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Featured Candles and Fire in the World's Religions

Discussion in 'Comparative Religion' started by Quintessence, Jun 28, 2016.

  1. Quintessence

    Quintessence Tale Weaver
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    Harnessing the power of fire was an important event in human history. We know today that the ability to cook our food was essential in our evolutionary development as a species, as well as the rise of what we call civilization. The ability to stay warm is particularly vital in cold climates given our general hairlessness. Unsurprisingly, fire plays an important role in the world's religions, and I'd like to dedicate this thread for discussion of how fire is used and regarded in various religious traditions.

    One of the big ways fire enters in to religious practices is through use of candles, and I'm curious about that in particular. How are candles used in the rituals of your religious tradition? What do they symbolize in those rituals?

    With respect to fire more generally, is it associated with any particular deities? Are open flames used in any rituals of your religion?
     
  2. StarryNightshade

    StarryNightshade Aspiring Progressive Orthodox Jew
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    Aside from individual candle use and things like incense, Hinduism has "Yajna"; which is essentially a fire sacrifice with mantras and offerings of things like butter, rice, and flowers.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yajna
     
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  3. Jainarayan

    Jainarayan ॐ नमो भगवते वासुदेवाय
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    In Hinduism Agni is god of fire. Rather he is fire. He brings prayers to the gods. Btw, the name Agni is cognate with the root for 'ignite'. Fire also dispels darkness and destroys ignorance.

    All Hindu rituals use fire in some way, usually an oil or ghee lamp. It's offered to the gods then to the devotees. That's why you see Hindus cupping their hands over the flame then bringing their hands to their eyes.
     
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  4. GoodbyeDave

    GoodbyeDave Well-Known Member

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    I think it may be almost universal. Jews and Christians seem to have got it from Zoroastrianism. Most pagans use both lamps/candles and incense: Indians, Chinese, most reconstructionists (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Canaanite). The only people who don't seem to use fire are the Japanese and the Heathen (am I right on the last?)
     
  5. Unveiled Artist

    Unveiled Artist My baby niece

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    In Nichiren Buddhism and in honoring my ancestors and spirits, candles, in it's most basic meaning, is life. Just as the sun gives life and the energy (actual energy) keeps us moving, etc, candle burning is literally meant to show the life in us as said in the teachings of the Dharma. Candles are also used for blessings and prayers. So, I light candles for people with other rituals props I do to keep them well now or wherever they are on earth after their physical passing.

    Candles are also another way to "bring the sun into our home" given my apartment window doesn't face the evening sunset. With plants and glasses of waters, everything means life. Some people say that candles are in the center of it while others say water is what gives birth to life. While many say we come from the earth while others we fall from the stars. So, energy that makes everything turn are focal points to whatever said religion views life as. The heat and passion of living and gratitude thereof, that's of many ways poetic and so forth I see when using candles in rituals and prayer.

    Outside of that, well, we aren't supposed to use candles in our apartment. Violation of lease :innocent: Shoosh. Don't tell anyone.
     
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  6. Jainarayan

    Jainarayan ॐ नमो भगवते वासुदेवाय
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    Heathenry uses fire for sacrifices. If it's an animal sacrifice, it's a communal bbq. Other items, once they are offered to the gods must be removed from the human plane. One way is through burning it.
     
  7. Quintessence

    Quintessence Tale Weaver
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    Why do you surmise that fire is used this way? I see in the wikipedia entry (which may or may not be accurate) discusses how the fire - how Agni - acts as a vector for taking messages to the gods. What is it about fire that would facilitate this, in your view?
     
  8. Quintessence

    Quintessence Tale Weaver
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    You may be right about Shinto, but it'd be worth looking into a bit more. Water seems to feature more prominently in their practices, such as the customary washings before approaching shrines. I'll likely make another thread in the future for water. :D
     
  9. Vinayaka

    Vinayaka devotee
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    Another use in Hinduism is for light. Deep inside those massive stone edifices to god, before electricity, the entire place was lit by oil and ghee dipas, often on the stone walls. I pity the poor chap who had the job of keeping them full of oil.

    Any oil or substance derived from animal fat (ghee is considered differently) was a no-no, so beef tallow candles weren't used. Modern candles are all paraffin so the ethics is fine.
     
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  10. Twilight Hue

    Twilight Hue The gentle embrace of twilight has become my guide

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    There's largely a symbolic component attributed with veneration through the burning of candles. It also aids in and demonstrates our natural ability to focus, same as that of burning incense which would draw attention towards the smoke and smell minimizing surrounding distractions.

    If course tradition plays it's role too.
     
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  11. Vinayaka

    Vinayaka devotee
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    I realise you didn't ask me, but I'll throw in my two bits. ... In mystical schools, the homa fire, properly set up with the right Vedic mantras, size, directions, location, etc. is a channel to the devaloka, and Sivaloka. So all sacrifices reappear in the inner worlds where Gods and devas exist. So quite literally, in a mystic sense, you are feeding them, and the fire is just the untensil you're using to do this with.
     
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  12. Riverwolf

    Riverwolf Amateur Rambler / Proud Ergi
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    In the Weonde Song, a spell that's meant to hallow a place for worship accompanied by certain actions, written by Swain Wodening, the text reads (in a rough Modern English translation)

    Fire I carry 'round the frith-stead
    And bid men the frith to keep
    Light I carry for enclosing
    And bid ill-wights flee away
    Thunor hallow, Thunor hallow
    Thunor hallow this holy-stead

    The use of fire here is similar to the modern Neopagan practice of sprinkling salt in a circle to create a hallowed space where "ill-wights" (spirits of ill intent) cannot enter. The second verse is almost exactly the same, except that ill-wights is replaced with outlaws. So it's not just meant to keep ill-wights out, but it's also meant to signify to those humans who are unwelcome to stay out. Meanwhile, those within the "frith-stead" are bid to keep the frith. Frith sort of means peace, but not exactly. A frith-stead can be conceptually translated as "sanctuary." Those who are in a frith-stead, or frith-yard, must leave ALL conflicts outside, and ideally shouldn't be antagonizing to others. If there's a ritual going on, it shouldn't be interrupted.

    I can't say whether or not fire was used to mark out frith-yards historically speaking. But the practice does make sense, given that during the Oldest Days, the area where the fire's light reached was safe from animals, and everyone could see what was going on.

    There's also the case of funeral pyres/open-air cremations. As today, dead people were either buried, burned, or (much less common today lol) deposited in bogs if they were criminals, human sacrifices, or POWs. Unlike today, however, you didn't really get to choose which one you got, as I understand it. The majority of people were buried, and this was the way people would be with their kin after death. Contrary to modern popular belief, Valhalla/Walhall was not the place all pre-Christians wanted to go to before being introduced to the concept of Christian Paradise; people wanted to be with their kin. Walhall was what happened to those who died in battle, far away from their homes and kin, as one of the two potential "compensations", the other being Folkvangr/Folkenfield. It's not super-easy to find information on what specific significance the funeral pyre had compared to being buried; it's not unlikely that it varied from Tribe to Tribe. In Modern pop-culture depictions, however, there's no doubt that it's something given to deeply respected people. In the Yngling Saga, it states that those who are cremated in this way go to Valhalla (no doubt this text was written after Valhalla became thought of as the pre-Christian equivalent to Paradise.) So this fire becomes the gateway to the Gods, as it were.

    On a less grim topic, the Hearth was also considered the "heart", the sacred center, of the home. For many, the Hearth was a pit you could walk all around, and where coals were simmered when it was cold. (Those who've played Skyrim know what it looks like.) It was here that all the cooking happened, and where the entire house's warmth came from. Nowadays, this Hearth has split into the fireplace, the stove, the oven, the furnace, and the water heater. A house with a working Hearth is a house with life.
     
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  13. Saint Frankenstein

    Saint Frankenstein Caritas Christi Urget Nos
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    Basically:

    "...In our Catholic tradition, in early times as well as today, light has a special significance - Christ. Recall Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness; no, he shall possess the light of life" (Jn 8:12) and "I have come to the world as its light, to keep anyone who believes in me from remaining in the dark" (Jn 12:46). Moreover, the Prologue of St. John's Gospel connects Christ and true life with the imagery of light: "Whatever came to be in Him, found life, life for the light of men" and "The real light which gives light to every man was coming into the world" (Jn 1:4, 9). For this reason, in our liturgy for the Sacrament of Baptism, the priest presents a candle lit from the Paschal candle, which in turn symbolizes the Paschal mystery, and says to the newly baptized, "You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as children of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts. When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). The light then is a symbol of faith, truth, wisdom, virtue, grace, the divine life, charity, the ardor of prayer and the sacred presence which flow from Christ Himself.

    With this background, we can appreciate the usage of votive candles. Here, as in early Christian times, we light a candle before a statue or sacred image of our Lord or of a saint. Of course, we do not honor the statue or the image itself, but whom that statue or image represents. The light signifies our prayer offered in faith coming into the light of God. With the light of faith, we petition our Lord in prayer, or petition the saint to pray with us and for us to the Lord. The light also shows a special reverence and our desire to remain present to the Lord in prayer even though we may depart and go about our daily business..."
    http://www.catholiceducation.org/en...tributions/the-history-of-votive-candles.html

    The Holy Spirit at Pentecost appeared in the form of a flame:
    "1 When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. 2 And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. 3 Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim." (Acts 2:1-4)
     
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  14. Politesse

    Politesse Amor Vincit Omnia

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    Fire is used to carry prayers (physical, tangible printed ones) into the spirit realm in many Shinto rites.

    The birth of fire, Kagu-tsuchi, caused the death of his mother, the first woman, Izanami, and symbolically, ended creation and began the process of death. Izanagi, the first man, tried to kill the fire kami in vengeance for her death, but his divided body fell to earth and became eight great volcanoes that span Japan's mountains. Kagu-tsuchi's blood also birthed the rains and seas. He is the patron of blacksmiths and has many shrines.

    Look up the Shingu and Nachi fire festivals for more fiery Shinto fun!
     
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  15. Vinayaka

    Vinayaka devotee
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    We (my sampradaya/school) do that too. Written prayers, written clearly, burned in the sacred fire. Mystics say they re-appear in the astral, and an inner being takes it, and proceeds to go about answering it.
     
  16. Ingledsva

    Ingledsva HEATHEN ALASKAN

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    Fire, - incense, - and chanting, - induce meditative states. Add hallucinogens (which they often did,) and you have "God" experiences.

    *
     
  17. SomeRandom

    SomeRandom Still learning to be wise
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    I'd add that in addition to incense, candles and Agni, fire is important in funeral rituals of Hindus as well.
    The common belief being that the human body is comprised of all the elements and by burning it, the body returns to all of them. As well as helping detach the souls from the body and ease the mourning process.
    Even in media fire plays a vital role. When someone is forgiven and attains moksha (I assume, there's not a lot of subtitles) the soul is often represented as a flame on screen.
     
  18. NadiaMoon

    NadiaMoon Member

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    As a Goddess worshiper, i use candles in all of my spells and rituals. Contrary to most pagan's beliefs, i believe Fire to be a feminine element. I use candles when saying prayers
     
  19. dianaiad

    dianaiad Well-Known Member

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    After reading everybody's responses, I feel more than a little like a wet blanket. My faith tradition doesn't use candles, or fire, at all in our religious ceremonies or in any symbolic way, except metaphorically for 'light.' That is, the light a candle sheds is sometimes compared to information, or 'truth.' "Do not hide your light under a bushel,' or 'put your light on a hill so that others may see it" sort of thing.

    It seems a little odd, now that I think about it; my folks are both the LEAST likely to use symbols like this....and yet we also hold to symbols most fervently in our most private services, in a Temple and even in what we wear.

    Candles, however, aren't among 'em.
     
  20. Ingledsva

    Ingledsva HEATHEN ALASKAN

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    Hummm. What religion are you? :)

    *
     
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