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 charity. The ancient Greeks distinguished the destructive and consumptive (aidelon) fire, associated with Hades, from the creative fire, associated with Hephaestus, the god of metalworking and smithing. 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 sought to reduce the cosmos, or its creation, by a single substance. Heraclitus (c. 535 BCE – c. 475 BCE) considered fire to be the most fundamental of all elements. He believed fire gave rise to the other three elements: "All things are an interchange for fire, and fire for all things, just like goods for gold and gold for goods".DK B90 He had a reputation for obscure philosophical principles and for speaking in riddles. He described how fire gave rise to the other elements as the: "upward-downward path", (ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω), DK B60 a "hidden harmony" DK B54 or series of transformations he called the "turnings of fire", (πυρὸς τροπαὶ), DK B31 first into sea, and half that sea into earth, and half that earth into rarefied air. A concept that anticipates both the four classical elements of Empedocles and Aristotle's transmutation of the four elements into one another.
This world, which is the same for all, no one of gods or men has made. But it always was and will be: an ever-living fire, with measures of it kindling, and measures going out.DK B30Heraclitus regarded the soul as being a mixture of fire and water, with fire being is the more noble part and water the ignoble aspect. He believed the goal of the soul is to be rid of water and become pure fire: the dry soul is the best and it is worldly pleasures make the soul "moist". He was known as the "weeping philosopher" and died of hydropsy, a swelling due to abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin.
However, Empedocles of Acragas (c. 495 - c. 435 BCE), is best known for having selected all elements as his archai and by the time of Plato (427 - 347 BCE), the four Empedoclian elements of were well established. In the Timaeus, Plato's major cosmological dialogue, the Platonic solid he associated with fire was the tetrahedron which is formed from four triangles and contains the least volume with the greatest surface area. This also makes fire the element with the smallest number of sides, and Plato regarded it as appropriate for the heat of fire, which he felt is sharp and stabbing, (like one of the points of a tetrahedra).
Plato’s student Aristotle (384 - 322 BCE) did not maintain his former teacher's geometric view of the elements, but rather preferred a somewhat more naturalistic explanation for the elements based on their traditional qualities. Fire the hot and dry element, like the other elements was an abstract principle and not identical with the normal solids, liquids and combustion phenomena we experience:
What we commonly call fire. It is not really fire, for fire is an excess of heat and a sort of ebullition; but in reality, of what we call air, the part surrounding the earth is moist and warm, because it contains both vapour and a dry exhalation from the earth.According to Aristotle, the four elements rise or fall toward their natural place in concentric layers surrounding the center of the earth and form the terrestrial or sublunary 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.
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.
Modern witchcraftFire is one of the five elements that appear in most Wiccan traditions influenced by the Golden Dawn system of magic, and Aleister Crowley's mysticism, which was in turn inspired by the Golden Dawn. Common Wiccan attributions include:
- Cardinal direction: South
- Season: Summer
- Time of life: Youth
- Time of day: Noon
- Elemental being: Salamander
- Colors: Red and orange
- Magical tools: Athame and ceremonial dagger
- Tarot: Wands or Swords in the Minor Arcana. Wands are traditionally associated with fire and still are in most tarot decks, however, increasingly decks are being published with Wands associated with Swords with Fire. This is still a matter of debate within the esoteric and Wiccan community.
- Altar tool: Candle
- Masculine energy
- Other: Correspondences include blood, the guitar, rubies and in writing fire is sometimes represented by a red upwards triangle.
The manifestations of the element are found in the sun, lightning, 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.
Other mythic and legendary creatures of fire include phoenix, European dragon and occasionally the hawk.