Monday, April 23, 2012

About Fire — the Sun, the Hearth, the Goddess, and Life; Part One

 The Importance of Fire

The first fire is that of the Sun. The Sun shines down on us, providing warmth, light, sustaining life. Our Sun is the Center of our Solar system around which all else revolves. Some Native American traditions say that there's a piece of Grandfather Sun's fire inside Mother Earth in the form of Earth's molten, hot core.

Fire is central to our lives - even in this modern era. Fire provides light and heat. Thanks to modern invention most of us no longer huddle by our central hearthplaces or campfires for warmth in winter's chill as did our ancestors; still, fire is central to our lives. We have woodstoves & forced air heating, but the elemental power of fire is still there—behind the warmth provided. We have replaced torches and candles with electric lighting; still the power of fire is behind the light provided. And the power of fire operates within our bodies. We all know that our body temperature must stay within a narrow range of degrees for health to be maintained: too high or low indicates a problem of some sort. We use the power of fire to cook our food, and it is the power of fire that enables us to digest our food and thus maintain life. Fire brings illumination to our lives, keeps us warm, enables nourishment and thus life.

"Domesticated" Fire lives in the hearth; that is it's natural home. A hearth is a place that not only generates heat and light, but also is a place where we receive nourishment for body & soul. Indeed, ideas of nourishment, warmth, love and comfort are inextricably wound together around the symbol of the hearth. In the small homes of our ancestors, families gathered around the hearth for light, warmth and companionship. It is a natural and pleasant thing to gather around the source of warmth and nourishment—comfort. My family still does it, especially on winter nights.

This is all quite obvious, I realize, and not only that, but also basic—as in the sense of “basis of,” and "foundational." It has always been so. So basic in fact that we should not be surprised to find that throughout history our ancestors have honored the Goddess in the form of the Hearthfire Goddess. In Ireland it was Brigid, whose flame was kept by her priestesses in Kildare for unknown centuries. Hestia was the central flame and hearth of the ancient Greeks; Hestia’s Roman counterpart was Vesta, in whose temple young virgins served for 30 years, tending her flame, which was the Hearth of the Nation. In the Teutonic areas it was Mother Holle, the underworld  goddess whose oven baked loaves of life-sustaining bread and who shook her featherbed to make the snow fly upon the earth. In Russia it was the fierce wildwoman Baba Yaga, whose whirling house contained her very important pech, or oven, in (or on) which she slept.

(c) Margie McArthur, 1995

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