Campfire origins


The first chapter of North opens with this quote, from philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s 1938 book The Psychoanalysis of Fire:

We are almost certain that fire is precisely the first object, the first phenomenon, on which the human mind reflected … No doubt it has often been stated that the conquest of fire definitely separated man from the animal, but perhaps it has not been noticed that the mind in its primitive state, together with its poetry and its knowledge, had been developed in meditation before a fire.

Looks like science is starting to catch up with this shrewd poetic observation. Of course, the natural backdrop to the campfire is the night sky, meaning the stars would have always been woven into our fireside ruminations.

But sparking the rise of civilisation? Certainly it set something in motion which eventually led to large-scale city-based societies after many millennia. But civilisation was probably more to do with abandoning the campfire – a royal or civic hearth taking its place, becoming a focus for power rather than society, and the grand narratives of sky deities displacing the tangled tales of stars and spirits…