Cult of Fire

By Palladino, Martina | Natural History, September 2019 | Go to article overview

Cult of Fire


Palladino, Martina, Natural History


Honoring nature's purifier, transformer, and destroyer

As a natural force, fires ignited by lightning have always inspired awe. When humans learned to light a fire, using some of the fuel abundant in nature and a few actions of friction or striking, that must have seemed magical. Fire came to play a role in prehistoric belief and ritual, and it later entered such historical religious faiths as Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, ancient Greek and Roman traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

In several of these traditions, flames directly testily to the divine presence. In Zoroastrianism, for instance, fire is considered the son of Ahura Mazda, the creator god. It is even called "the greatest god" in the most ancient part of the Avesta, the religion's sacred texts, although modern Zoroastrians, who practice rituals that involve a perpetually burning, sacred fire, commonly state that fire itself is not worshipped but is only a tool for worshipping Ahura Mazda.

Zorostrianism likely had its roots in Iran in the third millennium bce. It was reformed and codified by Zarathustra, who lived perhaps a thousand years later and for whom the religion is named. Zoroastrians reached India around the eighth century ce, and their cult expanded in the region of Gujarat and Mumbai. According to legend, the sacred fire (probably carried burning in a brazier) was called Iran Shāh, "King of Iran," and was installed first in Sanjān; then it was moved around to different cities in Gujarat until it reached Udvādā, where it still burns today.

Hinduism is the prevailing religion in India, with sacred texts called Vedas, based on oral traditions that date from the early second millennium bce. The Vedas set forth a pantheon with a large number of divinities, among them Agni, the god of fire, to whom were dedicated more than two hundred hymns. Early Hinduism shared many linguistic, religious, and ritual features with the Zoroastrian Avesta, starting with the centrality of fire in its practices. In ancient Hinduism, especially in Vedic traditions, fire was worshipped in three manifestations: as the god Agni, always associated with the element; as an object of ritual that fed the gods through the burning of offerings; and as the connector of the human and the divine worlds, since the gods were called to partake in the ritual through fire.

In ancient Greece and Rome, religious beliefs and practices largely served state or civic purposes. Divinities in the Greek and Roman pantheons (mostly the same set of gods under different names) were given libations and other offerings to cultivate particular favors, such as victory in battle. Among the offerings were animal sacrifices, with the god's share of the animal burned on an altar. These rituals reinforced the political and social order.

The sacred texts of the three prominent monotheistic traditions-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-also mention flames in various passages. In the Judeo-Christian tradition and in Islam, Moses witnesses the manifestation of God as a burning bush. In the New Testament book Revelation, seven candlesticks represent the seven major churches of early Christianity, and Jesus appears with "eyes like blazing fire."

Greek mythology recounts that the Titan Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to mortals. The idea that fire was of supernatural origin probably was related to the nature of the element itself, since it has the distinctive potency of purifying, transforming, and destroying.

Fire was considered a pure element, which cannot-or should not-be contaminated. For this reason, a Zoroastrian priest drapes a white cloth (Paiti-dāna, in the Avestan language) over his mouth while reciting in the presence of the sacred fire. Functioning like a surgical mask, it prevents any drops of saliva from reaching the fire in front of him. Contamination of fire appears in other traditions as well. Plutarch, in his Life of Aristides, recounts that after the battle of Plataea (479 bce), and the victory of the Greeks over the Persians, Apollo ordered the consecration of the fire altar to Zeus. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Cult of Fire
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.