Giver and taker of life, fire is the gift we take for granted, that gave us civilization. In Winter our ancestors were afraid, terrified in fact, that the Sun was dying, that it wouldn't come back, and all would be dark and cold for evermore. Can you imagine that fear of losing the Sun? Fear of not being able to ever get warm again, fear of finding no berries to eat, no animals to hunt, because the eternal dark cold had taken them away from you. It's a primeval fear. Picture a bolt of lightning hitting the oak tree not far from the tribe huddled together in the mouth of a cave, who, watching it burst into flames, were terrified, of course, but at the same time, very relieved because now they had heat, and light. Perhaps this happened several times before someone brave inched forward and picked up a still-burning, fallen branch, and discovered that fire can be KEPT, and transported. How precious this was, how much care was taken to keep it going, how much horror if the fire ever died. Great kudos was given to those who keep the flame, maybe an elder, maybe a wise one, or maybe a shared responsibility by a family. Not something to be taken lightly. Imagine how nervous they were of having stolen the fire. It came from...up there!...
Who sent it? Does he/she want it back? Should they give something in return? Was it a piece of the Sun? Or the stars? It must have occurred in many places at different times, but it took at least 700,000 years before man learned to make fire instead of guarding it as the most sacred possession. 700,000 years of guarding the fire is a long time to etch into our memories, to become part of who we are as surely as standing upright. Without fire we are just an animal. Everything that came since, every success and failure, every wisdom and mistake, everything that made us mankind instead of a naked ape, is because of fire. Fire is life. It is also death, it completes the circle. No wonder of all the elements this is the one we equate to spirit. And when 100,000 years ago we learned to create fire, what did that mean? That we had done something sacred, or commited a great cosmic crime? We had done a godlike thing, was our sacrifice even more necessary now? Was the festival of the fire, and the tree now even more embedded in our psyches? We speculate that this began the first Fire festivals in the depths of Winter. At some point it became ritually important to bring the tree into the home, and we still sacrificially burn it today, in the Yule Log, but we also symbolically burn it by filling it with lights, as well as decorate it. At a mystical level it represents the Tree of Life.
We seem to give positive and negative attributes to fire quite arbitrarily, a perfect example of how we see good and bad in general. Fire is "good" if it is under control, and benefits us, as in a cozy woodstove. It is "bad" if out of control, causing death and destruction, like this wildfire. The Sun is "good" when it gives us light and heat, "bad" when it parches the Earth and kills our crops and animals.