Fire has been an important part of many cultures and religions, from pre-history to modern day, and was vital to the development of civilization. It has been regarded in many different fashions throughout history.
Fire is one of the four classical elements in ancient Greek philosophy and science. It was commonly associated with the qualities of energy, assertiveness, and passion. In one Greek myth, Prometheus stole fire from the gods to protect the otherwise helpless humans, but was punished for this kindness. The ancient Greeks distinguished the destructive (aidelon) fire, associated with Hades, from the creative fire, associated with Hephaistos. Goddess Hekate was called Pyrphoros (Fire-bearing), Pyripnon (Fire-breather), Daidoukhos (Torch-bearer) and Phosphoros (Light-bearer).
Fire was one of many archai proposed by the Pre-socratics, most of whom tried to reduce all things to a single substance. However, Empedocles of Acragas (c. 495-c. 435 BCE) selected four archai for his four roots: air, fire, water, and earth. Empedocles’ roots became the four classical elements of Greek philosophy. Plato (427-347 BCE) took over the four elements of Empedocles. In the Timaeus, his major cosmological dialogue, the Platonic solid associated with fire is the tetrahedron which is formed from four equilateral triangles. This makes fire the element with the smallest number of sides, which Plato regarded as appropriate as the heat of fire feels sharp and stabbing (like little tetrahedra).
Plato’s student Aristotle (384-322 BCE) developed a different explanation for the elements based on pairs of qualities. The four elements were arranged concentrically around the center of the universe to form the sublunary sphere. According to Aristotle, fire is both hot and dry, and occupies a place between earth and air among the elemental spheres.
In ancient Greek medicine, each of the four humours became associated with an element. Yellow bile was the humor identified with fire, since both were hot and dry. Other things associated with fire and yellow bile in ancient and medieval medicine included the season of summer, since it increased the qualities of heat and aridity; the choleric temperament (of a person dominated by the yellow bile humour); the masculine; and the eastern point of the compass.
In alchemy, the chemical element of sulfur was often associated with fire and its alchemical symbol and its symbol was an upward-pointing triangle. In alchemic tradition, metals are incubated by fire in the womb of the Earth and alchemists only accelerate their development.
Fire is yang or masculine in character, its motion is upward and its energy is expansive. It is associated with the planet Mars, summer, south, daylight and heat and the color red. (Red is associated with extreme luck). It is also believed to govern the heart, tongue, and pulse. Its negative emotion is hate, while its positive emotion is joy. The Primal Spirit of fire is represented by the Red Pheasant or Phoenix.
In Chinese thought Fire is associated with the qualities of dynamism, strength and persistence; however, it is also connected to restlessness. The fire element provides, warmth, enthusiasm and creativity, however an excess of it can bring aggression, impatience and impulsive behavior. In the same way, fire provides heat and warmth, however an excess can also burn. In the conquest cycle, fire overcomes metal, and in turn is overcome by water. In the birth and nurturing cycle, fire burns to earth, and is sparked by wood igniting.
The element plays an important role in Chinese Astrology and feng shui. In Chinese astrology fire is included in the 10 heavenly stems (the five elements in their yin and yang forms), which combine with the 12 earthly branches (or Chinese signs of the zodiac), to form the 60 year cycle. Yang fire years end in 6 (eg 1976), while Yin years end in 7 (eg 1977). Fire governs the Chinese zodiac signs Snake, Horse and Sheep.
Agni is one of the most important of the Vedic gods. He is the god of fire and the acceptor of sacrifices. The sacrifices made to Agni go to the deities because Agni is a messenger from and to the other gods. He is ever-young, because the fire is re-lit every day, yet he is also immortal. In Indian tradition Fire is also linked to Surya or the Sun and Mangala or Mars, and with the south-east direction.
Other correspondences include blood, candles, the guitar, rubies and incense. Fire represents energy, inspiration, passion and masculinity. It is sometimes represented in writing by a red upwards triangle.
In rituals, fire is represented in the forms of burning objects, love spells, baking and lighting candles or fires.
The manifestations of the element are found in the sun, lightning, fire, volcanoes and lava, and all forms of light. Cats of all types, especially the lion and tiger, are also thought to personify the element of fire, as are all predatory creatures, such as the fox.
Fire's place on the pentagram is the lower right point.
Fire belongs to the suit of Wands in occult or divinatory tarot, although some Wiccans associate it with the suit of Swords because the athame (ritual knife) is often associated with fire. Fire is associated with warm colours, like red, orange and yellow, but also colours like black.
Fire in many ancient cultures and myths has been known to purify the land with the flames of destruction; however, it is also capable of the renewal of life through the warmth and comfort of those very same flames.
The element of fire shows up in mythological stories all across the world, often in stories related to the Sun.
In East Asia fire is represented by the Vermilion Bird, known as 朱雀 (Zhū Què) in Chinese, Suzaku in Japanese and Ju-jak (주작, Hanja:朱雀) in Korean. Fire is represented in the Aztec religion by a flint; to the Native Americans, a mouse; to the Hindu and Islamic faiths, a lightning bolt; to the Scythians, an axe, to the Greeks, an apple-bough; and in Christian iconography, a lion.