Love burns like fire

Love Burns like Fire

Di Ignazio E. Buttitta

Per la bellezza di una donna molti sono periti;  per essa l’amore brucia come fuoco  (Siracide 9.8)

The symbolic association between fire, love and passion recurs extensively in  literary and figurative articles of Western Culture. Love enflames and warms, passion burns, desire consumes poets and writers of all eras and all social extractions.

Freud in Acquisition of Fire (1931), starting from some observations pertaining to the myth of Prometheus, observes that «fire must have seemed to the primitives like somethig analogue to the passion of love. We could say it is a symbol of the libido. The heat radiated from fire evokes the same sensation that accompanies the state of sexual excitement, the flame reminds one of the active phallus». Abraham in Psychanalysis of the Myth (1971), makes a series of connections between the production of fire and procreation. Freud’s student bases his interpretations on anayltical material redoing the works of Adalbert Kuhn The origin of fire and the divine drink (1859). Kuhn, after remembering that the Indo-European population obtained fire through a system of «rubbing» , that is via the friction of a hard stick and a hollowed wooden disc, then underlined the sexual characterisation of the two aligned elements that pinpoint a tight relationship between the penis stick of Prometheus, abductor of fire and the progenitor of men. Diissatisfied by the «naturalistic» explanation that Kuhn put forward who that man had experimented such a technique starting from the observation of the germing of a creeping plant, agitated by the wind, rubbing the against he hollow of a trunk and then enflaming, Abraham makes an «obvious  analogy … between conception and the preparation of fire. Just like the friction of the wooden disc with the stick producing fire, even mans’ life is awakes in the womb». At the base of myths ignei like that of Prometheus, therefore, emerge motives pertaining to the realisation of desire in the sexual sphere and in particular the identification of the genesis of man with the genesis of fire «the symbolism in the deepest sense is unquestionably sexual. Man compares his generative power to that of a driller who produces fire with the wooden dsc to the work of the celestial driller, lightning. In the more ancient form, the legend of Prometheus and apotheosis of the generaive power of man».

Even Jung (Symbols of the transformation 1970), was attracted by the sexual valency of the promethium myth. Prometheus, the carrier of fire, is the «brother of the Indian Promantha, piece of male wood which when rubbed produces fire». By rubbing two pieces of wood, a rigid stick rolled into the inside a softer one reproduces the sexual act. Jung remembers that the Indians «conceive the pramantha, tool of the manthara (sacrifice of fire) in exclusively sexual clothing: the pramantha: like the male penis, the bored wood below like the vulva of a woman. Fire, obtained from boring, is the child, the divine child of Agni. In the cult, the two pieces of wood are named Pururavas and Urvasi and are imagined to be people, man and woman. The fire is born from the genitals of the woman» This rite, equal to others eras and civilisations, shows, according to Jung, «the existence o the general tendency to establish a correspondence between the production of fire and sexuality. The cultural repetition and magic of this ancient discovery shows how the human spirit preseves in its old forms and how profoundly rooted is the reminiscent of the production of fire through borng» Therefore, fo Jung, just like Abraham, man learns to produce fire through a kind of imitation of the point.

Jung’s ideas regarding fire are the starting point for the reflections of Gaston Bachelard, (The intuition of the instant, the psychoanalysis of fire 1973) which, also refuses to analyse the cultural meaing of this element according to the historical plane and the scientific/naturalistic explanations make references to the permanent nature of dreams. For Bachelard, infact, the study of fire and its relationships with man «the objectve attitude was never able to be realised» in that the first seduction exercised on man «is such a decisive point that it deviates even the spirits with more holding and it takes them always to the poetic fold in which the reverie substitutes the thought, in which poems conceal theorems».

Moving from the observation that friction, rthymic in particular, is a very sexual experience, as proven by a lot of the classical psychoanalytical material that has been gathered, it is able to proof that «the objective attempt to produce fire via friction is maintained by very intimate experiences… Love is the fist scientific hypothesis for the objective reproduction of fire» Bachelard, following Jung who believes it is productive the line of research that consists in «finding systematicaly the components of the Libido in all its primitive acts» In retracing the pages dedicated to it by Frazer (The gold ram. A study of magic and religion, 1973) of the fires of joy and more generally of the feast of fire, he denounces the limits of this interpretation «Frazer, poses, infact, the motive of his explanation to some uses».

So, from the fires of joy are extracted the ashes that willl fertilise the fields of linseed, grain and barleycorn. In this way the British anthropologist «introduces a kind of subconscious rationalisation that misguides a modern reader who is easily persuaded of the usefulness of carbonates and the other chemical fertilisers.» On the contrary one has to consider «the shift towards obscure and deep values… If to nourish an animal, or to make a field flourish, there is, beyond the simple usefulness, a more intimate dream, and the dream of fertility in the sexual form. The ashes of the fires of joy fertilise the animals and the fields because they fertilise the women. The foundatin of the objective nduction is the experience of the fire of love, Once more, the explanation through the usefulness has to leave place to the explanation through pleasure, the ratonal explanation has to leave the place to the psychoanalytical explanation»

The undoubtable influences generated by the analysis of Freud, Abraham, Jung, Bachelard in that they regard the psychological implcations of the discovery of fire and its relations to the sexual sphere, didn’t miss influencing some anthropological interpretations of igneus rituals. De Simone and Rossi (Carnival was called Vineenzo. .Rituals of Carnival in Campania 1977) have appealed to psychanalysis to underline the tie between fire and the vital sphere, interpreting in this way some aspects of the stakes of Saint Anthony Abate and of Carnival.

Nevertheless, beyond the influences that can be derived from this kind of reading, the fact remains that the only confirmation that one can obtain from analysis of tthis kind is how easy it is to apply imaginative and interpretive models when reality is observed without a historical lens and without taking into consideration the specific social-cultural contexts and the systems of relations that they sustain. That which can be observed, as a general rule, is that the ‘human’ fire, that which is conceived from the emancipaton of he ‘celestial’ fire, and is often associated with the sun does not hold the generative and invigorating power, the strength and energy presented, therefore, like a symbol of rebirth and the renewal of life, intimately tied to the fertility of earth, animals and man.

Numerous rituals, traditional and ethnological, which foresee the contact with fire, besides being sustained by the belief of its purifying virtues, they refer to its abilty to enhance or stimulate the sexual power. The fire, in terms of vital heat, and therefore also semen, sperm. The lighting of the fire is recognised as the copula, (copulation?) as generating a son. Frequently in the mythology that concerns the origin of fire they refer to its conservation within the female sex. On the other hand, different myths indicate the fire as an active element for procreation. If you think of the Ovidian legend in which Servio Tullio was generated by the virgins Ocrisia was fertilised by a virille substance which flew out of the sacred furnace, or to Caeculus the mythic founder of Preneste, born from a maiden fertilised by a spark that shot out of the furnace and hence was indicated as beng the son of Vulcano.

Whatever the interpretive perspective that we chose to adopt, the fact remains that the flame, light and heat together, potential carrier both of life and of destruction, can efficiently represent, due to the structural ambiguity of the symbols, the eternal opposition that substantiates the material and unmaterial substances of human culture., that between life and death. The fact remains that multiple myths and rituals of fire and with fire, both ancient as well as modern bring us back to the fertility sphere of Eros, of passionate love and of concupiscent desire like which is to be presented in the extradordinary propositions of the International Festival of Fire, conceived by Amela Bucalo Triglia.