The terms “Fire Worship” and “Fire-Worshippers” were always associated with Zoroastrianism and Zoroastrians throughout history. The notion of fire worship goes back to reverence for “hearth fire” among ancient Indo-Europeans.
Fire is the visible embodiment of the Gods and the “brilliant element” that binds the world of mortal men to the “luminous and limitless” realm of the Immortals.
In Zoroastrianism, fire symbolizes the Struggle between being and becoming, the pure transformative energy, the WILL POWER that drives mortal man forward towards godhood and becoming infinitely better.
A flame always burns upwards, so are the paths toward the horizons of a yet unrealized future. Zoroastrian creed can be summarized as an everlasting striving for what lays beyond the horizon and the attainment of the ethereal ûštá. Zoroastrian struggle is to bring “the spiritual and the infinite” into the world and to discover the eternal flame within.
Avesta talks of 5 kinds of fires (See Yasna 17.11). First is the “lofty, auspicious fire” bərəzi.sava, “the Exalted, Victorious fire of the eternal flames.” (Compare Avestan bərəzi “high, lofty” with proto Germanic bergaz, berg,“mountain.”)
The good/beautiful fire of “love, fertility” vôhü fryán is the “life force of men and beasts.” The fire of ûrvázištá animates the “plants and trees” ûrvar. (Compare Avestan ûrvar with Latin arbor.)
The “most vigorous” or lively fire of vazištá is identified with lightening. And lastly there is spéñištá “the most auspicious” fire, burning in the presence of Öhrmazd. The spéñištá fire can be compared with ugnis szwenta of Lithuanian heathenry. Szwenta “auspicious, holy, increasing” is the same as the Avestan speñtá.
Fire in our faith embodies the triumph, the unsurpassed power of the spirit ḵratü (Homeric krátos,) the breaking free from the confines of space, love of excellence/virtue ašá/arthá and the projection of the unbounded will power into the ends of time and space.
The wondrous workings of the cosmic order ašá/arthá are akin to the transformative nature of fire. For cosmos is actively in the state of becoming infinitely better. By mimicking the cosmic order ašá/arthá, mortal man becomes a “divine artist” aša.van/artha.van and finds the everlasting fire within.
In Zoroastrianism, the great gift of the Gods is manö the “mind energy/courage/spirit” to face destiny with unbounded “fiery vitality,” become the artist of the gods aša.van/artha.van and to win the timeless glory sravá by “hearing the song/music of the Immortals.”
In the poetic gathas, the protection páiiüm of Mazdá the “supreme god of inspiring creativity,” is sought in none “other than thy fire and mind power” aniiém θwahmát áθras.čá man.aηhas.čá, (See Yasna 46.7, 3rd rhymed verse line.)
Avestan manö is a cognate with Greek menos μένος, understood as ‘fighting spirit’ in Homeric contexts, and indicates creative forces animated by supernal “disposition/mindset/spirit.”
Through the gift of “fire” and “courage, spirit, creative imagination” manö, mortal man is no longer enchained to doom and oblivion. Instead, mortal man joins with the Immortal ahûrás in the struggle against all limitation, stagnation and chaos; projects himself into the immensity of eternity, and becomes a bridge into the supernal realm.
The unity of “will-power, spiritual wisdom, and action” ḵratü makes manifest a greater becoming. Through heroic struggle, mortal man becomes a vessel of sublime change and gives rise to consciously willed evolution.
The temporal world therefore is the battle-field in which the warrior fulfills his divine destiny, cherishing life as a cultivator and farmer, where plants, animals and men are each called to grow and ripen into powerful forces asserting themselves within the creative order of ašá/arthá.
This overcoming of limitations times and again, the rising above the mundane and the attainment of the infinite through the act of becoming ever better, is called “eternal progress” in the Zoroastrian sacred literature. “Eternal Progress” is the definition of faršö-kart “the splendid re-making, fresh new creation of the worlds.”
In Zoroastrian sacred lore, like in the Norse mythology, the end of the mundane world comes first with 3 harsh, most severe winters and then with fire.
We read in the poetic gathas, Yasna 51.9 2nd rhymed verse line: aii.aηhá ḵšûstá aibî ahv.áhü daḵštem dávöi.
The verse is about the realization of “an eternal age of progress and a spring with no end” through a “molten, flowing” ḵšûstá “metal/iron” aii.aηhá which “gives or establishes” dávöi the “sign, indication” daḵštem of “a god-like existence” ahv.áhü.
Thus, in the universe as well as in man, the state of becoming ahüric or god-like is realized through purging by a fiery trial.
The word for “fire” in the Avesta is áθar/áthar, also áθarš/átharš, referring to the “fires of altar and hearth.” It comes from reconstructed Proto Indo European *háhtr “hearth or altar fire,” from the root *hahs-“to burn”, and is a cognate of Hittite hâssâ “hearth fire,” (Courtesy of Didier Calin.)
The Avestan áthar is related to Czech vatra, Romanian vatrā “fire,” Latin āter “blackened by fire,” atrium “chimney, space over hearth” come from the same root, (Courtesy of Didier Calin.)
In Zoroastrianism the “family hearth” is sacred and never suppose to go out or be extinguished. The reverence for “hearth fire,” underlies the significance of continuing the family line and the clan. In fact, the Persian word doud-man “lineage, dynasty, house” goes back to the SMOKE arising from the “family hearth.” Thus an eternal flame burning in “home, hearth and kin group” is both a consequence and a requirement of ašá/arθá “excellence, truth, world order.”
In the Zoroastrian sacred poetry fire/luminous energy is the visible son or prodigy pûthræ of Ahûrá Mazdá.
I shall conclude by Yasna 34.4 from the poetic gathas:
at töi áθrém ahûrá//aôjö.aηh.vañtem ašá ûsé.mahî
asîštém éma.vañtem//stöi rapañtæ ciθrá-av.aηhem
at mazdá daibiš.iiañtæ//zastá.ištá.áiš dereštá-aæn.aηhem
Thy fire, god-force//energetic through cosmic order, truth; is our object of wish/desire
Swift and mighty//stands to radiate happiness, manifesting good fortune
But to Thy enemy, Mazda//with hands wielding discernible power, inflicts agony.
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