Who by Fire? – Fire Deities and Symbolism in Paganism

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written and copyrighted by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

From the Hindu God of fire to Celtic Lugh to Loki, from the bonfires at Eostre’s Day, Mittsommer and Lughnasad to the candlelight of carved pumpkins and Yule tree candles or logs and from the fires of Muspelheim and its sons and daughters to the smoke rituals in Shamanic traditions – fire, it appears, is central to all Pagan religions. Fire represents the Gnostic “spark of life”, creation itself but just as much it stands for the inferno of destruction, for Ragnarök, the end of the world, itself.

 belarusian_neo-pagan_bonfire_2007

In northern European Shamanic traditions the act of ceremonially or ritually making a fire by hand, wood and stone is an act of creation. The wooden hand drill symbolizes the phallus, whereas the fireboard is yonic. The spark or fire created could be viewed as the “fire child”. Without each other phallus and womb are nothing, together they create the sacred fire of existence.

The Anglo-Saxon “Runesong” speaks of the yew tree as the “keeper of the fire”, in Germanic traditions it is either the yew or ash tree (Yggdrasil) that represents all of existence. But fire was not only viewed as friendly as we can see in the Anglo-Saxon Yr- and Elder Futhark Eiwaz-rune, both representative of the yew tree as much as death. The circle of life is complete in the fire-symbolism. Death begets life begets death and so forth.

 agni

One of the more popular fire deities is the three-faced (life, death, rebirth) Hindu God Agni. Most other indo-Germanic high Gods of fire are based on him, not only etymologically. Agni might be connected to Irish Goddes Aine and he is Ogni in Slavic Paganism, the German word Ofen (oven) derives from it. The Russian word ogon means “ignite” in English. – Germanic Ing, Yngvi or Ingvi-Fro (Frey) is the God of the sun, of growth, creation, crops. He is also an aspect of Sahsnotas (Saxnot-Týr). The Ing-rune stands for the hearth and hearth fire and the sun wheel is dedicated to him and his sister Freija. And Agni is married to Swaha, whose name means offering or literally “offering gift”. The Sanskrit word Swastika (Hindu sun wheel) is related to it.

diwali-swastika

The holy Hindu Swastika and our indo-European sunwheels deriving from it have nothing to do with the 3rd Reich, Hitler or nazism.

Germanic Sol is not just the Goddess of the sun, she is the sun itself. When the sun goes down her brother Mani (“moon”) gifts the earth with his silvery light.

Lugh is an Irish deity and former hero/semi-deity, whose name means “the shining one”. He is usually depicted with his spear, which is referred to as “the finest of the yew”. Here we find the yew-fire correlation once more. Lugh’s holiday is Lughnasadh, (“nasád” meaning assembly). Historically, the Gaels celebrated very differently than today’s Pagans, Wiccans and some Celtic Reconstructionists do. Nowadays the sun (Lugh) is praised and given thanks to, the harvest season is welcomed, lavish celebrations including food and drink are mostly a part of the holiday.

lughlammas

Lughnasad was originally dedicated not only to Lugh, but especially to his foster mother Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after having plowed all of Ireland so it would be a fruitful island.

Lugh was known as a fine craftsman and crafty, albeit in a different way, is Loki, his Germanic equivalent. Loki is a son of Muspelheim, the realm of fire, but his father is none other than the Jotun (giant) Fornjot(ur). Loki’s brothers are the northwind (Air) Kári and Aegir, God of the Sea (Water) and Byleist (maybe an earth or forest jotun?). – This would complete the cardinal points. For the four elements played a greater role in the Germanic and Norse traditions than is usually acknowledged today. (For example we have Austri (East), Vestri (West), Sudri (South) and Nordri (North) the dwarves, and four stags eating at the branches and roots in all four cardinal points of the worldtree, namely Dainn, Dvalin, Duneyrr and Durathror amongst others.

Loki appears to be etymologically related to Lugh, yet his name (also) means “closer”, “ender”, “finisher”. He closes this cycle by ending the world, he brings on Ragnarök, so a new, fresh world can come from it. Surt, the King of Muspelheim, sets fire to the world, but it is Loki who prepared the way throughout lore.

There has been a common misconception that Loki is nothing but a “trickster god”, “chaos deity” and especially to American converts to Heathenry he is often a kind of Nordic Satan. This is not a polytheist way of thinking but stems from the old mindset as found in monotheistic religions. The inability to fully comprehend polytheism seems to be one of the biggest challenges that modern Paganism or Pagan revival movements face today. The cruel aspects of life and nature were equally held sacred in the “old ways”.

Loki Rackham 7766

Ragnarök is a metaphor, one which emphasizes that fire is both representative of death as much as life (or rebirth) and to say that the giants are “the enemies of the Gods” is hence incorrect. The giants and the Gods (as much as all other beings) are all part of a very complex belief system that developed over thousands of years, it is too simple to state that they are enemies of each other because they pursue different goals. In the end, both of them “win”, the giants as the forces of raw evolution destroy this world, but the Gods return and as the forces of “consciousness” and stability ensure the duration of the next one. Well, until the next big leap that is.

 Ragnarök - earth burning

However, luckily not all fire deities are as controversial and have been demonized as much as Loki has been by pseudo-polytheists.

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Pele is the Hawaiian Goddess of volcanos and magma (liquid fire) who is in constant rivalry with her siblings, all water-related deities.

In the Vodun religion (“Voodoo”) Maman Brigitte is a Loa (spirit) who tends to and lights the candles on the graves of the deceased. She is related to the other spirits of the dead. There is Baron Samedi, Baron Saturday; Saturday being Saturn’s or also Loki’s day, the 6th day of the week, whereas the 6th rune of the Futhark is Kenaz=fire.
Baron Cemetiere means Baron Cemetery and last there is Baron De la Croix, Baron of the Cross. Maman Brigitte likes it hot – usually the offerings to her include (cayenne) pepper, often mixed into rum. Hot beverages and foods have often been associated with the burning sensation of fire and thus it comes as no surprise that she is syncretized with Celtic and Irish Brighid/Irish Catholic Saint Brigid who is also associated with fire.

MamanBrigitte

Maman Brigitte

 The Aztec Goddess Coatlicue (coatl = serpent, snake) is also known as “the one with the skirt of serpents”. She is the Goddess of life, death and rebirth, mother of the South and southern stars and of “fire and fertility”, sometimes called the “fire *of* fertility”.

Mayan_god

Tohil is the sungod in the Mayan religion.

In Japanese mythology Kagu-tsuchi is the kami of fire, the Chinese “kitchen god” or God of stove fires is Zao Jun.
Shapash is Caanite El (YH) and Asherah’s (WH) daughter, she is the “torch of the Gods”, in related tribal religions Asherah’s name is also Shua and the union between her and her husband is “Yeshua” – Jesus, also known as “the light of the world” in Christian mythology.
In Gnostic traditions Lucifer (often) signifies the fire of enlightenment, knowledge, self-gnosis.
See https://paganmeltingpot.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/the-forgotten-lord-of-self-gnosis-lucifer-the-lightbringer/

Icon_of_Jesus_Christ,_called_Spas_Nerukotvorny_sml

Many Pagan fire and solar deities have crowns of fire, Jesus, the “light of the world” has his halo.

Slavic Svarog is the god of blacksmithery, fire, the sun and his Greek equivalent is Hephaistos.

Aryaman is another Hindu deity of fire (note the similarity to Zoroastrian Ahriman). Ar or Ahr is an Armenian God whose name means life, his son is Mihr – “Fire”.

You could possibly also link Germanic Thunar and his Slavic equivalent Perun to fire as they are the Gods of lightning amongst other things. Lightning brings rain, which in turn helps crops grow. Another cycle of life symbolism.

 perun-lightning

There are just too many examples of fire deities, fire beings such as the Phoenix or generally fire representing life, death and rebirth/evolution to list on here. A google search will surely reveal a few more or less complete lists for those interested in delving into this topic a little deeper.

Today, fire has become something so common in everyday life that most people, especially non-Pagans, completely overlook how much we depend on it. Lighters, cigarettes, candles, batteries, guns, stoves and ovens, light bulbs, street lamps… Electrical devices are powered or set into motion by a “spark”, an impulse. Yet we do not even take this into account anymore. Everything is fire, everything is alive.

If you light a candle on your altar tonight…perhaps give special thanks to the fire deities of your distinctive path and the cosmic force of creation – the fire of life that connects us all.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Aleph
    Dec 01, 2015 @ 21:25:55

    Have you checked out esoteric Buddhism? They often have deities that are covered in fire or have fire halos. Just look in Tibetan and Japanese esoteric Buddhism and you’ll find plenty of such deities.

    I’m interested in the idea of a halo representing fire, and fire pertaining to light in some way. I’ve got an alter ego character who’s tied to fire and darkness (the latter tied to demons for him), and in his world (or rather my world) he’s got the balance of heaven and hell in his hands and his sword and he protects it in the name of freedom. I’ve been meaning to link part of him to light in some way.

    Like

    Reply

    • Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt
      Dec 01, 2015 @ 23:27:22

      I am only familiar to Shinnyo-en Buddhism due to a close family friend from Japan who took me to temple several times, but I can’t say I know more than a few random basics. I might check it out just for the whole fire theme you mentioned, thanks!
      As for the halo, my Indian friend one asked me if the halo was supposed to represent “the enlightenment of an open crown chakra”. That was a very interesting observation I hadn’t even considered before that.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

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