Keepers of the Eternal Flame

Woman Holding Lighted Oil Lamp

The ability to maintain and control fire was a dramatic and powerful development in the habits of early humans. Fire generate heat and made it possible for people to cook food. Its heat also helps people stay warm in cold weather as well as keep nocturnal predators away. Over time, the use of fire became progressively more sophisticated with the use of fire to create charcoal and control wildlife. Apart from playing a central role in basic human survival, fire also served as a central spiritual or religious symbol in ancient civilizations. This led to the existence of the sacred fire. The earliest evidence for Indo-Iranian fire worship is found from around 1500 BC, together with first evidence of cremation. Earlier evidences of Vedic fire altars have also been found at the Indus Valley sites of Kalibangan and Lothal. In the Temple of Apollo in Ancient Greece in 7th century BC, no women except the Pythia, the oracle of Delphi, were allowed into the innermost part of the temple. However, there were still women who kept the sacred fire of laurel wood going on the inner sacred hearth.

As fire is considered to be an agent of purity and as a symbol of righteousness and truth, a sacred fire is often a place for the offering of sacrifices and prayers. Therefore, those entrusted with tending this flame often held a sacred, important and very demanding role in the culture.

File:British (English) School - Portrait of a Woman as a Vestal Virgin - 1313475 - National Trust.jpg
Portrait of a Woman as a Vestal Virgin, 1800’s

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