The boy shivered in his furs. Winter would be here soon, and the nights had gotten bitter, and the winds gnawed at his bones. He made his way back to the old woman’s fire once more, and continued to shiver until the warmth of the fire finally beat back the cold.
“You have returned for another night? Could it be that you want to hear another story as well?” The old woman said with a smile.
“It is just so cold. I just want the fire.” The boy said, pulling off his mittens and shoving his bare hands towards the fire.
“Then perhaps that is the story I will tell you about tonight? Shall I tell you about how our ancestors learned about fire.” The old woman said and the boy nodded.
“Very well. As has already been told, fire was there at the beginning of times, and that is why there are stars in the sky, and too why the fire people dwell far below the earth. In ancient times, the fire people covered the whole of the earth. But they were the only ones that could stand the heat, and a great discussion took place. You see, other peoples wanted to come and live on the earth as well, but most could not stand the heat. So the world was cooled, and the fire people retreated into the ground. But they could not disappear forever, for the sun still had to rise, and the stars still had to dot the night sky. Otherwise things would grow cold and black.” The woman said.
“But why is it so cold? Is it always cold when there is no fire?” The boy asked, staring out into the night as far as his eyes could see.
“Long ago, our ancestors lived in a place that was warm, as it was blessed by the heat from the sun. It was a land covered with vast plains and forests, and rich beyond all measure. They dwelled in those forests, and generally were very happy. But as time passed, some felt the urge to seek out new lands, and so they left that place of warmth and forests. Soon they discovered that the lands beyond were not as blessed by the sun, and these places were cold indeed. In those days there was no fire to keep them warm, and so they stayed in the warmth of the sun.” The woman said.
“So it grows cold when there is no sun?” The boy asked.
“Some places are more blessed by the sky fire than others, child. Where there is fire, there is warmth. The sun people rejoice in the warmth. But they cannot bring warmth to all lands, and in some places they are not as easily found. In some places, the sun people disappear for many months.” The old woman said.
“Who lives there?” The boy asked.
“Those that love the cold. The ice people can be found in those places, and the people of shadows. They love such places. ” The old woman said, and the boy looked up.
“Are there people up there, shadow people?” The boy said.
“Oh yes, the enjoy all dark and cold places. They have been there since long ago, just as the fire people.” The old woman said.
“There is a lot of shadow up there. There must be a lot more shadow people.” The boy said. The old woman could do nothing but smile.
“Perhaps child, perhaps. You would have to live long indeed if you wanted to count them all. Our ancestors wondered the same thing, when they first met the cold, and they turned back to the lands of warmth and sunlight. But they longed to explore new lands, and finally the other people took pity on them. They said to themselves; ‘we should teach them the lessons of the fire people’.
Our ancestors had long wondered about the fire people. Just like you child, they saw the sun rise each day, and the stars in the sky. Some even saw the fires rise up from the earth, or those that rode with the lighting. They knew of fire, but they did not understand it, not in those early days.” The old woman said.
“And did the fire people teach them?” The little boy asked.
“Oh yes, they did. People of all kinds, of wood and tinder, of fire and air, and even those of water, came to our ancestors and taught them.
The people said to our ancestors;
“Look here, fire is always hungry. This is what it likes to eat.” The people of wood and grass said, and many others.
“Look here, fire is reckless and may eat more than is needed. I can help tame it.” The people of water said, and so too the people of earth, and many others.
“Look here, fire needs to breath. Look how he grows when he breaths deep!” The air people said, and others besides.
“And what did the peoples of shadow and cold say?” The little boy asked.
The old woman let out a hardy laugh.
“They said; ‘EEK! Get away from me!’ “. The old woman laughed again.
“Is it because warmth and cold are enemies?” The boy asked.
“Not at all child. They are not enemies, but are very different. The cold people do not do well in the warmth, and so they avoid it. Just as the shadow people don’t much care for the light, so they flee from it.” The old woman said.
“What happened next?” The little boy asked.
“The secrets of fire were gifted to our ancestors, just as the secrets of rock and stone had been before them. Our people learned to make tools from stone, and then the lessons of fire were taught to them. And so our ancestors spread out from their warm home, and they were pleased to find that the cold and dark fled from them. They journeyed to new lands, some colder than others.” The old woman said, just as a brisk wind howled across the camp.
“I sure wish we would have stayed in the warm place.” The little boy said as he moved closer to the fire. The old woman laughed once more. She threw another bit of wood on the fire.
The flames danced and flickered.
You might notice this one reads a little bit differently than the first one. In the first story (1B), I said that the people “…shaped the world from its burning core, and they were pleased with their work.” In this one, you might notice, I said something more along the lines of; “In ancient times, the fire people covered the whole of the earth.” I wanted to point out that while I am trying for some measure of consistency; each story does have a different focus, and might read a little bit differently. I am going to really try for a coherent narrative, or more accurately a series of narratives. I will do my best to avoid glaring contradictions, but this does not mean that each story will exactly reflect the others. It’s a balance in my mind.
Also, I do not think it is inconsistent from an animistic perspective. A world shaped by fire, and a world covered by fire people, are more or less synonymous. However, it is important to remember the focus is a little bit different this time around.
I really tried to avoid adversarial dichotomies throughout this story. I didn’t want it to turn into another “fire vs ice” story, but in some ways this was unavoidable. The fact is that opposites exist. Cold and warm are opposites. Fire and ice may be opposites, but instead of making them enemies or opponents, I tried to give the impression that they were merely different. So instead of a “fire vs ice” story, I went for more of a “fire and/or ice” story. Not enemies, but very different. One of the foundations of my animism is diversity, that the world is full of people, most of which are not human. Each will have its own desires, will and personality. Some may even be down right fatal to one another. But I don’t necessarily consider this an adversarial relationship. Consider steam for a moment.
Or the concept of steamy. Oh la la.
As I discussed in the last part of this chapter, it was fire that helped to contribute to Homo erectus‘ expansion across the globe. In addition, as has already been discussed, it was around the time of H. erectus that we see the first evidences of stone tool use. I regret that that fact got little more than a cameo in this story. I don’t in any way want to minimize the importance of stone tools and the impact they had on our development as a species. The impact was immense, and would continue to be so for a very long time. If I created a story to explain that, it would be much like this one. It would be a “teaching” story, in which the people of stone and earth teach our ancestors how to make stone tools. There is so much more to be said here, but the important thing to remember is that this story is about fire, and so it is central.
Sorry stone people.
As I said, I do not in any way want to minimize the impact of stone tool use. However, fire was just as vital, if not more so to our survival. I think it would have been very difficult for our ancestors to survive outside of Africa without the use and control of fire. Realize, that over time they would have to endure an ice age in Europe. The use of fire opened up much colder climates to settlement, and also brought about a change in both cultural and dietary habits. I do not have the space to really detail all of that, but it cannot be understated the importance of fire.
And with that in mind, we leave this chapter behind. In the next chapter, I am going to get to marrow of this series, and bring us up to the time where I can start talking about my own ancestors in a much more specific way.
Hominids, neanderthals, and humans oh my!
Thanks for reading!
1) I have started to consider each grouping of posts a “chapter” I.E this would be chapter 2, part B. So in the future if I refer to “chapter 2”, it means this post and it’s companion part A.