Keepers of the Sacred Flame from Ancient Rome to India

Keepers of the Sacred Flame from Ancient Rome to India

The ability to ignite, maintain and control fire was a dramatic and powerful development in the habits of early humans and changed mankind’s quality of existence forever. Fire generates heat and made it possible for people to cook food, it kept people warm in cold weather and it kept nocturnal predators at bay. Apart from playing a central role in basic human survival, fire also served as a spiritual or religious symbol in ancient civilizations, leading to the concept of the sacred fire. As fire was considered to be an agent of purity and as a symbol of righteousness and truth, a sacred fire was often an altar for the offering of sacrifices and prayers. Therefore, those entrusted with tending this flame held a sacred, important and very demanding role in the culture.

The Oracle of Delphi Entranced by Heinrich Leutemann (1824 – 1905) (Public Domain)

The Oracle of Delphi Entranced by Heinrich Leutemann (1824 – 1905) (Public Domain)

In the Temple of Apollo in ancient Greece in the seventh century BC, no women except the Pythia, the oracle of Delphi, were allowed into the innermost part of the temple. However, there were still women who kept the sacred fire of laurel wood going on the inner sacred hearth.


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