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What is the symbolic meaning of fire?

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Quick Answer

Fire's symbolic meaning varies in different cultures, but it is often linked to destruction and fear. Because of fire's seemingly magical qualities, it has captivated people for thousands of years.

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Full Answer

Fire is difficult to control, and many cultures viewed it as a force that demanded respect and, in many cases, fear. Fire could wipe out a settlement in a short period of time, and communities would struggle to recover. Without modern tools, ancient societies had no means of combating fire, and they often turned to religion in the hopes of avoiding its destructive power.

However, later cultures often took a more nuanced view of fire. While fire leads to destruction, it also allows people to live in colder areas; it was a tool that aided survival when harsh winter temperatures arrived. Fire has also been linked to the idea of renewal. The Greek phoenix, for example, would come back to life after burning, and it served as a symbol of renewal and rejuvenation. In many cultures, fire was viewed as a tool that could be used for good or evil, and being able to control it was viewed as a sign of culture, knowledge and mastery over the natural forces that haunted their ancestors.

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