Mythology of Fire in Different Cultures by Lorraine Sharma Nelson

Enjoy an exclusive guest post from Lorraine Sharma Nelson, author of “Consumed,” which will be featured in the upcoming anthology ON FIRE set for release on 12.01.17.

Fire.

The emotions it evokes in us goes back to the dawn of man. Back to when early man first discovered it and never looked back.

Fire.

It is many things to many people down through the ages. It represents wild, uncontrollable passion. It represents power. It is a savage beast that can’t be tamed, but only contained, and even then, it has the ability to escape its confines.

It can provide comfort and safety. And it can kill.

Creation myths were one way to explain what otherwise would be unexplainable. The mythology of fire exists in every culture around the world, and in the great majority of them, fire is described as a powerful and fascinating god or goddess. In a number of stories, these divine beings forbade humans from using fire.

In the world of Greek mythology, only the gods on Mount Olympus had access to this precious commodity. Humans down below had to make do without it. They fared so badly that Prometheus, a Titan, gave the humans the gift of fire. Unfortunately for him, he did so without Zeus’ permission. Zeus was the king of the gods, and was royally ticked off with the Titan for having the audacity to give those lesser beings something as priceless as fire. Enraged, Zeus had Prometheus chained to a rock, and subjected him to having his liver torn out and eaten daily by an eagle. The moral of this story? Don’t tick off the king of the gods. You can bet he’ll plan something really, really bad for you as punishment.

Both the Greek and Roman god of fire share similar attributes. To the Greeks he was Hephaestus, and to the Romans he was Vulcan. (No, not the Vulcans from Star Trek). Vulcan was a destructive god, associated with volcanoes.

Asian mythology covers an enormous spectrum of cultures, including Buddhist, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Phillippine, Babylonian, Arabian and Indian, and that’s just for starters. Under the umbrella of Indian mythology are many subgroups, including Vedic mythology. The Vedic period precedes modern Hinduism.

In Indian mythology, Agni was one of the most important of the Vedic gods. He was the Hindu god of fire, associated with all forms of it, including the sun, lightning and fires used in ceremonial rituals. Agni was also associated with funeral pyres used in cremation rituals, where he was said to deliver the dead to Yama, the god of the Underworld. Agni was loved by the Vedic people, as he was also the god of domestic fire, which was used for cooking and heating, two necessities of life. But he was feared as much as he was loved, as he was also the god of destructive fire, which could wipe out an entire village in the blink of an eye. In art form, Agni is depicted as having two heads – one signifying immortality, and the other symbolizing life. His daughter, Agneya was a powerful and revered goddess in her own right. (Note: Agneya is one of the two main characters in my story, “Consumed,” featured in ON FIRE).

African mythology is as wide and varied as the continent of Africa itself. From the Egyptian god, Ra, the god of the sun, to Oya, the Yoruba goddess of fire and death, to the great god, Kaang, of the San people from southern Africa. In that creation myth, the people and animals lived underground and could communicate with each other. One day, Kaang created a tree with branches that stretched over the world. He then dug a hole that reached down underground to where the people and animals lived, and allowed them to come up to the surface to admire his creation. He allowed them to stay on the surface, and instructed them all to live peacefully together, but forbade humans from building fires. He feared that they would cause much destruction and frighten the animals. Of course the humans disobeyed him, and their fires terrified the animals. Ever since then, animals have a basic mistrust of humans, and both groups can no longer communicate with each other. Once again, disobeying an all-powerful god brings with it dire consequences.

In North America, the Native Americans did not share a common fire mythology. The numerous tribes all developed their own mythologies explaining creation. From what I can discern, it seems that most of their mythology have a common theme running through them—that the elements of earth, sky, fire and water were somehow connected—and that humans and animals were connected to them in turn.

From the beginning of human history, man has tried to understand the power and mystery surrounding fire. It is ironic that in their creation of these fascinating stories involving the gods and their refusal to give man fire, people grasped the importance of it to the human race.

 

Lorraine Sharma Nelson’s short stories have been published in horror, fantasy and crime anthologies, and have also won two sci-fi awards. Her next story, “Consumed”, will appear in the ON FIRE anthology from Transmundane Press in December of 2017.

She can be found at her website, at Goodreads, on Twitter, and on Pinterest.

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