Fire Lore of The Salamander

I always thought that salamanders were very interesting wee lizards to observe. It has its own super powers mentioned in the fire lore of ancient times. This small colorful lizard is repellent to fire and heat. Note: (Please do not test this.)

This crafty lizard reminds me of the Shakespeare play ‘Macbeth,’ where a newt (which is similar to a salamander) was chosen or not for a special recipe ingredient “eye of newt,” used in the witches cauldron. The “Eye of newt,” refers to mustard, which links its connection to fire between salamanders and fire as mustard seeds are used as a “fiery” spice.

This tiny amphibian is categorized to the scientific group Urodela. This wiley creature has its own super powers according to fire lore, with an affinity with elemental fire.


Sixteenth-century woodcut identified as a depiction of a salamander by Manly P. Hall

Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23–79) was one of the earliest person to connect the salamander to fire. He noted that the creature is “an animal like a lizard in shape and with a body specked all over; it never comes out except during heavy showers and goes away the moment the weather becomes clear.

All of these traits, even down to the star-like markings, are consistent with the golden Alpine salamander of Europe that has yellow or gold patches on its back and some similar  marked subspecies of the fire salamander. Pliny according to the hearsay of the day, viewed salamanders as supernatural creatures resistant to fire. Later, the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE) debunked this as trivial town gossip.


Adorable Photo of a fire salamander by Didier Descouens – Own work, CC bY-SA 4.0,

According to Jewish fire lore, the salamander is also mentioned in the Talmud (Hagiga 27a) as a creature that is a product of fire, and it tells of anyone who is smeared with its blood will be immune to harm from fire. Rashi (1040–1105), a main writer on the Talmud, portrays the salamander as one which is created by burning a fire in the exact place for seven years.

According to medieval fire lore, the twentieth century occultist Manley P. hall presents a famous illustration of a salamander in his Teachings of All Ages, in which it is attributed to Paracelsus. This illustration appears to originate in a 1527 anti-papal tract by Andreas Osiander and Hans Sachs, where it is identified as “the Pope as a monster”.

Its association with Paracelsus originates his Auslegung der Magischen Figuren im Carthäuser Kloster zu Nũrnberg in which the author presents explanations of some illustrations found in a Carthusian monastery in Nuremberg; the illustration in question he labels as “a salamander or desolate worm with a human head and crowned with a crown and a pope hat thereon,” which is later explained to represent the Pope.

In Medieval European bestiaries, fantastic renderings of salamanders include “a satyr-like creature in a circular wooden tub” (8th century), “a worm penetrating flames” (12th century), “a winged dog” (13th century), and “a small bird in flames”


Salamander as the animal emblem of King Francis I of France at the Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, Vienne, France

According to salamander fire lore during the Renaissance, the craft-person’s images are characteristically more realistic, adhering more closely to a Classical description. In another example, a 1556 edition of the Book of Lambspring depicts the salamander as a white bird, while Lucas Jennis’ 1625 version of the same illustration, included in the Musaeum Hermeticum, depicts it as a lizard-like animal with star-like markings.

The core fire traits of the salamander emerges from a mannerism similar to many species of salamanders: hibernating in and beneath spoiled logs. When firewood was carried indoors and put on the fire, this fiery amphibian would “cryptically” appear from the searing flames. Thus, this colorful lizard gained its fiery reputation for “taming a fire,” so to speak.



Sources & References:

Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, John Bostock and Henry Thomas Riley, eds., London: Taylor and Francis, 1855. Translation slightly modified.

Florence McCulloch, Medieval Latin and French Bestiaries Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1962.

Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages: An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy. (Copyright not renewed.)

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