top of page

The symbolism of Fire: subtle fire!

Here is a symbol like no other!

Fire is omnipresent in our unconscious. In Freemasonry, from the opening of the work, the flaming sword of the Venerable Mistress indicates the importance that is devolved to this symbol!

And yet, not everything is so simple.

Who has not had the nightmare of a burning apartment from which we could not escape and projecting us into the agonizing choice of death in the flames or being crushed on the floor?

Who hasn't dreamed of making love in front of the flames of a crackling fire in a fireplace, delivering sensual warmth?

And let's not forget the reality of our distant ancestors in paleontological times, who took care to keep the fire of the hearth as the most precious good, a fire which transformed their existence by giving them a fantastic tool at the base of so many evolutions !

I see myself again with my grandmother, whom I accompanied to look for the wood she needed to start the fire in the stove. Servant or rather mistress of fire, such appears to me today this grandmother who knew how to use fire so well to prepare meals.

I like to let myself be fascinated by the constantly moving flames of the fire in the hearth of my fireplace; nourished by beautiful logs of very dry wood, they create a real spectacle by varying the scenes. This silent fascination directs me towards daydreaming: it's a protective fire that wards off negative thoughts.

Yes, I accepted that, following my death, my body be placed in a crematorium where the fire, in its extreme power, will consume it to reduce it to ashes.

In his work, "The Psychoanalysis of Fire", published just before the Second World War, Gaston Bachelard sketched for the first time a study "refusing the historical plane" and referring to the permanent structures of the reverie of fire. Denouncing the scientific valuations of fire, he killed two birds with one stone: on the one hand he ruined the whole pseudo-scientific theory of the "four elements" (alchemical), on the other hand he showed that, behind an element apparently homogeneous to the conceptualization and even to the sensation, the fire, hid divergent structural intentions.

Fire is one of the major themes treated by many researchers: to testify to this, let us quote J. G. Frazer's book, "Myths of the Origin of Fire" (Myths of the Origin of Fire, 1930), the series of Mythologies by Claude Lévi-Strauss (Le Cru et le Cuit, 1964; From Honey to Ashes, 1966), and "Blacksmiths and Alchemists" (1956) by Mircea Eliade.

Compared to the three other elements of the classical theory, (water, earth and air), there is, with regard to fire, a major technological intention. The "discovery" of the latter is rightly held to be the primordial invention. Also, while the symbols of the other three elements were rather the responsibility of the psychologist, even of the psychoanalyst working away from social and cultural implications, the symbolism of fire is of particular interest to social and cultural anthropology.

More than that of any other element, the symbolism of fire is “a plural symbolism”. It almost never fits the simplistic definition given by the theory of the elements. Its symbols are in no way the result of the combination of "hot" and "dry". On the contrary, it refers to a swarm of the most concrete images: flame, ember, spark, lightning, lightning, fire, hearth, etc.

The symbolism of fire is outlined by the whole series of qualifiers which clearly highlight alchemy (cf. Dom A. J. Pernety, Dictionnaire mytho hérmetique, 1758): luminous, soft, hot, ardent, digesting, dry, burning , and even wet.

If we then examine the indirect complements of fire, we find the same diversifying plurality: forge, cooking, incineration, coction, fusion, cremation, piston lighters, friction lighters, percussion lighters, etc. It is the alchemist, the "philosopher by fire", who will attempt to coordinate operationally - and not according to a logic of the elements - all these disparate symbolic accents.

1. The warming fire

Calorific fire is what the alchemist likens to “baths” of different degrees (ash fire, sand fire, manure fire, filings fire, Persian fire, Egyptian fire); it refers to two major symbolic polarizations: erotic symbolism and filial symbolism.

Eros and fire

Erotic symbolism is given by all the images and metaphors that make fire coincide with the sexual act, amorous passion or simply love and affectivity. It is the most popularized meaning, especially by the iconography and literature of the Christian West. However, already in the Greco-Latin tradition, Eros-Cupid, the god of Love, is very often represented carrying a torch in addition to his bow, these two instruments both suggesting the wound of love. In this erotic symbolism - whose structures seem to obey the nocturnal regime of the image (cf. Gilbert Durand, Les Structures anthropologiques de l'imaginaire) - we can discover psychophysiological, and above all technological, motivations, closely intertwined.

Psychophysiological motivation arises from the concomitant variation between the thermal increase, the "heating up" of the body and the emotion of love, then the sexual act which, in mammals and humans, is accompanied by a rhythmic friction (caresses, intercourse, nuptial dances, etc.).

Bachelard, who devotes two-thirds of his Psychoanalysis of Fire to this erotic experience of "shared heat" - which he calls "the Novalis complex", "synthesis of the impulse towards fire caused by friction, the need for shared warmth" - even wonders if friction lighters (in which fire is generated by friction of a blade of hardwood on a grooved board of softwood, the two objects directly suggesting the image of coitus) would not have been born of the dreamy reflection on erotic friction. Love would then be “the first scientific hypothesis for the objective production of fire”. This is further evidenced by the very curious Course in Experimental Electricity, published in 1753, in which Charles Rabiqueau links “electric fire” and the complacent electrostatic phenomena to the image of the couple. In this way, Bachelard, very close to the theories of Eugène Minkowski, places the figurative meaning on an equal footing, if not as a priority, with the proper meaning, showing how words and human productions, even the most objective in appearance, are filtered and overdetermined. by the transcendental subjectivity of the imagination of the human species.

The technological motivation of the lighter therefore only reinforces the first and tender reverie of warm caresses. As Frazer writes, the idea that fire springs from a woman's body, and particularly from her genitals, finds a certain explanation in the analogy that many primitives see between the workings of the drill -to-fire, on the one hand, and the relations of the sexes on the other ”. The friction lighter, distant ancestor of our matches rubbed on the scraper (popular speech says both of a dog in love that she is "in heat" and of an overexcited girl that she is a "tease") , is, if not the most primitive process for producing fire, at least, according to A. Leroi-Gourhan, the process of the “most primitive of living peoples”, the Melanesians.

The fire and the table

Frazer has emphasized throughout his book the character of content (in the belly, the female organs, the bird, the wood, etc.) that fire takes on. Popular speech also names the female genitalia by terms borrowed from culinary containers (pot, pot, basket, etc.). In addition, Claude Lévi-Strauss's Mythologiques leads quite naturally to Les Manières de table.

The symbolism of the hearth is understood both for the intimacy of the bridal chamber and for the almost constant femininity of the hearth where the pot is heated. The nocturnal regime of the image of fire closes in a way on the intimate themes and the mystical structures of the imagination.

As Bachelard says, the "Novalis complex" then gives way to the "Hoffmann complex", that of flaming water, of the punch dear to the author of Les Contes: When the flame ran on alcohol, when the fire brought its testimony and its sign, when the primitive water of fire was clearly enriched with flames which shine and burn, one drinks it."

Alone of all the materials in the world, eau de vie is so close to the material of fire. One could add that it was already born from the fire, from the almost alchemical fire that smolders under the still.

Through another kind of production, the symbolism of calorific fire can be maintained in synthetic structures: sexualized fire entails, in fact, the symbols of fecundity, and more particularly filial symbolism. Quite logically, the theme of the igneous content slides towards the theme of the son, of the "fruit" of the mother's womb. Fire is a son, it is a natural or industrial product, it in turn produces birth, rebirth or regeneration.

Generated by the cross-wheel of the arâni, fire becomes the symbolic prototype of any product technologically provided by a coupling, a whirl, a friction: mill, churn, press. Jung remarks that the root math or manth is the one found both in the Sanskrit word meaning churn (manthasa) and in the name of Pramatha, the Hindu Prometheus, the hero who brought civilizing fire to the earth. The result is a confusion between fire and the products of the churn, the mill, the press.

And especially what in turn feeds the fire: the essential oil. Among the Latins, Vesta, the goddess of fire, of the hearth (focus) is also protector of the oil mill (pistrinum) [cf. G. Dumézil, Tarpeia]. Similarly, the Promethean elf of L'Ela, Nékili, brings men the recipe for extracting oil from the shea plant (cf. F. J. Nicolas, Myths and mythical beings of L'Ela de la Haute-Volta). The Vedic altar of fire is flanked by the indispensable press at Soma, and Agni, the god of fire, means the anointed, just like the Son par excellence of the Christian tradition (khristos, from khrio, I anoint, j 'coat, I rub).

In the philosophical egg of alchemical manipulation, the symbol of the son is combined - in the form of the homunculus - with the symbol of the thumb. In many legends relating to the origin of fire (cf. Frazer, op. cit.), the latter is contained in the body, or even in the tail, of a small animal: woodpecker, robin, raven, dog, rabbit, beaver, etc., or even in a modest plant such as the wild fennel in which Prometheus hid the stolen fire. Unless Prometheus himself was simply an eagle, as Salomon Reinach suggested. Be that as it may, all these legends "gulliverize" the being or the object that carries the fire and equate the power of the latter with the omnipotence of the infinitely small.

Many peoples, especially in Africa, only know periodic cremation as fertilizer.

In summary, in this caloric symbolization, strongly motivated by technological daydreams, fire is a major symbol of the act of love as well as of its "product", this product being itself overdetermined in threads, the emblem of fertility, but also in agricultural and food products. This connection suggests a passage between what psychoanalysts call the "buccal" and the "genital", which would not be liable, as for the latter, to a mysterious ontogenetic maturation, but would be linked to the technological phylogenesis of the human race. We see on this point how the structural analysis, both anthropological and symptomatic, makes it possible to approach the symbolism of fire in a much finer way, more motivating, and therefore more explicit than the formal pseudo-scientific elementarism or the overly biological schema of Freudian psychoanalysis.

2. The dazzling fire

The dazzling fire is located in a completely different structural universe, that of heroic (or schizomorphic) structures, and is the symbol of purification, of radical change, of baptism.

One passes easily from one to the other of these two divergent constellations, the calorific and the dazzling, thanks to the intermediate symbolism of birth. Birth in light here becomes rebirth, baptism by fire. The emblem of the Phoenix ensures this continuity between the hot and fertile ashes and the dazzling and resuscitated flame.

Fire relates to the great archetype of light. Also he frequently constellates with the accent of masculinity that light brings to everything it illuminates.

Fire is sexualized as a male; it is thus that in China it is the support of the yang principle, the male principle, and that the flame is the erection. The fulguration of lightning further reinforces this last character.

A whole warlike, heroic symbolism relays the virility of fire. The flaming sword of the vigilante angels, the thunderbolts of Jupiter or the emblem of the flaming grenade on military uniforms are the products of the pyrotechnic inductions of the daydream of the dazzling fire. The silence of the hearth is replaced by the roar of thunder or cannon, the crackling and humming of the fire, the forge, the volcano.

Finally, many societies use cremation as the basis of the funeral ritual. André Piganiol has shown that, in Indo-European societies, incineration is always accompanied by a solar or uranian cult linked to the notion of transcendence.

The fire of Vulcan would be in Rome the antithesis of the chthonic Saturn. Cremation and sacrifices by cremation involve death to ordinary, impure life and rebirth to spiritual life. Among the Matako Indians, fire plays an analogous role - separator and purifier - to the circumcision knife among other peoples. Again in this cathartic series, the speculation of the ancient Greeks, then that of the alchemists attributes to fire the principle of all volatility, of all rarefaction: ether, the very substance of fire (in alchemy called “lion fire”); among the Moderns, as Littré notes, ether signifies the purest air: the symbolism of fire is then entirely reabsorbed into that of the volatile, of elevation.

Fire in Freemasonry

It all starts with the will written in the cabinet of reflection and which will end in flames and then there was the trial by fire and then the flaming sword which consecrates us and creates Freemasonry. It will then be the flaming star and in other rituals we will find it. Fire in Freemasonry refers us to the Great Architect of the Universe and of course to God.

It is found in the 3rd degree in the (complete) march of the mistress where we find the salamander, another symbol of fire. ( see a development on this topic)

Fire, attribute of the male?

What polarizes and animates the symbolism of fire, as Bachelard foresaw, is less the objective substances than the important dynamisms of human gestures that constitute the “axiomatic metaphors” of the imagination. This shows that symbols “should not be judged from the point of view of form... but of their strength” (G. Bachelard, La Terre et les rêveries du repos).

How not to understand how many human beings, and first of all men, who at all times have only wanted to instrument us, how not to understand that these men were subjugated by this phenomenon which fascinated!

And this is how this physical phenomenon entered into another existence, that of the symbolic universe where everything that humanity has made sacred rubs shoulders!

What can I do against this fire of males, sometimes destructive, sometimes passion and vibration? He is not me!

I know this fire well, which I have learned to master, and also to understand, to sense these reactions!

I know how to keep it soft and sensitive, malleable and servile!

Anticipating his demands, I control his appetite and know how to provide him with the wood he needs by refusing the easy way of disdainfully throwing lousy material at him!

In the fire of the males which wants to be Power or Hell, Mutation or Temptation, I see the subtle Fire, this helping fire which transforms and ennobles, the gentle fire which makes me what I am!


Expressions containing the word "fire":

Tongue of fire designates (source wikipedia):

  • a plant, Anthurium, or anthurium, or flamingo;

  • a disease of the tongue, glossodynia;

  • a coding used by some children or adolescents, the langue de fe or tongue of fire, which is a form of Javanese;

  • a 1994 piece for soprano and instrumental ensemble by Claude Lenners;

  • the name of a bean, the tongue of fire bean;

  • the term for a narrow, elongated flame, the most famous example being the form taken by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost;

  • a fairly strong cocktail, often consumed in the form of shooters, made up of 1/2 vodka, 1/2 beer, and garnished with a few drops of liquid tabasco or directly with powdered pepper, so as to obtain a pink/reddish tint.

Be all fired up

Having the Holy Fire

Fire all wood

Playing with fire

See nothing but fire

Standing between two fires

Put your hand on fire

Setting the powder on fire

Walking the fire of God

A slow fire

Get your ass on fire


Baptism of fire


Fire Brick

Fire mouth


Fire cider


Fire Rated


Fire eater

Being on fire

To be caught, to be between two fires


To go further:

“The Middle Fire”, by Touhfat Mouhtare: all the lives that can be lived - (Touhfat Mouhtare is a Comorian writer. Born in the Comoros, Mouhtare has lived in various African countries and studied in France, where she obtained a degree in foreign languages from the Sorbonne. She is the second Comorian writer in published prose, after Coralie Frei, and has also written poetry. Source:

The Psychoanalysis of Fire by Gaston Bachelard (possibility to download in pdf format)

195 vues0 commentaire


bottom of page