Fire. What a star. Can’t really get around it. The elements have so many different strengths and characteristics, but none quite like fire. Tricksy, dependable, erratic, heavenly, subterranean. Lightning strike, volcano, sunshine. Cook, comforter and forest fire.
Like many children I was fascinated by fire, and I loved bonfires. It was palpably, manifestly magical, and burnt fingers couldn’t diminish that. It licked and transformed everything into living light and warmth, created worlds within its glow and incandescent ashes, and called to something atavistic, waiting to wake up.
To all appearances it is the most vulnerable of elements in terms of controlled human use, easily quenched, smothered, burnt or blown out. But that is natural fire democratized to common utility. Nothing vulnerable about Sun, lightning, magma streams. And deep within all matter, all bodies, lies that potential, as it glows within the Earth, and it billows and seethes within stars. Within each atom a secret fire dances. Fire of all the elements appears most like our idea of energy, though energy is a more subtle concept in truth.
What fire points to in us is our individuality, our genius, and our capacity to do, whether that action is physical, mental, emotional, or the lighting flash of a certain kind of intuition. Fire makes us different. You can’t really be here and now without it, alive and awake, yet it also makes one somehow not of this world too, not just of this world.
The original, natural power of fire is kinda titanic, yet even our fragile initial experiments with fire quickly run away and get out of hand, consume in brightness whatever is there and leave us with ashes, once the sheer joy has departed with flames, or the flames have got too hot. Fire is transformative, so the transformation needs to be well and judiciously done, otherwise it can just turn out to be destruction. You want to cook dinner, but everything is dinner for fire.
So change and purification are part of fire, and in a more biological sense, warmth, incubation, passion, an irreplaceable part of life sustenance. And because fire brings light into our darkness at our own will, fire is also linked to uncovering our own shadow natures, and ultimately purifying them. For some magicians fire has a reputation of “hatching out” the eggs of our unresolved karma, and I think this is a slightly creepy way of saying the same thing. As fire has such a strong and seemingly single minded inherent intelligence (which is what gives it its capacity), you can reasonably expect the purifications of fire to be swift, direct and not a gentle ride. The fastest, consumable route from A to B, is all it says on the ticket. You get what you pay for, no refunds, no delays.
The reputation of fire is in some ways as unparalleled as it is morally ambiguous. Light of science, Sacred Fire, stampede of conquest, impulse of genius, fire of Hell. I think that is because it is titanic, inhuman (as indeed the greatness of Nature is, out there), and dramatically so, yet also it is the most dramatically democratized to human use, with world changing effects. A little goes a long, long way. But it is also spell binding, and culturally spell binding, and just a bit “too much” is not easily reversible. Reversible isn’t what fire is about.
Fire gives individuality and originality, passion, impetus, urgency, a hunger for action and consummation. It gives us exploration, and humour, and abandon. It puts us on our own map. But it needs containment to be sustainable at any one level. Genius and mad scientist. Champion and invader. Hearth fire and atomic bomb. Awakened individual and mental health issue. Passionate lover and violator of will. Wise, freeing laughter and cruel cynicism.
Every element has it vices and virtues. Fire is easily demonized in our culture, even as our culture pursues it at every turn. Yet fire is not a collective element for me. Of all of them, it is the one which needs to be owned and taken responsibility for at an individual level. I say that because I believe we need the lessons and potential of fire to be realized at such a level, where responsibility is really possible. I feel we need that, and not just the collective use of fire, where it is so easy for no one to morally be at home.
This is also why I think that fire is the most dramatically democratized of the elements. It’s not the easiest to actualize, but it is the unfailing accompaniment of a separate selfhood which makes a kind of magical democracy possible.
We may have deluged the world in the collective products of fire (aka technology), but we haven’t really got it. And that is because the shadow work that fire brings about is something which we avoid. In some ways the story of fire is the story of leaving the collective, and entering a world of real and conscious relationships. It is because of this aversion to shadow work that we still fear ourselves, our own individuality, and see it as something somehow monstrous. And from that, all the projections and demonizations of the world may issue. That indeed seems like the problem to me, not fire itself. An element commonly associated with pride, it actually requires great humility to understand.
Nevertheless, it’s probably worth bearing in mind, with all the elements, that they can be medicine and remedy for each other, even if none can do each other’s job.
So ends my initial series of reflections on the elements.