O Abyss, O Eternal Godhead, O Sea Profound! What more could you give me than yourself? You are fire which ever burns without being consumed; you consume in your heat all the soul’s self-love; you are the fire which takes away all cold; with your light you illuminate me so that I may know all your truth; you are the light above all light, which supernaturally illuminates the eye of my intellect, clarifying the light of faith so abundantly and so perfectly, that I see that my soul is alive, and in this light receives you – the true light.
Catherine of Sienna
Fire is beautiful and sacred. It has inspired many poets. It has been the image of spirit for many prophets and mystics. My most profound religious experiences have been in the wilderness sitting by a fire late at night. I bet you’ve experienced something similar while sitting around a camp fire. You can’t help but gaze mystically into the coals and dancing flames. It’s like the fire calls to you.
Fire is alive. Give me a chance with this one. It is born, eats, breathes, makes waste, reproduces, and one day must die. It has all the qualities we associate with life. In our modern world we have forgotten this truth which the ancients knew so well. If you listen very closely you may discover that fire speaks and can help you to connect with the Kingdom of Heaven within you.
Fire being alive and yet not having a body makes it very much like the Holy Spirit. In fact, the bible often uses fire imagery when describing the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is a perfect example of that, a baptism by fire. John the Baptist had been very clear that the true baptism would be that of the Holy Spirit and of Fire. Fire is also one of the most common images chosen to convey the nature of angels in the Bible.
The ancients believed the universe (and that includes humans) is made of four natural elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Of these, fire is likened to the spirit. St Dionysius explains in his book Celestial Hierarchies that the image of fire is used to portray divinity because it has real life spiritual power which is similar in many ways to divine power. He says:
Fire is in some manner in everything, and pervades all things without mingling with them, and is exempt from all things and, although wholly bright, yet lies essentially hidden and unknown when not in contact with any substance on which it can exert its own energy. It is irresistible and invisible, having absolute rule over all things, bringing under its own power all things in which it subsists. It has transforming power and imparts itself in some measure to everything near it.
It revives all things by its revivifying heat, and illuminates them all with its resplendent brightness. It is powerful, mighty, invisibly present to all things. When not thought of, it seems not to exist, but suddenly kindles its light in the way proper to its nature by friction, as though seeking to do so, uncontrollably flying upwards without diminishing its all-blessed self-giving.
The Spirit has a deep and profound connection with fire and Celtic Christians have always known that. The importance of Brigid’s flame and the centrality of the hearth show this.
Dionysius was a Greek Christian Neo-Platonist, but the ancient Celts also believed that fire exists within us and is what gives us life, warmth, and intelligence. In the song of Amergin we are told that fire is placed in our heads by divine power. It seems to me that song is referencing the same thing Dionysuius is talking about here –that we have consciousness because of the fire within us.
In the Carmina Gadelica, which is a collection of the oral Gaelic Christian tradition, there are prayers for kindling the fire in the morning and smooring the fire in the evening. I adapted those prayers and wove in some language from the story of Pentecost to create a prayer for starting a sacred fire.
The video below shows me and my son lighting the fire and blessing it with the harp using a prayer which can be found in my book Psalter of the Birds.
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