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Elemental Perspectives

Dancing in the Flames

This is the third in my Elementals Perspectives series for PaganPages.  As you might guess, this one is all about the Fire Element.

When I was about ten years old, I nearly burned down a forest; I played with matches.  If it weren’t for the vigilance of my parents, I probably would have been the cause of enormous damages and maybe even loss of life.  It has been the cause of many nightmares for me over the years and it’s been difficult to forgive myself for my childish stupidity.  The only good thing that has come out of it is now I respect the Fire Element in the world around me to a degree that is probably a notch or two higher than many people.

As magic workers understand, Fire represents power, energy, consumption, change, transformation, and all the other ways we label those concepts.  Fire has to be a part of our magic or nothing happens.  But, as I learned most profoundly in my childhood, Fire must be handled with care and caution.  When you play with Fire, it just might reach out and bite you.

Anthropologists often mention the discovery of fire as being a major step in the development of human history and this would certainly be difficult to dispute.  Purposely making fire (and I am describing ‘fire’ in this case as meaning an open flame that is kept alive through our feeding it fuel) created a whole new world for ancient humans and it might be argued that fire-making separated us from the rest of the animal kingdom.  Other than using sticks and rocks for tools, it is perhaps the most significant technology ever incorporated into our world.  Our modern understanding of physics and all the other so-called ‘hard sciences’ is due to our use and study of fire.  Our technology uses fire and its derivatives in over 90% of everything we take for granted in the world around us.  Even the previous two Elements I’ve discussed in the last months (Earth and Water) would not exist if it weren’t for Fire.

The biggest fire you’ve ever seen is the one that hangs over us in the sky every day.  It (the sun) is directly responsible for maintaining life on this planet.  And the atoms that make up you, me, and everything we can touch, see, smell, taste, and feel were made in the fiery depths of stars like our own Sol.  If we can direct Fire properly, we can perform some pretty amazing magic.  Of course, ‘properly’ is a relative term.  But to be able to have any ability to manipulate Fire, to have some control of ENERGY, we need to know something about it.

Fortunately, this is where science and magic come together very nicely.  For instance, we hear a lot about energy in the news lately and since most news media guys don’t know much physics, the word, ‘energy’ is bandied about as if all energies were the same.  Well, guess what… they are.  Energy is energy is energy.  The main difference between thermal energy and, say electrical energy is the way we measure it.  Don’t believe that?  Okay, try this:  thermal energy is measured in basically two ways: degrees and calories.  There are formulas that can convert one to the other as long as you know a few other measurements (calories measure how much the degrees change things).  Now calories can also be converted to horsepower.  That too measures how much change is made in overcoming inertia.  Go to your local hardware store and ask for an electric motor and the salesperson will ask you what horsepower you want.  That’s basically how they’re rated.

The way we measure energy depends on what changes we’re interested in.  Magic is also interested in changes.  Of course, magic is based on the belief that everything is connected to everything else.  Modern physics has finally come to that conclusion as well, thank the gods.  When magic users ‘raises energy,’ we don’t necessarily make a big thing about what type of energy we’re raising because we believe there’s always some way to convert the energy we collect together into the type of energy necessary to get the job done at the other end of our spell.  Please note that I’ve said we collect the energy.  This is actually a more correct way of phrasing it.  Mostly, when we get to the part where we’re supposed to ‘raise energy,’ what we do is insert some form of activity (usually through our own physical efforts, but not always) that we’ve collected together in one place and one time.  Now comes the tricky part: converting that energy into the form that will make the changes we want.

Actually, this is only a small problem, a very small problem.  Remember how thermal energy was converted to electrical energy?  Basically, it wasn’t changed; it was only put through some things that made us measure it differently and, viola, it was that form of energy.  What happened in between is we used some physical device that allows us to measure energy in one way going in and another way going out.  Ask a physicist how that happens and he might tell you about sub-atomic particles and dimensional exchanges, etc.  That’s fancy physics talk about stuff that we don’t know very much about how and a lot more about what happens.  But don’t worry; we aren’t demanding you become the next Einstein just to cast a spell.  It’s all magic; having a degree in physics doesn’t make it anything less than magic.

Spell crafting depends mostly on our Will.  That is, it depends on our ability to formulate and hold a clear goal in mind and heart until that goal is reached.  As I said before, physics and magic have come together nicely and this particular point is where there is close agreement.  Quantum mechanics says that nothing in the universe actually happens until we measure it.  Simple observation counts as measurement.  With every observation comes an observer and that observer has expectations and a certain amount of Will.  It isn’t hard to connect the dots and realize that any energy we direct with a strong enough Will ends up doing pretty much what we expect it to do.  All schools of magic train the student to focus their Will and the rest is easy (well, okay, easier).

Our spells and rituals are the devices we use to collect and convert the energy all around us.  Essentially, energy is change.  So any change is some form of energy that we can use if we can create the correct spell to convert it to the form that accomplishes our goal.

But hold on a minute.  Let’s go back to me and my stupid matches, or rather, my matches and stupid me.  My mistake was not that I didn’t understand that matches made fire and fire burned things.  My mistake was that I didn’t understand that at some point, I would be unable to control the fire.  My young/dumb self didn’t respect the fact that energy was all around me and it could overwhelm me if I didn’t put some safety features into the way I handled it.

Energy is all around us… everywhere and all the time.  A great deal of it is in the form we call matter.  Matter is only one way energy hides.  But as soon as you spark the right change (remember that all energy is measured by the changes it makes), the matter starts to convert into some other form of energy.  In the case of my younger self, the wood around me began to convert mostly to heat and light… in other words, it began to burn.  Given the right ‘spark,’ any bit of matter can be coaxed to convert itself to some other form of energy.

The Fire Element requires us to exercise considerable caution.  Otherwise, we can burn the forest down around us.  Learning to use this Element isn’t just a matter of knowing how to raise energy.  It’s also about learning how to handle the energy we collect and convert.  All too often, students of magic concentrate on producing the right energy but forget to put safeguards in place.  I guarantee this will lead to big problems.

And that is why you are supposed to cast a circle.  Circle casting is mostly a mental thing for most spells.  And anything that deals with the mental aspects of the universe is relegated to the Air Element, which will be the subject of the next article in this series.  Between now and then, think long and hard about various ways of safeguarding your energy raising.  It well might keep you from getting burned.