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..:: Fire ::..


Alan Schneider


              Fire is the universal indicator of vitality and vital force in the perceptual world. Of the four elements identified by the ancients as the fundamental conditions composing reality, only fire is present as pure energy – radiation released by the chemical reaction of oxidation.  Fire must be initiated to occur, customarily by intention – and it is a fundamentally turbulent phenomenon, even when controlled by whatever means are employed to that end – always ready to overcome the restraints applied to it, and, if possible, consuming everything combustible in its path, leaving only ashes behind.  

            Very few things are as intimidating to human beings as fire out of control. Even the threat of predation, symbolized by the predator’s fangs, came to be supplanted in the Hebrew faith by fire, as the more powerful destroyer of the flesh. Ezra the Scribe made this perception official when he designed the modern Hebrew alphabet of Assyrian “square” script characters, replacing the original Phoenician characters. What had been “sheen”, or teeth (fangs), became “shin”, or fire – the serrated, saw-tooth pattern became three vertical tongues of flame in the new script that is used to this day to write Hebrew. One might well survive an attack by a hungry predator, but to be engulfed in flames is another matter entirely! The Assyrians themselves knew the fear-inspiring potential of fire, and were the first military in history to develop flammable liquid for use in combat. In their day, they were the most feared military organization in the known world. Ezra was known to have Assyrian affiliations in Babylon, and may have intentionally chosen their letter-structures out of secret admiration for their prowess in combat. In fact, the Hebrews and the Assyrians were distant relatives, having descended from the same ancestral stock in antiquity...  

            So let us begin our discussion of fire with the themes of the destruction and transmutation of form. Even in the case of the relatively slow progression of “fire” seen in the physical metabolic processes of digestion, absorption, excretion, and activity, the inevitable result of elevated temperature is present.  So heat is the essence of fire, more even than the light that it also produces. As this essence, we may say that heat is the Soul or Spirit of fire. While light is something that we see, heat is something that we feel, and feeling sensation is the most basic, and intimate, perception of which the senses are capable. The Soul of fire is uniquely suited to contact our Souls at this most basic perceptual level.  

            Norse mythology holds that Creation began when the active element of fire began to interact with the passive element of ice, producing the fluid medium of water, the original womb of all life. Without the implicit effect of heat, light alone, which is readily transmitted through ice, could not have accomplished the movement needed to achieve this effect. We may say that, for the purposes of this analogy, the Soul of fire is the Father of Creation and all life. As a spiritual analogy, this is not all that far off from the literal scientific understanding of the origin of the universe and life on this planet, although expressed in heavily symbolic terminology. Without the localized heat associated with stars, the universe would reside at absolute zero (approximately -500 degrees farenheight) – a completely inert condition, well beyond that of simple ice! And the nuclear reactions characteristic of stars, although literally high energy gas plasmas, still release heat in the form of radiation in essentially the same fashion as a simple campfire. Without the continuous emission of various high energy waves and particles associated with stellar radiation, nothing would exist, and the cosmos would remain in unmanifest or latent expression – only potentially manifest, and utterly indeterminate in form and activity. Even the very beginning of the universe – the “Big Bang” of science – is still conceived of by authorities as a massive release of all the material that became the universe of today from a micro-singularity, in the initial form of energy.  Although what the nature of this energy may have been is still subject to speculation, its residue at the edges of the universe is seen today as radio waves – still a form of energy.  

            Many primitive, archaic spiritual belief systems equate fire with what has become designated in modern times as the human Soul. These systems associate the heat and light released by combustion with the warmth of Inner Love and the Light of sentient awareness sensed as subtlety present in the Soul.  Fire is intuitively felt to be a reflection of the human condition to these traditions, and has been actively worshipped in more than a few cases on record. Many modern faiths have equivalent fire deities – a notable example being the Hindu deity Agni, the God of Fire and specifically the funeral prior, where the human Soul is released from the bondage of the body through cremation, thus freeing it to continue on its Cosmic Journey of Karmic expression. Yogis in India still build sacred fires to this day, covering themselves with the resultant ashes as a testimony to their condition of renunciation of life’s physical illusion, and affirmation of the Atman (Soul) and Brahman (God) as the spiritual Truth beyond that illusion. The spiritual energy within the human being is felt to be bound somehow to the literal energy of fire, and some traditions even maintain that by dying through immolation, all Karma is simultaneously released, immediately returning the Soul to its origin in God in the process, and negating the requirement for further incarnation on the Physical Plane. In the ancient days of India, this method of dying was actually the preferred one of Yogis, Fakirs, Pundits, and other advanced spiritual practitioners! To have voluntarily allowed oneself to be consumed by “the most powerful destroyer” must certainly have been an ultimate testimony of faith and spiritual power...  

            Beyond the subtle concept of heat as the Soul of fire lie even more esoteric concepts. Another more or less common feature of both modern and ancient faiths is the concept of holy fire. This is presumed to be issued from whatever God is held to be manifest in a given tradition, and has many reported spiritual effects, ranging from purification to outright destruction, both generally occurring on the Physical Plane. There are, however, wars among the Gods (and between Gods and Demons) that also are described in legend as being fought at least in part with both holy light and holy fire, nor are the Gods the only ones who attempt to use these tools – the Demons do so as well! Again in Hindu legend, Rama’s emissary to Sri Lanka, the island home of the demons and their chieftain, Ravenna, was impressed by the elaborate nature of the Pujas ( Hindu religious rituals) conducted by the demons, who paid scrupulous attention to every detail in order to obtain a successful outcome.  This extended to fire pujas as well, including Agni’s fire rites. It is primarily in Judaism and Christianity that the Devil has fallen so far away from God that he despises all of God’s practices. Perhaps it was God’s use of the Angel guarding the Gate of Eden with a sword of holy fire that put him off! Presumably the much discussed Fires of Hell are not holy, although comparably spiritual in character and at least as omnipresent in that realm, and in the minds of corporeal believers here on Earth. The effect of Hellfire as a punitive agent of the sinful still ties it too the process of Divine retribution, however, suggesting that even this fire manifestation may also be holy in its overall spiritual effect, and implicitly placing the Devil in defacto partnership with God as the “Angel” in charge of Hell! 

            Heat and fire as elements of spiritual purification are used on the Physical Plane by mortal human beings as well. The practice of walking across beds of hot coals is so well known (and documented) that it is almost mundane (almost!) in the annals of spirituality and psychology, both in the East and the West. The practice of swallowing fire brands, once a strictly spiritual practice, has deteriorated to the level of resort entertainment in many quarters – although still spiritually practiced by some. The practice of sitting in sweat lodges as spiritual and physical purification by Native Americans is another common practice (and even of Anglo-Saxons), but one that the Natives are understandably secretive about. It is held that a particularly effective lodge session will result in the experience of spirit visions by some or all of the participants. Furthermore, the practice of building and performing rites around a fire is a frequent feature of Pagan practice around the world, one that implicitly acknowledges the spiritual significance of both the heat and light generated by the flames.mes.

            Perhaps the deepest essence of the symbolic meaning of fire is hinted at in the popular Western image of the Phoenix, a mythological bird composed of fire, rising from the ashes of Death. Here, the Soul of the fire and the Soul of the deceased unite into one expression of immortality. This beautiful and exotic image expresses well the spiritual bond with physical fire that is felt by the human Soul and consciousness in the most esoteric regions of the Psyche. Under circumstances where they are handled safely and kept under reasonable control, we are all one in spirit with the flames as they dance about in an ever-changing, and still changeless, display of warmth and radiance. Perhaps in some as yet uncharted vista of the mind, this is what the human Soul is most like at the level of brain chemistry, neurology, and electro-physiology – always in transition and change, as the neural electrical fields ripple through the brain, yet the consistent entity that is linked with the Higher Planes of experience, and continues to evolve toward them, in and beyond life on the Physical Plane.       


                                                                                - With Love, Alan -

                                                                        (CR2007, Alan Schneider)


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