Fire (element)

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Alchemical symbol for fire

Fire is one of the classical elements, in some systems being one of the four along with air, earth, and water.

In alchemy the chemical element of sulfur was often associated with fire and its alchemical symbol and its symbol was an upward-pointing triangle. In alchemic tradition, metals are incubated by fire in the womb of the Earth and alchemists only accelerate their development.

Greek and Roman thought

Fire is one of the four classical elements in ancient Greek philosophy and science. It was commonly associated with the qualities of energy, assertiveness, and passion. In one Greek myth, Prometheus stole fire from the gods to protect the otherwise helpless humans, but was punished for this charity.

Heraclitus (c. 535 BCE – c. 475 BCE) considered fire to be the most fundamental of all elements. He believed fire gave rise to the other three elements: "All things are an interchange for fire, and fire for all things, just like goods for gold and gold for goods." Heraclitus regarded the soul as being a mixture of fire and water, with fire being the more noble part and water the ignoble aspect. He believed the goal of the soul is to be rid of water and become pure fire: the dry soul is the best and it is worldly pleasures that make the soul "moist."

Plato's student Aristotle (384–322 BCE) did not maintain his former teacher's geometric view of the elements, but rather preferred a somewhat more naturalistic explanation for the elements based on their traditional qualities. Fire the hot and dry element, like the other elements, was an abstract principle and not identical with the normal solids, liquids and combustion phenomena we experience: "What we commonly call fire. It is not really fire, for fire is an excess of heat and a sort of ebullition; but in reality, of what we call air, the part surrounding the earth is moist and warm, because it contains both vapour and a dry exhalation from the earth."

In ancient Greek medicine, each of the four humours became associated with an element. Yellow bile was the humor identified with fire, since both were hot and dry. Other things associated with fire and yellow bile in ancient and medieval medicine included the season of summer, since it increased the qualities of heat and aridity; the choleric temperament (of a person dominated by the yellow bile humour); the masculine; and the eastern point of the compass.

Ceremonial magic

Fire and the other Greek classical elements were incorporated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn's system of ritual magic. Philosophus (4=7) is the elemental grade attributed to fire; this grade is also attributed to the Kabbalistic Sephirah Netzach and the planet Venus. The elemental weapon of fire is the Wand.

Each of the elements has several associated spiritual beings. The archangel of fire is Archangel Michael, the angel is Aral, the ruler is Seraph, the king is Djin, and the fire elementals (following Paracelsus) are called salamanders. Fire is considered to be active; it is represented by the symbol for Leo and it is referred to the lower right point of the pentacle in the Supreme Invoking Ritual of the Pentacle.


Fire in Tarot symbolizes conversion or passion. Many references to fire in tarot are related to the usage of fire in the practice of alchemy, in which the application of fire is a prime method of conversion, and everything that touches fire is changed, often beyond recognition. The symbol of fire was a cue pointing towards transformation, the chemical variant being the symbol delta, which is also the classical symbol for fire. Conversion symbolized can be good, for example, refining raw ore into gold, as seen in The Devil. Conversion can also be bad, as in The Tower, symbolizing a downfall due to anger. Fire is associated with the suit of wands, and as such, represents passion from inspiration. As an element, fire has mixed symbolism because it represents energy, which can be helpful when controlled, but volatile if left unchecked.