The Dance of the Flame, Part I
By Amber C. Snider
What is it about the fire element that pulls us in? Why are we so drawn to it?
The Evolution of the Fire Element
Fire rituals have been around for thousands of years, perhaps for as long as our ancestors first discovered the element. In candle magic, the hypnotic pull of the flame still tantalizes us, it speaks to our primal lineages, and precedes complex language as we know it – including writing and other forms of advanced communication.
It all goes back to ancient times. “When human beings were nomadic and traveling around, fire wasn’t as a tamed. They could only use it for warmth and cooking here and there. But as we learned to harness it, society has evolved,” says head witch at Enchantments, Stacy Rapp. “Fire is a universal element for the evolution of humanity and civilization, but at the same time it can also destroy a city in a heartbeat.”
Fire has long been understood as a cleansing element. It has the power to wipe the slate clean and make room for new life. It's also, as Rapp points out, insanely destructive. But it’s one element, along with the other 3 (arguably 4), that has ensured our survival as species – an element that can’t be underestimated in its power. It has roasted the meats that led to our inevitable evolution and brain development, kept us warm, detracted predators in the night, served as the hearth of our homes since we began using shelter, signals in times of both peace and war, and served as the gathering place for our ancient and modern communities.
The exact timing of the discovery of fire is a bit contentious in the scientific community. According to Time, it depends on what you mean by discover: “New research suggests that many plants that have adapted well to a fiery landscape or indeed need fire to reproduce, such as some pines, eucalypts and proteas, first appeared around this time, some 90 million years ago.” Savannas in Africa needed fire to thrive, which meant our ancestors would’ve seen fire occur naturally and follow it around collecting the remains of animals, before learning to reproduce the element on their own.
“The first stage of human interaction with fire, perhaps as early as 1.5 million years ago in Africa, is likely to have been opportunistic,” according to Time's 2018 article. The first regular use of fire dates back nearly 400,000 years ago, as evidenced from hearths and remains found in Israeli caves. So basically we’re talking a very long time – so long even, that we were still 200,000 years away from even becoming homo sapiens yet.
Our love of fire is still embedded in our genetic memory; it speaks of our long, perhaps miraculous, journey of survival. And our love for taming it still endures. Candle magic just one form of a fire ritual and in our modern life of conveniences, apartment living, and sprawling urbanscapes, it’s also the most practical and economical – the idea of a hearth or bonfire simply can’t happen at anytime for most people around the world.
“Fire is part of humankind’s power. Out of the elements it’s one of the most scary. Water is something that is easily plentiful, earth we take for granted, and oftentimes, when it comes to air, we’re too hot with ours. But fire is something you have to make,” says Coleman Drew, who has worked at the shop for over three years.
And so the roaring bonfire or hearth was economized into one, single dancing flame.
Stay tuned for The Dance of the Flame Part Two, including more about candle magic, sigils, and harnessing the power of fire.
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