Symbols in Stories from Around the World
I could stare at fire for hours. The dancing of those flames is hypnotic. My sons are drawn to fire…though what is it about fire that summons people to gather?
Many creation stories feature tricksters whose mission was to bring fire to the world or specifically to human beings. Fire did not come from the underworld of brimstone. No, fire came from the heavens. For the Greeks, Prometheus who was a Titan who escaped the entrapment of Tartarus. Prometheus presented Zeus with a choice between one of two kinds of sacrifices to be made to the gods by the humans—meat or bones wrapped in fat. As the fat had an appealing look, Zeus chose the fat. Prometheus laughed for now the humans could keep and eat the meat. As meat needs to be cooked, Zeus hid fire from them. Prometheus then determined to return fire. Once done, Zeus punished Prometheus by having an eagle—symbol of Zeus—to eat his liver every day. Prometheus, being immortal, healed during the night to have this torture repeated eternally…or at least until Hercules slew the eagle.
The punishment for Prometheus was severe not only because Zeus wanted revenge but for what fire represented: power. Fire give people the ability to survive during the harshest of conditions. Fire brings about life as a forest would rot if not for the wild fires that sweep the dry leaves or other plants to make way for the new. The Aboriginals in Australia call the act of setting fire to the ground as “fire dreaming” as it revives the ground and creates what may seem the unimaginable.
Though, the lack of control or carelessness of fire leads to dangerous results. The Ancient Egyptian sun and fire goddess Sekhmet, daughter of Ra, burned the earth to rid the earth of humans. Fortunately, Ra knew about his daughter’s lust for blood and filled the Nile River with the dye of pomegranate along with 7,000 jugs of beer so that she would think it was blood and be incapacitated. Sekhmet slept for three days and awoke calm.
As for astrology, fire was linked to Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius. These signs had attributes of vitality, action, intuition, and enthusiasm. Fire can also represent South, the Archangel Michael, summer and Noontime. In Chinese, the word “huo” means “fire” as well as “living” and are pronounced the same. This “huo” was also associated with feathered creatures.
The most intriguing mythical creatures connect to fire. The Dragon. The Phoenix. The Firebird (yes, different than the Phoenix). The Salamander. You know about the Salamander, right? You are picturing the cute lizard that are smooth, fit in the palm of your hand, and smiles at you? Though, in classic mythology, the Salamander ate fire. Go figure. These animals often signified fire though even a simple upward facing triangle was enough to represent fire for the Chinse and the Hindu. A red triangle is fire for Western alchemy.
Within some Native American tribes, fire connected with passion, life, spontaneity, vitality, and sexuality. Fire could protect healers (or be used to heal), especially when that healer is in a magical trance to concentrate to help the wounded or dying.
Finally, fire has a revealing nature. Many spiritual rituals involve fire to have personal visions, revelations, or insights. Even the Statue of Liberty, with her torch raised high and aglow with fire, reveals a place of safety and of freedom. There is assurance that people could follow that fire and find a home ashore.
Some stories featuring fire not already referenced:
- “The Magic Ball” from Argentina, to break the curse of a cold-eyed with in the Andes Mountains, a boy must rescue his sister by bringing back fire
- “The Fire-Bird and Princess Vasilisa” or also known as “Prince Ivan and the Fire-Bird” from Russia, a prince finds a fire-bird, catches it, and finally releases it and given a fire-feather to be used to help in another adventure
- “The Monster who had Fire” from Nigerian Yoruba, a father sends all seven of his children to the man-monster who is the only one who can create and share fire though the monster eats all seven children…that is until the father comes to claim his children back
What stories do you know that involves fire? Do you know any stories with fire-beings or creatures? Please comment below and share with others of this post.
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