Last night we had some friends over for Shabbat dinner, friends we have had for a very long time. There were delicious hors d’oeuvres (red pepper hummus and apples), a roast chicken with all the vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, portobellos) cooked around it. There was corn pudding (made by MH), tomatoes from the garden, avocados. For dessert, freshly made cantalope sorbet with MH’s mandelbrot and berries and chocolate hazelnut candy.
But the real meat of the evening happened around the fire. Stories happen around a fire. We are biologically programmed to create narrative around the mesmerizing flickering of flame. We sat around the fire pit in the backyard, in the perfectly cool evening, and I listened to stories I never heard before from the friends I have known for over 30 years.
It is said that Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humans. Zeus punished humans for possessing fire (in fear they would compete with the gods) by sending them Pandora whose curiosity released evil and sickness on humanity. He punished Prometheus by chaining him to a mountain where eagles daily munched on his liver which regenerated each evening only to be devoured again the next. Eventually Prometheus was saved by Hercules who killed the eagles and cut Prometheus’ chains.
Perhaps the richness of this gift of fire speaks to us from some deep subconscious and archetypal space. The story of fire itself is a story embedded in the essence of the conflict essential in all good stories. Stress, tension, discord, sin, depravity (all that escaped from Pandora’s box) which rarely resolve in happy endings, are what makes story riveting, meaningful, essential, mesmerizing, transforming.
Perhaps, at least mythologicically, some of our fascination with fire is all tied up with a fascination with and need for meaning and story is the way this is manifested and conveyed. The consequence of Prometheus’ gift of fire is the essence of story. No wonder fire draws it out of us so easily.