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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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/

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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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Hetanism and Tseghakron, Armenia’s ”national Pagan religion”

Written and copyrighted by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt, 2014.

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Before we explore Armenian Hetanism, or in translation “Heathenry”, a bit further, let me take you on a very brief semi-political excursion.
The revival of Armenian Paganism has been widely criticized due to the political affiliations of its revivers.
Edik “Slak” Kakosyan and Garegin Nzhdeh both are known as “nationalists”. Most of us, especially in the West, have an idea on what nationalism is; we associate it with tyranny, dictatorship,racism, world wars and the death of millions.
Whilst these forms of nationalism are ghastly, fascist, absolutely and without a doubt condemnable, nationalism by definition neither includes these things, nor the glorification of violence in general. I am neither advocating nor condemning nationalism in this article, merely explaining the background of this (and other European) Pagan revival movements.
Often the survivors of a people that were wiped out systematically turn to fervent patriotism or nationalism and thus the nationalist movement in Armenia comes as no surprise.
(References re. the Armenian Holocaust by the Turks:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Genocide and also http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-479143/The-forgotten-Holocaust-The-Armenian-massacre-inspired-Hitler.html)
In 1991 Kakosyan had founded “The Order of Ari” (Order of the Aryans or also Order of Ari (the first form of men) or also Children of Man. Please note: Aryan in its original meaning also has nothing to do with nazi ideology and is just another word for indo-European. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aryan ), following up on Nzhdeh’s ideas, ideals and goals of the Tseghakron, “religion of the nation” as brought to life shortly after the end of the Armenian Holocaust around 1915. Kakosyan, while in exile, had also codified Nzhdeh’s Ukhtagirk, “Book of Vows” in which Nzhdeh was almost deified and compared to the Pagan high God, Vahagn, God of the sun, of war and the Aryan Armenian nation.

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(photo: Nzhdeh)

Although many were skeptical towards the latter mentioned Hetanism grew steadily, not just Pagans but even devout Christians soon started gathering at the Temple of Garni  to celebrate the ancient holy days and festivals and also celebrate their heritage. Some even insist that it helped them overcome the trauma of the genocide they still dealt with.
It has gained enough acceptance for the current president of the Republican Party of Armenia to out himself as a Hetanist. Former Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan is a big supporter of the Hetanist movement to this day.
Despite the fact that it was the conservative, republican and nationalist parties, clubs and organizations that helped Hetanism to its feet, the priests of the Temple of Garni are not allowed to join any political organizations, parties or make their personal political opinion publicly known. Hetanism is for every Armenian is the credo.

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(Temple of Garni)

Other than by Armenian intellectuals Tseghakron is favored by the rural population which often kept their folk traditions, customs and beliefs as inspired by the Old Pagan Religion. It is due to them that fragments (!) of the old poems and songs survived Christianization until this day, further filling in blanks about the nature of worship and spiritual everyday life. It was easier for them to relate to Storm- and Sungods, a spiritual duality and animism rather than Armenian Orthodox Christianity. They also often believe in the Gods as physical entities while neo-Pagan intellectuals subscribe to the concept of Nzhdeh’s “divinely inspired” Ukhtagirk: monism. –  According to this book, first there was Ar (reminding of Norse Ginnungagap or the Christian nothingness that was before God created light) and Ara the “universal architect”, who reminds of Zoroastrian Ahura Mazda or Hindu Brahma was the creator of the Gods, earth and universe and has no form, no qualities nor personality. He was later called Aramazd.
Etymologically Ar is the origin of words such as womb, blood, sun, art.
Just like many other ancient civilizations or belief systems, original Tsegakhron along with almost all sources, texts and artifacts, was destroyed by Christianity. Hence Hetanists rely on the Ukhtagirk for spiritual guidance regarding rituals, celebrations, holidays and conduct.
The historically most reliable source of information – despite single accounts of Hetanism in the works of Plato, Heredotus, Xenophon and Strabo – is the Hayots Patmut’yun, “The History of Armenia” by Movses Khorenatsi, which was written in the 400’s AD. Hetanism is only partly a reconstructionist religion, today’s followers fill in the blanks with elements from sibling-traditions such as Hellenism, Zoroastrianism and Hinduism.

There are three rites of passage in Hetanism, the Knunk, a baptizing/saining ritual for those who convert or rather, revert to their ancestors’ religion. Second is Psak – wedding and then the last rite or death ritual. These are held individually within smaller communities and kindreds or even solitary but also regularly at The Temple of Garni in the Kotayk province (ca. 3rd century BC), the only Pagan, Hellenic styled Temple which survived the Christianization and was dedicated to Zoroastrian/Armenian Sungod Mihr and Greek Zeus before it was rededicated to Vahagn.
Other Hetanist holy days include amgonst others
Terndez on Feb. 14th which is similar to Pagan Valentine’s Day,
Hambardzum (Ascension Day celebrated 40 days after “Easter”),
Vardavar which was connected with The Goddess of beauty – Astghik and her love with Sungod Vahagn. Khaghoghorhnek is a day for the remembrance of the ancestors (Sept. 20th),
Zatik is the Aryan New Year and birthday of the Sungod Vahagn  (March 21st) on which winter is separated from spring, in fact Vaha meaning God and Agn meaning Fire (note: In Hinduism Agni is the God of Fire as well) and the Navasard.

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As in all other Pagan religions the Sun and Moon were sacred, days were dedicated to each, Hetanists prayed facing the East and were also buried facing East in the hope of “rising in the afterlife”. The Moon was venerated, but also slightly feared as it was associated with (female) mysteries, death and also (evil) spirits and believed to be a “young maiden in the sky” whereas the Sun was actually a young man smiling down upon the land.
As far as we know women were still treated well, often not just equally to men but they were looked at as sacred children of the Moon/Great Mother.
Depending on the specific (sub-)cult or community, the stars were believed to be the children of Sun and Moon or the ancestors and the Zodiac, sun and moon phases were paramount in order to determine one’s destiny. They were the means by which Ara (the great impersonal life force) communicated with the people.
Bronze age pictures, statues and bas-reliefs depict the lion, bull, deer, bear, horse, sheep and ox as well as the stork, eagle, rooster, crane and swallow in a spiritual or “holy” context and indicate that Hetanism was a totemic religion.
The worship of the elements appears to also have been a part of original Hetanism, but it is their fervent worship of the element of Fire which earned them the name of “ash-worshippers” by early Christians that came in contact with this religion. Fire represented not only physical light or illumination but also metaphysical enlightenment. To this day putting out a fire, and if it is only a candle, requires more than just snuffing or blowing out the wick, for many Armenians there is a ritual to be followed in order not to invite unwanted spirits. Even less spiritual Armenians and non-Hetanists at least put out fire or a candle with care and some basic respect.
Some of the ancient Gods, demons and beings are still found in Armenian fairy tales, though they are often not called by their original names out of fear of persecution by the church back then.

I mentioned earlier that Ara(mazd) basically translates to life. Now, it is interesting to note that his wife’s name was Sandaramet and she was the female equivalent of Hades, basically Death embodied.
Aramazd’s “shepard on earth” or attending incorporeal spirit was Tir, meaning “writer”. He walked the earth, recording mankind’s deeds and thoughts, taking his accounts of it back to Aramazd who then judged each individual according to his/her deeds and thoughts after death. Tir represented both hope and fear and whenever someone had cursed loudly or spoken badly about someone whispers would be heard, warning of Tir’s possible presence.
Mihr was Aramazd’s son, the God of Fire to whom many temples were dedicated. Much like Norse Týr was replaced by the foreign Wotan/Odin, Mihr faded into the background after Vahagn became more popular.
Aramazd’s daughter Anahit’s Greek equivalent was Artemis. She was called “the spotless Goddess” or “Golden Mother”, representing purity and chastity. She was Armenia’s protector and benefactress.
Anahit’s sister Astghik married Vahagn. He was also called Vishapakagh, “uprooter of dragons” (snakes), as he roamed the lands in order to free Armenia and its population from evil spirits, demons and monsters.
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(Vahagn as Vishapakagh)

Aramazd’s third daughter’s name was Nooné. Especially the rural population could relate to her best since she was the Goddess of contrivance. Odds were often against her but she always somehow emerged from trouble, woes and tight spots triumphantly.
Except Vahagn most of these Deities were rather gentle deities, this is also reflected in the Armenian holy days which often central around love, beauty and fidelity.

Hetanism is a small religion mainly heard of and lived in Armenia itself, although the Armenian Diaspora (especially in the US) is finally starting to catch on and embrace its native Pagan roots. Hopefully it will grow and prosper just as much as the majority of the other indo-European Pagan religions currently are. At least I am hoping for some timely in-depth literature on this fascinating religion!

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(Celebrating Vardavar at Garni Temple)

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