How is Fire used as a Symbol? (Explained through Literature and Religion)

The Symbolism Of Fire

While it may not be just limited to these options, these are some of the most popular ones. Such symbols have often been used in both art and literature for a very long time.

Fire itself has been around for hundreds of thousands of years, so it should be no surprise that it has been featured in art and literature for almost as long. Fire can be linked to so many different things, and you might be left wondering how and why this is the case.

Fire can be interpreted in both a positive and negative light, depending on the context, which is why it can often be difficult to really tell what you are looking at or reading without further analysis.

 In this article, we are going to give you the answers to all of the questions you might have about fire and what it could symbolize. Hopefully, this will help to give you a better understanding of what you are reading or looking at.

Fire and Symbolism

There are lots of things that fire may symbolize, but some of the things that we are going to look at in this article include:

  1. Passion and Desire
  2. Rebirth and Resurrection
  3. Eternity
  4. Destruction
  5. Hope
  6. Hell
  7. Purification

What Can Fire Be a Symbol Of?

Fire can be a symbol of lots of different things, but this symbolism can vary, depending on the context.

For example, if you were to read ten different books that talked of fire, it could represent ten different things in each book. There are also lots of different interpretations that are important to consider in your reading.

What one person thinks might be completely different from what another person thinks. 

However, one thing that we do know for sure is that fire has been repeatedly used throughout history, especially when it comes to symbolizing certain things.

By trying to understand these symbolic motifs, we can start to better understand humanity’s complex relationship with fire. It can also help to improve your understanding of what is being portrayed in a certain text or work of art.

You might even discover something new in a book or work that you have read or seen many times before and understood differently without the additional knowledge. 

Strong Desire and Passion

One of the first things that fire could symbolize is desire or passion. The flickering of a female is often used to highlight thoughts of passion and desire, especially in a sense that cannot be controlled.

You’ve probably heard love being described as ‘fiery passion’, which only furthers this point. The link between fire and passion can also be found in the expression ‘light my fire’, which is an expression that indicates how someone or something has inspired passion deep within one’s soul.

Examples of Fire Symbolizing Passion and Desire

Great examples of fire symbolizing passion can be found in many of Shakespeare’s plays. If you look at Henry VIII, for example, you can find the line ‘my drops of tears I’ll turn to sparks of fire’.

In this line, Queen Katherine is talking of turning sadness into action. She recognizes that Cardinal Wolsey is her enemy, and she blames him for causing trouble between her and her husband.

Another interesting example can be found in Romeo and Juliet, symbolizing the passion that Romeo and Juliet both feel for each other. In Act 1, Scene 1, Shakespeare refers to a ‘fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes’.

Being Reborn or Resurrected

It is interesting to consider the fact that fire can symbolize both life and death, but this only highlights how versatile the symbolism of fire is. The best narrative of fire being a symbol of rebirth is through the phoenix.

A phoenix is a mythical creature that dies through spontaneous combustion. The bird will burst into flames and turn to ash. However, from these ashes, a new phoenix will be born again.

Examples of Fire Symbolizing Rebirth

The Phoenix actually comes from ancient Greek mythology, and it is thought that these creatures can live for up to 500 years before they burn and return to life as a new bird.

Perhaps one of the most popular phoenix’s actually comes from more modern literature in the Harry Potter series. Fawkes, Dumbledore’s phoenix, catches fire in front of Harry, but Dumbledore is not surprised.

He later explains that Fawkes will come back to life after his death in flames.

Forever and Eternity

Fire is also a strong representation of eternity, which can be noted from the metaphor of the ‘eternal flame’. It is thought that as long as the symbolic flame burns, life and hope will remain in the world.

Some people may even support the idea that this metaphorical flame lives within our hearts.

Eternal flames have even been used in memorials, and we often remember people’s love and lives through the burning of a flame. As long as the flame is still burning, we can remember and respect the memory of someone that we have lost.

Some may say that because of this, the eternal flame is a symbol that the memory of a person will live on.

Examples of Fire Symbolizing Eternity 

The eternal flame is something that is perhaps most common in war memorials. An example of this is the Australian War Memorial explains the eternal flame that burns within its commemorative courtyard as: ‘a flame is widely accepted as a symbol of eternal life.

An eternal flame at a war memorial symbolizes a nation’s perpetual gratitude towards, and remembrance of, its war dead’.

Destructive By Nature

Examples of Fire Being a Symbol of Destruction

Fire is something that also has the ability to decimate anything that it comes into contact with, which has helped many authors to use fire as a symbol of destruction. There are lots of texts that can provide evidence to this.

Examples of Fire Being a Symbol of Destruction

A novel that you might be familiar with is Fahrenheit 451, and in this book, fire is actually used as a literal destructive force. Montag, the main character of the book, burns books for a living. So, he is literally burning knowledge in order to keep people in the dark. 

Fire is a big symbol of destruction in this book, and it symbolizes the destructive nature of mankind, and the power we have through destruction.

The book even opens with an explanation surrounding the destructiveness of fire, which is something that has a strong presence throughout the book. The line is ‘it was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed’.

Being Hopeful

Fire can also be used as a symbol of hope, or that salvation is near. There are a few different reasons for this, including:

  • Fire has been a tool of long-distance communication due to its brightness
  • Fire provides warmth, and it provides refuge from the cold
  • A fire on the horizon can symbolize a place of rest or save haven for a traveler

Examples of Fire Being a Symbol of Hope

An example of fire being used as a symbol of hope can be found in the movie Mulan. In this film, fire is represented as a way to quickly send messages along the Great Wall of China.

A guard lights a fire, and then the next guard would see it and light his own fire, and so on. This meant that warning messages could be sent more quickly than by foot.

Another example can be found within the Statue of Liberty, who can be seen holding a fire above her head. This fire is the first thing that people will see of the new world, and this torch is held high to show weary travelers that they have reached both freedom and liberty.

Hell

The majority of modern depictions of hell will include fire in some way or another. You might have heard the phrase ‘the fiery depths of hell’. The view of hell is closely associated with Dante’s vision of hell in The Inferno, which suggests that fire waits for use in hell, where we will burn. 

Examples of Fire Being Used as a Symbol of Hell

One of the best examples of fire being a symbol of hell can actually be found in the Bible. This is a book that condemns people that worship beasts or false prophets, and it states that such sinners will be ‘cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone’.

Mathew has also spoken of a lake of fire that is awaiting sinners, like ‘the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels’.

Purity or Purification

As well as all of its other uses when it comes to symbols, fire can also be a symbol of purity or purification. Such examples of this can also be found in the Bible. Fire is supposed to rid the world, or certain people, of sin.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that fire leaves behind nothing of what it burns. This view can also be taken with witches that were burned at the stake to rid them of their evil.

Examples of Fire Being Used as a Symbol of Purification

When the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah fall into their sinful ways, God burns them to ashes. In this instance, fire is used to purify the earth and rid it of sinners.

It is also a possibility that the symbol of the phoenix rising from the ashes can be applied here. Perhaps the burning is an act of purification, which is replaced with a fresh start.