus is known as the Light of the World. When a child is Christened his/her godparent is given a lighted candle, to indicate the rejection of darkness. In fact, there are several references to fire in the Bible including the description of the descent of the Holy Spirit on Christ’s disciples in Acts 2:2: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place … They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. 

The Roman goddess Vesta was a fire goddess. You may be familiar with the legend of the Vestal Virgins who tended the fire in the temple in the midst of Rome. (If so, you will remember the legend that Rome would fall if the temple fire ever went out.) But you might not know that each Roman home also possessed an altar to Vesta.

For millennia, Fire rituals have been practised by ancient cultures all over the globe. They turn their reverence for fire into ceremonies that benefit and empower individuals and communities:

  • A contest between two Brahmin priests to see who could walk the further over burning coals, was recorded in India over 4000 years ago.
  • Thousands of years ago our ancestors built temples that honoured the sun, including  Stonehenge in England, built more than 2000 years BC, exactly orientated towards the midsummer solstice sunrise. Romans who demonstrated their ability to walk on fire without burning were exempted from certain taxes.
  • Kung Bushmen in Africa used fire dance as a powerful healing ritual the ceremony including rolling on the fire as well as walking on it.
  • The coming-of-age ritual for seven year old girls in Bali includes fire dancing.
  • In Hawaii, the Kahunas walk on molten lava, hardened just sufficiently to hold their weight.
  • According to legend, in Greece, Anastenarides honoured Saints Constantine and Helen by dancing on hot coals for hours.[2]

 

Pixabay.com molten-metal

© Pixabay.com molten-metal-571823_640.jpg

 

Alchemical/Purifying Fire

Fire is energy. Fire transforms. Fire transmutes. Fire transfigures.

From the Bible’s burning bush, to the transforming fire of the medieval mystical alchemists and from there to the magic of the forge and factory, fire is a symbol, as well as the means, of transformation. Our ancestors learned to use fire to smelt metal and thus to change the very nature of a substance from one thing into another. Iron ore into steel, sand into glass. In each case the original substance is transformed by the application of fire and heat.

Seeing these results, fire soon became known as the transfiguring, transforming agent. For this reason it was used to purify on many levels, from the burning of heretics and witches, to the fumigating of homes. Even now we cremate our dead, we sterilize surgical instruments, we ‘burn’ essential oils.

Fire is used often as metaphor for transmuting one thing into something greater, evidenced by alchemists’ search for a way to make gold from base metals, because to the alchemist, gold represented the perfection of all matter on any level, especially of the mind, spirit and soul. And the only way that base metals might be magically transmuted to gold was by the application of fire. The symbol for gold also represented the sun in astrology, thus gold and fire are forever linked together as something infinitely valuable.

One of the most famous story of purifying fire is that of the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel in the Bible, where the souls of those who were tested with fire were so pure that they were seen to move about in it, unharmed.

 

Kobby Dagan

ID 100818252 © Kobby Dagan | Dreamstime.com

 

Holy Fire

In the Orthodox Christian tradition, Holy Fire is a miracle that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Holy Saturday, the day preceding Orthodox Easter. A blue light emanates within the tomb of Jesus Christ within the Holy Sepulchre. The light forms a column from which candles are lighted, and passed amongst the those in attendance. It is also said that other candles are spontaneously lighted around the church.

So What Is Fire?

Fire is a chemical reaction. Fire is energy.

Fire needs three things to start: oxygen, fuel and heat - the fire triangle. Yes, you need heat to start a fire!  This could come from friction (e.g. striking a match), or a chemical reaction, or electrical spark. For fire to grow it needs one more thing: rapid oxidation. This is the interaction between oxygen molecules and fuel to produce heat and light. The reason some things catch fire and others don’t is because the combustion (oxidation) has to be rapid. For instance, in a camp fire, the wood gives off a gas that can often be heard as a hiss - it’s the gas that catches fire and makes the flame. 

Once the fire starts it produces heat that ensures it keeps burning for as long as it can find sufficient fuel - an explanation for the unstoppable nature of wild fires. Flames, being hot, are less dense than the air around them, so they will naturally have more energy and move up and then cold air comes in below to provide more fuel. Wild fires move upwards and spread sideways by heating up things around them.

To put a fire out, all you have to do is to cool it (with water) remove its fuel (by cutting firebreaks) or by taking away its oxygen (as with a candle-snuffer) or break down its chemical reaction with a fire extinguisher.

Fire makes heat: heat makes fire.

 

Pixabay.com hearth fire

© Pixabay.com hearth fire-1650781_640.jpg

 

When did we First Harness Fire?

No one agrees exactly when humans first started making fire but, from ash found in a cave in South Africa, it seems to have been about a million years ago. However, the first evidence we have of human-controlled fire is in Israel in about 790,000 years ago. We know it was controlled because it was contained in a hearth and the ash was in layers, showing the fire had been restarted and used for cooking. Other evidence of hearth fires has been found in England 400,000 years ago, 300,000 years ago in a cave in Israel, and 228,000 in Spain.

Another scientific theory is that fire actually allowed us to grow into rational human beings by hastening our development. Evidence shows that eight of our ancestors first found how to harness fire, and that the families of these individuals eventually evolved into the first humans, Homo Erectus. Their use of fire meant they had light so were not so dependent on the sun, could warm themselves, could come down from trees and could cook. Cooking is important because it breaks down protein molecules in food, almost pre-digesting it, so, unlike most apes who are always chewing and consequently have huge jaws, humans did not have to waste time and energy on mastication. This saving of energy allowed humans to grow bigger brains, and thus to thrive.[3]

If eating cooked food made us evolve, then how did we make fire in the first place?  Even using dry tinder it is very difficult to start a fire using just sticks. Focus, communication, and the sharing of information are required. One theory is that those first eight humans lived close to a volcano, because even now people live close to volcanoes, both dormant and active. The land around is extra fertile, minerals are found in water and the warmth assists with cultivation and pleasure.  Perhaps they lived near the immense lava flows in Africa’s great rift valley when, about 2 million years ago, our brains doubled in size, because evidence shows that the ancestors of almost all humans alive today came from that area, Kenya and Tanzania.[4]

Camp / Hearth Fire

The hearth fire is probably the one place where we still gather together, although it is now usually indoors. But we also have barbecues. There is something exciting and natural about clustering round a fire in the open air, especially when sausages are cooking! But fires provide so much more than cooked food.

  • Protection: camp fires provide protection from the cold and also from wild animals;
  • Meditation: Watching the flames can have a mesmerizing, meditative, calming affect, and many are the pictures that people have seen in them;
  • Signaling: Smoke and fire have been used in several cultures to send messages across distances;
  • Home: The hearth and oven are still the centre of the home, providing warmth and sustenance, and in many cultures, even today, it was and is a woman’s duty to tend the hearth fire so that it never dies;
  • Indigenous Uses: The First People of Australia who have lived on the continent ‘forever’ used  managed fire to hunt small animals, to clear small parts of the bush to help prevent wild-fires, and to make the land more fertile for the plants they cultivated.

Inner (Digestive) Fire

Often we speak of a person ‘being on fire’ or being ‘fired up’, metaphors for being full of life and energy. We recognize that having ‘fire in the belly’ gives us strength and determination on our way through life.

To practitioners of Ayurvedic herbalism, which originates from India and is the oldest form of herbal shamanic medicine, this is directly concerned with the digestive system. Ayurvedic philosophy speaks of Agni, the fire of digestion, viewing the body as the functioning of a biological, fire-governing metabolism.[5]

Metaphorically Agni means the fire in a wood-burning stove, but Agni, if not carefully nurtured, can build up Ama, the black creosol build-up in pipes and chimneys. The more efficiently the wood burns in the stove, the more heat (energy) is produced and the less creosol (toxins) are created.

Thus, if the digestion (Agni) is functioning effectively, the whole body will be nourished, full of life and vibrancy, but its impairment (Ama), it is the one main cause of all diseases.

 

camp fire

© Pixabay.com campfire-984020_640.jpg

 

And We Still Gather Round a Fire …

Everywhere in pre-history and since, the hearth and its fire has been at the centre of human civilization and the very heart of the home. Even today we love to gather round a fire, either for celebrations and excitement, or just for its comforting warmth.

Unsurprisingly, wood-burning stoves are once again making a comeback. There is something different about the warmth we receive from a ‘real fire’ rather than the warmth from radiators. Part of this is hard-wired into our DNA.

We are salamanders, creatures of fire!

References

1.         http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3847-burnt-offering   

2.         http://www.firewalking.com/research/history/

3.         https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/oct/17/catching-fire-richard-wrangham-review

4.         https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qv6kcj6Uv2Y

5          https://www.thelivingcentre.com/ayurvedic-living-nutrition-articles/rekindling-your-digestive-fire640.jpg

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About Marion Eaton

Marion Eaton LL.B, Dip Aroma, Dip RM, Reiki Master qualified as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court in the 1970s. The legal firm which she started soon afterwards is now incorporated into one of the largest solicitors' practices in England. In 1994 she became a professional aromatherapist and Reiki Master/Teacher. With her husband, Richard Eaton, a barrister (now retired) and a long-term supporter of Complementary and Integrated Medicine, Marion opened and ran a Complementary Health Centre  alongside her legal work. At the same time she studied many other forms of holistic medicine – including energy techniques from Polarity Therapy, Buqi and Zero Balancing; dowsing; geo-biology and space clearing; and Reiki from the Schools of Usui, Tibetan and Karuna®.

Retired from legal practice, and fascinated by the sea of energy in which we live and the many ways that we are affected by Nature and our environment, she teaches all levels of Reiki as well as workshops in other forms of energy healing. She has written two books about subtle energy: Refreshing Reiki – Usui Reiki 1: the light within - Available from Amazon Kindle and Lulu and Spinning into Form which includes meditations that are also available on CD and as mp3 downloads, Marion believes that we each have a unique path to wholeness, balance and harmony, but that ultimately our own healing is interlinked with that of our planet. Her websites are  www.marioneaton.co.uk     www.marioneaton.com

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