The mystical, magical fire element can be associated with so many terms: purification, renewal, destruction, energy, change, enlightenment, illumination, spirituality, damnation, etc. Although this powerful element can terrorize the land and destroy possessions and people that are precious to us, it also enables life to generate, especially in the case of plants and trees in the western and southwestern parts of the U.S. So where did this Jack-of-all-trades get its start?
The history of fire starts long ago. If we turn back the hands of time to at least one million years ago, this is where fire started—in the hands of Homo erectus and Australopithecus robustus. These ancestors of modern man were found with hearths, and evidence shows they used fire for simple purposes such as cooking, light, protection and warmth. In addition, fire brought them together for socialization and eventually became a symbol of religion, ritual and myth. This is when the element began its long road to transformation.
The Mysticism of Fire
Of course, we now know that fire requires oxygen, fuel, heat and a chain reaction to take place in order for combustion to occur and be sustained. However, inferior prototypes of man believed that fire had divine origin. Since then, fire has had a role in various cultures and religions.
Fire along with the sun was noted as a divine entity in the Papyrus of Ani, and Egyptians considered the element to be sacred. Even Caesar promoted this powerful, unearthly image by carrying it in his presence.
For Native Americans, fire had several functions. In addition to crop and range management, fire became important in their mythology, hunting techniques, signaling and warfare. Fire was a magical and powerful force, which united them during fire dance rituals too.
During this time, witchcraft was feared and misunderstood. To ensure that this ritualistic practice wouldn’t continue, people who were perceived to be witches were burned at the stake.
In the Bible, fire represents both good and evil. Along with the dark and frightening view of hell, flames from the burning bush symbolize God’s presence. Also, the flaming swords at the Garden of Eden are another example of how fire has served as protection.
In India, Agni embodies the god of fire. This god originated in the Sami tree, which is strictly for sacrificial fires. In addition to singing praise to the fire god, Hindus also practice cremation so they can be taken to Paradise. Even in Japanese fire symbolism, fire is a significant element along with earth, air, water and void, and a varied combination of these elements resurfaces in Buddhism.
From indigenous cultures and religions to modern ones, fire has become a significant part of these stories, and the inclusion of fire in our world as we know it today has only evolved into greater things.
Modern Uses of Fire
Fire can be a wild, uncontrollable beast, but although it can sometime seem like a force larger than life, especially during wildfires, man has continued to rein it in. From roasting food on the grill to baking goodies in the oven, fire has now made a transition indoors into our homes.
Along with kitchen uses, fire is now a part of many activities and processes including extracting agave fibers, cauterizing wounds, smoking tobacco, modern warfare, coal-fired power stations, incinerators, etc. However, even though fire has transformed and developed into all of these different uses, the simple act of feeling its warmth and roasting food over it will always be at the core of humanity.
The uses of fire are endless as well as its symbolism, but humanity’s roots lie in its most basic form. So every time you cook or enjoy a campfire with friends and family, you can appreciate the history of fire and its incredible journey that will only continue.