Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Sacred Fire

The Gods of Fire, Hephaestos and Hestia, are sacred to us, we understand from the myths and through our ability to interpret those myths that they offer us a means by which we human beings can tap one of the most destructive of natural processes on the planet where life is concerned and turn it to our advantage. Thus have we made fire sacred, for therein lies a fundamental reality about what we are as living thinking creatures. We received the gift of fire, and in so doing became more than the beasts we were.

As I look into our great pantheon of Gods, I always seem to notice that to each element of nature, of existence, that we take note of there is a kind of male/female duality linked into our pantheon. The Sea has  Poseidon and Amphitrite, the sky has Hera and Zeus, the underworld has Hades and Persephone. Further, love and attraction have Eros and Aphrodite, war has Athena and Ares, and, of course, fire has Hephaestos and Hestia. Not all of these are signified in our myths as a married couple, of course, as we see in the Athena and Ares and Hephaestos and Hestia connections, but it does bear remembering that what we see as a "marriage" is a human invention. Gods likely do not abide by such human conventions in reality, yet we interpret the intimate connections between death and rebirth, the clear sky and the tumultuous storm, the deep sea and the roiling waves , as a marriage because they are just that, intimately linked.

Fire, however, is a process that man must fear. It is a healthy fear. Fire can destroy, though we know it can also clear the way for new things, but the connections between these are not intimate in the same way. Fire requires that man learn to tame it. The true gift of fire wasn't the flame itself, it was the wisdom to overcome the fear of it and make it work for us. We tame and control it to offer us heat and cook our food, providing for us a shelter, and possibly a means by which to defend that shelter from the beasts of the wild. Therein lies Hestia's influence.

We also learned that fire has transformative powers, or rather, that when its heat is applied to many things, those things become malleable, changeable, and then we learn to forge them into new and useful forms.

Athena, goddess of wisdom, is said to guide us in matters of wise usage, but she too is tied to Hephaestos, even bearing the epithet Hephaestia in her aspect patron goddess of metal workers, and this connection is not lost on me. Hephaestos is also a god of wisdom, the wisdom to learn and pass on useful things. Not a god of grand philosophical discourses, perhaps, but a god of practical wisdom. Wisdom that allows us to advance and move forward with every new use of fire we discover, be that the fire of hot coals or the furnace in a nuclear reaction.

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