What a gorgeous sunny afternoon in Sydney! I found the sun so warm and energising I actually felt like writing. Well, more accurately you could call that post preaching, which is also highly appropriate on dies solis, aka sunnandaeg the day of our Lord Sun God Sol Invictus.
Oops, I mean Jesus the son of God the risen saviour, light of the world who comes on clouds.
Around noon today I walked inside an Egyptian Coptic church to collect my niece… and I immediately realised the indoor candles were meant to replicate the rays of the outdoor sun, casting splendour on the indoor icons.
All day since I’ve been thinking about the use of sun symbols and candles in worship, and the significance of “light” to us as humans.
The sun is so vitally important to us mentally, physically and spiritually that simply words can’t describe. We gravitate around it, the orb warms us, all life needs sunshine to endure, we owe our very existence to the sun. No wonder so many cultures revere a Solar Deity.
Fire is vital to humans too. Controlling fire were as if we had harnessed a piece of the sun – if you believe common evolution theories, our control over fire is what triggered the separation of humans from animals, because it led to the cooking of food which helped the human brain develop at a faster rate.
The warming properties of fire led to longer lifespans due to better health because the elders survived more winters and as a result they collected & shared more knowledge. The control of fire led to survival of our predecessors through ice ages & other climactic change, which meant longer development phases within our species.
Fires became meeting places for communities. Other humans flocked to those known to be firemasters, whether individuals like shamans or entire powerful tribes who had learned to capture & create fire. Some groups realised early on that it is smartest to share knowledge, so these groups empowered every member of a community, man woman & child with the skills to create fire.
Social benefits came from fire as humans met in bigger groups, fostered longer term connections & shared their learnings.
As humans had opportunity to think beyond a focus on basic survival needs & had time to muse about other deeper things, they gained the intelligence to recognise cycles of life, birth & death, to use symbols to record information & to decipher signs left by others.
They noted repetitive patterns like seasons & menstruation, and made the mental connection between creation and birth (leading to the concept of Mother Earth).
As you imagine how humans started talking about abstract concepts at the quiet end of the day, resting warming and relaxing around the fire when all work had been done, it becomes obvious how fire quickly became a central part of human life.
Perhaps this is when early humans also began to experience & recall dreams. The more they spoke to each other and shared thoughts, perhaps they began to acknowledge unexplained “communication” between humans. They may have heard stories of family members who were far apart but felt similar things at the same moment in time (“knowing” a loved one is sick or has died “on the night of the full moon” perhaps).
They probably came to realise that all humans had inbuilt instinctual beliefs in the “otherworld” and “higher intelligence” and “spirit creatures” – with the same moral and creation stories being told in tribes that hadn’t had contact with fellow believers before.
Of course this social interaction of a spiritual kind then led into the use of fire to create medicines & the habit of ensmoking substances that when inhaled led to a sense of spiritual enlightenment, or to the blending of herbs to make incense that either imprinted or “brought back” memories, or that reminded all of the significance of a certain occasion… and the development continues.
This importance of sun, firelight & incense smoke really hit home for me when I was in Europe. I never entered churches when i was young, fervently believing them to be full of idols & pagan non-biblical influences, all insulting to God.
So at the age of 29 I first experienced candles & incense in churches, and instantly understood their true purpose. (Along with other fascinating things i figured out… for another time).
Seeing candle light flickering & reflecting in the gold & coloured mosaics of Rome, Florence & Venice. Seeing the Black Madonna of Chartres (France) surrounded by candles and sun emblems, in a location of religious significance & strong energy that predates Christianity.
I realised that fire & smoke are actually ancient (tried, tested & proven) tools that represent our spiritual awakening and that help us focus our thoughts.*
Fire fosters good feelings, burns away bad feelings & helps us concentrate on positivity. If you’re inclined to believe in spirit creatures you might say the good are attracted to fire & the bad are scared away by it.
Incense works similarly, evoking a sense of focus or calm in people & reminding them (consciously or unconsciously) of the purpose they’re there for. Meditation on past or future actions. Thankfulness for life itself. Hopes for closer human connections and happiness.
After realising all this, I rethought everything I knew about fire.
The tradition of lighting candles at romantic dinners, to clear the air & open up honest communication.
Connections between candles and sex – again, helping us focus on a higher level, spiritual activities.
Candles on birthday cakes, to blow old negativity away & wish for future happiness.
I started seeing sun symbology everywhere throughout France & Italy and no longer thought of it as pagan. Just human.
I started a little experiment, lighting a candle whenever myself or my travel partner were a bit narky. It worked so well that i’ve kept using the technique since i’ve been home. And now even Miss4 suggests we light a candle if tempers are getting tetchy.
Yogic breathing and sun salutes make so much more sense to me now.
If you can blow away bad feelings into a candle, how much more so a giant ball of burning gas?
I mentioned that I’m trying a few new ways to combat depression.
This simple trick, of deliberately and consciously breathing away my bad feelings every time I see the sun and/or lighting a candle to burn away bad feelings at night or on dark days – this is one technique that is working.
It’s a little sad that I had to try atheism and convince myself of a scientific non-hocus pocus basis for it all, before I’d even consider such a simple thing as self-healing through enlightenment.
* Obviously not all religious buildings use fire to good effect anymore, many have a cold clinical feel about them – but you can tell the original purpose that the architects had in mind.