Fire: A Shade for Broken Hearts



Received: 09/01/2017

Accepted: 17/03/2017

Statement of the problem: Classification of the material world into Air, Earth, Fire and Water was quite common notion among different ancient nations and among them Persians and Armenians. Avicenna or Ibn Sina in one of his famous books The Canon of Medicine elaborates the importance of these elements. This article is about a ceremony dedicated to fire, as one of the four building blocks of the universe. The roots of this ceremony among the Armenians should be traced back to pre-Christianity or the Pagan era. Later, Armenians, by converting into Christianity in the 3rd century this ceremony became moderated and more acceptable by the church doctrines and considered as one of the popular religious festivals. This ceremony can be integrated into the framework of the phenomenon of renewal and peace. Based on this cultural background, the article traces other preventive factors that lie in the socio-political situation that hinders the maintenance of the ritual and ceremonies in modern era such as the Genocide of 1915 and establishment of Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1922.

Theoretical background: The theoretical framework of this paper is based on linguistic and structural semiotics, relying on the concept of phoneme in linguistics and generalizing this concept in the context of culture. Phoneme is generally regarded as an abstraction of a set (or equivalence class) of speech sounds (phones) which are perceived as equivalent to each other in a given language in the minds of the speakers of a given language. A phoneme is one of the units of sound that distinguish one word from another in a particular language due to the rules of paradigmatic relationship. Every item of language including phoneme has a paradigmatic relationship with every other item, which can be substituted for it (such as fire festival with Candlemas a Christian holiday celebrated annually in February. It celebrates three occasions according to Christian belief: the presentation of the child Jesus; Jesus' first entry into the temple; and it celebrates the Virgin Mary's purification), and a syntagmatic relationship with items, which occur within the same construction (for example the fire ceremony of Pagan era with the Candlemas ceremony in Christian church.)

Methodology: Participatory observation, which is one of the most common methods in ethnography, was employed in this article. The author for several times and during a long period of time has repeatedly been presented at the feast of "Tiarenaradj" in different cities of Iran among the Armenian communities of Tehran, Isfahan and Tabriz as well as in Yerevan the capital city of today’s republic of Armenia and village of Gervezh. Other part of this article is based on library studies, especially historical sources in the Armenian language.

Results and discussion: A mytheme is a fundamental generic unit of narrative structure (typically involving a relationship between a character, an event, and a theme) from which myths are thought to be constructeda minimal unit that is always found shared with other, related mythemesand reassembled in various ways or linked in more complicated relationships. Claude Levi Strauss states that, "If one wants to establish a parallel between structural linguistics and the structural analysis of myths, the correspondence is established, not between mytheme and word but between mytheme and phoneme”.

Some of the pagan ceremonies of Armenians, despite the opposition of the Church, have been able to survive up to our times, through adaptation with the doctrine of Christianity. One can trace the elements of change, such as the name of fire festival into Candlemas or the Armenian translation of it “Tiarenaradj” with replacement of pagan with church ceremonies in the structural semiotics and on the paradigmatic axis and combination of these elements in syntagmatic axis with new meaning and concept. The concept of ceremonies can be analyses through structural linguistics as well. A “phoneme” is the smallest unit in a language that is capable to change the meaning. Levi Strauss adapts this concept in mythology and suggests the word “mytheme “that functions like phoneme in the context of mythology. This article intends to show how the feasts and cultural events can be explained based on these two principles in semiotics and linguistics sphere.

Conclusion: Ceremonies provide an opportunity for leisure time. They are events that people are looking forward. They can be conceived as time schedules for people to organize their life. Besides, feasts and subsequent celebrations create a favorable psychological state of mind for community members. Attempts to work together are hindered by different people with different social statues, to understand the situation and bring in their participation. After the collapse of Armenian Kingdom in the 14th century, Armenians for centuries did not have national state they lived in diaspora far from their historical land. Armenians scattered in all over the world. They lost their normal life style for a long period. Despite the unfair situation, these women have tried to revive the cultural norms of their ancestors in new lands. To them gaining knowledge about other cultures it was not optional. It was necessary to learn, understand and deal with new circumstances competently.

Prominent results: Adaptation is always known as the main key of survival. Armenians despite their socio-political life experience were capable to hold their cultural norms and believe through series of modifications and adaptations that were dictating to them. Participation in a cultural event makes them part of group that has the common experience, expectations and strong inter-group ties through celebrating cultural events. The elements of change can be considered as the changes that due to paradigmatic rules can displace each other and make a new meaning with combining new “cultural” units with other units in the syntagmatic axis. Cultural events were considered as a means of communication and identity marker in one hand and in the same time they are signifiers that are holding cultural signified and loyalty to their ethnic group.