“Let us pray with a Good Fire” – From the Rig Veda
The final element in the classical four-element schema is fire. Unlike earth, water and air, fire is of a different kind; it is a reaction, a creation from a source of fuel, a source of ignition, and a source of oxygen. Thus, unlike the others, you can create it at will.
Fire has always been part of many world religions, and the concept of lighting a candle as a prayer is seen across Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, various forms of Paganism and beyond. Perhaps this is because fire is a natural symbol for the “spiritual”, that which is beyond our grasp, ever changing and fleeting.
“She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes” – Pagan chant
It seems likely that fire was first discovered by early hominids in nature, as the result of a lightning strike or forest fire, but once humans learned how to make fire, to tame it and use it for cooking and heating, it was a great leap forward for civilisation and may even, as primatologist Richard Wrangham suggests in his book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human, have led to the evolution of our large brains.
Certainly fire was seen as sacred by early Pagans, who had gods and goddesses of the hearth, the flame, the forge and the fire of the sun. Its ability to change and transform, to cook food, to burn wood, to melt metal to forge into new forms, was no doubt seen as a magical, even divine, gift (as in the story of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods to give to humans).
Even today in secular society, we see elements of fire-worship remaining in traditions such as lighting candles on a birthday cake (to be blown out with a wish), putting lights (originally candles) on Christmas trees and, in the UK, lighting huge bonfires on 5 November.Wherever people gather, we tend to do so around fire, whether it’s a romantic candle lit dinner, a comforting hearth in a country pub, or toasting marshmallows around a campfire.
In ADF Druidry, a tradition I have worked with, fire is seen as really the one key essential for a Druid rite, and forms part of the “Triple Hallows” of fire, well and tree. Michael J. Dangler, an ADF priest, has an ongoing project called “The Flame of Hope”, where he and other ADF members are lighting one candle a day every day for the next four years, to shine a light of hope throughout the turmoil of the world. You can follow along on Facebook at Tending the Flame of Hope.
The Celtic triple element system does not include fire, focusing instead on land, sea and sky, but, as Graeme Talboys writes in The Druid Way Made Easy, “Fire is also present, but not regarded as separate. Rather, it is the spirit that inspires the rest of the world”.
May the flame of hope illumine our hearts in the darkest times.