Fire and Water

Is fire a living thing? How about water?

When Bridget’s holiday comes, I always think of bright sunlight on water edged by snowy banks. She is the goddess of fire and water, fire on the water, fire that cracks the ice and brings the frozen world alive again.


The ancient Proto-Europeans apparently had two words for fire — one, paewr, an inanimate noun, for the physical manifestation in the world; and one, egni, animate, for the living force within it. Proto-Europeans would have referred to paewr as “it” and egni as “he/she”.

Paewr has descended into words such as fire, pyre, pyrite, and pyromania. Spiritually, pawer and pyr– indicate a point location of pure, expansive, creation energy. Germanic and English fire are the same, but add a sense of freedom and openness.

Egni was the root of a number of ancient gods and goddesses of fire, such as Vedic Agni; but today it survives only in ignite and derived forms like ignition. Spiritually this word focuses more on the grounding of the energy, the Source power that draws up the strength and directs it, channels it.

The name Bridget (and variants Bride, Brid, Brigid, Brighid, Brigantia) carries many of these same spiritual associations, although it is unrelated (it comes from a root meaning ‘strength’). She is a burst of power, light and tense like a laser, but grounded and guided.


Remarkably, the ancient Proto-Indo-Europeans also had two words for water — animate and inanimate, physical and spiritual.

Wed was in inanimate form, and descends today into water, wet, hydrate, undulation, Spanish aqua, Scottish whiskey, and Russian vodka. It is a word of directed willfulness, of untiring energy along a path, like a river or waterfall.

Ap was the animate form, and is the ultimate source of Latin piscis and English fish. Spiritually it might be likened to a small quiet spring, a simple point source of spirit.

Bridget’s name also echoes these watery words. The burst of power is related to the willfulness of water, and her energy is guided and directed like wed, but rooted like ap.

Some Say the World Will End in…

One thing that is striking about these pairs is how different the four words are. The two words for fire seem completely unrelated, as do the two words for water; it’s as if the spiritual and physical forms are utterly different concepts. If anything, the sounds of the words seem to group the two animate words (groundedness) against the two inanimate words (willfulness, power).

In the usual spiritual symbolism, fire and water are opposites, too. But from where I am standing in the frozen air of late January, fire and water are symbols of fluidity, flexibility, and life, while the earth is hard and dead, and air is a cold void. There is even a link between fire and frost — the words frozen and frost go back to Proto-Indo European preus, which meant both “freeze” and “burn”.


The essence of fire and water is somewhere in the intermix of the elements, not in each alone. This is no simple symbolism, but a web of interlocking words and meanings that reflect and refract each other like light on glass, like fire on ice.

Winter’s Woods

In the winter woods the world is all black and white, branches and trunks and twigs crosshatching against the sky and snow. Here there are edges and limits: the white polyhedra of sky with hard black wooden frames, the unambiguous snowline between earth and heaven, the icy and unyielding tree bark, the frozen water, even the mucus building up in my esophagus to reinforce the boundary between me and the chilled air. The woods are drawn with pure black ink on pure white paper.

FireAndWaterWe walk out, listening to the silence enclosing the small sounds of our boots in the snow and the little whispers of wind. At the top of the hill, we can see the lights of the homes and streets through the trees, a sea of city surrounding an island of park. We are going down into the woods to meditate and connect with the new moon, the new sun, and the new year.

This is the shape of a world at its birth: simplicity, edges, purity. At the beginning of the universe, mass and energy were one, and the four forces were united into a single field, in a cosmic egg of such primal simplicity that it had no size, shape, or duration. And now, with the rebirth of the small, weak sun, the world is reduced to frozen waste punctuated by isolated chunks of hibernating life, each huddled alone against the cold.

Loneliness may not be pleasant, but it is simple.

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Year 2010

Year is originally from way back in Proto-Indo-European, yer, meaning “doer”, i.e. one who does something or makes something.  It became jæram in Proto-Germanic, and gear in Old English, before softening to year in modern English.  Energetically, year packs a lot of punch; it’s a forceful, powerful, high-strung burst.

tolkientarotiii2009 definitely packed a punch.  A lot of folks I know had a pretty rotten 2009 — losing jobs, losing marriages, losing family.  2009, as a doer, seems to have done a lot of people wrong.  I had a great year myself, but certainly I went through a lot of changes, not all of them easy.

Overall, our species is in quite a fix:  the world economy continues to sputter, the world environment is under constant and accelerating attack, and people just keep on going to war, and murdering each other.  On the other hand, the chances for improvement have never been better — so many of us are connected to each other, and committed to change, and believe change is possible…

But we need more than connection, commitment, and belief.  We need maturity.  And it’s going to be hard to get.

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