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light and warmth, which had been brought down from heaven to earth, concealed in the fennel stick from which they were afterwards procured. The worship of fire was a natural development of that of the sun, and from the absence of bodily form, and the comparative abstractness of the ideal, fireworship was certainly of a purer type than were most other religions.
Fire once acquired and its value understood, its preservation and accessibility became a matter of cardinal importance : hence regulations of the earliest date for maintaining perpetual fire in a temple or other public building. Every tribe had its central fire, from which all could draw, and so had every town and village. The sacredness of this perpetual fire was an article of faith ; it was the direct gift of heaven, a part of heaven itself. In Rome the Vestal virgins had to watch the fire untiringly, and if perchance this fire went out, not only was there a most severe penalty for the impious neglect, but all tribunals, all authority, all public and private busi
were stopped, until the celestial fire was re-kindled. The connection between heaven and earth had been broken, and had to be restored : and this had to be brought about, either by Jove's lightning flash, or by new fire obtained by the priests rubbing two pieces of wood together, or by using a concave mirror in the sunshine. The sacred
fire radiated through the whole community; the altar with its fire travelled with every army, and to every colony, and into every family and hut. The fire temple was the place for every solemn act,
, the reception of ambassadors, the discussion of public policy, the transaction of business, and the award of justice. The domestic hearth became the rallying point of the family, the centre of parental influence, where truth and purity should reign ; for the deity was there, casting light upon and taking note of all that passed. The public maintenance of sacred fire was not only an institution of the ancient Greeks and Romans, but also of the Jews, Chaldeans, Tartars, Chinese, and other Mongolian tribes ; Egyptians, Ethiopians and Japanese; Mexicans, Peruvians, and other tribes of the new world; so that it may be fairly styled universal in ancient times. The lamps kept burning in synagogues, and in the Byzantine and Catholic churches, are probably a survival of the ancient, sacred, and perpetual fire. The ceremonies amongst the Aztecs attending the extinction of the old fire at the end of every cycle of fifty-two years, and the creation of the new fire, and with it the renovation of all domestic associations, are very graphically described in Prescott's “History of the Conquest of Mexico."1 The Aztecs
Vol. i. p. 69.
were very much in earnest, and
gave in practice full evidence of their earnestness in relation to this new fire.
The Fire-god took many forms, and his worship being so widespread, we cannot wonder at finding the ideal considerably varied.
In the Aryan religion Agni was the fire-god, and it has been pointed out that the name of Agni is the first word of the first hymn of the Rig Veda, one of the most venerable (and perhaps even the oldest) of the , sacred records in the world, “ Agni I entreat, divine appointed priest of sacrifice !”ı
The Accadians and Assyrians had an equal veneration for their fire-god :
O Fire, great lord, who art the most exalted in the world,
for his actions."
It is to be noted that the name of Izdhubar, the hero of the great Accadian epic, signifies, “a mass of
fire,” showing that he was identical with the Accadian fire-god, who in this case was also the sun. Mr. George Smith in his Chaldean Genesis identifies him with the Biblical Nimrod, “the mighty hunter before the Lord :" and it is certain that he belongs to the class of heroes, whose exploits, woven on to the framework of a zodiac, with twelve signs, have given us, not only the Accadian epic, but also that of the Odyssey, and the labours of Hercules, and many other compilations of the world's most ancient traditions.
The essential principle of fire was supposed to pervade all Nature, and spirits were conceived as beings of fire : the good or celestial spirits,—the devas, the shining ones, the “angels bright and fair," of refulgent whiteness. The vision at the opening of the Apocalypse is described thus :—“His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were like a flame of fire : and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace ;
and his countenance was as the sun shineth in its strength." The seven Spirits of God were also seen as seven lamps of fire, burning before His throne :- He, too, dwelleth in the light that no man can approach unto : and the Spirit, when He
Smith's "Genesis," Sayce, 176.
3 Rev. i. 13-16.
4 Rev. v. 5.
descended upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, did so in the form of tongues of fire.
The spirits of earth, living in the cavernous depths, are not of this refulgent type ; they are still of fire, but heavier, duller, more lurid : they are accordingly composed of red fire, and not white. Thor, the Scandinavian god of fire, of agriculture, and of the domestic hearth, was a red-haired and red-bearded man; and fire-gods generally were red or had red beards : the history of Esau, the Hebrew Satyr, is tinged with red throughout ;' the heifer which was to be the whole burnt offering in the Mosaic ritual was to be red, and its red hide was specially directed to be burnt;' a South Pacific legend makes a red pigeon the means of procuring fire from the subterranean fire-demon; the dwarfs and fairies, the successors of the ancient fire-worshippers, generally have red caps, which are their means of preserving the spiritual attribute of invisibility; the kobolds, or goblins, are fiery imps who sport red jackets ;' and finally Mephistopheles would certainly not be recognized in any but a scarlet garb :
Here as a youth of high degree,
Intimately associated with the idea of supernatural
» Numbers xix. 2. Keightley's “ Fairy Mythology,” 253. “Faust,” 1183-84.