General Analysis of the Fire Element
Fire has been an important part of all cultures and religions, from pre-history to modern day, and was vital to the development of civilization. It has been regarded in many different contexts throughout history, but especially as a metaphysical constant of the world, along with air, water, and other forces of nature.
The Element of Fire in the Greek and Roman Traditions
Fire is one of the four classical elements in ancient Greek philosophy and science. It was commonly associated with the qualities of energy, assertiveness, and passion. In one Greek myth, Prometheus stole fire from the gods to protect the otherwise helpless humans, but was punished for this charity. The ancient Greeks distinguished the destructive and consumptive (aidelon) fire, associated with Hades, from the creative fire, associated with Hephaestus, the god of metalworking and smithing. Goddess Hekate was called Pyrphoros (Fire-bearing), Pyripnon (Fire-breather), Daidoukhos (Torch-bearer) and Phosphoros (Light-bearer).
Fire was one of many archai proposed by the Pre-socratics, most of whom sought to reduce the cosmos, or its creation, by a single substance. Heraclitus (c. 535 BCE – c. 475 BCE) considered fire to be the most fundamental of all elements. He believed fire gave rise to the other three elements: “All things are an interchange for fire, and fire for all things, just like goods for gold and gold for goods”.DK B90 He had a reputation for obscure philosophical principles and for speaking in riddles. He described how fire gave rise to the other elements as the: “upward-downward path”, (ὁδὸςἄνωκάτω),DK B60 a “hidden harmony” DK B54 or series of transformations he called the “turnings of fire”, (πυρὸςτροπαὶ),DK B31 first into sea, and half that sea into earth, and half that earth into rarefied air. A concept that anticipates both the four classical elements of Empedocles and Aristotle’s transmutation of the four elements into one another.
This world, which is the same for all, no one of gods or men has made. But it always was and will be: an ever-living fire, with measures of it kindling, and measures going out.DK B30 Heraclitus regarded the soul as being a mixture of fire and water, with fire being is the more noble part, and water the ignoble aspect. He believed the goal of the soul is to be rid of water and become pure fire: the “dry” soul is the best and it is worldly pleasures make the soul “moist”. He was known as the “weeping philosopher” and died of hydropsy, a swelling due to abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin.
In the Timaeus, Plato’s major cosmological dialogue, the Platonic solid he associated with fire was the tetrahedron which is formed from four triangles and contains the least volume with the greatest surface area. This also makes fire the element with the smallest number of sides, and Plato regarded it as appropriate for the heat of fire, which he felt is sharp and stabbing, (like one of the points of a tetrahedra).
Aristotle did not maintain his former teacher’s geometric view of the elements, but rather preferred a somewhat more naturalistic explanation for the elements based on their traditional qualities. Fire, the hot and dry element, like the other elements was an abstract principle and not identical with the normal solids, liquids and combustion phenomena we experience: “..what we commonly call fire. It is not really fire, for fire is an excess of heat and a sort of ebullition; but in reality, of what we call air, the part surrounding the earth is moist and warm, because it contains both vapour and a dry exhalation from the earth.” According to Aristotle, the four elements rise or fall toward their natural place in concentric layers surrounding the center of the earth (and the cosmos) and form the terrestrial or sublunary spheres. Fire occupies the highest place among the terrestrial spheres, above the air and just below the Moon.
In ancient Greek medicine, each of the four humours became associated with an element. Yellow bile was the humor identified with fire, since both were hot and dry. Other things associated with fire and yellow bile in ancient and medieval medicine included the season of summer, since it increased the qualities of heat and aridity; the choleric temperament (of a person dominated by the yellow bile humour); the masculine; and the eastern point of the compass.
The Element of Fire in the Alchemical Tradition
An alchemical acronym for fire, or ignis, is In Gehenna Nostrae Ignis Scientiae, meaning “In Hell is the Fire of Our Science.” This emphasises as the Greek Tartaros, the Hebrew Gehenna and the Christian Hell. From an alchemical perspective it emphasise the mystery of the fire in the earth, as the sun at midnight or black sun, thought to continue its daily journey through the underworld every night. In alchemy, the chemical element of sulfur was often associated with fire and its alchemical symbol and its symbol was an upward-pointing triangle. In alchemic tradition, metals are incubated by fire in the womb of the Earth and alchemists only accelerate their development.
The Element of Fire in the Indian Tradition
Agni is a Hindu and Vedic deity. The word agni is Sanskrit for “fire” (noun), cognate with Latin ignis (the root of English ignite), Russian ogon (fire), pronounced agon. Agni has three forms: fire, lightning and the sun. Agni is one of the most important of the Vedic gods. He is the god of fire and the acceptor of sacrifices. The sacrifices made to Agni go to the deities because Agni is a messenger from and to the other gods. He is ever-young, because the fire is re-lit every day, yet he is also immortal. In Indian tradition Fire is also linked to Surya or the Sun and Mangala or Mars, and with the south-east direction.
The Element of Fire in Astrology
People born under the astrological signs of Aries, Leo and Sagittarius are thought to have dominant fire personalities. Fire personalities are believed to have good leading qualities, and also tend to be extroverted, rebellious, passionate and enthusiastic, brave and valiant; however, they can also be moody, hot-tempered, snappy, uncontrollable and angry.
The Element of Fire as a Symbolic Quality
Fire is an analytical masculine element, associated with the word (logos). In the macrocosm it is most obvious as the sun in the sky. The sexism of superior and inferior distinction derived from a value system which prefers the masculine above the feminine below, and judges height more desirable than depth, has by and large conferred greater value on the Elements of Fire and Air. Fire always causes transformation, it is neutral and contains the power to create or destroy. Thus in the Perfect Sermon (in the Corpus Hermeticum) Hermes says:”Tis fire alone, in that it is borne upwards, giveth life; that which is carried downwards is subservient to fire.” In the Old Testament God is refered three times as a “consuming fire” and the Bible is fuyll of links between fire and divine and magical events.
Mythology distinguishes different kinds of Fire, not necessarily the same distinction as that between light and heat: the Fire of sun and stars and sky gods above, the Fire that Prometheus stole: and the Fire from below the Earth, the devastating Fire of Haephestus or Vulcan. Though Haephestus fashioned the attributes of the Olympian pantheon on his forge, he did not rank very high. The Fire of Mars seems more akin to this second kind. Mars or Ares was the son of Hera, in origin an Earth goddess. Ares was conceived as an act of vengeance against celestial Father Zeus without his aid. He comes from feminine rage, from the Elements of below.
An ancient Greek tradition held the aether, the fiery substance deemed to brighten the sky, in especial reverence and many supposed that souls consist of this divine, heavenly Fire. The Babylonians held a similar belief. A corpse is cold because the fiery soul, the spark of life, has left it and returned to the stars.
If Fire means creativity, perhaps Prometheus’ theft of Fire fits his role as creator of mankind from clay: he had the power to animate, to create life and soul. His gift of Fire to men gave them, too, creative powers. God, the biblical creator, likewise takes the form of Fire: He is in the burning bush (Exodus, iii, 2-3) and descends as Fire from Heaven to consume his sacrifice in the new temple (2 Chronicles. vii, I).
Zeus hurls thunderbolts of Fire from Heaven. When Semele pleads to see Zeus in his true form he reveals himself as Fire and thus burns her to ashes. Mars, Sol, and Jupiter are all considered fiery, the latter known as much for their light as their heat. Light is also a metaphor for consciousness, for which Jupiter and Sol strive.
The loftier connotations of Fire, the Fire the Stoics had placed at the top of their vertical schema, had fallen from favor by the Renaissance. Only the more violent and male characteristics of Fire remained. Heraclitus had a lofty vision of Fire when he described it as the basic stuff the world is made of, meaning “the purest and brightest sort that is as of the ethereal and divine thunderbolt.”
Most descriptions of astrological Fire stress its heating and burning power: ardour passion, excitability. The fiery type became the choleric, described by Culpepper: “hasty quarrelsome ireful,” etc. Fire is also light, a fact often forgotten in the age of electric light. Culpepper describes qualities more specifically Martian than fiery. Galen, on whose theories the system of temperaments is built took a different view, for him the choleric type enjoyed “acuteness and intelligence of the mind.” 
Fire most readily corresponds to our notion of energy, as pulsing physical force and animal spirits or as divine creative principle. Perhaps thus they share the same ultimate nature. Fire is the great transformer. Fire is the least obviously present around us on the Earth of the four elements, yet one expression of fire is light, which enables us to see. It is the most subtle of the elements, it flickers and dances, leaping up to die down and be gone again. It is probably for this reason that it is sometimes reffered to as the ‘living element’. Themagical axiom associated with fire is To Will, relecting its creative, dynamic and energetic qualities. Through the light of fire we receive illumination, and can see our path, enabling the process of transformation that it facilitates to continue. Willpower is what keeps us on the path of achievement.
Fire is also associated with courage and freedom. To be free we must be brave, and be willing to use our creativity and drive to succeed. Fire motivates us to succeed and refine our passions. Fire can be creative or destructive, and this is clearly seen in nature. A forest fire may initially seem devastating, but many plants actually need fire in their life cycle to ensure their continued survival.
Fire burns, and reminds us of the importance of control. When handled properly fire provides light and heat, and can be used to cook and for protection. If allowed to get out of control it can cause great destruction. In the same way fire represents our will and our passions. If controlled they can be creative and constructive, enabling us to develop and do great things. But if we let them get out of control we can become obsessive, or violent.
Fire is probably the most challenging element, its creative and destructive power contained within every flame. Fire represent transformation, both in the substances which burn, and in the environment around it, as the flame supply light and heat. Fire burns with a passion and energy which are reflected in the human spirit. The purity of fire is like our motivation and will, the rive to succeed and shine with our own light. Fire gives us the energy to refine our passions and strive for our goals. Fire can leap up and die down again just as suddently, and brings spontaneity in its flames. The dance of fire reminds us of our own dance of life.
The Element of Fire in Ceremonial Magick
Fire and the other Greek classical elements were incorporated into the Golden Dawn system. Philosophus (4=7) is the elemental grade attributed to fire; this grade is also attributed to the Qabalistic Sephirah Netzach and the planet Venus. The elemental weapon of fire is the Wand or Dagger. Each of the elements has several associated spiritual beings. The archangel of fire is Michael, the angel is Aral, the ruler is Seraph, the king is Djin, and the fire elementals (following Paracelsus) are called salamanders. Fire is considered to be active; it is represented by the symbol for Leo, and it is referred to the lower right point of the pentagram in the Supreme Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram. Many of these associations have since spread throughout the occult community. In ceremonial magick fire is particularly associated with prayer, we are encouraged to “enflame ourselves with prayers” to achieve an ecstatic state where our passions fuels the intent and feeds it to the divine source it is offered to.
Working with the element of fire enables you to concentrate on your drives and directions. Enhancing fiery qualities like courage, creativity, focus and motivation will help keep you fixed on the path, and using the drive, power and freedom of fire to fuel your will can only help keep you pure and motivated. Concentrating on the cathartic power of fire can help you burn away the negative emotional states that fire can bring as the destructive edge of its gifts. Transforming the cruelty egotism, possessiveness and other destructive emotions in the crucible of your will in the flame of your spirit will help you to burn even brighter and with a truer essence.
|Qualities (positive)||Courage, Creativity, Drive, Energy, Focus, Freedom, Motivation, Passion, Power, Purity, Success, Transformation, Vision, Will|
|Qualities (negative)||Anger, Cruelty, Egotism, Possessiveness, Vengeance, Violence|
The Fire Elementals: The Salamanders
The traditional image of the salamander is an amphibian of the order Urodela which it is named after, although some medieval images also showed them being somewhat doglike in size and appearance. The name comes from the greek word salamandra, the meaning of which is unknown, though it has ben suggested it may be associated with fireplaces. The first known written reference to the salamander occurs in the lost fourth century BCE writings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, preserved by Cicero in The Nature of the Gods. Cicero recorded Aristotle as writing in The Genaration of Animals:”Now the salamander is a clear case in point, to show us that the animals do actually exist that fire cannot destroy; for this creature, so the story goes, not only walks through the fire but puts it out in doing so.”In his classic thirty-seven volume work, Natural History, Pliny wrote in the first century CE that the salamander “is so cold as to extinguish fire by its contact, in the same way that ice does.” His views were perpetuated by the tird century Ce Roman naturalist elian, who repeated them in his De Natura Animalium.
In one of the earliest surviving descriptions of a salamander, Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23–79) noted that the creature is “an animal like a lizard in shape and with a body starred all over; it never comes out except during heavy showers and disappears the moment the weather becomes clear.” All of these traits, even down to the star-like markings, are consistent with the golden Alpine salamander (Salamandra atra aurorae) of Europe that has golden or yellow spots or blotches on its back and some similarly marked subspecies of the fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra). Pliny even made the important distinction between salamanders and lizards, which are similar in shape but very different in other respects, which was not systematized until recent times, when biologists classified lizards as reptiles and salamanders as amphibians. Early commentators in Europe often grouped “crawling things” (reptiles or reptilia in Latin) together, and thus creatures in this group, which typically included salamanders (Latin salamandrae), dragons (Latin dracones or serpentes), and basilisks (Latin basilisci), were often associated together, as in Conrad Lycosthenes’ Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon of 1557.
Pliny recounts several other traits which are less credible, such as the ability to extinguish fire with the frigidity of their bodies, a quality which is also reported by Aristotle. While Pliny notes this in Book 10, Chapter 86 of the Natural History, in Book 29, Chapter 23 of the same work he views this idea with skepticism, pointing out that if such an idea were true, it should be easy to demonstrate. It was never proven that these amphibians could accomplish such myths. He also notes medicinal and poisonous properties, which are founded in fact on some level, since many species of salamander, including fire salamanders and Alpine salamanders, excrete toxic, physiologically active substances. These substances are often excreted when the animal is threatened, which has the effect of deterring predators. The extent of these properties is greatly exaggerated though, with a single salamander being regarded as so toxic that by twining around a tree it could poison the fruit and so kill any who ate them and by falling into a well could slay all who drank from it.
St Augustine mentioned the salamander in his City of God in the fifth century CE, citing it as an example that fire did not always consume, and thus evidence that souls were not consumed in the flames of hell, but suffered eternal torment. In the seventh century Ce, Isidore of Seville repeated the view of Pliny in Etymologies, that the salamander put out fire. The idea that the salamander put out fire may rather indicate their own fiery nature, sor the best way to put out fire is with another fire. So it may be that the fire being put out by the salamander was actually being eaten by it. This idea was postulated by Leonardo Da Vinci, who suggested that they ate fire to renew their skin: “This has no digestive organs, and gets no food but from the fire, which it constantly renews its scaly skin. The salamander, which renews its scaly skin in the fire – for virtue.”
It is in fact the amphibians called salamanders often hibernate in rotting logs, and so the notion of salamanders appearing and disappearing in flames may arise from them being woken out of hibernation and doing their best to get out of a fire before they die
Of all the traits ascribed to salamanders, the ones relating to fire have stood out most prominently in salamander lore. This connection probably originates from a behavior common to many species of salamander: hibernating in and under rotting logs. When wood was brought indoors and put on the fire, the creatures “mysteriously” appeared from the flames. In his Autobiography, the Renaissance Italian artist Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571) famously recalled witnessing just such an appearance as a child. On telling his father about te lizard in the flames, his father hit him to make sur he never forgot the auspicious day, and then gave hime moey. Interestingly, Cellini’s Autobiography also gives one of the best example of the detail of a demonic evocation as well.
According to some writers, the milky substance that a salamander exudes when frightened and which makes its skin very moist gave rise to the idea that the salamander could withstand any heat and even put out fires.
This legendary creature embodies the fantastic qualities that ancient and medieval commentators ascribed to the natural salamander. Many of these qualities are rooted in verifiable traits of the natural creature but often exaggerated to a significant degree, as was common in ancient works on natural history and philosophy. A large body of legend, mythology, and symbolism has developed around this creature over the centuries.
As with many real creatures, pre-modern authors often ascribed fantastic qualities to it (compare the allegorical descriptions of animals in medieval bestiaries), and in recent times some have come to identify a legendary salamander as a distinct concept from the real organism. This idea is most highly developed in the occult. Where the two concepts can be distinguished, the legendary salamander is most often depicted much like a typical salamander in shape, with a lizard-like form, but it is usually ascribed an affinity with fire (sometimes specifically elemental fire). The most widely known deviation from a realistic depiction is from an influential 20th-century occult work by Manly P. Hall, Secret Teachings of All Ages. Since this illustration appears to originate in a 1527 anti-papal tract by Andreas Osiander and Hans Sachs, where it is identified as “the Pope as a monster,” Hall’s identification of the illustration is doubtful. Descriptions of the legendary form are more likely to use stylized depictions. In Medieval European bestiaries, fanciful depictions of salamanders include “a satyr-like creature in a circular wooden tub” (8th century), “a worm penetrating flames” (12th century), “a winged dog” (13th century), and “a small bird in flames” (13th century). Renaissance depictions are characteristically more realistic, adhering more closely to the Classical description.
The salamander is mentioned in the Talmud as a creature that is a product of fire, and anyone who is smeared with its blood will be immune to harm from fire. Rashi (1040–1105), the primary commentator on the Talmud, describes the salamander as one which is produced by burning a fire in the same place for seven years. According to Sahih Bukhari (810–870), Muhammad said that salamanders are “mischief-doers” and “should be killed”.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) wrote the following on the salamander: “This has no digestive organs, and gets no food but from the fire, in which it constantly renews its scaly skin. The salamander, which renews its scaly skin in the fire, – for virtue.” Later, Paracelsus (1493–1541) suggested that the salamander was the elemental of fire, which has had substantial influence on the role of salamanders in the occult.
Early travelers to China were shown garments supposedly woven from salamander hair or wool; the cloth was completely unharmed by fire. The garments had actually been woven from asbestos. According to T. H. White, Prester John had a robe made from it; the “Emperor of India” possessed a suit made from a thousand skins; and Pope Alexander III had a tunic which he valued highly. William Caxton (1481) wrote: “This Salemandre berithe wulle, of which is made cloth and gyrdles that may not brenne in the fyre.” Holme (1688) wrote: “…I have several times put [salamander hair] in the Fire and made it red hot and after taken it out, which being cold, yet remained perfect wool.”
An alternative interpretation was that this material was a kind of silk: A 12th-century letter supposedly from Prester John says, “Our realm yields the worm known as the salamander. Salamanders live in fire and make cocoons, which our court ladies spin and use to weave cloth and garments. To wash and clean these fabrics, they throw them into flames.” Friar also notes that Marco Polo believed that the “true” salamander was an incombustible substance found in the earth.
In early heraldry, the salamander was depicted as somewhat like a short-legged dog, surrounded by fire; more recently it is depicted as a lizard or a natural salamander, but still amidst flames. In the arms of Le Clei shown as vomissant des flammes (“vomiting flames”) as well. It is often tinctured vert (green) but can be of any other colour or metal.
The salamander became a symbol of enduring faith which triumphs over the fires of passion. It was the badge of Francis I of France, with the motto, “I nourish [the good] and extinguish [the bad].” It appears in the arms of Le Havre (below), Fontainebleau and others.
The salamander became the traditional emblem of the smith, and thus appears in a number of civic arms to symbolise local metal-working industries. It appears in the arms of Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council (below), as well as the old County Borough Council. In the crest of the arms of Spennymoor Town Council, the Shafto family’s salamander also holds a sword to represent the local steel industry.
More recently, the authors of the strategy game Dungeons & Dragons have described the elemental beings of fire in a fashion which is not anthropomorphic and without making any reference to the animal kingdom in order to find an appropriate metaphor. In the Jeff Grubb’s book, The Manual of the Planes, it is said that the fire elementals: “have a wispy substance and appear to be constructed of fiery shapes of various volume, forms and destinies.” A single creature can differ in appearance from one time to another, they can go “from a white hot veast ressembling a tree to a dull-red spiral-shaped creature with radiating spikes of blue flame.” Grubb even provide clues about their general character, their attitude and even their dispositions towards human beings : “These creatures are generally hostile to Prime Material beings, which they perceive as little more than walking water bottles looking for an accident to burst. Those of low intelligence or higher can be recruited as elemental guides in return for rare or interesting combustible material. Creature of elemental fire burn and consume this material for variety, much like those on the Prime Material use perfume or Cologne.”