Fire Folklore and Legends

Bonfire At Night
Fire is associated with passion, destruction, creation, and the sacred masculine. Jessica Martinez / EyeEm / Getty Images

Each of the four cardinal elements–earth, air, fire and water–can be incorporated into magical practice and ritual. Depending on your needs and intent, you may find yourself drawn to one of these elements more so that the others.

Connected to the South, Fire is a purifying, masculine energy, and connected to strong will and energy. Fire both creates and destroys, and symbolizes the fertility of the God. Fire can heal or harm, and can bring about new life or destroy the old and worn. In Tarot, Fire is connected to the Wand suit (although in some interpretations, it is associated with Swords). For color correspondences, use red and orange for Fire associations.

Let’s look at some of the many magical myths and legends surrounding fire:

Fire Spirits & Elemental Beings

In many magical traditions, fire is associated with various spirits and elemental beings. For instance, the salamander is an elemental entity connected with the power of fire–and this isn’t your basic garden lizard, but a magical, fantastical creature. Other fire-associated beings include the phoenix–the bird that burns itself to death and then is reborn from its own ashes–and dragons, known in many cultures as fire-breathing destroyers.

The Magic of Fire

Fire has been important to mankind since the beginning of time. It was not only a method of cooking one’s food, but it could mean the difference between life and death on a frigid winter night. To keep a fire burning in the hearth was to ensure that one’s family might survive another day. Fire is typically seen as a bit of a magical paradox, because in addition to its role as destroyer, it can also create and regenerate. The ability to control fire–to not only harness it, but use it to suit our own needs–is one of the things that separates humans from animals. However, according to ancient myths, this has not always been the case.

Fire appears in legends going back to the classical period. The Greeks told the story of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods in order to give it to man–thus leading to the advancement and development of civilization itself. This theme, of the theft of fire, appears in a number of myths from different culture. A Cherokee legend tells of Grandmother Spider, who stole fire from the sun, hid it in a clay pot, and gave it to the People so they could see in the darkness. A Hindu text known as the Rig Veda related the story of Mātariśvan, the hero who stole fire that had been hidden away from the eyes of man.

Fire is sometimes associated with deities of trickery and chaos–probably because while we may think we have domination over it, ultimately it is the fire itself that is in control. Fire is often connected with Loki, the Norse god of chaos, and the Greek Hephaestus (who appears in Roman legend as Vulcan) the god of metalworking, who demonstrates no small amount of deceit.

Fire and Folktales

Fire appears in a number of folktales from around the world, many of which have to do with magical superstitions. In parts of England, the shape of cinders which jumped out of the hearth often foretold a major event–a birth, a death, or the arrival of an important visitor.

In parts of the Pacific Islands, hearths were guarded by small statues of old women. The old woman, or hearth mother, protected the fire and prevented it from burning out.

The Devil himself appears in some fire-related folktales. In parts of Europe, it is believed that if a fire won’t draw properly, it’s because the Devil is lurking nearby. In other areas, people are warned not to toss bread crusts into the fireplace, because it will attract the Devil (although there’s no clear explanation of what the Devil might want with burnt bread crusts).

Japanese children are told that if they play with fire, they will become chronic bed-wetters–a perfect way to prevent pyromania!

A German folktale claims that fire should never be given away from the house of a woman within the first six weeks after childbirth. Another tale says that if a maid is starting a fire from tinder, she should use strips from mens’ shirts as tinder–cloth from women’s garments will never catch a flame.

Deities Associated with Fire

There are a number of gods and goddess associated with fire around the world. In the Celtic pantheon, Bel and Brighid are fire deities. The Greek Hephaestus is associated with the forge, and Hestia is a goddess of the hearth. For the ancient Romans, Vesta was a goddess of domesticity and married life, represented by the fires of the home, while Vulcan was a god of volcanoes. Likewise, in Hawaii, Pele is associated with volcanoes and the formation of the islands themselves. Finally, the Slavic Svarog is a fire-breather from the inner realms of the underground.

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Your Citation
Wigington, Patti. "Fire Folklore and Legends." Learn Religions, Apr. 5, 2023, Wigington, Patti. (2023, April 5). Fire Folklore and Legends. Retrieved from Wigington, Patti. "Fire Folklore and Legends." Learn Religions. (accessed June 10, 2023).