The horse-shoe is a product of the artisan's skill by the aid of fire.
This element has in all ages been considered the great purifier, and a powerful foe to evil spirits.
The Chaldeans venerated fire and esteemed it a deity, and among primitive nations everywhere it has ever been held sacred. The Persians had fire-temples, called Pyrcea, devoted solely to the preservation of the holy fire.
In the "Rig-Veda," the principal sacred book of the Hindus, the crackling of burning fagots was listened to as the voice of the gods, and the same superstition prevails still among the natives of Borneo.
In a fragment of the writings of Menander Protector, a Greek historian of the sixth century, it is related that when an embassy sent by the Emperor Justin reached Sogdiana, the ancient Bokhara, it was met by a party of Turks, who proceeded to exorcise their baggage by beating drums and ringing bells over it. They then ran around the baggage, bearing aloft flaming leaves, meantime, by their gestures and movements, seeking to repel evil spirits; after which some of the party themselves passed through fire as a means of purification.
Fire is especially potent against nocturnal demons, and also against the evil spirits which cause disease in cattle. Hence the utility of the ancient "need-fires," produced by the friction of two pieces of wood, which were thought to be an antidote against the murrain and epizoötics generally,--a custom until recently in vogue in the Scottish Highlands, and formerly practiced in many other regions.
The midsummer fires kindled on Saint John's Eve, in accordance with an ancient British custom, were regarded as purifiers of the air. Moreover, the whole area of ground illuminated by these fires was reckoned to be freed from sorcery for a year, and, by leaping through the flames, both men and cattle were insured safety against demons for a like period.
In Ireland it was customary for people to run through the streets on Saint John's Eve carrying long poles, upon which were tied flaming bundles of straw, in order to purify the air, for at that time all kinds of mischievous imps, hobgoblins, and devils were abroad, intent on working injury to human beings.
Midsummer fires were still lighted in Ireland in the latter half of the nineteenth century, a survival of pagan fire-worship. In many countries people gathered about the bonfires, while children leaped through the flames, and live coals were carried into the cornfields as an antidote to blight.
Sometimes the remaining ashes were scattered over the neighboring fields, in order to protect the crops from ravaging vermin or insects; and in Sweden the smoke of need-fires was reputed to stimulate the growth of fruit-trees, and to impart luck to fishing-nets hung up in it.
When a child is born, the Hindus light fires to frighten demons; and for the same reason lamps are swung to and fro at weddings, and fire is carried before the dead body at a funeral.
Devout Brahmins keep a fire constantly burning in their houses and worship it daily, expecting thereby to secure for themselves good fortune. The origin of the respect accorded to fire among these people has been attributed to its potency in alleviating or curing certain diseases, as, for example, when applied in the actual cautery, or by means of the moxa; for, wherever a belief exists in demoniacal possession as the cause of bodily disorders, the cure of the latter is evidence that the malignant spirits have been put to flight.
The fire-worshiping Parsees also keep a fire continuously in the lying-in room; and when a child is ailing from any cause, they fasten to its left arm a magical charm of written words prepared by a priest, exorcising the evil spirits in the name of their chief deity, Ormuzd, and 11 binding them by the power and beauty of fire."'
On the birth of a child among the Khoikhoi of south Africa a household fire is kindled, which is maintained until the healing of the child's navel; and when a member of the tribe goes a-hunting, his wife is careful to keep a fire burning indoors; for, if it were allowed to go out, the husband would have no luck.
The conception of a mediaeval smith as a master and controller of fire was embodied in a group of figures modeled by the Austrian sculptor, Karl Bitter, and placed at the southern entrance of the Administration Building at the World's Fair, Chicago, in 1893. This group, which was called "Fire Controlled," consisted of a female figure, whose uplifted right hand carried a torch, while at her feet stood a brawny smith resting a sledge hammer upon the prostrate form of a fire demon.
Above this group stood a single figure, by the same artist, representing a blacksmith standing at his anvil, with hammer restlng against it, and in his belt hung a pair of pincers. In his left hand was a horse-shoe, which he was examining.