The origin and nature of fire has been the subject of theory, speculation and investigation from remotest antiquity. When the primitive savage saw in the farthest East the returning orb of day, that circle apparently traversing the heavens, was to him the embodiment of a fiery, mysterious power. So, when the sun-god in unappeased anger flared onward above the torrid earth, this savage often saw his favorite hunting-ground and even his rude dwelling the prey of the insatiable monster of fire, whose hunger was increased rather than diminished by what it devoured. Anon he cowered amidst the dreadful din of tropical thunders and the incessant, blinding flames that leaped from the clouds, or he fled in terror from the eruptive mountain that belched destruction on miles of surrounding territory. No wonder the childish imagination of aboriginal man formed fanciful notions concerning the origin and nature of fire. Even now, after milleniums of progress, the modern with all his acumen, cannot read the riddle, cannot comprehend the essential nature of this all-pervading element.
To what general conclusions has scientific investigation led in its efforts to solve the problem? According to the nebulous hypothesis of Laplace, heat is a primal force which caused all matter to first exist in a gaseous condition. Sir Humphrey Davy says that heat is a vibration of the corpuscles of bodies tending to separate them. Again, "The immediate cause of the phenomenon of heat is motion, and the laws of its communication are the same as the laws of the communication of motion."
The most recent science reiterates the statement that heat is a mode of motion. At once the query confronts us, What is motion? Alas! all our painstaking scientific research cannot help us an iota toward a satisfactory answer. As well may we ask of science, What is life? What is Deity? What are abstract time and space? Having appealed to "fair Science" and confidently clasped her guiding hand, we have been led along a broad and enticing highway, which, like some blind alley, suddenly stops short before a massive and unsurmountable wall. Evidently we must retrace our footsteps with our nineteenth century pride of knowledge somewhat shaken, if not upset, for we have started on no dilettante pleasure trip, but rather with a definite purpose like the prospecting miner in his search for the most precious of metals. We wish to know something at least concerning the real nature of fire. Let us, therefore, taking another direction, tread a path whose soil has felt the footfall of many in "Ye Olden Time"; let us, with retrospective eye, glance at by-gone and historic times while we examine briefly certain beliefs then extant.
Now, the most cursory view reveals the fact that among nations the most advanced, and even those whose sun of glory and civilization had well-nigh set, fire was held to contain or represent something sacred and divine in its nature. It was thus the emblem of Eternal Power.
The Mexicans and later Aztecs, in their debased and brutalized religion of human sacrifice to the sun-god, presented a striking example of what can result from the carnalization of even the purest symbol, that of the sacrifice of the heart's devotion upon the altar, and the total consecration of a life to Humanity's service in order to bring that Humanity into more complete fellowship with higher powers. In those times that saw the culmination of Egyptian civilization and also in the days which marked its first declining path, an unquenched flame burned in each of her temples. Before the advent of St. Patrick, the mysterious round towers of Ireland flashed their beacons of undying light across the green hills of that fair island. Every Greek, Latin and Persian village or town held its carefully guarded and always replenished fire. The Roman temple of Vesta contained no image of the goddess, for she dwelt in the chaste flame, surrounded by her white-robed devotees, the ministering vestal virgins. And if, perchance, the neglected flame flickered and grew cold, the insulted deity fled the hallowed precincts; at news of which calamity all public and private business was instantly suspended; the senator paused in the midst of his flight of eloquence, the mart and forum echoed no more the harangue of the demagogue, while ceased the voice of the thrifty, dickering tradesman. All was hushed until the propitiated goddess, called back from the Celestial regions, and descending thence on the focused sun-beams, graced once more her re-kindled altar, dwelt again with mortals. With the Persians and some others, the fire that warmed the domestic hearth must be kept pure; nothing unclean was thrown into it.
It was held by many an ancient philosopher that from primary fire and water, the Universe came into being. With the ancient Aztecs, fire was the father and mother of all gods. With the Gnostics, fire was held to be the vital, underlying principle of life. In their philosophy, this principle exists in many kinds as an ascending series of more and more refined conditions. That quality of fire which scorches and burns the body and all material things is a crude manifestation, a greedy and irrational element. There exist other manifestations of fire much lower and cruder than what we contact on this earth; these correspond to certain conditions of matter which the telescope now reveals as existing in the vast abysm of space. Again, even the crudest fire injures no form of life on the same plane as itself; on the other hand it changes the nature or form of things in a dissimilar condition; that work accomplished, it becomes latent or subjective, to be recalled into objectivity by its appropriate exciting cause. The more refined manifestations of fire are correspondingly less irritating and violently destructive to existing forms, but all fires have their planes and duties in the Microcosm and Macrocosm. With the Gnostics, mind was spoken of as a fire having power to alter existing conditions. As there are many degrees of mind, so are there many corresponding degrees of fire in the Universe. Desire was also spoken of as a fire, and it is patent that desire is greatly diversified even in human beings. Again, as certain entities called salamanders, etc., environ themselves in fire, so every entity in the Universe is environed by higher and higher refinements of fire. Water and earth were held to be two of its many illusionary appearances. The highest fires are cool and quieting, because emanating from a condition directly opposite to the feverish restlessness of this lower earth. Thus, fire is the sum of all manifested intelligences, from the lowest to the highest conceivable; in short, it represents the positive and the negative pole of being.
Eastern Philosophy speaks of forty-nine fires, or states of consciousness in the Solar System; it also asserts the existence of three hundred and forty-three elements. Chemistry as yet has knowledge of but a little over seventy elements in this grand total.
In the Old and New Testaments much is said concerning fire. From amidst the burning bush the Angel of the Lord appeared unto Moses, but the latter must not approach that pure and unconsuming radiance. As the Law-Giver, Jehovah descended in smoke and fire on the top of Sinai. The guiding pillars of smoke or fire led the froward and untrustworthy Israelites a tortuous journey of forty years in the wilderness. The Star of Bethlehem guided directly to their destination the wise Magi, those Hierophants of the East, who, as repositories of the ancient Arcana, knew the cyclic laws and the birth-time of every teacher of Humanity whom the ages shall bring forth. On his journey to Damascus, the physical eyes of Saul were blinded by that heavenly light which cleared his spiritual vision. We read in "Revelation," "And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God."
Many other instances might be given of the sacredness of fire to the Ancients, and that they possessed a knowledge which science today has not is certain. Only as science rises above its materialistic conceptions will the deeper knowledge which the Ancients possessed become open to it.
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