12.4.17

Holy Fire

Worship or deification of fire (also pyrodulia, pyrolatry or pyrolatria) is known from various religions. Fire has been an important part of human culture since the Lower Paleolithic. The earliest known traces of controlled fire were found at Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov, Israel and dated to an age of 790,000 years, and religious or animist notions connected to fire must be assumed to reach back to such early pre-Homo sapiens times.



Archaeologically, the earliest evidence for Indo-Iranian fire worship is found at the transition from the Sintashta-Petrovka to the Fedorovo culture around 1500 BC, together with first evidence of cremation. While cremation became ubiquitous in Hinduism, it came to be disavowed in Zoroastrianism. However, even earlier evidences of vedic fire altars have been found at the Indus Valley sites of Kalibangan and Lothal, giving rise to speculations towards earlier assumed the geographical location of the early Indo-Iranians.

Although the term "fire-worshippers" is primarily associated with Zoroastrians, the idea that Zoroastrians worship fire is originally from anti-Zoroastrian polemic. Instead, fire—even in a Fire temple (the Zoroastrian terms are more prosaic and simply mean "house of fire")—is considered to be an agent of purity and as a symbol of righteousness and truth. In the present day this is explained to be because fire burns ever-upwards and cannot itself be polluted. Nonetheless, Sadeh and Chaharshanbe Suri are both fire-related festivals celebrated throughout Greater Iran and date back to when Zoroastrianism was still the predominant religion of the region.

In Vedic disciplines of Hinduism, fire is a central element in the Yajna ceremony, with Agni, "fire", playing the role as mediator between the worshipper and the other gods. Related concepts are the Agnihotra ritual, the invocation of the healing properties of fire; the Agnicayana ritual, which is the building of a fire altar to Agni; and Agnistoma, which is one of the seven Somayajnas. In the Vaishnav branch of Hinduism, Agni or Fire is considered the tongue of the Supreme Lord Narayana, hence all the sacrifices done even to any demigod ultimately is a sacrifice to the Supreme Lord Narayana.

Fire worship in Graeco-Roman tradition had two separate forms: fire of the hearth and fire of the forge. Hearth worship was maintained in Rome by the Vestal Virgins, who served the goddess Vesta, protector of the home, who had a sacred flame as the symbol of her presence in the city (cf. Sacred fire of Vesta). 

The Greek equivalent of the goddess was Hestia, whose worship is less well attested. The fire of the forge was associated with the Greek god Hephaestus and the Roman equivalent Vulcan. These two seem to have served both as craft-guild patrons and as protectors against accidental fires in cities. Also associated with fire is the titanic god Prometheus, who stole fire for humans from the gods. Most forms of worship in Graeco-Roman religion involved either cooking or burning completely an animal on a fire made on an altar in front of a temple (see hecatomb).

Celtic mythology had Belenus, whose name, "shining one", associated him with fire.

In Slavic mythology, Svarog, meaning "bright and clear", was the spirit of fire. The best known and dramatic among numerous Slavic Pagan fire rituals is the jumping over the bonfire on the Ivan Kupala Day..

Fire is an element of theophany in the Hebrew Bible's burning bush, pillar of fire, and the flame of the Menorah. The highest form of sacrifice was the Korban Olah, performed twice-daily, which is an animal sacrifice completely consumed by fire.



Islam on the other hand has no rituals associated with fire and burning. Quran describes the devil as a creature of fire. The devil rejection and despise towards man originates from the devil perception that fire is superior to mud. This sentiment was the cause of the devil demise from heavens.

Fire continues to be a part of many human religions and cultures. For example, it is used in cremation and bonfires; candles are used in various religious ceremonies; eternal flames are used to remind of notable occasions; and the Olympic Flame burns for the duration of the games.

The Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has been consecutively documented since 1106 AD.

Hestia

In Ancient Greek religion, Hestia (/ˈhɛstiə/; Ancient Greek: Ἑστία, "hearth" or "fireside") is a virgin goddess of the hearth, architecture, and the right ordering of domesticity, the family, the home, and the state. In Greek mythology, she is a daughter of Cronus and Rhea.

Hestia received the first offering at every sacrifice in the household. In the public domain, the hearth of the prytaneum functioned as her official sanctuary. With the establishment of a new colony, flame from Hestia's public hearth in the mother city would be carried to the new settlement.

Hestia's name means "hearth, fireplace, altar", the oikos, the household, house, or family. "An early form of the temple is the hearth house; the early temples at Dreros and Prinias on Crete are of this type as indeed is the temple of Apollo at Delphi which always had its inner hestia" The Mycenaean great hall (megaron), like Homer's hall of Odysseus at Ithaca, had a central hearth. Likewise, the hearth of the later Greek prytaneum was the community and government's ritual and secular focus.

Hestia's name and functions show the hearth's importance in the social, religious, and political life of ancient Greece. It was essential for warmth, food preparation, and the completion of sacrificial offerings to deities; in the latter, Hestia was the "customary recipient of a preliminary, usually cheap, sacrifice". She was also offered the first and last libations of wine at feasts. Her own sacrificial animal was a domestic The accidental or negligent extinction of a domestic hearth-fire represented a failure of domestic and religious care for the family; failure to maintain Hestia's public fire in her temple or shrine was a breach of duty to the broad community. A hearth fire might be deliberately, ritually extinguished at need, and its lighting or relighting should be accompanied by rituals of completion, purification and renewal, comparable with the rituals and connotations of an eternal flame and of sanctuary lamps. At the level of the polis, the hearths of Greek colonies and their mother cities were allied and sanctified through Hestia's cult. Hestia's nearest Roman equivalent, Vesta, had similar functions as a divine personification of Rome's "public", domestic, and colonial hearths, and bound Romans together within a form of extended family. The similarity of names between Hestia and Vesta is, however, misleading: "The relationship hestia-histie-Vesta cannot be explained in terms of Indo-European linguistics; borrowings from a third language must also be involved," according to Walter Burkert.

Responsibility for Hestia's domestic cult usually fell to the leading woman of the household, sometimes to a man. Hestia's rites at the hearths of public buildings were usually led by holders of civil office; Dionysius of Halicarnassus testifies that the prytaneum of a Greek state or community was sacred to Hestia, who was served by the most powerful state officials. Evidence of her priesthoods is extremely rare. Most stems from the early Roman Imperial era, when Sparta offers several examples of women with the priestly title "Hestia"; Chalcis offers one, a daughter of the local elite. Existing civic cults to Hestia probably served as stock for the grafting of Greek ruler-cult to the Roman emperor, the Imperial family and Rome itself. In Athens, a small seating section at the Theatre of Dionysus was reserved for priesthoods of "Hestia on the Acropolis, Livia, and Julia", and of "Hestia Romaion" ("Roman Hestia", thus "The Roman Hearth" or Vesta). A priest at Delos served "Hestia the Athenian Demos" (the people or state) "and Roma". An eminent citizen of Carian Stratoniceia described himself as a priest of Hestia and several other deities, as well as holding several civic offices. Hestia's political and civic functions are further evidenced by her very numerous privately funded dedications at civic sites, and the administrative rather than religious titles used by the lay-officials involved in her civic cults.

Eternal flame
An eternal flame is a flame, lamp or torch that burns continuously for an indefinite period. Most eternal flames are ignited and tended intentionally, but some are natural phenomena caused by natural gas leaks, peat fires and coal seam fires, all of which can be initially ignited by lightning, piezoelectricity or human activity, some of which have burned for thousands of years.

In ancient times, human-tended eternal flames were fueled by wood or olive oil; modern examples usually use a piped supply of propane or natural gas. Human-created eternal flames most often commemorate a person or event of national significance, serve as a symbol of an enduring nature such as a religious belief, or a reminder of commitment to a common goal, such as diplomacy.

The eternal fire is a long-standing tradition in many cultures and religions. In ancient Iran the atar was tended by a dedicated priest and represented the concept of "divine sparks" or Amesha Spenta, as understood in Zoroastrianism. Period sources indicate that three "great fires" existed in the Achaemenid era of Persian history, which are collectively considered the earliest reference to the practice of creating ever-burning community fires.

The eternal flame was a component of the Jewish religious rituals performed in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple in Jerusalem, where a commandment required a fire to burn continuously upon the Outer Altar. Modern Judaism continues a similar tradition by having a sanctuary lamp, the ner tamid, always lit above the ark in the synagogue. After World War II, such flames gained further meaning, as a reminder of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

The Cherokee Nation maintained a fire at the seat of government until ousted by the Indian Removal Act in 1830. At that time, embers from the last great council fire were carried west to the nation's new home in the Oklahoma Territory. The flame, maintained in Oklahoma, was carried back to the last seat of the Cherokee government at Red Clay State Park in south-eastern Tennessee, to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina, and to the Cherokee Nation Tribal Complex in Talequah, Oklahoma.

In China, it has at times been common to establish an eternally lit lamp as a visible aspect of ancestor veneration; it is set in front of a spirit tablet on the family's ancestral altar.

The eternal flame commemorating American President John F. Kennedy after his assassination in 1963 is believed to be the first such memorial to honor a single, known individual (as opposed to flames commemorating one or more unknown soldiers). In the wake of the Kennedy memorial, eternal flames have been used throughout the world to honor persons of national or international significance.
Agni

gni (Sanskrit: अग्नि, pronounced English: /ˈægni/ ag-nee) means fire, and connotes the Vedic fire god of Hinduism. Agni also refers to one of the guardian deities of direction, who is typically found in southeast corners of Hindu temples. In classical cosmology of Indian religions, Agni as fire has been one of the five inert impermanent constituents (Dhatus) along with space (Akasa), water (Ap), air (Vayu) and earth (Prithvi), the five combining to form the empirically perceived material existence (Prakriti).

In the Vedic literature, Agni is a major and oft invoked god along with Indra and Soma. Agni is considered as the mouth of the gods and goddesses, and the medium that conveys offerings to them in a homa (votive ritual). He is conceptualized in ancient Hindu texts to exist at three levels, on earth as fire, in atmosphere as lightning, and in the sky as sun. This triple presence connects him as the messenger between gods and human beings in the Vedic thought. The relative importance of Agni declined in the post-Vedic era, as he was internalized and his identity evolved to metaphorically represent all transformative energy and knowledge in the Upanishads and later Hindu literature. Agni remains an integral part of Hindu traditions, such as being the central witness of the rite-of-passage ritual in traditional Hindu weddings called Saptapadi or Agnipradakshinam (seven steps and mutual vows), as well being part of Diya (lamp) in festivals such as Diwali and Aarti in Puja.

Agni (Pali: Aggi) is a term that appears extensively in Buddhist texts, and in the literature related to the Senika heresy debate within the Buddhist traditions.In the ancient Jainism thought, Agni (fire) contains soul and fire-bodied beings,additionally appears as Agni-kumara or "fire princes" in its theory of rebirth and a class of reincarnated beings, and is discussed in its texts with the equivalent term Tejas.
Sacred fire of Vesta
The most prominant feature of the ruins that where once the Temple of Vesta is the hearth (seen here in the foreground).

The sacred fire of Vesta was a sacred eternal flame in Ancient Rome. The Vestal Virgins, originally numbering two, later four and eventually six, were selected by lot and served for thirty years, tending the holy fire and performing other rituals connected to domestic life—among them were the ritual sweeping of the temple on June 15 and the preparation of foods for certain festivals. By analogy, they also tended the life and soul of the city and of the body politic through the sacred fire of Vesta, which was renewed every year on the Kalends of March.

The sacred fire burned in Vesta's circular temple, built in the Roman Forum below the Palatine Hill in pre-republican times. Among other sacred objects in the temple was the Palladium, a statue of Pallas Athena supposedly brought by Aeneas from Troy. The temple burned completely on at least four occasions and caught fire on two others. It was last rebuilt in 191 AD on the orders of Julia Domna, the wife of the emperor Septimius Severus.

The rites of Vesta ended in 394 by order of the Christian emperor Theodosius I. The fire was extinguished and the College of Vestals disbanded.

Orthodox Holy Fire 
Orthodox tradition holds that the Holy Fire happens annually on the day preceding Orthodox Pascha (Orthodox Easter), in which a blue light emanates within Jesus Christ's tomb (usually rising from the marble slab covering the stone bed believed to be that upon which Jesus' body was placed for burial) now in the Holy Sepulchre, which eventually forms a column containing a form of fire, from which candles are lit, which are then used to light the candles of the clergy and pilgrims in attendance. The fire is also said to spontaneously light other lamps and candles around the church. Pilgrims and clergy claim that the Holy Fire does not burn them.

While the Patriarch is inside the chapel kneeling in front of the stone, there is darkness but far from silence outside. One hears a rather loud mumbling, and the atmosphere is very tense. When the Patriarch comes out with the two candles lit and shining brightly in the darkness, a roar of jubilation resounds in the Church.

Thousands of pilgrims as well as local Christians of all denominations gather in Jerusalem to partake and witness this annual event. The Holy Fire is taken to certain Orthodox countries, such as Greece, by special flights, being received by church and state leaders.

Beltane

Beltane  is the anglicised name for the Gaelic May Day festival. Most commonly it is held on 1 May, or about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. In Irish the name for the festival day is Lá Bealtaine, in Scottish Gaelic Là Bealltainn and in Manx Gaelic Laa Boaltinn/Boaldyn. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals—along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh—and is similar to the Welsh Calan Mai.

Beltane is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and it is associated with important events in Irish mythology. It marked the beginning of summer and was when cattle were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were performed to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth. Special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. The people and their cattle would walk around the bonfire or between two bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. All household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire. These gatherings would be accompanied by a feast, and some of the food and drink would be offered to the aos sí. Doors, windows, byres and the cattle themselves would be decorated with yellow May flowers, perhaps because they evoked fire. In parts of Ireland, people would make a May Bush: a thorn bush decorated with flowers, ribbons and bright shells. Holy wells were also visited, while Beltane dew was thought to bring beauty and maintain youthfulness. Many of these customs were part of May Day or Midsummer festivals in other parts of Great Britain and Europe.

Beltane celebrations had largely died out by the mid-20th century, although some of its customs continued and in some places it has been revived as a cultural event. Since the late 20th century, Celtic neopagans and Wiccans have observed Beltane, or something based on it, as a religious holiday. Neopagans in the Southern Hemisphere often celebrate Beltane at the other end of the year (around 1 November).

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