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fire / fīr/ • n. 1. combustion or burning, in which substances combine chemically with oxygen from the air and typically give out bright light, heat, and smoke. ∎  one of the four elements in ancient and medieval philosophy and in astrology. ∎  a destructive burning of something: a fire at a hotel. ∎  a collection of fuel, esp. wood or coal, burned in a controlled way to provide heat or a means for cooking: our kettle was kept constantly on the fire. ∎  a burning sensation in the body: the whiskey lit a fire in the back of his throat. ∎  fervent or passionate emotion or enthusiasm: the fire of their religious conviction. 2. the shooting of projectiles from weapons, esp. bullets from guns: a burst of machine-gun fire. ∎  strong criticism or antagonism: he directed his fire against policies promoting capital flight. • v. [tr.] 1. discharge a gun or other weapon in order to explosively propel (a bullet or projectile). ∎  discharge (a gun or other weapon). [intr.] troops fired on crowds. ∎  [intr.] (of a gun) be discharged. ∎  direct (questions or statements, esp. unwelcome ones) toward someone in rapid succession: they fired questions at me for what seemed like ages. ∎  (fire something off) send a message aggressively: he fired off a series of letters. 2. inf. dismiss (an employee) from a job: having to fire men who've been with me for years you're fired! 3. supply (a furnace, engine, boiler, or power station) with fuel. ∎  [intr.] (of an internal combustion engine, or a cylinder in one) undergo ignition of its fuel when started. 4. stimulate or excite (the imagination or an emotion): India fired my imagination. ∎  fill (someone) with enthusiasm: in the locker room they were really fired up. 5. bake or dry (pottery, bricks, etc.) in a kiln. 6. start (an engine or other device): with a flick of his wrist he fired up the chainsaw. PHRASES: catch fire begin to burn. ∎ fig. become interesting or exciting: the show never caught fire. fire and brimstone the torments of hell: his father was preaching fire and brimstone sermons. fire away inf. used to give someone permission to begin speaking, typically to ask questions. go through fire (and water) face any peril. light a fire under someone stimulate someone to work or act more quickly or enthusiastically. on fire in flames; burning. ∎  in a state of excitement. set fire to (or set something on fire) cause to burn; ignite. set the world on fire do something remarkable or sensational: the film hasn't exactly set the world on fire. under fire being shot at: observers sent to look for the men came under heavy fire. ∎  being rigorously criticized: the president was under fire from all sides.

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Fire

FIRE

The primary result of combustion. The juridical meaning does not differ from the vernacular meaning.

It is a crime to burn certain types of property under particular circumstances, both under the common law and a number of state statutes. Some of these crimes are regarded as arson, but ordinarily, arson relates specifically to buildings and their contents.

The act of willfully and maliciously setting fire to property belonging to another person—such as stacks of hay or grain, grasses, fences, or wood—is ordinarily punishable as a misdemeanor. Some jurisdictions grade the offense as a felony.

Statutes relating to fires ordinarily define the acts required for conviction. Under these statutes, willfully is defined as meaning with an evil or malicious intent or malevolent motive.

An individual who willfully or negligently sets fire to his or her own woods, prairie land, or other specified areas might be guilty of a misdemeanor. In addition, it is a misdemeanor to burn such areas without first giving proper notice to adjacent landowners or for an individual to allow a fire kindled on his or her wood or prairie to escape and burn adjoining property.

Some statutes relate to burning cultivated ground. Such legislation exists to prevent disastrous fires, and they do not apply to ordinary acts of agriculture that are properly conducted, such as the setting of fire to an area of land to prepare for planting.

Under some statutes that prohibit or regulate the setting of fires, a monetary penalty is imposed on people who violate their provisions. Frequently an agency—such as a state board of forest park preservation commissioners—is named specifically in the statute to bring an action to collect the penalty. Some statutes impose liability on an individual who allows fire to escape from his or her own property even though such escape is not willful, while other statutes provide that a landowner who sets a fire as a result of necessity—such as a back fire used to subdue another fire—will not be held liable. An individual is usually free from liability when he or she is lawfully burning something on his or her own farm and the fire accidentally spreads to an adjacent farm or woods.

There is civil liability for damages at common law imposed upon anyone who willfully and intentionally sets a fire. Some statutes under which criminal liability is imposed for setting certain types of fires also make express provisions that the individual whose property is damaged by the fire may initiate a civil action to recover any loss. Generally, the limit of damages is the loss actually incurred by the fire. Some statutes, however, provide for the recovery of double or treble damages.

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Fire

267. Fire

  1. Agni intermediary of the gods through sacrificial fire. [Hindu Myth.: Parrinder, 12]
  2. Armida sorceress sets fire to her own palace when it is threatened by the Crusaders. [Ital. Lit.: Jerusalem Delivered (Gerusalemme Liberata ); in Benét, 391]
  3. burning bush form taken by the Angel of the Lord to speak to Moses. [O.T.: Exodus 3:2-3]
  4. Caca goddess of the hearth. [Rom. Myth.: Kravitz, 49]
  5. Dactyli introduced fire to Crete. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 74]
  6. Etticoat, Little Nancy candle personified: longer she stands, shorter she grows. [Nurs. Rhyme: Mother Goose, 39]
  7. Fahrenheit 451 in an America of the future the firemans job is to burn all books that have been concealed from authorities. [Am. Lit.: Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 in Weiss, 289]
  8. Florian miraculously extinguished conflagration; popularly invoked against combustion. [Christian Hagiog.: Hall, 126]
  9. Great Chicago Fire destroyed much of Chicago; it was supposedly started when Mrs. OLearys cow kicked over a lantern (1871). [Am. Hist.: Payton, 141]
  10. Hephaestus Prometheus kinsman and the god of fire. [Gk. Lit.: Prometheus Bound, Magill I, 786788]
  11. lucifer kitchen match; from Lucifer, fallen archangel. [Br. Folklore: Espy, 66]
  12. Phlegethon river of liquid fire in Hades. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 699]
  13. Phoenix fabulous bird that consumes itself by fire every five hundred years and rises renewed from the ashes. [Arab Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 699]
  14. Polycarp, St. sentenced to immolation, flames unscathingly ensheathed him. [Christian Hagiog.: Attwater, 290]
  15. Prometheus Titan who stole fire from Olympus and gave it to man. [Gk. Myth.: Payton, 546]
  16. salamander flame-dwelling spirit in Rosicrucian philosophy. [Medieval Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 956]
  17. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walk unscathed in the fire of the furnace into which Nebuchadnezzar has them thrown. [O. T.: Daniel 3:21-27]
  18. Smokey the Bear warns only you can prevent forest fires. [Am. Pop. Cult.: Misc.]
  19. Taberah Israelite camp scorched by angry Jehovah. [O.T.: Numbers 11:13]
  20. Topheth where parents immolated children to god, Moloch. [O.T.: II Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 7:3132]
  21. Vesta virgin goddess of hearth; custodian of sacred fire. [Rom. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 1127]
  22. Vulcan blacksmith of gods; personification of fire. [Art: Hall, 128]

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fire

fire one of the four elements in ancient and medieval philosophy and in astrology (considered essential to the nature of the signs Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius).
fire and brimstone torment in hell; often with biblical allusion, as in Revelation 19:20.
fire in the belly a powerful sense of ambition or determination.
fire is a good servant but a bad master acknowledgement that fire is both essential for living and potentially destructive. The saying is recorded from the early 17th century.
Fire of London the huge and devastating fire which destroyed some 13,000 houses over 400 acres of London between 2 and 6 September 1666, having started in a bakery in Pudding Lane in the City of London.
go through fire and water face any peril. Originally with reference to the medieval practice of trial by ordeal, which could take the form of making an accused person hold or walk on red-hot iron or of throwing them into water.
light a fire under in North American usage, stimulate someone to work or act more quickly or enthusiastically.
set the world on fire do something remarkable or sensational (often in negative contexts). A variant in British English is, set the Thames on fire.

see also ball of fire, the burnt child dreads the fire, dirty water will quench fire, draw someone's fire, if you play with fire, no smoke without fire, three removals are as bad as a fire.

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Fire

162. Fire

See also 200. HEAT ; 373. SMOKE

arsonist
a person who destroys property by fire, for revenge, insurance, etc.
empyrosis
Obsolete, a large-scale fire or conflagration.
incendiarism
the deliberate destruction of property by fire; arson. incendiary , n., adj.
phlogiston
Obsolete Chemistry. a hypothetical ingredient thought to be released during combustion. phlogistic , adj.
pyrogenous
Geology. produced by the action of heat, hot solutions, etc. pyrogenic , adj.
pyrography
the process of burning designs on wood or leather with a heated tool. pyrograph , pyrographer , n. pyrographic , adj.
pyrolater, pyrolator
a fire-worshiper.
pyrolatry
the worship of fire.
pyromancy
a form of divination involving fire or flames.
pyromania
a persistent compulsion to start fires.
pyrophilia
a love of fire.
pyrophobia
an abnormal fear of fire.
tephramancy, tephromancy
a form of divination involving the examination of the ashes remaining after a sacrifice.
ustulation
Rare. the act or process of burning or searing. ustorious , ustulate , adj.
vesuvian
an early type of match that was difficult to extinguish.

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Fire

Fire

In ancient times, people considered fire one of the basic elements of the universe, along with water, air, and earth. Fire can be a friendly, comforting thing, a source of heat and light, as anyone who has ever sat by a campfire in the dark of night knows. Yet fire can also be dangerous and deadly, racing and leaping like a living thing to consume all in its path. In mythology, fire appears both as a creative, cleansing force and as a destructive, punishing one, although positive aspects of fire generally outweigh negative ones.


Symbols and Themes. People in all parts of the world tell myths and legends about fire. Numerous stories explain how people first acquired fire, either through their own daring or as a gift from an animal, god, or hero.

The ability to make and control firewhich is necessary for cooking, making pottery and glass, and metalworkingsets people apart from the animals. The Admiralty Islanders of the Pacific Ocean have a myth in which a snake asks his human children to cook some fish. The children simply heat the fish in the sun and eat it raw, so the snake gives them fire and teaches them to use it to cook their food.

Because fire warms and gives off light like the sun, it often represents the sun or a sun god in mythology. In some tales, it is linked with the idea of the hearth, the center of a household. Fire can also be a symbol of new life, as in the case of the phoenix, the mythical bird that is periodically destroyed by flames to rise reborn from its own ashes.



apocalypse prediction of a sudden and violent end of the world

Fire's energy is not always a good thing. Flames can bring punishment and suffering, as in the Christian image of hell as a place of fiery torment. Some myths of apocalypse predict that the world will end in firebut it may be a purifying, cleansing fire that will allow the birth of a fresh new world.

Because fire can be treacherous and destructive, mythical figures associated with it may be tricksters, not always to be trusted. The Norse god Loki's shifty and malicious character may have been based on the characteristics of a forest fire. Another deity associated with fire is the Greek Hephaestus (Vulcan), god of metalworking, who is usually portrayed as deformed and sullen.


Rituals. In many cultures, people practice rituals related to fire. These rituals are often based on myths and legends about fire or fire gods. In ancient Rome, a sacred flame associated with the goddess Vesta represented national well-being. Women called the Vestal Virgins had the holy duty of keeping that flame alive. The Aztecs of ancient Mexico believed that the fire god Huehueteotl kept earth and heaven in place. At the end of each cycle of 52 years, they extinguished all fires, and Huehueteotl's priests lit a new flame for the people to use. In northern Europe, which has long, dark, cold winters, fire was especially honored. Pagan fire festivals such as lighting bonfires on May 1 have continued into modern times in European communities.

trickster mischievous figure appearing in various forms in the folktales and mythology of many different peoples

deity god or goddess

ritual ceremony that follows a set pattern

pagan term used by early Christians to describe non-Christians and non-Christian beliefs

Many cultures have practiced cremation, the burning of the dead. In cremation, fire represents purification, a clean and wholesome end to earthly life. The Pima people of the southwestern United States say that fire appeared in the world to solve the problem of how people should dispose of the dead.


* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

Fire Myths. Agni, the god of fire in Hindu mythology, represents the essential energy of life in the universe. He consumes things, but only so that other things can live. Fiery horses pull Agni's chariot, and he carries a flaming spear. Agni created the sun and the stars, and his powers are great. He can make worshipers immortal and purify the souls of the dead from sin. One ancient myth about Agni says that he consumed so many offerings from his worshipers that he was tired. To regain his strength, he had to burn an entire forest with all its inhabitants.

Chinese mythology includes stories of Hui Lu, a magician and fire god who kept 100 firebirds in a gourd. By setting them loose, he could start a fire across the whole country. There was also a hierarchy of gods in charge of fire. At its head was Lo Hsüan, whose cloak, hair, and beard were red. Flames spurted from his horse's nostrils. He was not unconquerable, however. Once when he attacked a city with swords of fire, a princess appeared in the sky and quenched his flames with her cloak of mist and dew.

The bringers of fire are legendary heroes in many traditions. Prometheus* of Greek mythology, one of the most famous fire bringers, stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. Similar figures appear in the tales of other cultures.

Native Americans believe that long ago some evil being hid fire so that people could not benefit from it. A hero had to recover it and make it available to human beings. In many versions of the story Coyote steals fire for people, but sometimes a wolf, woodpecker, or other animal does so. According to the Navajo, Coyote tricked two monsters that guarded the flames on Fire Mountain. Then he lit a bundle of sticks tied to his tail and ran down the mountain to deliver the fire to his people.

African traditions also say that animals gave fire to humans. The San of South Africa believe that Ostrich guarded fire under his wing until a praying mantis stole it. Mantis tricked Ostrich into spreading his wings and made off with the fire. The fire destroyed Mantis, but from the ashes came two new Mantises.

Indians of the Amazon River basin in Brazil say that a jaguar rescued a boy and took him to its cave. There the boy watched the jaguar cooking food over a fire. The boy stole a hot coal from the fire and took it to his people, who then learned to cook.

Legends in the Caroline Islands of the Pacific link fire to Olofat, a mythical trickster hero who was the son of the sky god and a mortal woman. As a youth, Olofat forced his way into heaven to see his father. Later Olofat gave fire to human beings by allowing a bird to fly down to earth with fire in its beak.

Fighting Sorcery with Fire

In Europe and America, individuals accused of being witches were once burned at the stake. Many cultures have held the belief that fire destroys sorcery, or black magic. The Assyrians of ancient Mesopotamia* called upon fire to undo the effects of evil witchcraft aimed at them. They used these words:

Boil, boil, burn, burn!... As this goat's skin is torn asunder and cast into the fire, and as the blaze devours it... may the curse, the spell, the pain, the torment, the sickness, the sin, the misdeed, the crime, the suffering, that oppress my body, be torn asunder like this goat's skin! May the blaze consume them today.

immortal able to live forever

hierarchy organization of a group into higher and lower levels

A myth from Assam, in northern India, says that after losing a battle with Water, Fire hid in a bamboo stalk. Grasshopper saw it and told Monkey, who figured out how to use Fire. But a man saw Monkey and decided that he should have Fire, so he stole it from Monkey Like many stories, this myth portrays ownership of fire as a human quality Even partial control over such a powerful force of nature is one of the things that gives human society its identity.

See also Floods; Hell; Huehueteotl; Loki; Phoenix; Prometheus; Vesta; Vulcan.

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firing

firing, process of treating clay or other plastic ceramic materials with heat to produce a hard, durable but brittle material such as pottery. Primitive potters baked their clay in an open fire, but for firing at higher temperatures and for the use of glaze, a kiln is needed. In general, pottery is fired once to harden it into biscuit ware, then a glaze is applied and fused with the clay by a second firing. China painting, enamel work, and stained glass also require firing. Temperatures of firing vary from about 1,100°F (590°C) for fixing paint on glass to about 2,800°F (1,540°C) for producing hard porcelain. Certain ceramic materials, such as those used for rocket nose cones, are fired at still higher temperatures.

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firing

fir·ing / ˈfīring/ • n. the action of setting fire to something: the deliberate firing of 600 oil wells. ∎  the discharging of a gun or other weapon: the prolonged firing caused heavy losses no missile firings were planned. ∎  the dismissal of an employee from a job: the recent firing of the head of the department. ∎  the baking or drying of pottery or bricks in a kiln.

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fire

fire principle of combustion; burning material OE.; conflagration XII; heat of fever, passion, etc. XIV; firing of guns XVI. OE. fȳr = OS. fiur (Du. vuur), OHG. fiur, fuir (G. feuer) (cf. ON. poet. fúrr, fýrr), corr. to Gr. pûr, Umbrian pir, Czech pýr̆, Arm. hur, Toch. por, pwār.
Hence fire vb. OE. fȳrian supply with firing; set on fire, lit. and fig. XIII; discharge, explode XVI.

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Fire

Fire (in Hinduism): see AGNI.

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fire

fireacquire, admire, afire, applier, aspire, attire, ayah, backfire, barbwire, bemire, briar, buyer, byre, choir, conspire, crier, cryer, defier, denier, desire, dire, drier, dryer, dyer, enquire, entire, esquire, expire, fire, flyer, friar, fryer, Gaia, gyre, hellfire, hire, hiya, ire, Isaiah, jambalaya, Jeremiah, Josiah, Kintyre, latria, liar, lyre, Maia, Maya, Mayer, messiah, mire, misfire, Nehemiah, Obadiah, papaya, pariah, peripeteia, perspire, playa, Praia, prior, pyre, quire, replier, scryer, shire, shyer, sire, skyer, Sophia, spire, squire, supplier, Surabaya, suspire, tier, tire, transpire, trier, tumble-dryer, tyre, Uriah, via, wire, Zechariah, Zedekiah, Zephaniah •homebuyer

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firing

firing •handspring • hamstring • herring •headspring • wellspring •airing, ballbearing, bearing, Behring, Bering, caring, daring, fairing, hardwearing, pairing, paring, raring, sparing, Waring, wearing •talebearing • childbearing •wayfaring • seafaring • cheeseparing •time-sharing • mainspring • keyring •gee-string • watch spring • offspring •boring, flooring, Goring, riproaring, roaring, scoring, shoring •drawstring • goalscoring •outpouring • bowstring • shoestring •bullring •auctioneering, clearing, earring, electioneering, engineering, gearing, orienteering, privateering, shearing •God-fearing • puppeteering •firing, retiring, uninspiring, untiring, wiring •during, mooring, reassuring, Turing •posturing • restructuring •meandering • rendering •pondering, wandering •ordering • maundering •plundering, thundering, wondering •offering • suffering • fingering •scaremongering • hankering •flickering, Pickering •tinkering • hammering • glimmering •unmurmuring • tampering •whimpering • whispering •smattering, unflattering •earthshattering • schoolmastering •Kettering • self-catering • wittering •quartering, watering •faltering • roistering • muttering •gathering • woolgathering •blithering •flavouring (US flavoring), unwavering •quivering •manoeuvring (US maneuvering) •covering • wallcovering •Goering, stirring, unerring

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Fire

FIRE

FIRE . In early stages of civilization, humans learned to create fire by striking flint, drilling wood, and focusing solar rays. Myths attributed this wondrous, crucial acquisition to the daring of a culture hero, theft from a primordial bird or animal, burglary of heaven and obstinate gods who withheld it, emanation from the vagina of an old woman, or sometimes the outright gift of a divine being. Recognized as ambiguously creative and destructive, life-giving and life-taking, fire appeared in multiple mysteries of transmutation: of environs from cold, dark, and dangerous to warm, light, and secure; of food from raw to cooked; of substance from putrid to pure; of fields from sterile brush to fertile earth; of earth from ore to metal; of human bodies from disease to health; of spirits from profane to sacred; and of speech from babble to wisdom. Fire was identified in animals, plants, earth, air, and water. The human body contained its own fires of digestion, sexuality, and wrath, with fires in the blood, breath, semen, mind, heart, and spleen.

As the alchemist liberated secret interior fires from certain minerals, so with fire the smith accelerated nature's process by cooking and molding minerals into precious goods. Fire was appropriated by the shaman in the sweat lodge, by the yogin meditating as a fifth fire between four others, by the Australian aboriginal novice symbolically roasted and purified over a pit-fire, by the hero whose fury incinerated enemy warriors. In ancient India the hearth was said to be a womb and a householder was not born until he and his wife established sacrificial fires. Chinese esoteric alchemists spurned the smelting fire of the exoteric alchemist because a quest for immortality demanded the superior fire in the mind. Certain Native American tribes believed their ritual fires regenerated the sun and their new fires rekindled the new year. In modern Scandinavia some farmers of the old school still drilled new fire by hand to cure sick cows. Many religious traditions, ancient and contemporary, foresee a celestial or cosmic fire that will destroy the world, as it has in the past.

Fire has been adopted as a metaphorfor some, the only metaphorof sublime, ineffable, transformative experiences in the spiritual quests of specialists of the sacred, and in works by mystics, philosophers, and writers as disparate as Richard of Saint-Victor, Dante Alighieri, and Blaise Pascal. Understanding across times and cultures responds to an early fourteenth-century voice, that of Richard Rolle de Hampole: "when settled in devotion my soul is set on fire." Western ascetics and saints gained renown as living flames, like legendary salamanders with miraculous immunity to fire, while different traditions of Asia produced similar handlers of fire, and walkers on fire, who demonstrated superhuman status in kinship and seeming unity with the powerful element.

The cultic dimensions of fire are varied and countless. Some societies chose to center tradition on domestic hearths and community fire altars, with extensive links to sacred oral or written texts, while others held fire in supporting mythic and ritual roles. The discussion that follows must of necessity be selective and illustrative, not comprehensive.

Ancient India and Iran and Subsequent Traditions

The oldest and most coherent body of myths, rituals, and symbols of fire is found in the Vedas of ancient India and the remnant Avestan and Pahlavi texts of ancient Iran. There are parallels in both domestic and community cults of fire, and between Indic soma and Iranian haoma (Indo-Iranian *sauma ), both essential offerings to deities poured into sacrificial fires. These, along with other key names and rituals, indicate an Indo-Iranian tradition of fire maintained by nomadic pastoralists in West Asia several centuries before and after 2000 bce. Oral mythologies and ritual references collected in the gveda and Atharvaveda from around 1400 to 1000 bce include some 200 hymns addressed to the god of fire, Agni. The opening verse of the gveda addresses him as Purohita, a hearth deity who is domestic priest within every household as well as priest for all the gods. In other Vedic Sahitās such as the Yajurveda, there appeared elaborate ritual schedules based on the identity of fire and the householder-sacrificer. Subsequent Brāhmaa texts explored the nature and function of this fire cult, which remained a focus for both household and expanded cooperative ritual programs. The tenth book of the Śatapatha Brāhmaa is Agni Rahasya, the "mystery of the fire altar," an esoteric text that set a precedent for philosophical speculations in the Upaniads.

In turn, by around 700 bce these Upaniads generated a new worldview for Vedic Hinduism. Each of the two earliest contains the same teaching on sasāra (transmigration). After death, one not released from rebirths returns from the moon and passes through five sacrificial fires, the fourth being a man who offers his semen into a woman; the fruit of this fifth sacrifice is a new embryo. In the same period compendia of manuals known as sūtras systematized schedules of cooperative (Śrauta) and then domestic (Ghya) fire sacrifices that have lasted to the present time. Also in this pivotal era various techniques of asceticism grew into prominence, including the production of inner heat (tapas) by means of various austerities. Cosmic-human bodily correspondences were explored in yet another way with these new expressions of fire and heat.

As the god Agni himself is a cosmic triad, so there should be three fires set in every household, and still in India today there are āhitāgnis, secluded maintainers of Agni in their houses as āhavanīya (offering fire), gārhapatya (preparatory fire), and dakināgn i (protective southern fire). The agnihotra, morning and evening offerings of hot milk, comprise the basic domestic sacrifice. These now-rare three-fire sacrificers are eligible, as in ancient Vedic practice, to advance to the sacrifice of soma and then selected other śrauta rituals. The yajamāna (sacrificer) carries a terra-cotta bowl of fire in identification with Agni and with another Vedic god, Prajāpati, as world-creator. Solemn rituals include the forty-day pauarīka, employing seventeen priests with both animal and soma offerings in a type of agnicayana fire sacrifice reintegrating time and space in a cosmic construction of Agni. Five layers of thousands of bricks shape a gigantic eagle with the ātman, the Self, at the center, indicating that the sacrificer and fire are one. A striking feature of these contemporary survivals of ancient practice is the generation of Agni by friction from arais (male and female wooden drilling sticks). These have a capacity to absorb all three fires into themselves for transport if the āhitāgni and patnī (wife) must travel away from the house and constant tending of fires.

Confirmation of a belief in the identity of householder and fire is found both in the Vedic cremation ritual, in which the sacrificer or his wife is burned with the three sacrificial fires, literally absorbed by them in antyei, a "final sacrifice," and, in another direction, in the vow to become a sanyāsin, a renunciant ascetic. Sanyāsa calls for the interiorization of fires, ritual deposition of fires in the self, and therefore an end to the external sacrifices that have previously structured life. Since the sanyāsin' s breaths are the five cosmic fires, his agnihotra becomes the constant offering of prāa (breath).

Great Vedic fire sacrifices such as the agnicayana, aśvamedha (royal horse sacrifice), or rājasūya (consecration of a king) have not been a prominent feature of Hinduism since the late medieval period, and the god Agni himself has been reduced to minor status since the emergence of the Sanskrit epics and Purāas. But the role of fire in Hinduism has never diminished. Life-cycle rites (saskāras) are an array of ceremonies from conception and birth to cremation, the last still defined by the final offering of the body to Agni Kravyād, consumer of the deceased, on the funeral pyre. Saskāras depend on ritually kindled fires with domestic priests or householders themselves reciting either Vedic mantras or Sanskrit verses. As a complement to household worship, which is usually focused on images or symbols of favorite goddesses and gods assembled close to the kitchen hearth, Hindus may go to neighborhood temples and shrines for devapūjā, public worship. Inside temples housing a form of Devī, Viu, Śiva, or another deity, priests conduct on behalf of the visitor a schedule of worship, invariably including ārati, the waving of a lighted lamp or burning incense before the sacred image.

There are numerous fire festivals with bonfires, lamps, and fireworks in Hinduism. Dīvālī (Dīpāvalī) is a popular occasion for setting out multitudes of burning lights (dīpas) in OctoberNovember. In honor of pits (ancestors), tiny bamboo boats carry hundreds of burning lamps down the nearest river. Torches are carried in rural communities in circumambulation around the entire village for certain festivals, and passage of all residents under arches of burning straw may be practiced at harvest time. A favorite vow in villages and towns of South India and Sri Lanka is firewalking, at times featuring hundreds of people crossing in single file a thirty-foot-long pit of glowing embers to the sounds of thunderous drums and shrill flutes. At other times a single person, possessed by a deity or the deified dead, may walk on coals, "play" with fire, dance with burning skewers, swallow burning charcoal, or hold burning camphor on the palm of the hand, all as demonstrations of divine power and grace. Devotion to a fierce goddess such as Pattini, Draupadī, Mārīamma, Poleramma, or some other manifestation of Amma (Mother) is thereby tested, and the unscathed devotee gains the goddess's protection against epidemic diseases and other misfortunes. Firewalking is performed by Fiji Island migrant Hindus in the South Pacific, by Buddhist as well as Hindu devotees of the popular god Kataragama (Skanda) in Sri Lanka, and by Shīʿī Muslims in South Asia, particularly during the annual festival of Muarram.

This sketch of South Asia over four millennia may be paralleled in greater Iran, where spiritual identifications of humans with fire occur on similar levels: individual, family-household, village, and in the case of kingship rituals, state. However, by comparison with India's still enduring oral traditions and Vedic-Hindu historical continuity in ritual, evidence for ancient Iranian cults of fire is limited first by a break in oral traditions and loss of much of the early written record, then by dispersal of Zoroastrians themselves during the medieval advance of Islam. What survives, however, indicates the centrality of the household hearth (ātash dādgāh), along with extended community (ātash ādarān) and royal or primary fires (ātash bahrām) and sacrifices similar to the pattern of Vedic Indo-Aryans to the east. A cosmic five-fire worldview, again as in India, complemented this basic triad, all based on a system of correspondences between natural fire and ritual fire. Among several major differences, however, was the emergence in Iran of permanent temples, "houses of a fire" enthroned on raised pedestals, perhaps under the influence of surrounding temple-building cultures of urban West Asia. Although fireplaces have been excavated in Bactria and Margiana (northern Afghanistan and southern Turkmenistan), in sites in the path of Indo-Iranian migrations from around 2500 to 1500 bce, other than traces of ephedra (possibly haoma ) there is little evidence regarding the beliefs and rituals of those who used them. It was not until the fourth century bce that Achaemenid rulers of greater Iran erected temples of perpetual fire. Barely surviving two millennia of political and religious warfare, temples with fire in metal containers still serve today as spiritual centers for remnant Zoroastrians in Iran and for Parsis in western India who maintain eight bahrām fires.

Fire emerged as the basic symbol of Zoroastrianism, the religion that developed in the first half of the first millennium bce, probably from the teachings of Zarathushtra in the Gāthās. The ancient Indo-Iranian deities were submerged into a cult of one "Wise Lord," Ahura Mazdā, although they resurfaced as his entities or qualities in a set of six Amesha Spentas (Beneficent immortals). Most prominent among them is Asha, the equivalent of Vedic ta (cosmic order). Asha, a quality of Ahura Mazdāat one point recognized as an independent deity, Asha Vahishtasymbolizes truth and justice, and was represented by fire. The sun and light are visible forms of Ahura Mazdā, but above all he is fire. An ethical dualism presented a clear opposition in which the symbols of asha fire, light, purity, and goodnessare on the side of Ahura Mazdā against druj (the lie), associated with darkness, impurity, and evil. In meditation, personal piety, and sacrifice (yasna, Avestan parallel to Vedic yajña ) a worshiper relates to fire and participates in this cosmic, but also immediately human conflict. The offering into fires of sacrificial animals, particularly their fat, and of pressed haoma juice was suppressed by Zarathushtra, but these age-old rituals resurfaced in a later period. Among Parsis today only haoma is sacrificed. A symbolic libation of fat occurs only in funerals.

Aside from permanent fire temples, other features distinguish the Iranian fire cult from its Vedic-Hindu counterpart. The sovereign Vedic god Varua governs ta (cosmic order), while in the case of Varua's Avestan complement, Ahura Mazdā, asha is itself the representation of fire. In Iran, disposal of the dead was not by cremation, as in India, but rather by exposure, as seen with the famous stone towers still used today by Parsis in India. Fire burns nearby, but birds and beasts of prey are allowed to clean flesh from bone, thus protecting sacred fire from the pollution of death. Even human breath is polluting, and mouth-veils are worn by sacrificing, fire-tending priests, the only persons who may approach the altars.

Regarding fire, yet another distinction from Indo-Aryan tradition pertains to time. Vedic sacrifices reveal a cyclic pattern, as in the Rājasūya sacrifice used to consecrate kings, in which one performance, when completed, is immediately followed by preparations for another. The Purāas continued this model with the pralaya principle, based on an endless repetition of dissolutions and re-creations of the cosmos, destructions being total incineration by one or another form of Agni. Zoroastrianism, on the other hand, introduced a sense of final time and divine judgment, with eschatological fire expected on the last day in a one-time cataclysm. In historic time, judgment occurs routinely, as in ordeals by fire to test veracity and loyalty, but the day of final judgment awaits the future after resolution of the conflict of asha and druj, the light of truth and darkness of the lie, in favor of Ahura Mazdā and his eternal flame.

The Ancient Mediterranean

A fire altar (bomos) in a sacred precinct (temenos) was an essential feature of ancient religious practice for Greeks. The cult depended, as in India and Iran, on sacrifice to deities with commensal sharing of victims. Hesiod and Homer speak of the fat-wrapped thighbones of an ox, cuts of meat, and wine offered on the altar fire. Open fire pits opposite a temple entrance were standard, although some older temples had interior hearths. Hestia burned perpetually in her temple at Delphi, as a flame and with no image necessary to represent her. And in every home the hearth was the sacred center, a site of offerings, and a space where none could be violated.

In Hesiod's Theogony, Prometheus deceives and angers Zeus during a sacrifice of ox bones by stealing an ember from the altar and kindling the first fire to burn on earth. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter preserves an archaic legend of Eleusinian mysteries, the goddess Demeter's attempt to deify the boy Demophoon by secretly holding him in the hearth fire at night. That ritual, interrupted by the terrified mother, Metaneira, fails and the boy remains mortal. Again, as in India and Iran, cosmic correspondences exist between fire, breath (pneuma, Latin spiritus ), and mind. The worldview of Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 540480 bce) began with fire, an uncreated, eternal substance, essence of the universe, and medium of creation, associated with logos, mind, reason, and wisdom. The Pythagoreans, Parmenides of Elea, and Empedocles were other philosophers placing elemental fire in prominence.

The bare patch of ground on the Palatine Hill may not be "the hearth of Romulus," as claimed by today's tour guides, but ancient Rome did have its dual fire cults of domestic hearth, which received part of the meal before the family dined, and public altar (ara or altaria ) with its own adjoining hearth. Vesta, Roman parallel to Hestia, was in a uniquely round temple without an image, her eternal flame being sufficient representation on what was essentially the hearth of the city, tendedlike any domestic hearthby females, six appointed Vestal Virgins tasked with kindling a new fire by friction every New Year's Day, March 1. On April 21, Pales, goddess of herders and their animals, was honored through the staging of Parilia, a festival including the racing of men and animals through burning straw, similar to one occurring in India today. The temple of Volcanus stood outside the city walls, a reminder of other fires: the dangerously destructive one sleeping in the heights of Vesuvius and Aetna, and the summer fires of cropfields and granaries.

Two centuries after Heraclitus, Stoic philosophers, including Zeno, Cleanthes, and others, elaborated Heraclitus's belief in fire as a basic element associated with logos as universal reason and regulative principle. The doctrine of seminal logos (logos spermatikos) led to belief in individual beings as immortal sparks from a divine fiery unity, a view adopted with modifications by Jewish, Christian, Gnostic, and other philosophical traditions. In the new Hellenistic culture acquainted with the wider world of Asia, several elements derived from early Upaniads (c. 700 bce) are evident, including the notion of the individual soul, destined eventually to rejoin that original fiery unity, departing this earth for the moon.

Ancient Israel, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

To a limited extent scriptures of the two biblical traditions and Islam consciously separated the supreme being from the natural phenomenon of fire. And yet all three employed numerous symbols, beliefs, and folklore concerning the element of fire and associated phenomena of light. Only ancient Israel had a cult of fire maintained for animal sacrifices on a temple or open-air altar in the pattern of West Asia and, to a lesser extent, Egypt. With the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 ce, sacrificial firealong with the Temple and the altarbecame eschatological symbols. Early Christian churches with wooden tables as altars for the symbolic sacrifice known as Eucharist, and Islamic mosques as houses of prayer, like synagogues, had place for discreet lamps but not open fire. The Shabbat lamp and the altar candle still serve as fire in miniature.

To a degree, all three religions were influenced by Zoroastrianism, as is particularly evident in postexilic Judaism and in a widespread belief in opposing angels and demons. Most important were apocalyptic and other eschatological imprints in the notions of a fiery last day of judgment, of hell as a place of flaming torment, and of a God who pursues the unrighteous with punishing fire. On the other hand, all three faiths produced mystics of independent and solitary vision and experience, some associated with sublime expressions of fire, heat, and love.

When Solomon prayed before the bronze altar "fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifice and the glory of the Lord filled the temple" (2 Chron. 7:1). In a striking theophany Moses saw the angel of the Lord in the midst of a burning bush that was not consumed (Exod. 3:2), and in the flight from Egypt through the wilderness the Lord led the people of Israel in a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night (Exod. 13:2122). Believers are protected from destructive fire: "When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God" (Isa. 43:2). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not harmed when thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship an image of gold (Dan. 3:130). "A chariot of fire and horses of fire" took Elijah "up by a whirlwind into heaven" (2 Kings 2:11). "My heart grew hot within me," says David in Psalm 39.3, "as I meditated, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue."

In the New Testament the sound of a mighty wind accompanied the arrival of the Holy Spirit that appeared to the apostles of Jesus as "tongues of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them" (Acts 2:14). Peter's second letter instructs that heaven and earth will be burned up on the day of the Lord (3:10), and Revelation, the Apocalypse of John, warns sinners of an end "in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (21.8). Early Christian desert saints of Egypt such as Abba Joseph of Panephysis, continuing the imagery of the Holy Spirit, were witnessed as flaming fires. The third-century church "father," Origen, foresaw a purification on the last day: Jesus will stand in a fiery river to baptize by fire all who enter paradise.

Fire and light play prominent roles in the extra-canonical literature of Judaism and Christianity, and in Gnostic texts, particularly in various apocalypses. Developing traditions of Jewish mysticism and collections of Jewish legend (Haggadah) were significant in this regard. In a Haggadah account of creation it is said that the preexistent Torah was written with black fire on white fire, as she (the Torah) was lying in the lap of God. The Gospel of Thomas quotes Jesus as saying, "He who is near me is near the fire" (82), but also "I have come to cast upon earth fire, sword and war" (16), and the Apocalypse of Peter reveals the day of God with cataracts of fire, "a fierce fire that shall not be put out and it flows for the judgment of wrath" (4). Given the influence of Iranian traditions, it is not surprising to find parallels to cosmic conflict in the Qumran scroll "The War of the Sons of Light with the Sons of Darkness" and in the Gnostic "Paraphrase of Shem," with its visions of chaotic fires.

Elijah's chariot of fire, reminiscent of both Vedic and ancient Iranian chariots of fire-sacrificers, and Daniel's vision of "a throne of fiery flames with wheels of burning fire" (7:9) became foundational images of the divine throne-chariot (merkabah) for many centuries of mystical texts and schools. Enoch's vision, similar to Daniel's, records a heavenly throne of fire in a blazing mansion, with the Lord speaking to him from streams of fire. He is also given a tour of Hell with its rivers of fire (I Enoch). The thirteenth-century Zohar, the seminal text for Qabbalah, identifies the ten sefirot, primordial numbers and emanations of light and power from the divine unity, a process later believed by qabbalists to include dissemination of sparks from that one source.

Inspirational to generations of asidim are stories of charismatic rebbes such as Baʿal Shem Tov (c. 17001760), known as the BeSHT. Once an overnight guest in his house, awakened at midnight in terror by a great flame rising from the hearth, fainted upon realizing it was the BeSHT. Another Hasidic rebbe, the Maggid of Mezeritch (17041772), sent his followers fleeing in panic by appearing suddenly as a being of fire.

The mystics of European Christianity often spoke and wrote of being consumed in ecstasy by incendium amoris, "the fire of love." Saints Augustine of Hippo (354430), Gregory I (the Great) (c. 540604), John of the Cross (Juan de la Cruz, 15421591), Catherine of Genoa (14471510), and Teresa of Ávila (d. 1582), the hermit Richard Rolle de Hampole (c. 12901349), and the philosopher Jakob Boehme (15751624) all used a language of fire and heat to convey the impact of mystical transformations or unitive states. Rolle speaks for many: "[T]he heart that truly receives the fire of the Holy Ghost is burned wholly and turns as it were into fire; and it leads it into that form that is likest to God" (Incendium amoris, ch. 17).

In some Greek villages today, devotees of Saint Constantine (the Great) and his mother Saint Helena believe they are protected by the pair when performing a firewalk after sacrificing a bull and sharing the feast of Anestanaria. Brought to the United States by immigrants, this ritual was soon swept into the 1970s New Age practice of firewalking, with its goals of self-realization and experimentation rather than ritual or worship. Today the American firewalking movement holds workshops in scores of states and some universities offer courses on firewalking.

Several times the Qurʾān recounts Moses' theophany of fire, but most references are warnings to those who reject the truth and deserve horrendous flame and molten brass on the day of judgment. Anecdotes of the Prophet preserved in popular bazaar tracts include such miracles as the moment when Muammad halted the sun in its course. A rich hagiographical literature, particularly in association with the ūfīs, details the experiences of awliyāʿ (friends) of Allāh, saints, and mystics included in collections from the eleventh and following centuries. Examples of ūfīs handling fire or using a language of fire bring to mind the mystics of Christianity. asan al-Barī (642728) caused a "fire-worshiping" Zoroastrian to convert to Islam by thrusting his own hand into a fire and leaving it there unburned. Rābiʿah al-ʾAdawīyah (d. 810), Abū Yazīd al-Bisāmī (d. 874), Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (d. 1273), and Najm Dāyā Rāzī (thirteenth century) all broke restraints of law, theology and proper behavior to identify Allāh and fire, and at times themselves with both. Union with fire readily lent itself to the contested notion of fānaʾ, mystical annihilation. One ūfī complained that he could not sleep because of his fear of hell-fire. Rābiʿah was said to have carried a torch and a pail of water, explaining that she intended to burn Paradise and douse Hell in order to eliminate both hindrances to a pure vision of Allāh. One dark night in Basra she had several visitors. Having no lantern, she blew upon her finger, which then lighted the room until sun-up. In the famous account of his "ascension" according to the Tadhkirat al-Auliya', Abū Yazīd, founder of the "drunken" school of mystics, spoke from his dark night of the soul: "In my intoxication I melted my body in every crucible in the fire of jealousy." And Rūmī, ecstatic poet of Persian odes and originator of the Mevlevi (Mawlawīyah) whirling dervish dance, sang to his divine beloved, Shams al-Dīn: "Face like fire, wine like fire, love afire soul lamenting 'Whither shall I flee?'" (136.6).

See Also

Light and Darkness.

Bibliography

On fire in general, see four works by Mircea Eliade: A History of Religious Ideas, 3 vols., translated by Willard R. Trask et al. (Chicago, 19781985), The Forge and the Crucible, translated by Stephen Corrin (New York, 1962), Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, translated by Willard R. Trask (New York, 1964), and Mephistopheles and the Androgyne, translated by J. M. Cohen (New York, 1965); also see Gaston Bachelard, The Psychoanalysis of Fire, translated by Alan C. M. Ross (Boston, 1964); Carl-Martin Edsman, Ignis Divinus (Lund, Sweden, 1949); and David M. Knipe, In the Image of Fire: Vedic Experiences of Heat (Delhi, 1975).

On fire in Indo-European cosmogony and eschatology, see Bruce Lincoln, Myth, Cosmos, and Society: Indo-European Themes of Creation and Destruction (Cambridge, Mass., 1986). On Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, and Eurasian steppe backgrounds to historic India and Iran, see Asko Parpola, "Pre-Proto-Iranians of Afghanistan as Initiators of Sākta Tantrism," Iranica Antiqua 37 (2002): 233324, and his "From the Dialects of Old Indo-Aryan to Proto-Indo-Aryan and Proto-Iranian," in Indo-Iranian Languages and Peoples, edited by Nicholas Sims-Williams, pp.43102 (Oxford, 2002). Also useful are J. P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans (London, 1989) and Richard B. Onians, The Origins of European Thought about the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time, and Fate, 2d ed. (Cambridge, U.K., 1954).

On the Vedic fire cult, see Frits Staal, Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, 2 vols. (Berkeley, Calif., 1983); Musashi Tachikawa, Shrikant Bahulkar, and Madhavi Kolhatkar, Indian Fire Ritual (Delhi, 2001); H. W. Bodewitz, The Daily Evening and Morning Offering (Agnihotra) (Leiden, Netherlands, 1976); and David M. Knipe, In the Image of Fire (Delhi, 1975).

On Hinduism, see Wendy Doniger [O'Flaherty], Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Śiva (London, 1973) and David G. White, The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India (Chicago, 1996).

On ancient Iran and Zoroastrianism, compare two books by Mary Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism, 3 vols. (Leiden, 197591; vol. 3 by Mary Boyce and Frantz Grenet) and Zoroastrians: Their Beliefs and Practices (London, 1979), with two by Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin, Symbols and Values in Zoroastrianism: Their Survival and Renewal (New York, 1966) and Religion of Ancient Iran, translated by K. M. Jamasp Asa (Bombay, 1973). Other standard works include Stig Wikander, Feuerpriester in Kleinasien und Iran (Lund, Sweden, 1946) and Klaus Schippmann, Die iranischen Feuerheiligtumer (Berlin and New York, 1971). Still authoritative is Jivanji Jamshedji Modi, The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees, 2d ed. (Bombay, 1937).

On fire cults in Java, Bali, Tibet, China, and Japan, see essays by C. Hooykaas, Tadeusz Skorupski, and Michel Strickmann in Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar, vol. 2, edited by Frits Staal, pp. 382455.

On the yin-yang school of ancient China, see Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy, 2d ed., vol. 1, translated by Derk Bodde (Princeton, N.J., 1952) and Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China, vol. 2: History of Scientific Thought (Cambridge, U.K., 1956).

On ancient Greece, compare Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, translated by John Raffan (Cambridge, Mass., 1985) with Le sacrifice dans l'antiquité, edited by Jean-Pierre Vernant and Olivier Reverdin (Geneva, 1981); Marie Delcourt, Pyrrhos et Pyrrha: Recherches sur les valeurs du feu dans les légendes helléniques (Paris: 1965); Carl-Martin Edsman, Ignis Divinus (Lund, Sweden, 1949); and William D. Furley, Studies in the Use of Fire in Ancient Greek Religion (New York, 1981). On firewalking in modern Greece and the United States, see Loring M. Danforth, Firewalking and Religious Healing: The Anastenaria of Greece and the American Firewalking Movement (Princeton, N.J., 1989), Anna Gault-Antoniades, The Anastenaria: Thracian Fire-walking Festival (Athens, 1954), and William D. Furley, Studies in the Use of Fire in Ancient Greek Religion (New York, 1981).

On ancient Rome, see Georges Dumézil, Archaic Roman Religion, translated by Philip Krapp, 2 vols. (Chicago, 1970) and Robert Schilling, Rites, cultes, dieux de Rome (Paris, 1979).

On ancient Israel and Judaism, see Menahem Haran, Temples and Temple-Service in Ancient Israel (Oxford, 1978); two works written by Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 3d rev. ed. (New York, 1954) and On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, translated by Ralph Manheim (New York, 1965), and one edited by him, The Zohar: The Book of Splendor (New York, 1949); Ithamar Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism (Leiden, 1980); Willis Barnstone, ed., The Other Bible (San Francisco, 1984); and Elie Wiesel, Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters, translated by Marion Wiesel (New York, 1972).

On Christianity, see Carl-Martin Edsman, Le Baptême de feu (Uppsala, Sweden, 1940); Richard Rolle de Hampole, The Fire of Love, translated by Richard Misyn and edited by F. M. M. Comper, 2d ed. (London, 1920); E. Allison Peers, The Complete Works of Saint John of the Cross, 3 vols. (London, 19341935); The Letters of Saint Teresa, translated by the Benedictines of Stanbrook Abbey, 4 vols. (London, 19211926); Jakob Boehme, Aurora, translated by John Sparrow (London, 1960); Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism (1911; reprint, New York, 1955); and a book edited by Walter H. Capps and Wendy M. Wright, Silent Fire: An Invitation to Western Mysticism (San Francisco, 1978.)

On Islamic saints and mystics, see Farīd al-Dīn ʿAār, Muslim Saints and Mystics: Episodes from the Tadhkirat al-Auliyaʿ ("Memorial of the Saints"), translated by A. J. Arberry (Chicago, 1966); Mystical Poems of Rūmī, translated by A. J. Arberry (Chicago, 1968); Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1975); and R. C. Zaehner, Hindu and Muslim Mysticism (New York, 1960).

On shamanism, in addition to Eliade, Shamanism (New York, 1964), see Jean-Paul Roux, "Fonctions chamaniques et valeurs du feu chez lex peuples altaiques," Revue de l'histoire des religions 189 (1976): 67101.

On Native Americans, see Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked, translated by John and Doreen Weightman (New York, 1969); Lawrence E. Sullivan, Icanchu's Drum: An Orientation to Meaning in South American Religions (New York, 1988); Åke Hultkrantz, The Religions of the American Indians, translated by Monica Setterwall (Berkeley, Calif., 1967); and Reinhilde Freise, Studie zum Feuer in Vorstellungswelt und Praktiken der Indianer des südwestlichen Nordamerika (Tübingen, Germany, 1969).

For a penetrating structural study of a fire ritual among the Ndembu of Zambia, see Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Chicago, 1969).

On Australian aboriginals, see Ronald M. Berndt and Catherine H. Berndt, The World of the First Australians: An Introduction to the Traditional Life of the Australian Aborigines (Chicago, 1964).

David M. Knipe (2005)

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fire

fire, the phenomenon of combustion as seen in light, flame, and heat. One of the basic tools of human culture, its use is extremely ancient, predating the existence of Homo sapiens by several hundred thousand years or more. In ancient Greece and later, fire was considered one of the four basic elements, a substance from which all things were composed. Its great importance to humans, the mystery of its powers, and its seeming capriciousness have made fire divine or sacred to many peoples. Fire as a god is a characteristic feature of Zoroastrianism, in which, as in many sun-worshiping religions, fire is considered the earthly representative or type of the sun. The belief that fire is sacred is widespread in mythology, and such beliefs have survived in some highly developed cultures. The connection between the Greek colony and the metropolis was the fire kindled in the colony from a brand brought from the mother city's fire. The most carefully preserved cult in Rome was that of Vesta, goddess of the hearth, and her virgins guarded the holy fire. One of the greatest Greek myths is the story of Prometheus, the fire bringer. The theft of fire is a common element in the myths of many other cultures. The ramifications of the human ideas about fire are tremendously complex, extending as they do into the concepts about light and the heavens.

See J. G. Frazer, Myths of the Origins of Fire (1930, repr. 1971); G. Bachelard, Psychoanalysis of Fire (tr. 1964).

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Fire

FIRE

FIRE (Heb. אֵשׁ).

In the Bible

Once humans discovered that fire could be maintained and exploited for their needs, it became one of their most important assets. Fire was used for light, warmth, cooking, roasting, baking, in waging war, and in various crafts, for sending messages, and for ritual purposes. Greek myth relates that fire was originally restricted to the gods before it was stolen by Prometheus and given to humans. Fire is one of the central elements of theophany. At the covenant with Abraham "a smoking oven and a flaming torch," representing the divine presence passed between the halves of the animals (Gen. 15:17). God appeared to Moses from the burning bush (Ex. 3:2); He went before Israel in a pillar of fire to guide them by night on their way out of Egypt (Ex. 13:21–22; 14:24; Num. 9:15–16 et al.); on the occasion of the giving of the Tablets of the Law, Mount Sinai is described as being covered in smoke, "for the Lord had come down upon it in fire" (Ex. 19:18). In Deuteronomy 9:3 Yahweh is described as "consuming fire." Yahweh breaths smoke, flames, and fire (ii Sam. 22:9 [= Ps. 18:9]; Isa. 30:27, 33; 65:5). In cultic practice special importance was attributed to fire as a means of purification and cleansing: "any article that can withstand fire-these you shall pass through fire and they shall be clean" (Num. 31:23). Fire was used in several ways in worship: (1) a fire was lit daily in the temple (Ex. 27:20; Lev. 24:2; (2) a perpetual fire for burning sacrifices was maintained on the altar (Lev. 6:5, 6); (3) a fire was used for roasting sacrifices for human consumption; (4) a fire for burning incense was placed so that the smoke diffused throughout the shrine (Ex. 29:18; Lev. 16:13; et al.; see *Sacrifice). The power of fire both as a positive and destructive force is expressed in the poetic portions of the Bible: "and you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire He is the God" (i Kings 18:24). God punishes the wicked by sending down fire from heaven: "the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulfurous fire from the Lord out of heaven" (Gen. 19:24). Fire is also an expression of great anger: "for a fire has flared in my wrath and burned to the bottom of Sheol, has consumed the earth and its increase, eaten down to the base of the hills" (Deut. 32:22).

[Ze'ev Yeivin /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

In Talmudic Literature

Fire figures prominently both in the halakhah and the aggadah. In the former it occupies a central place in civil law as one of the four tortfeasors, the four principal categories of damage (see *Avot Nezikin). It also occupies a special role with regard to the Sabbath; although kindling a fire is one of the main 39 categories of work forbidden on the Sabbath (Shab. 7:2), it is also specifically mentioned as a separate prohibition: "Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations on the Sabbath day" (Ex. 35:3). There is a difference of opinion in the Talmud as to the reason for this distinctive mention. According to one opinion the reason is to make this particular prohibition a mere negative commandment, incurring the punishment of flogging, whereas violation of the others invokes karet. According to the other opinion it is specifically mentioned to establish the rule that a person is liable separately for each and every infringement of the prohibitions of the Sabbath (Shab. 70a). The rabbis, in contradistinction to the Sadducees (and later the Karaites) interpreted the verse to apply only to the actual kindling of a fire on the Sabbath but not to its existence. Therefore a fire lit before the Sabbath is permitted to continue to burn on that day (if no fuel is added during the day), permitting the distinctive feature of the home celebrations of Sabbath, the Sabbath lights on the table. This fire, according to some opinions, could be used to keep pre-cooked food warm on the Sabbath, and according to other opinions, it could also be used to allow partially cooked foods to continue cooking by themselves on the Sabbath itself. Among the forms of work forbidden on Sabbath and permitted on festivals, lighting a fire is one of only two such forms (along with carrying) which is permitted even if one does not use the fire to prepare food, in line with the principle that "once it was permitted for the need [of cooking] it was permitted when there is no such need" (Beẓah 12b).

Fire is extensively referred to in the aggadah. According to one account it was created on the second day of creation (pdre 4) but according to another, it was created after the conclusion of the Sabbath, by Adam through the friction of two stones (Pes. 54a; tj, Ber. 8:6, 12b). The fire of the altar came down from heaven (cf. Yoma 21b) and remained burning from the time of Moses until it was transferred to the Temple of Solomon (Zev. 61b), and it continued to burn until the reign of Manasseh (Yalkut, Kings 187). On the other hand the fire in the Second Temple was human fire (Yoma loc. cit.); nevertheless that fire was never extinguished by the rain. The "strange fire" which Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, offered up on the altar (Lev. 10:1) was "common" or human fire (Num. R. 2:23). Indeed, all that which is regarded as coming directly from God is said to have been given in fire. The Torah was given in a frame of white fire and the letters were engraved in black fire (tj, Shek. 6:1, 48d). When God told Moses to institute the half-shekel, He showed him "a coin of fire" (ibid., 1:6, 46b). Simultaneously with earthly fire was created the fire of Gehinnom, and earthly fire is one-sixtieth of that fire (Ber. 57b). Out of primordial fire was created light: "The fire became pregnant and gave birth to light" (Ex. R. 15:22).

Six kinds of fire are enumerated (Yoma 21b) and some such division is responsible for the formula of the blessing over light at the *Havdalah ceremony. According to the school of Shammai the formula should be, "Who created the light of the fire." The school of Hillel, however, maintained that since there are many colors of fire, it was necessary to say, "Who created the lights of fire" in the plural (Ber. 52a) and the halakhah was established accordingly. The rabbis accepted the legend that the salamander was created out of fire (Ḥag. 27a; Tanh. Va-Yeshev 3, Ex. R. 15:28) and that its blood protected a person from the ill effects of fire. Fire beacons placed on the mountaintops were used to announce the arrival of the New Moon (rh 2:2–4).

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]

bibliography:

S. Muehsam, Das Feuer in Bibel und Talmud (1869); E.B. Tylor, Researches into the Early History of Mankind (1878), index; Y. Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands (1963), passim. add. bibliography: W. Watson, in: ddd, 331–32.

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Fire

Fire

Theme Overview

In ancient times, people considered fire one of the basic elements of the universe, along with water, air, and earth. Fire can be a friendly, comforting thing, a source of heat and light, as anyone who has ever sat by a campfire in the dark of night knows. Yet fire can also be dangerous and deadly, racing and leaping like a living thing to consume all in its path. In mythology, fire appears both as a creative, cleansing force and as a destructive, punishing one, although positive aspects of fire generally outweigh negative ones.

Major Myths

Agni (pronounced AG-nee), the god of fire in Hindu mythology, represents the essential energy of life in the universe. He consumes things, but only so that other things can live. Fiery horses pull Agni's chariot, and he carries a flaming spear. Agni created the sun and the stars, and his powers are great. He can make worshippers immortal, or able to live forever, and can purify the souls of the dead from sin. One ancient myth about Agni says that he consumed so many offerings from his worshippers that he was tired. To regain his strength, he had to burn an entire forest with all its inhabitants.

Chinese mythology includes stories of Hui Lu (pronounced hwee-LOO), a magician and fire god who kept one hundred firebirds in a gourd. By setting them loose, he could start a fire across the whole country. There was also a hierarchy—or an ordered ranking—of gods in charge of fire. At its head was Lo Hsuan (pronounced loh-SWAHN), whose cloak, hair, and beard were red. Flames spurted from his horse's nostrils. He was not unconquerable, however. Once when he attacked a city with swords of fire, a princess appeared in the sky and quenched his flames with her cloak of mist and dew.

The bringers of fire are legendary heroes in many traditions. Prometheus (pronounced pruh-MEE-thee-uhs) of Greek mythology , one of the most famous fire-bringers, stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. The gods punished him severely for his crime. Similar figures appear in the tales of other cultures.

Some American Indian tribes believed that long ago some evil being hid fire so that people could not benefit from it. A hero had to recover it and make it available to human beings. In many versions of the story, Coyote steals fire for people, but sometimes a wolf, woodpecker, or other animal does so. According to the Navajo, Coyote tricked two monsters that guarded the flames on Fire Mountain. Then he lit a bundle of sticks tied to his tail and ran down the mountain to deliver the fire to his people.

African traditions also say that animals gave fire to humans. According to the myths of the San of South Africa, Ostrich guarded fire under his wing until a praying mantis stole it. Mantis tricked Ostrich into spreading his wings and made off with the fire. The fire destroyed Mantis, but from the ashes came two new Mantises.

Indians of the Amazon River basin in Brazil say that a jaguar rescued a boy and took him to its cave. There the boy watched the jaguar cooking food over a fire. The boy stole a hot coal from the fire and took it to his people, who then learned to cook.

Legends in the Caroline Islands of the Pacific link fire to Olofat, a mythical trickster hero who was the son of the sky god and a mortal woman. As a youth, Olofat forced his way into heaven to see his father. Later Olofat gave fire to human beings by allowing a bird to fly down to earth with fire in its beak. The Admiralty Islanders of the Pacific Ocean have a myth in which a snake asks his human children to cook some fish. The children simply heat the fish in the sun and eat it raw, so the snake gives them fire and teaches them to use it to cook their food.

A myth from Assam, in northern India, says that after losing a battle with Water, Fire hid in a bamboo stalk. Grasshopper saw it and told Monkey, who figured out how to use Fire. But a man saw Monkey and decided that he should have Fire, so he stole it from Monkey. Like many stories, this myth portrays ownership of fire as a human right. Even partial control over such a powerful force of nature is one of the things that gives human society its identity.

Fire in Context

People in all parts of the world tell myths and legends about fire. Numerous stories explain how people first acquired fire, either through their own daring or as a gift from an animal, god, or hero. The ability to make and control fire—which is necessary for cooking, making pottery and glass, and metalworking—sets people apart from other living things.

Because fire warms and gives off light like the sun, it often represents the sun or a sun god in mythology. In some tales, it is linked with the idea of the hearth, the center of a household. Fire can also be a symbol of new life, as in the case of the phoenix (pronounced FEE-niks), the mythical bird that is periodically destroyed by flames to rise reborn from its own ashes.

Fire's energy is not always a good thing. Flames can bring punishment and suffering as in the Christian image of hell as a place of fiery torment. Some myths about the end of the world predict that the world will end in fire—but it may be a purifying, cleansing fire that will allow the birth of a fresh new world.

Because fire can be treacherous and destructive, mythical figures associated with it may be tricksters , not always to be trusted. The Norse god Loki's (pronounced LOH-kee) shifty and malicious character may have been based on the characteristics of a forest fire. Another deity, or god, associated with fire is the Greek Hephaestus (pronounced hi-FES-tuhs), god of metalworking, who is usually portrayed as deformed and sullen.

Fighting Sorcery with Fire

In Europe and America, individuals accused of being witches were once burned at the stake. Many cultures have held the belief that fire destroys sorcery, or black magic. The Assyrians of ancient Mesopotamia called upon fire to undo the effects of evil witchcraft aimed at them. They used these words:

Boil, boil, burn, burn!... As this goat's skin is torn asunder and cast into the fire, and as the blaze devours it... may the curse, the spell, the pain, the torment, the sickness, the sin, the misdeed, the crime, the suffering, that oppress my body, be torn asunder like this goat's skin! May the blaze consume them today.

In many cultures, people practice rituals or ceremonies related to fire. These rituals are often based on myths and legends about fire or fire gods. In ancient Rome, a sacred flame associated with the goddess Vesta (pronounced VESS-tuh) represented national well-being. Women called the Vestal Virgins had the holy duty of keeping that flame alive. The Aztecs of ancient Mexico believed that the fire god Huehueteotl (pronounced hway-hway-tay-OH-tul) kept earth and heaven in place. At the end of each cycle of 52 years, they extinguished all fires, and Huehueteotl's priests lit a new flame for the people to use. In northern Europe, which has long, dark, cold winters, fire was especially honored. Pre-Christian fire festivals such as lighting bonfires on May 1 have continued into modern times in European communities.

Many cultures have practiced cremation, the burning of the dead. In cremation, fire represents purification, a clean and wholesome end to earthly life. The Pima people of the southwestern United States say that fire appeared in the world to solve the problem of how people should dispose of the dead.

Fire in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Fire is a common element in ancient mythical art and literature. It is frequently associated with dragons and the underworld . Although fire in modern times may not be viewed with as much supernatural wonder as it once was, there are some contemporary examples of fire as a mythological force. In the 1967 animated Disney adaptation of The Jungle Book, King Louie the orangutan abducts the human boy Mowgli and tries to get the boy to teach him the secret of how to make fire.

Russian composer Igor Stravinsky composed the score for a 1910 ballet called Firebird, which was based on a Russian legend about a magical bird of flame. Another “firebird”—a phoenix—appears as the wizard Albus Dumbledore's companion in the Harry Potter novels written by J. K Rowling. Prometheus, the fire-stealer, has fascinated artists and writers for centuries. Romantic poets Johann von Goethe, Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley all wrote poems about him in which Prometheus is unrepentant for his action. Prometheus appears as the subject of numerous paintings and recently became the inspiration for a groundbreaking Web-based artwork called Prometheus Bound by Tim Rollins and the Kids of Survival (http://www.diacenter.org/kos/home.html). The Web site contains readings, modern translations, and meditations on the myth of Prometheus.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Some ancient cultures believed that cremating the dead would purify their souls so they could pass on to the next world. Other cultures such as the ancient Egyptians believed that a dead person needed his or her body preserved so that it could transport the soul to the afterlife. In many modern cultures, burial is the most common way to handle the dead. What do you think this says about modern beliefs about the afterlife? Do modern cultures show a preference for preserving or purifying the dead? How?

SEE ALSO Floods; Hell; Hephaestus; Loki; Phoenix; Prometheus

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Fire

FIRE

From the prehistorical era, fire has generated the energy that allowed human beings to warm themselves and their surroundings, illuminate the darkness, prepare food, and create artifacts with both utilitarian and aesthetic value. More recently, fire has powered transportation and manufacturing and served as an object of and means for research.

These dual aspects of fire are represented in its deeply symbolic character. From the earliest periods fire has served as a symbol for moral and intellectual achievement. Many religions use fire in ceremonies, as in candles and funeral pyres. Fire is also common in celebrations, such as birthday candles and fireworks.

Although fire is indispensable to human beings and civilization, it also can kill and destroy or be used as a means for intentional destruction and warfare. The great library at Alexandria was destroyed by fire in 47 b.c.e. and the Chicago fire of October 1871 forced the city to rebuild itself. The World War II firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo were more destructive than the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Science of Fire

Chemically, fire is an exothermic reaction involving the rapid oxidation of fuel. For example, the burning of red oak could be approximated as follows: This reaction liberates approximately 12.7 megajoules of energy for each kilogram of red oak burned. (One joule of energy is equal to one watt of power generated for one second; a megajoule represents one million joules.) This liberated energy raises the temperature of the reaction products and emits thermal radiation. Most fires occur in a normal air atmosphere, which is approximately 21 percent oxygen and 78 percent nitrogen. Thus, the burning of red oak in air is written more correctly as follows: Because the nitrogen in the air plays no role in the reaction, the temperatures of flames in air are lower than the temperatures in pure oxygen; some of the energy that is liberated by the fire heats the ambient nitrogen.

Fires can be characterized as two different types of flaming: premixed and diffusion. Premixed flaming occurs when fuel and air are mixed before combustion; a diffusion flame exists when burning occurs as fuel and air are being mixed. Both types can be illustrated with a standard laboratory Bunsen burner. Typically, when a Bunsen burner is used, a blue flame is desired. That flame is premixed because air is entrained into the fuel stream through openings in the burner before the flame zone is established. However, if the openings where air is entrained into the burner are closed, the flame loses its regular shape and changes color from blue to yellow. This is a diffusion flame, where the gas feeding the burner must mix with the surrounding air in the area of flaming.

In general, all fires involve the combustion of gaseous fuel. If the fuel is a gas, such as the fuel that feeds a Bunsen burner, it only needs to mix with air for burning to occur. If the fuel is a liquid, it must be heated sufficiently to release vapors. The temperature at which a liquid fuel releases sufficient vapors for combustion to occur is called its flashpoint, and it occurs at a temperature lower than the boiling point of the liquid.

Solid fuels similarly must be heated to a temperature at which sufficient vapors are released to support combustion; however, solid fuels do not necessarily vaporize as liquids do. Some solid fuels melt and then subsequently vaporize before combustion. Others, such as wood, do not melt before releasing combustible vapors. Upon heating, these solids decompose into simpler compounds that are distinct from the original material in a process called pyrolization. The temperature at which a solid fuel releases sufficient vapors for combustion is called its ignition temperature.

Ignition of a fire requires the introduction of energy. For a gaseous fuel or a liquid fuel that is at a temperature above its flashpoint, a spark or small flame may be sufficient to provide that energy. For solid fuels or liquid fuels that are at a temperature below their flashpoint, the fuel first must be heated to a temperature at or above its flashpoint or ignition temperature.

Once a fuel is ignited, the heat liberated form the fire can transfer back to the fuel, causing the fire to sustain itself or grow. However, if the energy feedback to the fuel is not sufficient, the fire will decay and eventually go out. This can be illustrated by looking at logs in a fireplace. If there is only one wood log in a fireplace, so much of the energy liberated by burning the log is lost to the environment that the fire will go out. However, if more logs are added, some of the energy that would have been lost is transferred to the other logs, and the fire will be sustained.

Fire and Technology

Humans are the only creatures that have the ability to control and harness fire. Fire has been indispensable to technological progress. It is no accident that Prometheus is said to have stolen fire from the gods to make it possible for human beings to live. Early humanity learned how to start fires that could serve very simple uses. As humanity evolved, the heat generated by fire was used for more complex tasks, such as hardening clay and molding metals. Later, the energy liberated by fires created steam to power moving equipment.

As the understanding of fire increased, so did the efficiency with which it was used to generate energy. Instead of using fires to heat water to create steam, fires could be ignited under controlled conditions in cylinders, allowing the potential energy in the fuel to be converted more directly to kinetic energy. It is through these types of processes that fire can be used to power generators that create electricity or to create mechanical energy to power airplanes and boats directly.

However, just as fire can serve benign purposes, it can be used in more destructive tasks. Fire applied to people or their environments either intentionally or unintentionally can cause death, injury, and the loss of property. Entire cities have been lost to fire; although the rate of death, injury, and destruction caused by fire has decreased steadily, fire continues to take a serious toll. It is likely this dichotomy of purpose that prompted fire as a symbol of attractive self-destruction, as when the moth flies into the flame.

The Ethics of Fire

The technological advances that have been made possible by the ability to harness fire also have created risks to society. As the Industrial Revolution created an environment in which manufacturing facilities were placed closely together, the flammability of the items inside those facilities, coupled with the closeness of buildings, allowed for fires that could destroy entire cities. This caused society to look for ways to protect people and the community from the hazards of fire.

As a result of fires that caused the loss of whole cities, people began to look for means of limiting the effects of a fire to a single building. This was accomplished by controlling the materials from which buildings were constructed, the spacing of buildings, and the types of openings, such as windows, installed in buildings.

As people learned ways to limit the impact of a fire to a single building, the goal of fire safety changed to limiting that impact to a single portion of a building. As methods of protection against fire improved, the maximum tolerable effects of fire became smaller.

Society has devised a number of ways to prevent fire that can be divided into two broad areas: prevention of fire ignition and management of fire impact. By controlling the methods of creating and distributing energy, it is possible to make it less likely that a fire will be ignited. Examples of means to prevent fire ignition include the electrical protections that typically are required in a home or business: the use of minimum wire sizes, electrical insulation on wires, and the use of fuses or circuit breakers.

Management of fire impact can involve means of managing a fire once it begins or ways to manage the things that are intended to be protected from fire. Fires can be managed by controlling the fire combustion process, suppressing fires, and controlling fires by means of the types of construction used. Examples of these means include controlling the type of fuel present, the use of fire suppression systems such as automatic sprinkler systems, and the use of building materials that resist the spread of fires, such as fire walls and doors.

In light of the fact that almost all human pursuits create fire risk, society has an obligation to ensure that the risks that are created are controlled. Developing better means of fire protection requires the development of a better understanding of fire and of the way fire affects buildings, people, and property. To this end there is a branch of science that is dedicated to the study of fire. Fire science involves scientific study of how fires start, how they grow, how they can be extinguished or suppressed, and the amount of heat and chemical compounds that are created when fires occur. Fire scientists also create models, or methods of simulating, fires. Fire models range in complexity from sophisticated computer programs to relatively simple equations that can be solved with a calculator.

Similarly, there is a branch of engineering that is dedicated to the application of scientific principles to protect people, property, and the environment. Fire protection engineers apply the scientific understanding of fire to reduce the risks of fire to reduce the likelihood of unwanted fires and manage the impact to society when unwanted fires occur.

MORGAN J. HURLEY

SEE ALSO Air; Earth; Environmental Ethics; Water.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bachelard, Gaston. (1964 [1938]). The Psychoanalysis of Fire, trans. Alan C. M. Ross. Boston: Beacon.

Drysdale, Dougal. (2002). "Chemistry of Physics and Fire." In Fire Protection Handbook, ed. by Arthur E. Cote. Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association.

Lyons, John. (1995). Fire. New York: Scientific American Books. Provides an overview of the hazards that fire pose to society, the science of fire, and the methods that are used to combat unwanted fire.

National Fire Protection Association Publication 550. (2002). Guide to the Fire Safety Concepts Tree. Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association. The fire safety concepts tree provides a method of communicating fire safety concepts to people who do not have specialized knowledge of fire protection.

Pyne, Stephen J. (2001). Fire: A Brief History. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Tewarson, Archibald. (2002). "Generation of Heat and Chemical Compounds in Fires." In SFPE Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering. Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association.

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