FIRE-WORSHIP. Devotion paid to fire as a sacred element, and one of the earliest objects of worship among mankind. This widespread cult, like sun-worship, earth and water venera tion, may be recognized in many phases from primitive ages to the present day, from savagery to civilization. A distinction between the primi tive fetish-worship of the physical fire itself and the more advanced conception of a divinity or fire-god behind the flaming manifestation is not always easy to draw among the nations that have paid reverence to this element. It is easy, however, to see how fire as an incarnation of light opposed to darkness, and as a power so beneficent, and yet on occasion maleficent, would be a natu ral object of veneration. Nor is it difficult to understand the devoted care and pious attention early bestowed upon the cherished flame sprung from the spark so hard to obtain and so difficult to maintain. It was this that made the fire, which was preserved for the general good on an altar or in a shrine, the focus of the early com munity, and made the domestic hearth the centre and symbol of the home and family. Special functions, or time-honored rites, were associated with the production and keeping of the fire, and those who ministered upon it, as its worship developed, came to be holy and powerful priests as the guardians of a divine gift.
The savage tribes of American Indians, like the rude natives of West, Africa, paid homage to a fire-spirit as ancestor, and, as Tylor has pointed out, the Polynesians and Mexicans ac knowledged in their worship a fire-god akin to the divinity of the sun. The worship of Moloch in ancient Canaan was a form of homage to the genius presiding over fire; and hallowed rites to the fire were performed among the Egyptians, Assyrians, Chaldieans, and the less civilized Mongolian tribes.
Nearer to our own race, however, was the veneration shown for fire among the early lndo Germanic peoples. In India of old, for example, there was an elaborate fire ritual; sacrifice to the fire was one of the first acts of morning devotion; and the hymns addressed to the fire-god Agni (q.v.) in the Rigveda outnumber those in praise of any other divinity. In Greece and Rome like wise, the fire-cult of Ilestia or Vesta, and of Hephlestus or Vulcan. was a marked feature in the religion. The Slavic race, including Old Prussians, Lithuanians, and Russians, preserve reminiscences of earlier fire-worship. But in this respect most important among the members of the Indo-European family are the Persians.
In Iran from the earliest times the care of the fire was so scrupulous and so elaborately de veloped that it formed the most noticeable char acteristic of the ancient Persian faith. The re
ligion of Zoroaster (q.v.) is sometimes, therefore, called fire-worship, but erroneously, as the Parsis or modern adherents of the creed insist. It is certain that in the Avesta (q.v.) the fire played a most prominent role; it was personified as the `Son of Ormazd,' aril inconceivable pains were taken to preserve the sacred element from de filement. The regular name for a priest in the Zoroastrian scriptures is 6th raven, 'belonging to the fire'; and Greek writers describe how the fire was carried in state processions before the Per sian kings, for it was a symbol of the divine presence and of national feeling. The extinction of the holy flame in the temples, when the Mo hammedans conquered Persia, was synonymous with the downfall of Iran. The sacred fire which the Parsis (q.v.) carried with them from Per sia to India when they fled as religious exiles was to them an outward sign of their nationality as it was of their faith—a palladium of the wor ship of Ormazd. As Zoroastrianism apparently sprang up first in the neighborhood of the Cas pian Sea with its oil-wells and petroleum-foun tains, one may imagine that this fact, may have had some influence on the early Persian fa ith. and there are Parsis or (Metiers (q•v.) that still do reverence to the eternal flame that leaps from the earth at Baku on the Caspian shore. It is interesting to acid that near Rawl l'indi in northern India there is a sacred fire cherished by Mohammedans, which is unusual for Islam, and it has been supposed that this may show evidence of influence exerted by early Persian fire worship combined with the old lire-cult of India itself. Whatever may have been in olden times the feeling or attitude of the Persians in their worship or veneration of fire, or whatever were the views that made the vietorious Mohammedans brand them as idolaters and fire-worshipers, the modern Zoroastrians of India reject such a title and emphasize that they look upon fire as a sign or symbol, as a manifestation of the divine power, purity, and essence. It may be added in conclusion that pyrolatry as a scientific designa tion is sometimes employed to designate fire worship. Consult: Tylor, Primitive Culture (London, 1S73); A. Kuhn, "Herabkunft des •euers," in his Ilythologische Studien (2d ed., Gtitersloh, 1880 ; Zaborowski-Moindron, "Lc feu sacr6 et he eulte du foyer des Slaves eontempo rains," in SocieM d'Anthropologie de Paris Bulle tins et Jlemoires, series 5, vol. i., pp. 530-53• (Paris, 1900).