|The Five Sacred Flames
SCHOLA AETII·TUESDAY, 18 SEPTEMBER 2018
In the Schola Aetii we are teaching that all the Gods, especially the most sacred Twelve Gods, have five aspects, and this comes down to us from the Teachings of Pythagoras, Master of Numbers and Sacred Forms. Plutarch has written about it in his Moralia, even though it has been one of the few sources which report of the Pythagorean knowledge of Numbers and Forms. Five is the Number of perfection, since it balances the two, the number of the Female Principle and three, which is the number of the Male Principle. And so the five is the Harmony, similar how in Asia the Dao is comprised of Yin and Yang. So the School is developing a model, where the five aspects of each of the Dei Consentes, or the Olympian Gods, is explained. Of course a God has many aspects and faces. The debate whether each God in each culture was a different being or an aspect of one of the Gods the Romans and Greeks knew had been open even in discussions Cicero and Plutarch have written about, and so there shall be no doctrine here, as making doctrines in the sense of “final and true answers” is not the way Pagans and Polytheists do religion, we merely argue for one perspective, and in this spirit is this writing to be understood as well.
The Sacred Flame is one of the most universal ideas of all Pagan Religions. People gather around the hearth, or even back in the most primitive days, when the hunters and gatherers sat together in their caves, the fire was tended as a symbol of unity and of the lore of the tribe. And even though today we have electricity to light us, heating to warm us and the oven to cook for us, almost nobody can elude the magic of a candle or a fire in a chimney. Even in the most destructive form, the great wildfires which burn down forests and villages, the sight of it has something hypnotizing, something of a sacred awe. The Flame is so probably one of the most primordial symbols of spirituality in the broadest sense, and so the Flame of Vesta, which was always tended by the Vestal Virgins, was a great and Holy Symbol of preserving tradition and unity of the people.
But the Flame has many meanings, as it has many functions. It gives light, warms, it allowed human to cook, but it also consumes and destroys, and even that was sometimes applied on purpose, when human tribes burned down areas in controlled fires to gain fruitful land for agriculture. But also fire to destroy was applied by human craft.
To the Ancients only the idea of the Four Elements was known, Fire, Air, Water and Earth – in that order it was assumed to be of density. Fire was connected to Jupiter and the supreme and most ethereal element, Air with Juno, Water with Neptune and Earth with Ceres. But the symbol of the Pentagram, a form fitting to the Sacred Five, today we assume five elements, and see the Aether (or spirit) as a distinct element, represented by the top of the Pentagram, whereas the four other angles represent usually fire, air, water and earth. And that too is a form of balance, which was of the highest importance to the Classic Philosophies.
PENTAGON OF THE FIVE ASPECTS
I have formed a pre-set Pentagon (or alternatively you can imagine a Pentagram), where each angle is dedicated to an element, and thus one aspect of the Divine, which is the guideline to the five main aspects of each God. Since Vesta and the Sacred Fire is such an important principle of Pagan Religion, I began with an analysis of this Deity. Though it is also through a vision that was given to me, when in my dark hour of despair I prayed at the Altar of Jupiter, asking for a sign where to go, how to proceed, the words echoed into my mind: “The Answer lies in the Fire”. I pondered about this omen given to me, and the result is this writing.
On the top of the Pentagon is the Spirit or Aether, which represents the Divinity in is most focused and traditional aspect, the core of the God or Goddess. The upper left corner stands for Air, which is the element of the intellect, the mind, of thinking. The upper right is the element water, representing powers of harmony, emotion, prophecy and art. The lower left is the element of Earth, which stands for law, order, rulership and the body. Finally the lower right angle is the element of Fire, which represents conquest, willpower, change and judgment.
(I) VESTA – GODDESS OF THE HEARTH
The Prime Aspect of the Sacred Flame is Vesta in her own most known form. She is the Sacred Fire, a fire that is forever nurtured and tended, and this highlights the first and most important aspect of the Sacred Fire. It stands for the fire in the hearth, which was in ancient times always tended, since lighting it anew was in the early times difficult, and this also symbolized the fire within. When we associate fire with passion but also with the tradition, then it becomes clear that we must preserve this Inner Fire. Once it is out, it is much more difficult to rekindle, and that is why all the Sages of men have emphasized the importance of regular work in religion and spirituality. It is not so much the question how long or complex your ritual or prayer or meditation is, if you just do it regularly. Such a rhythm will guide the human soul much better, than neglecting your work and then trying to replace regularity with overcompensation. Make your spiritual habits a matter of daily routine. Adhere to the daily even if brief prayer to the Ancestors at the Lararium, or whatever your religion has as a daily focal point.
Making daily spiritual routines a part of your life, is one of the most important things if you want to transform yourself and move ahead, but actually it is so with all things in life, not just religion. If you want to learn an art or a new language, you do things daily, even if small. Plutarch wrote that learning is not like a filling of a vessel, but a kindling of a fire. It is one of the great misconceptions about the idea of Tradition, that it should be some Earthen “conservatism” in the sense of conserving something like a rock or a dead thing. No, tradition is a burning flame, which is always tended and nurtured! It is, as often said, not the adoration of the ashes but the kindling of the fire.
The Hearth is also a place of getting together: the family the smallest cell of every society, met and gathered around the Fire, and it can be a newly formed tradition, even if you can't make a fire in your house, the author of the “New Vesta” books, Debra Macleod, wrote about her path to become a Vesta Priestess. She had one candle, from which new candles were blessed and lit, and gathered with her family around the candle, just thinking, reflecting, meditating a while, and so the Sacred Flame can become again a center of bringing people together.
Preserving history is a vital part of Paganism, both the family history and the history of your people, the identity of your people. A person without the history of family and folk, is a lost person, like a leaf in the wind, and one whose only flame is the fire of the ego, the isolated self, is weak in the changes of fate and time, and that is why rooting oneself in the Flame of Family, Tribe and People is such an important part of any Pagan religion, including the Roman Polytheism. The Flame of Vesta did not stand for an individual, but the Roman people and the entire idea of Rome. The Sacred Fire of the Temple of Vesta was a symbol of the Unity of the Nation of Rome, and I regard it as a profound Omen, that the destruction of the Flame of Vesta in 391 ev was shortly followed by the Fall of Rome.
Do not neglect the power and importance of symbols. Symbols focus our mind, and make us remember, and what greater symbol of our spirituality is there than the Sacred Flame?! But let me move on to other aspects of the Fire.
(II) FLAME OF AIR: UNDERSTANDING
The Sacred Fire in the element of air, the principle of the intellect, means understanding, which is something very different than mere intellectual knowledge, and this is a perspective that in our modern time has been, alas, much neglected and lost to us. Understanding does not come to us as an orderly process, but in a Eureka Moment of spontaneous enlightenment. Suddenly there is that light-bulb over your head, and what seemed like disconnected pieces of a puzzle, suddenly is a picture that makes sense. We may gather information, learn detail, such is the way of logic and science, and these are important and valuable. But what good are the pieces of information in the hand of the fool? The person devoid of the firy spirit of understanding.
In my time as Spiritual Teacher, there were always two types of students, those who were overly fixated on the facts and details, always being lost in the minutia of facts and words, and those who were able to “dance with facts”, so to speak. It is a difference every teacher knows in experiencing different types of students. There are those who answer all the facts right, but they never have a true, inner understanding, and those are “lit aflame” with the facts and create to knowledge from it, like sailing on, where the others stand still.
This Fire is something each Student and Seeker must find within himself, it is something that cannot be taught, but you can encourage it, open people to the perspective that Understanding and Wisdom are not the same as knowledge and data. This is the Fire that transforms the mind through enlightenment, the mind is opened and suddenly the chaos falls into place and becomes a structure you understand. This fire of understanding allows the mind to transcend the boundaries of time: you look to the past, the present and the future and see patterns through your attained understanding, a skill which mere factual knowledge does not grant you.
(III) FLAME OF FIRE: PURGATORY
Fire is the element of change, the domain of the willpower, and when the Sacred Flame of Vesta comes into the house of fire itself, it creates a purgatory, a fire that consumes the individual. The Sacred Fire here is the Fire Within, your willpower. This change is something that is more often put upon you, it is mostly experienced at first as a calamity, as something that is cast on you, and many people react with fear, anxiety or anger. The human soul has the tendency to amass fat – or waste material – similar like a body that is fed with unhealthy food, and in our modern time more so than ever before. From all side influences and information are tossed at us, through media and the hectic ongoings of modern life. The soul is thus filled with a lot of garbage and extra weight, things which slow us down, pollute the clarity of the mind and distract our will.
Some few people are capable to see that by their own wisdom, they know or feel that their inner self is polluted and has grown “fat”, so they toss out old stuff from the furniture of the mind, but for many people, who do not see the signs, this is happening in form of a personal crisis. Every crisis is a hint that there is an imbalance, and the more out of balance we are, the less we are able to deal with a crisis.
We all have our Inner Will, the Inner Flame, which is who we truly are, a truth inside of us, a true identity of each individual and this is a sacred thing. But the outer world in its chaotic manyhood regularly distracts us from ourselves, so we “forget” who we are, what our Will and Identity is, and the Inner Fire is darkened and hidden behind smoke and rubbish. That is why we need to Purge ourselves from time to time, toss out the rubbish, remove the smoke by the clear light of the Flame and do something I call the Inner Burning. Becoming yourself is less a path of adding things, but more a path of removing all things which you are not. Becoming yourself is unlearning the fake and misleading doctrines that you have been fed, so the Inner Flame becomes visible again. That is very often a painful thing, because we grew attached to some of the rubble. Cake is a tasty thing, but when you gain weight you have to cut yourself away from what seems to be tempting, but just literally slows you down, hinders you, and so it is to the Soul, the Inner Flame of your True Self just as well. Then we need to “exercise”, both in our body but also in our mind. It is strenuous and hard work, it means to cut away fat. If you need to cut away the poisoning trash that has amassed in your soul or mind, it is better to cut it out in one fast swoop, instead of doing it slowly. In the latter is much too tempting to fall all back. At times, I have just gathered all objects which connected me to an unhealthy past, and tossed them all out in the garbage. The Purgation is the Flame that cleans you, by burning away all that which darkens your Inner Fire.
(IV) FLAME OF WATER: CREATIVITY
The Sacred Flame in the region of Water is the Flame of Creativity. Like water is the element of life, of creation, so the Flame in the Water becomes the fire that creates. This contains all forms of creation, from the creation of life, the birth of a child and thus a new Flame in the World to the power of the Artist through Enthusiasm putting himself in a mindset, where the Muses and the Gods guide him to create, be it pieces of Music or Painting, crafting or any other form of art. Everyone who creates art knows this mindset of exaltation. Modern psychology calls it “the flow”, a state of mind where an artist feels more like a tube through which something flows, a mindset of elevation, where people create things of great inspiration. This is the fourth meaning of the Sacred Flame, the Fire of enthused creativity.
Learning an art is for a long time a very tedious task, and I am very skeptical with the concept of “talent”. I have seen many talented people never doing or achieving anything, and many ordinary people achieve great feats by hard work and training. It is a bit like with learning dancing. At first you are so focussed on the detail, on learning the basic steps, that it is not much fun. But there is a point where your body has learned to make the right movements without thinking, and it is there were the fun begins, where you can give yourself to the passion.
Water is per se a more feminine element, an element of giving yourself, and creativity is not a fire that you force, like the Flame of the Purgatory, but a fire you allow yourself to consume you, to inspire you. You open up to the inspiration, and then training, expertise and experience allow you to give yourself. The act of procreation is not entirely different, if you think of the pleasure of sex, and indeed the experience to create art has often been compared to the experience of sex. And even in sex, you can refine your experience beyond the primitive level, if you learn new things, just as in a craft or an art. The Sacred Flame of the Water is the Flame of Creativity, creating something that lives, be it the new born child or the work of art and craft. New creations are put into the world and make them richer and more beautiful than before.
(V) FLAME OF EARTH: REVOLUTION
When the Sacred Flame hits the realm of Earth, it is a revolution. The most movable and violent element hits the most immobile, and the result is an overturning of things. This is usually beyond the sphere of the individual, this is mostly a transpersonal thing. The stagnant earth has withheld the fire for too long, an imbalance existed for too long a time, and like a Volcano, suddenly the long held back fire erupts and consumes entire lands.
Earth represents law and order, but ever so often laws become corrupt and the order becomes a tyranny, an oppression. It is the social order which no longer serves the people, but injustice, gross inequality and corruption have undermined the benevolent idea of Order and so the fire of Revolution rises to overturn the corruption. The normal way of things is reform, improvement through small steps. But time and again societies reach a point, where all things are so rotten and corrupt, that reform can no longer be applied, and so the necessity of the revolutionary overturning arises. The revolution is a time of great violence and is the most destructive manifestation of the Sacred Flame, and as such the most dangerous to handle, since it is in the hands of many people at the same time, and not just one individual. People in masses are often difficult to guide, fall prone to the extreme, and to a degree sometimes that is a necessity. Four things are to heed: The revolution must seek the Omens of the Heaven, it must be the only way to remedy an evil, it must be in agreement with the majority and it must establish a new order, a New Flame of stability.
We are in the duty to handle the Flame of Revolution with great care, for often not one stone is left standing on the other, once this fire is released. But sometimes a society or a government becomes stagnant with polluted, rotting waters, and so the cleansing fire is the only way we have to move on. Such Fires of great changes arise always, for no society or man made order preserves is balanced forever. Time and again people of corruption rise to the top and pollute a system beyond the point of reform, and then all we can do is break it and rebuild it from the ground up.
These are the Five Sacred Fires of whom Vesta is the Guardian Goddess on our Roman Religion. The Flame is among the highest symbols of the Sacred and the Divine. Nurture it with care. The Flame lights us in the dark, the dark times where each Cultor and each Seeker becomes a flame himself to be a signal to others. This is, as I believe, in these darkening times the most important flame, that candle which each of us is, the living flame of the example we set through the way how we live our lives. It is the pious Cultor, the follower of the Gods, the spiritual Seeker, whose mind and words are like flames that inspire others, to give hope and orientation in times of darkness and chaos.
The Answer lies in the Fire!
Gaius Florius Aetius