I have said before that I believe humanity to be a fire-aspected species. Sometimes it seems that everything we touch we change. We constantly seek to grow, expand, change. We consume.
Are there individual exceptions? Well of course there are. There are individual exceptions to most things.
Fire fascinates us, and out collective mythologies suggest that fire is one of our oldest fascinations. In some places fire is one of the primordial substances out of which the cosmos was formed. In others we find ancient tales of how fire came to humankind from the gods- usually it was stolen. We have gods of fire and gods who are fire and many for whom that distinction is very blurry. We dance with fire, build with it, cook with it, kill with it, and heal with it. It is the alchemical element we most often associate with our own spirits. Fire is on of our oldest companions.
For all of that, you’d think we would have it better figured out by now. But no. Fire still reminds us periodically that for all of our pretensions we have never tamed it. Sometimes it still gets the better of us.
I worked a fatal house fire last week. No details are available as the fire is still under investigation. I was posted to Medical Eval. so I was close enough to feel and hear and smell but not close enough to touch. Just as well- I had more time to think that way. (For the record, I’m an EMT- not a Firefighter. A lot of people are both, some are just one or the other. My job on a working fire is keeping an eye on the Firefighters’ vital stats and dealing with any patients they bring out of the blaze.)
It felt like it took an age to get the flames under some semblance of control, even though the public report says it was only 30 minutes. There wasn’t much left. Just a burned body and a single photograph in a heat-warped, soot-blackened metal frame that one of the Firefighters had grabbed on his way out. It was his relative’s home.
We speak so often about fire’s ability to cleanse, purify, and transform. We forget that this is rarely a gentle or beautiful process. It is a brutal purge of all things not essential to our foundation- everything but the concrete. Sometimes even the block is so heat-damaged that it has to be ripped up. We sometimes have the chance to salvage a piece or two from our old lives but it will be forever tainted by smoke and soot. Yes, fire transforms. A pillar of flame roaring into the blue sky even has its own kind of awful beauty. In those moments it is easy to see that our quiet little campfire is a pale reflection of the raging, hungry god that fire can be.
It makes me wonder how we could ever have allowed ourselves to fall into the trap of pretty, poetic thinking to the point that we forget the real power of fire. Of course, it could simply be fear. A hearth fire can burn you but a wildfire will destroy you and everything else in its path with total indifference to any suffering it causes.
It is my belief that fire unites even as it destroys, and that destruction is not always bad. We are all so much ash and dust in the wake of the blaze. We who crouch in the ash and mud and grimace in the heat and stink rolling off a structure fire find a deep camaraderie. Fire destroys, but it also forges.
Fire has constructive and defensive uses as well, and make no mistake. Anyone who has ever used or even been near a ceramics kiln or a smith’s forge or a glassworks has seen the inferno put to work. I’ve cooked many a meal over an open fire and been burned a few times. I have used fire to sterilize a scalpel and needles. A heated blade can also cauterize wounds if you’re desperate.
With all of these there is pain or the potential for pain. Fire gives nothing for free. It’s no real wonder that so many Trickster deities are in some way associated with fire. Fire has been our most powerful ally and our most dangerous enemy both at the same time. It is like a sword that is grasped by the blade- a weapon that wounds the wielder.
All of this is primarily mundane description, however. Fire carries all of this power and potential for pain into its magic as well. The magic of fire is often indifferent. It unites us even as it destroys us. It burns in our spirits and in the stars themselves. Fire is power and transformation, but its methods are often harsh and ll too easily get out of hand.
Most of my eclectic pantheon have fire aspects. They have torn and are tearing my life apart- much of what I had is gone yet I am indescribably bolstered by what has remained. I can see now what solid strength is at my own core; my skills, my talents, my human and other connections are mostly unchanged. It has been the application of those foundation blocks that has been burned away. They are forging me into something better. It is painful, being forged, but I trust them.