The Four Elements
SACRALITY & LORE
Fire Lore, Northern Lights, "Green Flashes," St. Elmo's Fire
[Note: some of these links were originally on the
"Floods, Storms, Rainbows, & Other Weather Wonders" page --
it's time to give them a page of their own]
Fire Light, Fire Warmth, Fire Magic
[My title -- I can't read Russian <smile>]
By Konstantin Vasiliev
(Earth Day, 22 April 2001):
Fire. It fascinates and frightens, warms and scorches. Too little and we die. Too much and we die. It sings, dances, plays, inspires, destroys. It purifies and consumes. In a burning bush, it marked the presence of God. In a volcano, Pele surges into raw life. Among the flames in a smithy, Bridgid and Hephaestus craft wonders of magic. Around ancient hearths, food was cooked, deities worshiped, songs sung, tales told, babies birthed, the sick and dying comforted. Ancient ritual originated in dance and drumming around sacred fire. In many cultures, a new day is born at sunset and nurtured in firelight -- by the time dawn arrives, the day is already old. Fire hides in trees and hides in stars, and most of all, hides in hearts.
To honor this elusive, friendly, dangerous gift, I've created this page.......
© Scott Nellis (Permission pending)
[Added 4/22/01]: From the Theosophical University Press comes a 1979 paper, "God's Brother," by Ida Postma. She focuses on African myths of fire-stealers and tricksters as expanders of consciousness:http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/5292/origfire.htmIt is safe to say that at no time in recorded history has there been such extensive investigation into the workings of the human mind as today.... [S]acred traditions as found in myth and legend -- those of old and those still living -- have never put mind in line with the physical constitution, but have regarded it as the link between spirit and flesh, dormant in early humanity until "fit" or "awakened" by the intervention of divine or semi-divine beings. This process has been described allegorically in different ways, such as stealing the fire from the gods, for instance. And there is a host of type-figures symbolizing human intelligence itself. Thus Prometheus shares the stage with Coyote and Raven, with Hare, Hermes, and Spider, or whatever other personality, cultures through the ages have given to their "tricksters...."There's a brief but fine bibliography at the end.
...African traditions, as do those in other parts of the world, show intelligence to be divine in origin but, in man's case, of a dual character. For though it granted him self-awareness and thus elevated him above the beast, when he developed this new aspect of his consciousness he began to stray from Nature's ways and hew out his own path that led him along the rough byways of material existence. Yet the yearning to return to the source is ever alive in his soul. The myths reflect this well, for even if Spider, Doru, or any of their fellow tricksters exhibits weaknesses and failings common to us all, he is the link with the gods, or as Tore had to admit "a son of the same mother." And after aeons, immeasurably enriched by the experience of his earthly wanderngs, this brother will take his rightful place as a self-conscious god.
[Added 4/22/01]: This is an Apache legend, "The Origin of Fire: A Native American Tale," in which a fox outwits a village of fireflies and scatters fire upon the earth. The unknown author tells the story with charm and grace. The tale begins:http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/5292/fire2six.htmLong, long ago, animals and trees talked with each other, but there was no fire at that time. Fox was most clever and he tried to think of a way to create fire for the world....
[Added 4/22/01]: This is "How Fire Came to the Six Nations: An Iroquois Tale." It's a moving re-telling of Three Arrows, a humane fourteen year old boy on a "dream quest." Again, it's well told with a deep sense of wonder and unusually creative elements:...Suddenly the air was filled with a fearful sound. A shrill shrieking came from the ledge just above the cave. It sounded as though mountain lions fought in the storm; yet Three Arrows felt no fear as he climbed toward the ledge. As his keen eyes grew accustomed to the dim light he saw that the force of the wind was causing two young balsam trees to rub violently against each other. The strange noise was caused by friction, and as he listened and watched fear filled his heart, for, from where the two trees rubbed together a flash of lightning showed smoke. Fascinated, he watched until flickers of flames followed the smoke. He had never seen fire of any kind at close range nor had any of his people. He scrambled down to the cave and covered his eyes in dread of this strange magic. Then he smelt bear again and he thought of his vision, his clan spirit, the bear, and its message. This was the mystery which he was to reveal to his people. The blazing arrow in the sky was to be his totem, and his new name - Blazing Arrow....
Northern Lights over Nuremberg, Germany, in 1591
University of Tromsø in Norway (see annotation below)
Although experiencing the negative effects of regional infrasound (see below) caused at least one Eskimo group to view the Northern Lights as evil (see below for views of other Eskimo peoples), many other peoples, perhaps more protected from infrasound, have found immense beauty in the phenomenon. This website from the University of Tromsø in Norway offers a brief, but poetic description of the Northern Lights by Franck Pettersen:http://www.imv.uit.no/english/science/publicat/waynorth/wn1/part02.htmThe Northern lights are poetry, they are nature's light show, and they are quantum leaps in the oxygen atom. They are elementary particle physics, superstition, mythology and fairy tales. The northern lights have filled people with wonder and inspired artists; they have frightened people to think that the end is at hand....The site includes 4 photographs of the phenomenon, but they're quite grainy. There's a link back to the contents page where further fine pages by Pettersen are located.
Also from the University of Tromsø in Norway, this is a great site, very nicely illustrated (from 16th and 19th century art), on folklore from Europe and the New World on Northern Lights.http://www.ub.uit.no/northernlights/eng/myths.htm: [Updated 9/28/00]
[Added 12/28/99]:: The "Northern Lights Route" is a project of the University Library of Tromsø. The page opens with a great dragon illustration and then briefly looks at the lore and history of the Lands of the Northern Lights and their association in early Christian times with evil. Extremes of cold, just as much as extremes of heat, were viewed as Satan's realm; the doorway to the fires of Hell was even said to lie in Finland; the local inhabitants, the Sami (Laplanders), were, thus, considered evil witches. The page has links to fascinating data by Rune Hagen on Satan, Hell, and the Sami (note: also check my Burning Times page for more on Sami "witches" by Rune Hagen). There is also a link to the Poets of the Romantic Age, who had a very different perception of Northern lands.http://ecotourism.about.com/library/weekly/aa990804.htm [Link broken 4/22/01]
[Added 12/29/99]: This is a 2-page look at the Northern Lights from about.com's Ecotourism guide, Canadian, Ellen Scott. She looks lyrically at their beauty (and includes 2 stunning photos), but she also explores what causes them in clear, understandable terms. For example:http://www.athena.ivv.nasa.gov/curric/space/solterr/aurora.html [Updated 8/23/00]...The color of the lights indicate how high up in the atmosphere, from 20 to 200 miles, the particles are entering and reacting with which gas: Green Lights - between 60 and 150 miles upward, the particles are reacting with oxygen; Blue Lights - up to 60 miles above the earth, the particles are hitting nitrogen particles; Red Lights - above 150 miles, the solar particles are wrestling with oxygen particles, sometimes producing "Bloody Red"; Violet and Purple Lights - higher altitude nitrogen molecule activity....At the end is a fine collection of links to more information. (Note: she points out that 2000-2001 is a prime time to see this phenomenon, especially at lower latitudes -- in 1989, even Northern Mexico saw Northern Lights.)
This overview on the science of the aurora borealis by Douglas W. Potter also looks briefly at folklore and myth:http://www.athena.ivv.nasa.gov/curric/space/aurora/aurfolk.html [Updated 8/23/00]...Northern cultures have created a rich folklore surrounding aurora. One of the earliest know written references is in the Old Testament. On rare occasions, the aurora struck fear in the peoples of Italy and France. Sometimes when the aurora is large and extends that far south, it is a rich dark red color. The people of Europe associated it with blood and battle and saw it as an omen of disaster. The East Greenland Eskimos believed the aurora are the spirits of children who died at birth. Various cultures believed aurora are the dead playing a ball game.
This is a great New World site on folklore connected with the Northern Lights. Here we learn, for example, that only the Point Barrow Eskimos considered the phenomenon "evil." Other Eskimo and northern Native American peoples had a variety of beliefs: some saw the aurora as the playful spirits of dead children or animals; others as cooking fires, or torches; one Wisconsin tribe saw it as an omen of war or illness caused by the spirits of vengeful enemies; another tribe saw it as a reminder that the creator-god had not forgotten his people.http://www.borderlands.com/newstuff/research/infra.htm
This is "Infrasound" by John D. Cody, a sobering report on the role played by this silent, natural phenomenon in floods, earthquakes, tornados, cyclones, hurricanes, volcanos, tidal waves, and other such catastrophic events. About quakes, for example:http://www.athena.ivv.nasa.gov/curric/space/aurora/index.html#faq [Updated 8/23/00]...Infrasonic shocks produce characteristic pressure effects on structures and organisms alike. The sensation flattens the body. It is as if one were struck with a solid invisible wall from which there is no escape. There are physiological effects as well. Anxiety, fear, extreme emotional distress, and mental incapacitation are all part of the unpleasant phenomenon. Notable among human exposures to quake-correlated infrasound is the precursory nausea which many report . . . .The infrasound phenomenon also shows up in the aurora borealis, which is why I have included it here --- there is a brief mention in the Fire section of Eskimo lore on the "evil" aurora about halfway down the page (or you can hit control-F anywhere on the page and do a "find" for this topic: just type in "legends" -- without the quotation marks). And in the Wind section, infrasound shows up in fierce desert winds, creating a mythology among the Bedouins of "ghost wails" (again, control-F and typing in "mythology" or "ghost wail" -- without the quotation marks -- will take you to this brief section). Understanding the physical effects of this hidden, unheard "sound" may help explain why the ancients might have dramatically interpreted the natural phenomena arousing such symptoms as "evil." Knowing the cause may also help us better weather such phenomena ourselves. [This site is double-listed on my Air: Sacrality & Lore page.]
This site looks at frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the aurora borealis. If you scroll up the page, you'll find some fine photos from NASA and others; at the bottom of the page are references.http://www.geo.mtu.edu/weather/aurora/images/aurora/jan.curtis/
From Jan Curtis come 9 pages of stunning Alaskan Aurora Borealis photos (each is clickable for awesome enlargements).http://www.geo.mtu.edu/weather/aurora/
[Added 8/23/00]: This is "The Aurora Page" with a huge number of briefly annotated links -- also lovely photos.http://www.exploratorium.edu/learning_studio/auroras/
[Added 8/23/00]: This is "Auroras: Paintings in the Sky" by Mish Denlinger. It offers aurora photos, a self-guided tour, excellent links, and a teachers' guide.http://www-spof.gsfc.nasa.gov/Education/Ielect.html
[Added 8/23/00]: "Electrons, Ions and Plasma: The Polar Aurora" is a fine page from NASA on the science of the aurora.http://www.spaceweather.com/
[Added 5/10/01]: This is Space Weather: "Science news and information about the Sun-Earth environment." It looks at auroras, solar winds, solar flares, and much more.http://www.gi.alaska.edu/cgi-bin/predict.cgi
[Added 5/10/01]: This is another scientific site with daily aurora forecasts (featuring custom maps for many worldwide areas).
& ST. ELMO'S FIRE
A Green Flash on the horizon as the sun sets into the sea
(See Dr. Andrew Young's site directly below)
From Dr. Andrew T. Young at San Diego State University comes this great page on "green flashes." He writes:http://www.islandnet.com/~see/weather/elements/stelmo.htm...Green flashes are phenomena seen at sunrise and sunset, when some part of the Sun suddenly changes color (at sunset, from red or orange to green or blue)....The site has photos and a great computer animation sequence showing what the green flash looks like (Click on "Pictures" or go here for a direct link: http://mintaka.sdsu.edu/GF/explain/simintro.html); Young's site includes his paper on Dutch scientists exploring the phenomenon, and much more. Here's another direct link to more photos and graphs:
He and I have been corresponding on the lore connected to "green flashes" -- lore from sailors as well as from mystic literature and mythology ranging from ancient Egypt to the New World (my own suggestions include the Grail as an emerald falling from the crown of Lucifer as he plunged into the fires of hell; Hildegard's vision of the "Sapphire Christ," the Navajo name of "Turquoise Man" for the sun, etc.) [NOTE: if any visitors to this page have information on more such lore, please contact Dr. Young with particulars.]
This is a great essay on St. Elmo's Fire by Dr. Keith C. Heidorn (also see below). He looks at the lore, history, science, and appearances in literature (e.g., Caesar, Francis Bacon, Darwin, Moby Dick) of this phenomenon, those "ghostly blue flames" that tell sailors their patron saint is protecting them from fearsome storms at sea.http://www.islandnet.com/~see/weather/arts/stelmpm.htm
Also from the above site are three brief poetic passages on St. Elmo's fire -- two from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and one from Shakespeare.
Mything Links' General Reference Pages:
MythingLinks Search Engine
Cross-cultural, Multi-regional, Interdisciplinary Collections
General Reference Page (online libraries, reference help, literary texts, world languages, word-lover sites, help on writing research papers, copyright information, film plots, themes, and/or films representing various historical periods)
Special Interest Sites for Pacifica Faculty, Students & Colleagues (includes Jung, Campbell, Freud, Eliade, Otto, Hillman, other depth psychologists, mysticism, anthropology, religious studies, archetypal perspectives, foundations for mythology & psychology, relevant journals, books, videos, etc.)
Teachers' Reference Page for Primary & Secondary School Education
Menu of Common Themes, East & West:
Animal Deaths in Europe: Of Cows & Madness
Artists & Muses: The Creative Impulse
Creation Myths I
Creation Myths II
Crones & Sages
Dragons & Serpents
Food: Sacrality & Lore
THE FOUR ELEMENTSEARTH:Green Men
Land: Sacrality & Lore (mountains, caves, labyrinths, spiral mounds, crop & stone circles, FengShui)
Earth Day & Environmental Issues
Earth Goddesses & Gods
Air: Sacrality & Lore (air, wind, sky, storms, clouds, weather lore)
Sky Goddesses & Gods
Fire: Sacrality & Lore (fire, northern lights, green-flashes, Elmo's Fire)
Fire Goddesses & Gods
Water: Sacrality & Lore (water, wells, springs, pools, lakes)
Floods & Rainbows: Mythologies & Science
Water Goddesses & Gods
Nature Spirits of the World
Rituals of Birthing [forthcoming]
Rituals of Death & Dying [forthcoming]
Rituals of Puberty
Rituals of Weather-Working: An experimental, on-going ritual in cyberspace
Sacred Theatre, Dance & Ritual
Star Lore & Astrology
Symbols, Signs, & Runes
Time (Calendars, Clocks, Natural Temporal Cycles, Attitudes toward Time, & Millennium Issues)
Trees & Plant Lore
Tricksters, Clowns, Magicians, Jesters & Fools
Wars, Weapns & Lies: The Dehumanizing Impulse
Weaving Arts & Lore (Cosmic Webs, Spinning, Spindles, Clothing)
Down to Geographical Regions: Africa
This page created with Netscape Gold 3.01
Technical assistance: William Weeks
Text and Design:
Copyright © 1999 - 2001 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
All rights reserved except where noted.
Fire page designed 21-22 April 2001:
some links split off from Floods/Weather Wonders page; checked all links;
launched 11:10pm, 22 April 2001.
10 & 11 May 2001
Credits: fire background comes from Varian's DreamTiles.
The Four Elements bar comes from Torrey Philemon.