Saturday, June 4, 2011
Fire has played a very important part in all religious imagery. In India Agni, the god of Fire, is also described as the Priest of the Word, and a third of the hymns of the Rig Veda are dedicated to this deity. Perhaps the central mystical experience that lies at the very heart of the Abrahamic Faiths, concerns the vision of Moses as a young shepherd, seeing the Burning Bush in the desert. The Indian mystic and seer Sri Ramana Maharshi also speaks of this encounter of Moses with the ultimate meaning of the universe. He points out that what Moses discovers in the wilderness is a God whose name was "I AM who AM". Ultimately this God is beyond name and form, and yet it is a power (in Hebrew it is called the Shekinah, which psychologist Carl Jung also relates to the Indian concept of Shakti) which transforms without consuming or burning to ashes. Thus there is a vast literature of Biblical interpretation called Midrash, which concerns the inner significance of this burning bush, which according to the narrative, was just an ordinary thorn bush; something quite useless and fruitless in the desert, in which the Divine Presence was manifested to the prophet Moses. There is a saying of the artist Michaelangelo to the effect that underlying all forms are the fiery shapes of flames. In Christian iconography the Burning Bush is related to Mary, in whose womb the Word of God was conceived. But this flaming tree also challenges human war and hatred, symbolized by a road of sculls, and the figure of the Hero who is a fighter. There are many myths which assert that ultimately it is the flames of sacrifice which create the universe. These flames could be related to the Golden Egg, at whose centre there is a heat that incubates life.