Fire has a central role in Setian philosophy and practice, from the central flame source in ceremonial magic, to the conceptual Black Flame of consciousness spoken of in the Diabolicon.
But a religious focus on fire goes back much further to at least the 4th century BCE to the prophet Zarathushtra. In the most ancient times, before Zoroastrians built temples, and possessed no religious imagery and had no books on the teachings of the faith, light served as the focus of their religious practices. Fire – or Athra – was a means of producing light.
Eventually Fire Temples appeared as central pillars to early communities where Zoroastrian Priests – or Magi – would tend the fire to ensure it never died out. In addition to the spiritual focus, the Fire Temple also served a practical function to the community ensuring the incredibly valuable resource of fire was always available. It would have been quite a claim of technological success for a community to be able to boast they had kept their fire going without interruption for decades, or perhaps centuries. Event today Fire Temples exist in Persia and India claiming to have fire that is thousands of years old, for instance the city of Yazd in central Iraq.
Zarathushtra mentions fire eight times in his hymns, the gathas: Yasna 31.3, 31.19, 34.4, 43.4, 43.9, 46.7, 47.6 and 51.9. In Zoroastrian scriptures and literature, the word ‘athra’ (later adar and azar) is sometimes used to mean a flame and at other times to mean the energy within an entity. It is also the agency that produces energy. The same sort of multiplicity is found in the Setian conception of The Black Flame, where it can refer to consciousness, the agency that inspires consciousness, or the energy that fuels and feeds consciousness.
Different Kinds of Fire
In Zoroastrianism there are further found different qualities or ‘degrees’ of fire which can be identified by their different functions. There are five kinds of what I would call Substantial Fire, and then two kinds of what I would call Supersubstantial Fire.
The idea that the fire itself can change through a process of qualitative evolution is also represented in the Diabolicon where it is said that the Black Flame might become Red signaling a state of perfection.
From the Statement of Belial:
To council with Satan I also was called, and the Lord of Light said to me, Into thy charge, Daemon of essence, I give the essence of my own being, the Black Fire whose power alone can effect creation by force of Will. Against thee who wield the Black magic no law shall stand, and thus I call thee Belial, who art One Without Master. And as I have bequeathed this essence to thee, so let it come finally to man, who shall overcome the great balance and bring to the Flame a change, for in supremacy it shall become Red with the perfection of the Will of man.
The Four Substantial Fires
The five fires or energies mentioned in the Avesta’s Yasna 17.11 and described further in Zoroastrian texts such as the Chapter 17 of the Lesser Bundahishn and Chapter 18 of the Greater Bundahishn, are:
- Vohu-Frayan (good propagator): Such as that found within the bodies of humans and animals. This energy or ‘fire’ requires both food and water in order to be sustained. This can also be understood as Life-Force Energy, or in Setian terms may correspond with Arkte. It is the fire that binds man and animal together. It is also connected with the first kind of Food in Gurdjieff’s food diagram.
- Urvazisht (most useful): Such as that found in plants. This energy or ‘fire’ requires water but no food in order to be sustained. Urvazisht is connected with the Second Kind of Food in the Food Diagram, and can manifest in carbon dioxide and oxygen.
- Vazisht (most supporting): Such as that found in clouds (manifest as lightning). This energy or ‘fire’ requires neither water nor food in order to be sustained. Corresponds with ‘heavenly’ fire.
- Spenisht (most brilliant and beneficent): Such as that found in a flame – the temporal fires. This energy or ‘fire’ requires ‘food’ (fuel) but no water in order to be sustained.
The Two Supersubstantial Fires
Spiritual Fire – Mainyu Athra – The Black Flame
In Yasna / Gatha 31.3, Zarathushtra makes reference to the Mainyu Athra – the spiritual fire – as one that illuminates the path of asha (truth). The universal laws of asha govern and bring order to the spiritual and material existences. Asha is available, through individual choice, to bring order to human thoughts, words and deeds. As an ethical choice, asha represents principled, honest, beneficent, ordered, and lawful living.
A study of Mainyu Athra takes us back to the origins of man in the universe, and man’s current place in the universe.
In the Diabolicon it is represented in the Statement of Azazel:
And before our sight Satan lost shape and became again the essence of Lucifer, and we beheld a brilliance that infused all of Hell and sent great bolts of prismic light into the surrounding void. And the brilliance said, I am Lucifer revealed, who am the Eternal Flame. I go now to Earth, for no longer shall man be confounded in Godly ignorance. And then the brilliance became as a flash of fire in the vastness of space, and we knew that Satan had departed from Hell.
But on Earth, where man wandered in mindless bliss, the firmament blazed forth with fiery tongues, and all the land was covered by the Black Flame, which burned not, though it bewildered the eye to see it.
Mainyu Athra corresponds to the highest frequency of the Black Flame, Epiousios the Supersubstantial, and Holy Fire. Mainyu Ahtra also corresponds to Gurdjieff’s Influences C – the Higher Impressions that also serve as food for higher being. This conception of Higher Impressions also correspond with the Zoroastrian mantra of Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds. It is ultimately not for the good of others that you practice these, but for the good of you own soul as the practice helps to complete, refine, and feed you soul. Strong is the soul that is nourished with Holy Fire.
Fire of Creation – Barezi-Savangh – The Red Flame
As the study of Mainyu Athra takes us back to the origins of man in the universe and man’s current place in the universe; Barezi-Savangh takes us back to the origins of the universe itself.
The fire of the original creation is the only element of creation that is called the ‘child’ of God (Athro Ahurahe Mazda puthra* cf. Atash Niayesh**, Litany to Fire, verse 5).
In Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh Zarathushtra held up a censer containing a flame and said to King Vishtasp “Look upon the heavens and the earth. God made them not with dust and water. Look upon the fire and behold therein how they were created.”
In the Avesta, fire as the cosmic fire of creation is intimately connected with asha, the cosmic laws through which order in the universe is maintained. The temporal fire is seen as a symbol of asha.
While Zarathushtra does not refer to fire as God’s child, Zarathushtra does refer to the fire of creation as God’s fire or “Thwa athra sukhra” meaning ‘Your radiant / brilliant (all pervading?) fire’ (of creation).
One possible interpretation of these quotes is that the fire or energy of creation (referred to as Barezi-Savangh in the Bundahishn), is a direct creation of God, Ahura Mazda, and that the material universe (gaetha / getig) coalesced from the ‘fire’ or energy of creation. Further, the energy of this original creation continues to pervade the material and living creation through the other forms of energy listed above. While they are different degrees they are all fire in essence, the way different people can have common DNA strains.
From a perspective of modern science we could equate Barezi-Savangh with the Big Bang – the huge explosion from which our universe sprang. Finding clues to its existence takes us back in time through a universe that is in constant motion.
Recalling the Statement of Leviathan, that ‘Heaven and Hell must perish, and man alone must remain for the Black Flame to become Red in the glory of its perfection’ we see that in the conception of perfection is an idea of return to the fundamental nature of the cosmos, as well as the ability to remake the cosmos from a new perspective.
This may be seen to correspond with the Avestan word “Frashokereti” which is the idea that there will be a final renovation to the universe after evil – mechanicalness and ignorance – is dispelled from the world.
All of this points to a return to – or Remanifestation of – the original cosmic fire of creation – the Red Flame.
In Zoroastrian ritual, the passing of esoteric ideas and values from one person to the next is symbolized by a new flame being lit from an existing one. When these ideas and values are passed from one generation to another without interruption, we have the notion of an ‘eternal’ flame, one that will endure the passage of time. The ancient system of maintaining an ever-burning fire in a community-centre and from which household fires were lit also contributed to the notion of an eternal flame.
This is also commonly acted out in Setian practice, in lighting the flame, and in passing the flame around to others. The idea of wisdom spreading mouth-to-ear by oral tradition is also represented in the symbolism of the Black Flame. This is also illustrated througout the Daibolicon as the Daimons pass the flame along to each other.
Just as the word itself moves through different forms to to highlight various subtleties – Epiousios, Supersubstantial, Holy Fire, Black Flame – so does the ancient conception of fire acknowledge various qualities or frequencies of manifestation.
The most immediate emergence from Holy Fire is the duality of Black Flame/Red Flame; Mainyu Athra/Barezi-Savangh; Isolate Intelligence/Creative Continuity; the soul/creation; These two fires are essential in understanding Epiousios, and are linked with each other. This is why when we connect with the Principle of Isolate Intelligence (Synesis) we may also catch a glimpse of the birth of the universe via the omnipresent Red Flame of continuity.