Agni: archetypal image of the creative force

Agni and his consort, circa 1800
Agni and his consort, circa 1800. US public domain via wikimedia
It is said that Agni is the first-born; that Agni is the God of fire. Agni is an image of the creative force.

In the above image we see the Hindu deity Agni and his consort Svaha.  Agni appears in his dual nature, with two heads he faces both God and man.

While Agni is the first-born and beginning, his consort Svaha is an expression of release. Svaha is called out during a fire (Agni) sacrifice to express release. Conze says Svaha is “an ecstatic shout of joy, expressive of a feeling of complete release” (2001).

The word Agni अग्नि  may have originated from the Proto-Indo-European languages. In its Latin forms we see the variations: igniō ‘to ignite,‘ ignēscō ‘to kindle, burn,’  igneus ‘fiery,’ ignifer ‘bearing fire’ (from Wikipedia).

Carl Jung sees Agni as “an emanation of the inner libido-fire” and at the same time “the sacrificial flame” (Cw 5, para. 246). Mythically, the fire of Agni is said to appear in three forms: in heaven as the sun, in mid-air as lightning, on earth as fire (Dowson, 1879). Agni is the ‘divine mediator’ (Jung, CW 5). Max Muller says:

“It was a familiar idea with the Brahmans to look upon the fire both as the subject and the object of a sacrifice. The fire embraced the offering, and was thus a kind of priest; it carried it to the gods, and was thus a kind of mediator between gods and men. But the fire represented also something divine, a god to whom honor was due, and thus it became both the subject and the object of the sacrifice. Hence the idea that Agni sacrifices himself, that he offers a sacrifice to himself, and likewise that he offers himself as a sacrifice” (cited in Jung CW5).

We might say that the inner libido-fire acts as a mediator between men and gods. In this role Agni may exhaust “his vigor by devouring too many oblations” ( Mahabharata cited in Dowson, 1879).

As first born, Agni is the child of the great parents; and in being so, Agni assists humanity in Self-realization:

“The representations of [Agni] vary. We have met previously the greatest parents of them all: Heaven and Earth. Their union was conceived in early Indo-European times as the fruitful source of the heavenly gods” (Dowson, 1879, see footnote)

Agni holds a relation to the primal couple, to the primal scene as source of creation. From this primal scene arises the fire. Dowson continues:

“God Agni, ‘Fire,’ is occasionally regarded as the progenitor of men. There is in this some vague symbolic connection with the process of obtaining fire by friction. This is the Vedic process : the two sticks which are rubbed are conceived as parents. Agni is their child, the first progeny, and, next, possibly, the first man” (ibid).

Agni is born of the parental couple, both in eternal form and temporal, both symbolic and literal.  He emerges from the relation between container and contained, from the friction of vessel and staff. Agni occurs in the three manifestations of being: pure source, emanation, manifestation. And in each of these forms he is the ‘creative force.’ Carl Jung speaks of the fire sacrifice in Indian thought:

“The pramantha instrument of the manthana (fire sacrifice), is conceived under a purely sexual aspect in India, the fire-stick being the phallus or man, and the bored wood under-neath the vulva or woman. The fire that results from the boring is the child, the divine son Agni.  The two pieces of wood are ritually known as pururavas urvasi, and, when personified, are thought of as man and woman. The fire is born from the genitals of the woman” (CW 5, para. 210).

Weber describes the ritual is as follows:

“A sacrificial fire is kindled by rubbing two fire-sticks together. One of the fire-sticks is taken up with the words: “Thou art the birth-place of fire,” and two blades of grass are placed upon it: “Ye are the two testicles.” The priest then places on them the adhararani (the underlying piece of wood), saying: “Thou art Urvasi,” and anoints the uttargrani (uppermost piece) with butter: “Thou art the power” (semen). This is then placed on the adhararani, with the words: “Thou art Pururavas.” Rubbing them together three times the priest says: “I rub thee with the Gayatrimetrum: I rub thee with the Trishtubhmetrum: I rub thee with the Jagatimetrum” (cited in Jung CW5, para 210).

In this regard Jung also cites the Rig Veda:

“Here is the gear for friction, here tinder is made ready for the spark. Bring the mistress of the people: we will rub Agni in ancient fashion forth. In the two fire-sticks lies Jatavedas, safe as the seed in pregnant women; Daily let Agni be praised by men who watch and worship with oblations. Let this (staff) enter into her as she lies there outstretched, 0 you skilled ones; Straightway she conceives, has given birth to the fructifier: With his red pillar lighting his path, the son of Ila is born from the precious wood” (para. 211)

Above, Agni is the fructifier, the giver of light and warmth, the child that is born from divine coupling, in both literal and symbolic fire. Agni is the ‘creative force,’ but he is also the destructive force. Fire both ignites and consumes, and through this Agni offers transformation through both creation and sacrifice. Dawson (1879) says:

 “Agni can be devouring element and intelligent god at one and the same time. Even the Epic poet in the Mahabharata stops to wonder: “There is but one Agni, yet is he kindled manifold”;  and Agni himself is made to say : “Because I can multiply myself by the power of mental concentration (yoga), therefore am I present in the bodies (of men, as vital fire).”

Agni is both within and without. Jung says:

“The Brahmans to look upon the fire both as the subject and the object of a sacrifice. The fire embraced the offering, and was thus a kind of priest; it carried it to the gods, and was thus a kind of mediator between gods and men. But the fire represented also something divine, a god to whom honour was due, and thus it became both the subject and the object of the sacrifice. Hence the idea that Agni sacrifices himself, that he offers a sacrifice to himself, and likewise that he offers himself as a sacrifice” (CW 5).

This whole idea of creator-created, container-contained is related to speech and the capacity for symbolization. Carl Jung cites the Aitareya Upanishad:

“Then he drew forth a Person (purusha) from the waters and shaped him. He brooded upon him, and when he had brooded him forth, a mouth split open like an egg. From the mouth came speech, and from speech fire.

And again in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

“Yajfiavalkya, what is the light of man?”

“The sun is his light,” he answered. “It is by the light of the sun that a man rests, goes forth, does his work and returns.”

“Quite so, Yajfiavalkya. But when the sun is set, what then is the light of man?”

“The moon is his light,” he answered. “It is by the light of the moon that a man rests; goes forth, does his work and returns.”

“Quite so, Yajfiavalkya. But when the sun is set, and the moon is set, what then is the light of man?”

“Fire is his light,” he answered. “It is by the light of the fire that a man rests, goes forth, does his work and returns.”

“Quite so, Yajfiavalkya. But when the sun is set, and the moon is set, and the fire has gone out, what then is the light of man?”

“Speech is his light,” he answered. “It is by the light of speech that a man rests, goes forth, does his work and returns.”

“Quite so, Yajfiavalkya. But when the sun is set, and the moon is set, and the fire has gone out, and speech is hushed, what then is the light of man?”

“Self is his light,” he answered. “It is by the light of the Self that a man rests, goes forth, does his work and returns” (cited in Carl Jung CW 5, para 231).

Agni is the inner fire, igniting the light of Self-awareness. Agni is the passionate child-flame of Self-awareness, lighting the darkness even when there is no other source of light.

References:

  1. Carl Jung, Cw 5, Symbols of Transformation (in US Pubic Domain, first published 1912)
  2. Edward Conze, Buddhist Wisdom: The Diamond Sutra and The Heart Sutra- 2001
  3. John Dowson, A classical dictionary of Hindu mythology and religion, geography, history, and literature- 1879
  4. Hermann Oldenberg, The Religion of the Veda- 1908

5 thoughts on “Agni: archetypal image of the creative force

  1. as I prepare for the annual aries new moon workshop, it will be nice to offer links to these recent posts for those who like to go deeper in their co-creative processes.

    1. Thanks for the reminder of the Aries New Moon (March 30th). After working with the historical emanations of the creative force, I am opening to the significance of Aries this new moon. Aries (♈) is ram: Phanes has a ram on his chest and Agni is often seen riding a ram. Aries is the first astrological sign in the Zodiac, while Phanes and Agni are the first born. Here, I am seeing Aries in pure form as an an emanation of the first born, the creative force. With the new moon in Arises in March, it is the time of year to contemplate the creative force within and without: within as Self, and without as the new cycle of creation. Feels good, I am ready for spring and all of the new growth and creation!

  2. _/\_ Jenna!

    Refined scholar work, here, that is only possible by devotion, discipline and deep faith! Thank You!

    Just to note the difference between the terms “Brahman” = irreducible, eternal principle that cannot be defined and still, present in all existence and “brahmin” = priest of noble character, conduct and as defined in the Bhagavad Gita, as the representor of the highest varnas or sacerdotal hierarchies or still, the synonym for the modern world, the aristocrats.

    Looking forward to more of your jewels that enlighten the rest of us….

    Safe journey & Blessings!

    Brinda

    1. Brinda,

      Thank you for mentioning ‘deep faith.’ I have been contemplating such faith lately and I believe that it is at the heart of the path, as a combined faith-knowing of the heart. When I read about the symbols I realize that they mean nothing if they are only psychological. It is the heart which enlightens the symbols, so that they become relational, a language of love and communion with the infinite.

  3. Jenna & 1 weaver…
    Yes,the Aries New Moon promises to be creatively dynamic as do the Spring Eclipses(Lunar on 4-15..Solar on 4-29).Ancient Egypt associated the healing/rejuvenatory powers of the neter Khonsu as most amplified during these eclipses.The Spring sun and moon were known to beneficially impact the blood and fluid functions of the body(..just as it raises the sap in budding plants and aids fertilization).In Khonsu’s most common image he’s shown wearing the New Moon crescent surmounted by the sun & moon united in a disc representing eclipse.His mummified form is also symbolic of eclipse.Clearly,Egypt regarded this as the most auspicious time for both magical & healing transformations.Within the alchemic tradition,the 3 Fire signs(Aries,Leo and Sagittarius)relate to Electric fire,Solar fire and fire-by-friction respectively.Most interesting for our topic here is that the Arian Electric fire is associated with…”the descent of the spiritual energy of the Creative Word..” With that in mind it should prove a wonderful workshop 1 weaver and a season of abundant creative emanations.The Buddhist monks will be peacefully chanting while the procreative drives will have others dancing in the saloons.Welcome Spring!…
    ..

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