Hesiod suggested in his Works and Days that Zeus sent Pandora "as the price of fire" and mankind had suffered disquiet ever since. It was so nearly impossible to circumvent the will of Zeus that not even wise Prometheus escaped his wrath. He was bound, under Necessity, for the crime of his theft. But the sparks he bore did not die and a conflagration spread, lighting up the seed-cavern in men's brains and opening their eyes unto a variegated landscape of throbbing interaction. His act was echoed around the globe by Tohil, Manabush, Maui, Spider, and the Trickster Raven – Bringers of Fire who stole its blaze from heaven and showered its particles upon the mute forms of emerging humanity. The sparks smouldered in some and grew bright in others. All alike were gifts of the Agniputra, the glorious Sons of the Fire extolled in the Vedas. Agni has been revered as the oldest and greatest god of the ancient Aryan universe. The Sons of the Earth were told to listen well to their Instructors, the Agnishwatha Pitris, the first beings evolved from primordial Fire which is the unity of Aether, the second manifesting deity in its universality. The progeny of the Fiery Ones bore the flame downward, and the name Agni Bhuvah or 'Fire-born' was applied to the four races of Kshatriyas descended from Karthikeya, the offspring of Shiva. At their head were illuminated King-Instructors, incarnated on earth for the sole purpose of raising up a torch which would inspire and guide humanity for millennia to come.
Owing to its brightness, activity, purity and incorruptibility, the Parsis worship God under the symbol of fire, which is ever kept burning in their Atash-Behram temples. Like the worshippers of Vesta in Roman times who kept their hearths spotless in order to keep their fires free from all contamination, the followers of Zoroaster take great care to kindle and maintain their flames under the strictest rules. Prayers protect the element of purity before the fire is installed in its proper place in a vase on an exalted stand in a consecrated chamber. Before this placement, it has undergone several ceremonies which can be traced back to various places and modes of ignition, including that produced by lightning. Sandalwood is ignited over each of the various fires without touching them, thus creating a new fire. This is repeated nine times for each, the ninth fires being considered pure enough to be collected together and placed upon the temple altar. Zoroaster enjoined his disciples to keep a perpetual fire in their temples and homes and to perform devotional exercises daily in its presence.
The altars of Vesta were kept by the kitchen hearths and all nourishment was duly consecrated. The temples dedicated to the goddess of fire were called the hearths of the city, and when emigrants embarked to found colonies, they took with them sparks of the holy fire around which their new city would rise. Simple tribes and lofty empires have witnessed the worship and annual renewal of the sacred flame. When the sun was in Taurus, the ancient Druids extinguished all fires except the one Sacred Flame. We can imagine the measured reverence with which each must have taken a fresh spark from this purest of Living Lights. Like the Parsis, they thought that God's best and fairest image was the sun, and that the Sacred Flame was the perpetual monitor which preserved the purity of the blessings diffused by the sun. Surya is often depicted as drawn by one horse with seven heads, symbolizing their common origin in the One Cosmic Element which is fire. H. P. Blavatsky reiterated that the physical sun we see and feel is a mask of this solar fire. It is a reflection that is in reality one of the Knots of Fohat which runs through the seven planes of the manifested universe making stars, planets and other suns. Our sun absorbs and vampirizes the subjects in its kingdom and gives out from itself only the impulse of life. Within its heart is the fire which contains the nerves of the living solar system, but it is concealed by the golden disk that masquerades as the source of its flaming energy. If the veil of the sun were removed for even a second, all the planets of its system would be reduced to ashes, just as King Sagara's sixty thousand sons were destroyed by a single glance of Kapila's eye.
The fire of true sacrifice alone contains within itself the Three Bodies of Agni, the most spiritually quintessential of which is the veiled true sun. The second body is that of lightning, which issues from the heavens as a flaming messenger bringing both the blaze of pure fire as well as the possibility of death. So pure is the flame of lightning that when the Parsis wished to consecrate a new temple in Bombay in the nineteenth century, a flame was taken from a tree struck by lightning near Calcutta, tended and carefully transported in a cart all the way across the plains of India to be placed on its sacred altar. Lightning was considered by the ancients to be the atmospheric essence of Agni. In modern speculations it is thought to have been the only source of fire that occurred with enough regularity to have permitted early man sufficient chance for experimentation necessary to gain control over the use of fire. About one hundred thousand lightning bolts strike the earth every day. Some of these create large fires which burn off vegetation and create conditions that might have been instructive to huddled groups who learned to keep the coals alive and bring light and heat into the darkness of their caves. The prosaic explanations of modern times have replaced the symbolic richness of ancient mythology, and we see Prometheus reduced to a meteorological phenomenon. But neither the metaphors of legend nor the materialism of science succeed in concealing the extraordinary mediating role of lightning in its awesome descent from heaven to earth, where it becomes fire as we know it.
If Prometheus lit up the minds of men by giving them a spark of the heavenly essence of Agni, his terrestrial essence provided the flaming tool which contributed to civilization, with its heroic attractiveness. However, when Zeus sent Pandora "as the price of fire", her opened box of selfish vices contaminated the progeny of earthly fire, and civilization came to bear within it the seed of its own hopelessness and destruction. The ancients taught that only through sacrifice could man emancipate himself from this fate. The earthly ritual was seen as the counterpart of the celestial offerings of the Pitris who, like Prometheus, sacrificed their own flame that all may live. The Vedic Hindus held that the performance of the Agniyajna or fire-sacrifice was the highest form of morality attainable in the world. The great sacrifice is symbolized by the fact that all flames of the earth can be lit by one flame which is never diminished and persists as a constant reminder of its own inexhaustible spiritual source. That the power of this spirit could manifest in all fire was shown by the use of pure fires to consecrate the place of sacrifice and protect it from evil. They formed a circle marking off that which entered into the realm of the gods from that which remained upon the earth. As the Agnihotra or priest chanted the Rig Veda, he performed Paryagnikriya or circumambulation with fire. Around the altar fire of Agni he created a flaming circle 'Pass-not' as the gods proceeded to take possession of that which is sacrificed. All parts of the ritual had to follow uninterrupted and in proper order, or else the forces unleashed could turn upon the sacrificer and priest in a terrible fashion. The Agniyastra or fiery weapons of the gods could bend and strike down the person who sought to gain their control.
Such a sacrifice is but the "outer symbol of an inner work, an inner exchange between the gods and men". The entire cosmic process is essentially a sacrifice. To grow by giving is the universal law. Self-fulfilment can only be achieved through self-immolation. The Upanishads teach that whatever refuses to give itself is still the food of cosmic powers. "The eater eating is eaten." The earth exists chiefly to serve as the place of sacrifice. It is only when this law is recognized and voluntarily followed that the kingdom of death can be traversed and immortality truly attained. The real soma-sacrifice requires the giving of the elemental self to the flames of the higher. The victim of the sacrifice is the sacrificer himself. He must do what was done by the gods who say, "O Agni, sacrifice thine own body!" This fire of sacrifice is no material flame. It is the Brahman-Word, the inner Agni, the priest and the energy of the sacrifice. The exoteric ritual guarded by external priests is but a shadowy reflection of the fiery offering that must be made within the individual – each one unto oneself. Exoteric religion is merely the darkened smoke from the true fires of spiritual wisdom. In this inner sacrifice the powers and potentialities of human life are offered up unto the divine life in the cosmos. Its fire is kindled by the pouring of the clarified butter yielded by the purified and pellucid vision of heightened awareness.
Agni, properly invoked, calls upon the other gods to share in the fruit of sacrifice, and the higher powers latent within the sacrificer are aroused and released. Through Agni suitable offerings are carried to heaven by way of Rta, which is Satya in action, the enactment of supernal Truth. The Pitris who first sacrificed exemplified a perfect performance of the Law, the result of their having 'grown' according to Rta, the right Truth of divine beings regulating the right activity of mind and body. It is brihat or universal Truth proceeding directly out of the Infinite. The sacrifice of the Pitris is thus a performance of Satya corresponding with Reality. Heaven and earth alike express this Reality. They are both rtavan or 'faithful to the Path', as is the order of nature which unfolds throughout the manifested universe. The conception of righteousness in the Vedas finds expression in the complex term Rta which denotes the reality of cosmic order and the reign of moral law. This eternal truth in action is the living, moving fire of God, the Great Breath that breathes out the multitudinous expressions of Agni.
In the Stanzas of Dzyan fire is the father of light. The dark fire of Absolute Deity radiates the ray of light which penetrates the Mother-Deep, causing the eternal egg to drop the germ of the world-egg. The luminous egg spreads through the Mother and the root of life is in every drop of the ocean of Immortality. "The Ocean was Radiant Light, which was Fire, and Heat, and Motion . . ." The first ray is the cold luminous flame which, out of chaos, forms the curds in space whose colliding activity cause a rotation which yields material fire. This fire becomes hot flames and then comets, whose heat generates vapours which produce water that forms the basis of the wheels of the subsequent worlds. The first after the One is the divine fire and the heart and pulse of the universe. The second fire with its vesture of Aether is the Atma and Buddhi of the cosmos. The third fire partakes of water which is born out of fire, and the Sons of the Fire-Mist, the highest Planetary Chohans, emanate as the Third Logos. The Secret Doctrine teaches: "Listen, Ye Sons of the Earth, to Your Instructors – The Sons of the Fire. The Primordial Seven are the First Seven Breaths of the Dragon of Wisdom (The First Logos, The Bright Son), who in turn produce the Fiery Whirlwind which becomes the messenger of Their Will (Fohat) who passes like lightning through the fiery clouds. Fohat forms out of the sparks (in the Whirlwind) the germs of wheels."
It is said that the Heavenly Man (Purusha) partook of the nature of the Seven Creators and Rulers of the material world. He broke through the Seven Circles of Fire ('Pass-not') and made manifest the downward-born nature. Thus the flames born of Mahat (Universal Mind) incarnated on earth. These Seven Fiery Circles mark the Seven Intermediary Worlds associated with spirits whose visible symbols are the planets, each expressing the living fire of Deity through light, heat and moisture, the trinity which includes and causes every phenomenon in nature. The spirit of fire stirs up, fructifies and develops into form everything from its ideal prototype which is born of water. Heraciitus held that the Logos was the underlying connection between all opposites. He taught that the world order is eternal, an "ever-living fire kindling in measures and being extinguished in measures". Fire, he thought, was a concrete manifestation of the Logos and pure fire fills the sky as Aether or the shining upper air. This becomes rain which yields the sea. Parts of this turn to earth, and equivalent masses of earth and sea throughout the world revert to rain and fire – thus perpetuating world order and unity. The soul, which is made up of fire, is thus bound up with all cycles of change taking place in the world as a whole, while at the same time remaining the underlying connection between them.
Put in terms of the elements as understood by esotericists, spiritual fire is hydrogen, the ray of the Dhyani of the first element. As such, it is the upadhi or basis of both air and water. These building blocks of nature are viewed as liquid and solid fire. In Vedic times this mystery was pondered in relation to the Hindu trinity of Surya, Vayu and Agni, whose triple activity manifested as divine light, energy and will. Together these arcane powers were termed Trita Aptya (the three occult degrees of fire). The mystic Dragon of Foundations, on the third level of existence, takes the high flaming force of Agni and forges it into a weapon so sharp that it can destroy all evil and ignorance on the physical, vital and mental planes. "Life is the condition from which Will and Light emerge." It is said in the Vedas that Vayu is "he who brings down Agni from Surya in the far-off supreme world". Agni enjoys and devours the things of life and generates its nervous energy that releases the forces of thought which, upheld by Agni, prepare the action of the luminous mind.
"Fire alone is ONE, on the plane of the One Reality." On the manifest plane its particles are fiery lives that live at the expense of all other lives which they consume. Everything in the universe was built by these lives from man down to the simplest, most seemingly inert, form of matter. The whole vast network of life extending from the upper end of the Father-Mother web of Svabhavat down to the clod of earth to which a spider attaches one corner of his embroidered design describes an endless expanding and contracting interaction between the fiery devourers and the watery contributors to form. The web expands whenever the breath of the Father is upon it and contracts with that of the Mother. It expands as a result of the heat energy released when the watery and solid particles are consumed. Thus all centrifugal action, all growth and expansion, take place as a result of the death of form. All the laws of nature can be minutely understood in terms of this constant interaction between the Father and the Mother, the liberating and formulating forces in the universe. The phenomenon of gravity can be understood as the breath of the Mother, an expression of the centripetal tendency which engenders attraction, while any kind of conversion from heavier to lighter elements demonstrates centrifugal action and a release of energy through fission brought about by the Father-Fire.
In following the rain cycle, one can trace the work of the fiery lives interacting with the Mother, whose cold breath causes vaporous clouds to form particles heavy enough to fall to earth as rain or snow. From this springs all life which is helped to grow by the heat of the sun. In the end, the fires of life will dry up the moisture and the forms will wither and die, releasing their energy just as the earth's waters evaporate up into the atmosphere where the whole cycle will begin again. On the physical plane it appears that water can quickly devour fire, but the longer spiritual curve demonstrates a subtler ascendancy of fluidic, airy fire over its liquid form as all things tend slowly away from the female fire acting in matter to the higher living fire of the heavenly Logos.
Absolute Motion is the eternal dark, invisible fire out of which emanates light, which sets in motion and controls everything in the cosmos. This fiery motion is the alpha and omega of electricity, galvanism, magnetism, moral and physical sensation, thought and life. The spiritual cause resting behind the attributes of heat or flame is unconscious and the operation of motion at the cosmic level involves many subtle planes wherein fire, involving itself in the vestures it emanated, partakes of varying degrees of consciousness. Simon Magus spoke of these graduated emanations from the fire of the Third Logos or Mahat in terms of pairs or syzygies. These represent the eternal interplay of the Father and Mother as Spirit and Thought, Voice and Name, and Reasoning and Reflection. They are the equivalents of the Seven Priests of the Anugita, who signify the inner powers of sacrifice which are enlivened in man by the fire of divine will. Through this fire Reflection will faithfully mirror Right Reason, Name will convey a true expression of the Voice of the Silence, and Thought will ever expand to accommodate Spirit in Action. If the pairs are thus wedded in the consciousness of man, he will come to reflect the harmony of Agni which, through Rta, expresses truth in action, the cosmic and moral order of things. Aurobindo expressed the same idea in his Essays on the Gita: "The flame of Agni is the Seven-tongued power of the will, a force of God instinct with knowledge. This conscious and forceful will is the immortal quest in our mortality, a pure priest and a divine worker, the mediator between earth and heaven."
The human mind is the means of both bondage and freedom, depending upon whether it is attached to objects or detached from them. The Mandukya Upanishad teaches that those who do not perform the Agniyajna, who do not build the fire, will not be able to recollect Brahma's abode without obstruction. Rishi Narada taught that those who understand the sacrifice see the Samana and the vyana as the principal offering, whereas the prana and apana are but portions of it. Fire, as the seat of the udana, directs the vital currents of the body upwards to their sources – to higher centres and thereby provides the transmuting channel between the physical and the spiritual. Samana, the principle of equilibrium and assimilation, is the centripetal force in the body, whose centrifugal counterpart is the separating, circulatory energy of vyana. That these become the principal offering rather than prana and apana is significant, for they involve the solar plexus and digestive system as well as the heart, each of which is a major centre in man linked up to the fire that is associated with flesh. This is where the sacrifice begins, perhaps to culminate in future lives in Agni Dhatu Samadhi, wherein through the perfect practice of yoga, the Kundalini is raised to the extreme and the infinitude appears as a sheet of fire. The earnest beginner would do well to commence kindling the fire of sacrifice by giving up indulgences of the appetites and taking food only while the mind is focussed upon consecrating the energy received in the silent service of the Higher Self. Then one learns to sacrifice its essence, and accommodate the needs of others so that it will consciously sustain the body in order to benefit mankind. One may move towards this by replacing every stab of sorrow or swell of elation felt on behalf of oneself with a memory of the saddest face one has ever seen or the realization that one's own joys coexist with the simultaneous sufferings of others. Practised together, these modes of Agniyajna will help the complex cluster of nerves of the solar plexus to function in harmony with the solar nerves of the hidden sun.
When one makes a resolve or takes a vow, Agni is enlivened and commences the work of burning out the dead wood of constricting thoughts and imprisoning behaviour. A critical state is reached where consciousness is liberated from the confines of its former material vesture and begins to experience a freer range on a more subtle plane. If vows are made and broken or powers are abused, then indeed will the wretched wanderer come to the state where he cannot recollect Brahma's abode without obstruction. Such unfortunate souls may enter into ever-darkening states where they resort to abnormal attempts at transcending the separation between the divine fire of Spirit and the watery fire of form. The warmth and diminishing awareness of sharp separations and distinctions experienced during alcoholic intoxication may suggest a desire on the part of the hapless individual to merge back into a hermaphroditic condition. There are many tragic ways in which the children of the earth have literally played with fire in this and previous lives and have been badly maimed as a result. The inability to place oneself again in line with the fire of the divine will may become so acute that a desire for total forgetfulness or even annihilation takes hold. The pyromaniac caught in the obsession to set fires is one whom others label as insane, but he may be simply dramatizing his unconscious desire to be consumed by the spiritual flames of Agni. Men would not suffer so if somewhere, even beneath the convolutions of myriad delusions, they did not still – as long as there is the smallest electric thread of fire connecting them with the divine will – sustain a dim though destructively expressed awareness of the truth of cosmic and moral order.
The sacrificer must discover Agni within himself for it is only through himself that he can draw Agni into action. "He feeds that flame who utters right (Satyam) and more and more becomes his own fiery-force (tejas)." This should be accompanied by the sacrifice of appetites and of the heart as well as an inward attitude of prostration whereby all the lower faculties are surrendered to the divine will-force of Agni which alone can lead the soul of the sacrificer through truth-in-action towards spiritual plenty which is bliss. It is profoundly significant that Agni, the divine Purusha, is sometimes symbolized as the four-horned bull Usra, whose horns represent Sat, Chit, Ananda and Truth in action – Rta. The sacrificial butter poured upon the fire, the pellucid liquid of the clarified mind, is the gift of the Logos, the purifying fire of the Word, which in man is either diminished or nurtured through speech. In making a burning-ground of his heart, the disciple should mortify speech and in silence learn to feel the vital currents of Agni moving upward through the centres of the body and the rings of fire that guard the passage through the critical states separating his levels of being. If his speech, when uttered, is pure, he will not sully its organ of action – the larynx - which is ruled by Agni, and the ever-refined flame of sacrifice will surge upward through the throat and ignite the petals of his lotus eye. Then this single fiery orb will fill his body with light and within him will have blended into one living flame the three bodies of Agni. Through the action of fiery truth, he will have attained bliss, universal consciousness and essential truth. He will have entered into the luminous realm of the divine flame which flickers not but remains the source of all that was, is and ever shall be.