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Religion 200: Religion and the Human Exerience
FIRE as a symbol in Religion

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
~William Shakespeare, Henry V (prolougue)

Home | FIRE as a symbol in Religion | Symbols of FIRE in Literature | Symbols of FIRE in Art | Symbols of FIRE in Rituals | Symbols of FIRE in Life

Fire, in primeval ages, was a symbol of respect, or an instrument of terror. In both these ways God manifested himself to man, in the holy writings he compares himself sometimes to an ardent fire, to display his holiness and his purity; sometimes he renders himself visible under the form of a burning bush, to express himself to be as formidable as a devouring fire: again, he rains sulphur; and often, before he speaks, he attracts the attention of the multitude by flashes of lightning.


The upward pointing triangle is the alchemical symbol for fire. One of the four alchemical elements, Fire has the properties hot and dry, and symbolizes emotions. In alchemical tradition, the elemental spirits of fire are Salamanders. The symbol is derived from the medieval magical Seal of Solomon.

Fire has been used in religious rites and symbolism for hundreds of years; with the main image of the smoke from the fire disperses into the heavens.  Fire is one of the four classical elements: air, earth, fire and water, as well as one of the five in the Chineese elements.

In Hinduism, fire is one of five sacred elements of which all living creatures are comprised and is considered an eternal witness essential to sacred religious ceremonies.

In Christianity, fire is a symbol of the Holy Ghost and is often used in many descriptions of Hell.

In the Zoroastrian religion, fire is constantly used to represent Ahura Mazda, or God of the Zoroastrians, including the fire at Yazda, whihc has been burning for over two millennia.

In the Calcinatio religion, fire is important because of the fire operation in the art of alchemy.



Fire is universally associated with the sun and light, but also with the hearth and home. In Buddha’s teachings, light is the symbol of truth that dispels the darkness of ignorance. As a flame can pass from one candle to another, so too can truth be passed. As an icon for enlightenment, this Golden Fire is artistically mounted on a black painted wooden platform and finished in 22-karat gold-leaf and is pictured here on top of our wooden stool with bamboo finish.

(BELOW) Symbols of Wicca
The athame or ritual dagger (sometimes, a sword), is a symbol of fire. The Athame represents the fire element, and the masculine qualities of consciousness, action, force, and strength. The athame is used to direct energy and is employed in the casting of circles. An athame is traditionally black handled and dull, but as the knife is considered a personal emblem, there is a lot of variety in actual practice- one might see anything from a hunting knife to a deer antler used as an athame.


Symbolism of FIRE found in the Zoroaster Religion:

Fire, The Symbol Of God

People believe that the religion of Zoroaster was fire-worship. This is a mistake. "Do not say that the Iranians were fire-worshippers. They were worshippers of one God." These are the utterances of the great Firdusi. Fire is a sacred and supreme symbol of God. It is a sacred symbol in the Avesta. Fire is considered as the son of Ahura Mazda. The prophet of Iran did not teach fire-worship. He taught the worship of the one Supreme Lord of the universe, Ahura Mazda. Fire is the symbol of divine in all sacrifices. It is a sacred object. It is the symbol of divine life. It is the sacred symbol most reverenced by the Zoroastrians of today.

In every religion, fire has been the symbol of the Supreme Lord. Brahman is fire in Hinduism. Ahura Mazda is fire. The Jews worship their God as a pillar of fire. The Christians declare that their God is a consuming fire. Fire symbolised the brilliance of the Lord. It is purifying. Fire stands for effulgence, illumination. The worship of Agni or Fire comes in the Vedas also. In the Bible it is said, "God is light." Upanishads declare "Brahman is Jyotirmaya (full of light)." In every religion fire finds a place in rituals. Fire brings the message that God is Light of lights. Zoroaster himself held Fire in great sanctity as a noble gift from God. He summoned Fire from the sky and pointed it to heaven. The Heavens burst into fire. Some of the flames darted downwards and fired the altar at his side. Sacred fire in the altar of a temple is a symbol that reminds the Parsee of the glory of Ahura Mazda. It is called Atar in the Avesta.

Fire is declared to be the most helpful of all the spiritual intelligences or archangels. He is the most friendly. He comes down from Ahura Mazda. He is acquainted with all heavenly secrets.

The Jews received for the first time the ideas of heaven and hell, of angels and archangels of Messiah, of the resurrection and the last day of judgment from Zoroastrianism. These have laid the foundation to the doctrines of Christianity and Islam also.



Chineese Symbolism: FIRE

Traditionally, fire has represented the active and masculine or the Yang of Chinese symbolism. Its major symbolism is related to the sun and the powers of transformation and purification. Its basic movement is upward rather than downward like water. Traditionally, the basic symbol for fire is an upward pointing triangle or pyramid. Colors of fire are the advancing colors of red and orange and the aspects of fire are flames and rays. Whereas water has different states related to movement or rest fire is always moving and consuming.

The place of fire in natural systems is represented by deserts and mountains. The deserts symbolize the quality dryness and heat associated with fire and the mountains symbolize the upward pyramid shape of fire. Similar to the element of fire which they represent, deserts have tradionally been associated with purification. Elements of place symbolism associated with fire is day time and specifically noon when the sun's light and heat is the greatest. The association with the sun makes fire an above space phenomena rather than a below or within space phenomena. A natural phenomena which represents fire is lightning, and the phenomenom of fire out of control is symbolized by the forest fire.

There is an interesting relationship of fire with the symbolic place of Paradise. In An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, J.C. Cooper discusses the origin of the expression "baptism by fire." The term is associated with an experience which restores primordial purity by burning away the dross of life by passing through fire to regain Paradise. Since Paradise was lost it has been surrounded by fire or protected by guardians with swords of flame. These guards and their fire symbolize understanding barring the way to the ignorant or the unenlighteded.

To Gaston Bachelard, fire holds a central place in the experience of mankind. In Psychoanalysis of Fire he notes that "fire has been an occasion for unforgettable memories" and that there is a "...slightly hypnotized condition, that is surprisingly constant in all fire watchers." This hypnotized condition is related to a state of "reverie":

"...the reverie in front of the fire, the gentle reverie that is conscious of its well-being, is the most naturally centered reverie. It may be counted among those which best hold fast to their object or, if one prefers, to their pretext."

To Bachelard, fire is the prime element of reverie. "If fire," he says, "was taken to be a constituent element of the Universe, is it not because it is an element of human thought, the prime element of reverie?" It is almost certain, Bachelard says, that "fire is precisely the first object, the first phenomenon, on which the human mind reflected." Interestingly enough, a number of modern observers have compared television to fire calling it the "electronic fireplace."

Fire and heat have been used to symbolize human emotions and particularly emotions associated with sexual power. This association can be seen in popular cliches such as "they warmed up to each other" or "she gave him a cold shoulder" or in "the heat of passion." Bachelard makes some interesting and unusual observations about the relationship between fire and sex observing that the "love act is the first scientific hypothosis about the objective reproduction of fire" and that "...the conquest of fire was originally a sexual conquest."

Bachelard writes about the surprising dichotomies of fire. "Among all phenomena," he notes, "it is really the only one to which there can be so definitely attributed the opposing values of good and evil. It shines in Paradise. It burns in hell. It is gentleness and torture. It is cookery and it is apocalypse."

Fire is also related to the process of change. Bachelard notes that slow change is defined by the process of life and quick change is explained by the process of fire. As he notes "fire suggests the desire to change, to speed up the passage of time, to bring all life to its conclusion, to its hereafter." In this sense, all that changes slowly can be explained by life while all that changes quickly can be explained by fire." As Bachelard says, "through fire everything changes." Bachelard reminds us that when we want everything changed we call on fire.

Kate O'Looney
Religion 200-01
Professor Schearing

Gonzaga University
Summer Session #2