Feed me I will survive give me drink and I shall die
Fire, the most elemental of elements. It is the living element, requiring air (oxygen) and earth (fuel) to live and fearing water the most. When man domesticated fire it was a turning point in our development as a civilisation. We tamed a destructive force and were able to turn it into a tool for our own development.
That doesn’t mean that we have grown complacent. Fire can bite the hand that feeds it if it isn’t tended to correctly. Things can quickly go awry although it is not necessarily a bad thing. Both in nature and under the guiding hand of man Fire clears away the dead vegetation, renewing the soil and making space for new plants and animals to live. The process appears to all intents and purposes a destructive one, and in some cases (by human standards) it is, but life responds in any number of ways to the destructive nature of fire and will often find it a way through even the bleakest of times.
But how do I view and honour fire as a Pagan?
Each time I light a candle or use a flame I honour fire. I create a spark to give it life, I must tend it to ensure that it remains alight and within my control, when it is time to bring the living flame to an end it is my breath or action that ends it. It symbolises creative forces, from the fire comes tempered metal, as well as passion and destruction. It is an element that can bring great comfort, but also instils in us the greatest respect and even fear.
Magically Fire is a cleansing force, as well as an energising one. Just as the forest fire clears the unnecessary dead wood it reinvigorates the soil and makes way for new life. Medically, the beneficial qualities of fire have been long recognised in the cauterisation of wounds and sterilizing of equipment and this medicinal use has its place in magical practice. As an element Fire can symbolically burn that which does not benefit us from our lives as well as healing spiritual and emotional wounds left behind.
Fire gazing as a method of scrying is a powerful medium. The image of a child staring into the fire as they are told a story is an evocative one. Many a time I have found myself staring into the depths of a fire, seeking wisdom in the flames and allowing visions to come to me as they will.
As a Heketean Fire itself is central to my practice. Hekate is a Goddess of all the elements but the one I most easily associate with her is Fire. Her flames represent many things, with the obvious associations are of her being a bringer of knowledge and wisdom. Her torches are the lights of Truth and Gnosis. They are a guiding light as well as a banishing one, bringing light and understanding to even the darkest of ignorance both within and without. Her flames are transformative, just as her knife cuts from our lives all that it unnecessary so Her Fires bring a cleansing burn. They bring light to the dark elements of ourselves that serve no one and not only shows them for what they are but also removes them from our life to allow something better to take its palce.
Often we say Hekate lights our way, just as she lights the way of Persephone, but there is another side to Hekate’s torches. We are more familiar with Hekate walking with her torches before her as in this image of Hekate leading Persephone from the Underworld however there are two depictions of Hekate using her torches in battle. Both vases from the Classical period depict the War of the Giants and Hekate’s confrontation with the Giant Klytios. In this first image Hekate, dressed in Thracian garb with the accoutrements of a huntress, sets fire to the hair of Klytios.
In this second image Hekate is wearing more traditional Greek garb and sets alight the Giant’s body and clothing with her crossed torches
It is generally accepted that Hekate killed Klytios, with the words “Hekate got Klytios with fire-brands;” being pretty explicit. He is consumed by her flames and thus conquered along with the other Giants. Here Her torches have become a weapon not only of knowledge and wisdom but of aggressive attack, a reminder that we can all be burned and consumed by Her Fire if we are not careful.
I wanted to close on a cautionary note that particularly resonates with the Pagan community.
It only takes a moment for the destructive nature of Fire to assert itself and the tragic and untimely death of Heather Carr on the 31st April serves as a stark reminder. Although as a UK pagan Heather Carr did not loom large in my awareness the nature of her death reaches out to me and reminds me to neither be complacent when dealing with Fire or when practicing rituals alone. It is still not clear how the flames from her ritual candle got out of control or how Heather Carr became trapped. Friends, such as Sable Aradia, makes some suggestions but until there is a full report into the accident we can only speculate.
What I take away from this tragedy is that fire can never be truly domesticated. We can lose control of it at a moment’s notice and it is more likely to happen if we do not take adequate precautions. From ensuring that candles are lit away from hanging fabrics and on stable surfaces to ensuring fires are built in safe locations with adequate firefighting aids to hand, we need to respect the awesome power that is Fire at all times.