Fire and Trickster

This week I wanted to write about Fire. Like Trickster, Fire is a certainly a boundary-crosser and transformer, one that is insatiably hunger. Like Trickster, Fire destroys, creates, and reveals.

Although we don’t know when humans learned to make fire, archaeologists have found that we have used it (perhaps treasuring embers from lightning strikes) for perhaps as much as 1.6 million years. Human involvement with fire has been intertwined with our physical, social, and technological development.

Some scholars believe that the ability to cook food with fire — thereby releasing more usable calories than are available to our bodies through the consumption of raw foods — was an important milestone on our evolutionary path, making possible the development of our larger brains.

Others focus more on the social aspects of our learning to manage fire. They conjecture that, as we sat around the fire that cooked our supper and provided warmth & light to see each others’ faces and scare away predators, we must have developed language, told each other what we’d done & learned that day, given birth to Story. And certainly Story — especially as enacted in ritual and cultural forms — has shaped what it is to be human.

And then technology — pottery, metal, and more — from a simple flame warming a family to engines warming the entire planet and setting it alight.

And, of course, Trickster has been involved all along!

This week Trickster has been especially active throughout my days — creating havoc as only Trickster can — so the post I’d hoped to share with you will have to wait until next Friday. Instead, I offer you a beautiful & thought-provoking musing I encountered in my explorations this week: Fire in the mind: changing understandings of fire in Western civilization by Stephen J. Pyne .

Abstract – For most of human history, fire has been a pervasive presence in human life, and so also in human thought. This essay examines the ways in which fire has functioned intellectually in Western civilization as mythology, as religion, as natural philosophy and as modern science. The great phase change occurred with the development of industrial combustion; fire faded from quotidian life, which also removed it from the world of informing ideas. Beginning with the discovery of oxygen, fire as an organizing concept fragmented into various subdisciplines of natural science and forestry. The Anthropocene, however, may revive the intellectual role of fire as an informing idea or at least a narrative conceit.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts about & your relationship with fire. Please put any you’d like to share in the comment section.

Ehsan Habashi

3 thoughts on “Fire and Trickster

  1. Fire has been love, all my life. Fire has been at the center of most loved times…the building of the pit and stone ring, the center. Until most recently, i heated my home
    with fire. Cooked often with fire. Made art with fire.
    and now…my life seems to revolve around fire*. seems to, i write, ….yes.
    In Pyne’s words…:”the world we experience is the world around us, but the world
    we know and the world we act on is the world in our head”
    *…revolve around… and i cannot build a fire.


    • Thank you, Grace, for responding. And you are now living in a part of the world that seems now more than every to revolve around fire, that is being reshaped- unpredictably & violently- by fire… Fire, Trickster, Life — paradoxes all.


  2. came over from Windthread to read this and found myself contemplating the fire-driven development of human technology versus Elaine Morgan’s theories of the water-based development of human anatomy … an interesting juxtaposition


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