Atar, átarš, the hearth fire, fires of industry, the link between heaven and earth

November 24 marks the festival of fire in the Avestan calendar. In the Avestan speech, fire is átarš or áthrö. Átarš denotes “fire, heat, energy and especially the sacral and hearth fire,” concerned with increase of produce, prosperity, pets and people.

In the Zoroastrian sacred poetry fire/luminous energy is the visible emanation or prodigy (pûthræ) of Ahûrá Mazdá, “the god-force of mind-power, genius, inspiring creativity.”

Fire is the most spectacular element in the world, constantly in flux, enchanting and mesmerizing.

Átarš embodies the fires of altar and hearth, akin with the fires of the sun, stars and lightning, thus linking heaven and earth. Átarš is etymologically related to ash, Latin āter “blackened by fire,” atrium chimney space over hearth and the word for hearth, from reconstructed Proto Indo European háhtr “fire, hearth or altar fire ” from the root *hahs-, Compare Hittite hâssâ (Courtesy of Didier Calin.)

Chief among the Scythian gods, according to Herodotus (4. 59, 127. 4), was Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, called in the Scythian language Tabiti from Indo-European root *tep “intensity of heat, high temperature.” Herodotus perhaps gave us the name in a slightly distorted guise, corresponding to Indo-Iranian *Tapati.

In Greece and Italy we again find the sacral or domestic hearth under the tutelage of Hestia or Vesta. According to Ovid (Fasti 6. 291) the living flame was itself Vesta. Her shrine in the Forum, with its perpetual fire, was the civic hearth of Rome and its oldest temple.

The Germanic tribes, according to Caesar (Bell. Gall. 6. 21. 2), recognized as gods only those whom they could see and from whom they received manifest benefits, Sun, Moon, and “Volcanus.”

In late pre-Conquest England King Canute proscribed worship of ‘heathen gods, Sun or Moon, fire or water, wells or stones or trees of any kind’. It was mentioned above that a Nordic genealogy named Sea, Fire, and Wind as the three sons of a primal giant.

In Lithuania, as fifteenth-century sources attest, priests maintained a perpetual holy fire, worshipped as “Vulcanus,” at which they practiced divination.

Eighteenth-century lexica say that the heathens’ called Vulcanus was Ugnis szwenta (‘holy or auspicious Fire’). Ugnis ‘fire’ is the cognate of Vedic agníh, ignis, (to ignite, set ablaze) Slavonic ogonı.˘ Szwenta “auspicious, holy, increasing” is the same as the Avestan speñtá.

A tenth-century Persian geographer states that the Slavs all venerate fire, and more recent literary sources and ethnographic evidence attest fire-worship or prayers to the fire among various Slavonic people.

The house or hearth fire was especially honored in Ukraine and Belarus.

The cult of the hearth fire or áthrá goes back to Indo-European times. The hearth fire was the indispensable center and defining point of the home. It had to be tended with care and given offerings at appropriate times. If one moved to a new house, one carried fire there from the old one. New members of the household, such as a newborn child or a new bride, had to be introduced to the hearth fire by being led or carried round it.

The custom that the bride circles the hearth three times is common to Vedic Indians, Ossetes, Slavs, Balts, Germans and Zoroastrians. In fact all the above ancient Indo European customs are alive and well in authentic Zoroastrianism.

Hearth fire is rightly called “housemaster of all houses” in the Avesta (See Yasna 17. 11.) A variant of the same compound/title is survived in Lithuania. The Jesuit Relatio for 1604 records the cult of a deus domesticus named Dimsta-patis.

I like to conclude by the following beautiful verse from the poetic gathas Yasna 34.4:

at töi átrém ahûrá//aôjöng.hvañtem ašá usé-mahî

asîštîm émavañtem//stöi rapañtæ čithrá-avang.hem

at mazdá daibiš.yañtæ//zastá-ištáiš dereštá -aænang.hem

Thy heat, fire god-force//lofty through excellence, virtue; is our object of wish/desire

Swift and mighty//standing to give exuberance and joy, manifesting good fortune

But to Thy enemy, God of Mind-Power//with hands wielding real, discernible power, inflicts damage



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3 Responses to Atar, átarš, the hearth fire, fires of industry, the link between heaven and earth

  1. aandrusiak says:

    Slavonic for “fire” is ognĭ, not ogonĭ. Also, Ukrainian and Serbian have “vatra” (f) meaning campfire, deriving directly from *Hātr-

  2. geek11 says:

    In the 16th century BCE, there was a Mitanni king named Priya-mazda. It seems the Iranians and Indians were both worshippers of a common Religion before Zoroaster came and reformed the religion in Iran due to probably the violence of sacrifices and the domination of brahmins. Mitanni kings were distinctly rulers who came from India as evidenced by their language and devotions.

    Meanwhile even Armenia has an Indian connection since antiquity. Two brothers from Kannauj founded the major parts of kingdom of Armenia. Just read about it.

  3. Pingback: Atar, átarš, the hearth fire, fires of industry, the link between heaven and earth | Authentic Gatha Zoroastrianism | Cyrus49's Blog

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