Indo-Parthian stone palette, illustrating a fire ritual
Agni the Hindu deity of fire, has a very prominent place among Rigvedic deities.

Worship or deification of fire (also pyrodulia, pyrolatry or pyrolatria), or fire rituals, religious rituals centred on a fire, are known from various religions. Fire has been an important part of human culture since the Lower Paleolithic. Religious or animist notions connected to fire are assumed to reach back to such early prehuman times.

There may be a fire god, as a personification of fires in general, and he may be believed to reside in some sense in any particular ritual fire, or the fire may represent worship of another deity.

Indo-European religions

In Indo-European languages, there were two concepts regarding fire: that of an animate type called *h₁n̥gʷnís (cf. Sanskrit agni, English ignite from Latin ignis, Polish ogień and Russian ogon), and an inanimate type *péh₂wr̥ (cf. English fire, Greek pyr, Sanskrit pu).[1][2] A similar distinction existed for water.[3]

Archaeologically, evidence for Indo-Iranian fire worship and the rite of cremation is found at the transition from the Sintashta-Petrovka to the Andronovo culture around 1500 BC.[4] Fire worship was prevalent in Vedic, with Agni the fire god, and the ancient Iranian religion. Whereas cremation became ubiquitous in Hinduism, it was prohibited in Zoroastrianism.[5] Evidence of fire worship has also been found at the Indus Valley sites of Kalibangan and Lothal.[6]

In Zoroastrianism, fire is considered to be an agent of purity and as a symbol of righteousness and truth. In the present day this is explained to be because fire burns ever-upward and cannot itself be polluted. Sadeh and Chaharshanbe Suri are both fire-related festivals celebrated throughout Greater Iran and date back to when Zoroastrianism was still the predominant religion of the region. Zoroastrianism, however, is sometimes mischaracterised as a fire-worshipping religion, whereas it is a monotheistic faith with Ahura Mazda as its central figure and a dualistic cosmology of good and evil. Fire simply exemplifies a medium for spiritual wisdom and purity, but is not worshipped.

Hindu yajna fire ritual, 2013

In the Vedic tradition of Hinduism, fire is a central element in a yajna ceremony, with Agni, "fire", playing the role as mediator between the worshipper and the other gods. Related concepts are the Agnihotra ritual, the invocation of the healing properties of fire; the Agnicayana ritual, which is the building of a fire altar to Agni; and Agnistoma, which is one of the seven Somayajnas. In the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism, Agni is considered the tongue of Vishnu, hence rendering all sacrifices offered to any given deity ultimately a sacrifice to Vishnu.[7]

In modern Hinduism, Yajna is the general terms for the many types of rituals conducted before a fire, with homa the term for relatively small fire pujas conducted in a domestic setting, or as part of a wedding ceremony (a vivaha homa). The fire is very carefully constructed and tended by a specialist Brahmin pujari, with much reciting of appropriate passages from sacred texts.

In Albanian mythology the deification of fire is associated with En or Enji, a fire deity firstly worshipped by the Illyrians whose name continues to be used in the Albanian language to refer to Thursday (enjte) and Jupiter (Enjëti).[8][9].With the coming of Christianity, En was demoted to demonic status,[10] although his name has been preserved in the Albanian language to refer to Thursday (enj-te).[10][11] Strong beliefs in the demon of fire have persisted among Albanians until today.[12] The cult of the mystic fire and the fire ritual practices played an important role in the lives of the pre-industrial Albanian people.[13] the idea of the hearth, Vatër in Albanian and *ōtar in proto-Albanian, ultimatily from Alanic, is also the term for the family circle, a hotbed of growth and the realm that exists between life and death. The Albanian word was subsequently borrowed into Slavic, Romance and Turkic languages.[14][15][16][17]

Fire worship in Graeco-Roman tradition had two separate forms: fire of the hearth and fire of the forge. Hearth worship was maintained in Rome by the Vestal Virgins, who served the goddess Vesta, protector of the home, who had a sacred flame as the symbol of her presence in the city (cf. Sacred fire of Vesta). The Greek equivalent of the goddess was Hestia, whose worship took place more commonly within the household. The fire of the forge was associated with the Greek god Hephaestus and the Roman equivalent Vulcan. These two seem to have served both as craft-guild patrons and as protectors against accidental fires in cities. Also associated with fire is the titanic god Prometheus, who stole fire for humans from the gods. Most forms of worship in Graeco-Roman religion involved either cooking or burning completely an animal on a fire made on an altar in front of a temple (see hecatomb).[citation needed]

Celtic mythology had Belenus, whose name, "shining one", associated him with fire.

In Slavic paganism, Svarog, meaning "bright and clear", was the spirit of fire. The best known and dramatic among numerous Slavic pagan fire rituals is the jumping over the bonfire on the Kupala Night.

Abrahamic religions


In the narratives of the Hebrew Bible, Yahweh often communicates with fire, such as through the burning bush of the Exodus and the pillar of fire that guides the Israelites.[18]


The Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has been consecutively documented since 1106 AD.[19]

Fire is often used as symbol or sign of God's presence in Christianity and, since it is held to be a creation along with water and other elements. In the New Testament, Jesus is depicted as the person who brings fire to the earth.[20] The Holy Spirit is sometimes called the "tongues of flame".[21]

Other religions

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Fire continues to be a part of many human religions and cultures. For example, it is used in cremation and bonfires; candles are used in various religious ceremonies; eternal flames are used to remind of notable occasions; and the Olympic Flame burns for the duration of the games.

In Japanese mythology, Kagu-tsuchi is the god of destructive fire.

See also


  1. ^ "Fire".
  2. ^ Mallory, J. P.; Adams, D. Q., (eds.). Encyclopedia of Indo-European culture. London, Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997. p. 202.
  3. ^ Mallory, J. P.; Adams, D. Q., (eds.). Encyclopedia of Indo-European culture. London, Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997. p. 636.
  4. ^ Diakonoff, Igor M. (1995). "Two Recent Studies of Indo-Iranian Origins" (PDF). Journal of the American Oriental Society. 115 (3): 473–477. doi:10.2307/606224. ISSN 0003-0279. JSTOR 606224. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  5. ^ Kreyenbroek, Philip G. (11 January 2013). Living Zoroastrianism: Urban Parsis Speak about their Religion. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-11970-5. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  6. ^ Young, L. M. (1976). [Review of Lothal and the Indus Civilization, by S. R. Rao & M. Wheeler]. Asian Perspectives, 19(2), 308–309.
  7. ^ Madhulika Sharma (2002). Fire Worship in Ancient India. Jaipur Publication Scheme. ISBN 978-81-86782-57-6.
  8. ^ Lurker, Manfred (2005). The Routledge Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons. Routledge, Taylor & Francis. p. 57. ISBN 0-203-64351-8.
  9. ^ Tagliavini, Carlo (1963). Storia di parole pagane e cristiane attraverso i tempi. Morcelliana. p. 103.
  10. ^ a b Lurker 2005, p. 57.
  11. ^ Tagliavini 1963, p. 103.
  12. ^ Novik 2015, p. 268.
  13. ^ Tirta 2004, pp. 68–69, 135, 176–181, 249–261, 274–282, 327.
  14. ^ Orel, Vladimir (1998), “vatër”, in Albanian Etymological Dictionary, Leiden, Boston, Cologne: Brill, →ISBN, pages 495–496
  15. ^ Dan Alexe, Despre legăturile românei cu albaneza, in dexonline – Dicționare ale limbii române
  16. ^ Domosileckaja, M. V. (2002) Albansko-vostočnoromanskij sopostavitelʹnyj ponjatijnyj slovarʹ: Skotovodčeskaja leksika [Albanian – Eastern Romance Comparative Conceptual Dictionary: The Pastoral Vocabulary] (in Russian), Saint Petersburg: Nauka, →ISBN, page 457
  17. ^ Mallory, J. P.; Adams, D. Q., editors (1997) Encyclopedia of Indo-European culture, London, Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, page 263
  18. ^ "Bible Gateway passage: Hebrews 12:29 - New International Version". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
  19. ^ "Holy Fire. Holy Fire in Jerusalem is yearly miracle in Church of Holy Sepulchre".
  20. ^ "Bible Gateway passage: Luke 12:49-56 - New International Version". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
  21. ^ "Bible Gateway passage: Matthew 3:11 - New International Version". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 8 November 2021.

Works cited