According to the fire triangle model, there are three elements required to start a fire: heat, fuel and an oxidizing agent. All these must be present in the right proportions to start a fire, and the absence or removal of any of these elements will result in the fire’s prevention or extinguishment. Considering that these elements are not infinitely abundant and not always so readily available, is it possible to literally keep fire burning forever?
There are such things as eternal flames or fires which are either intentionally ignited by human intervention or caused by natural phenomena such as peat fires and coal fires. But there are accounts from olden times that speak of ever-burning lamps that supposedly stayed ablaze for hundreds and even thousands of years without an obvious source of fuel and could not be put out by conventional means. How our ancestors managed to accomplish such a feat and where they possibly acquired this secret knowledge from remains to this day a mystery.
Eternal Flame in Mythological Texts, Records, and Stories
The earliest accounts referring to an eternal source of light can be found in many ancient mythological texts. For example, a divine flame is supposedly a power possessed by the gods, and the secret knowledge to create it is supposedly an exclusive property of these powerful beings that should never be taught to mankind. However, in ancient Greek mythology, the deity Prometheus, in particular, was punished for breaking this godly law by stealing fire from Mount Olympus and giving it to humans.
The eternal flame is also mentioned in the traditions of ancient Egyptians, Romans as well as the Byzantine Empire. For example, Plutarch, in his work titled “De Defectu Oraculorum,” wrote about a lamp that burned at the temple of Jupiter Ammon in Egypt. This lamp was placed over the door and despite the fact that it stood in the open air, the priests of the temple claimed that its light was incapable of getting put out by wind or rain.
Other temples of worship of the time also had similar accounts of perpetually-burning lamps. St. Augustine wrote about a sacred Egyptian temple dedicated to Venus which housed a lamp that could not be extinguished and he referred to the phenomenon as the devil’s work.
It has also been said that Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, possessed the ability to communicate with the gods and he had done so through an eternally-burning lamp in a temple which he offered to an elemental creature. This led some people to speculate that the king possessed some knowledge of electricity and that Tullus Hostilius, Numa’s successor, ended up losing his life after his failed attempt to harness lightning and draw electricity from it.
A similar lamp was also found in 140 AD near Rome in the tomb of Pallas, King Evander’s son. This lamp is said to have kept burning for more than 2,000 years and could not be extinguished by simple methods such as pouring water over it or blowing air on the flame. The only means to put out its fire is by draining the unknown and unusual liquid stocked inside the lamp’s bowl.
During the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian in 527 AD, an ever-burning lamp was purportedly found by a troop of soldiers at Edessa, Syria. The story claims that the lamp had an inscription which suggested that before it was discovered, it had been burning for around 550 years beginning in 27 AD.
In 1540, a tomb which was thought to have been the resting place of Cicero’s daughter Tulliola – who died in 44 BC – was discovered along the Appian Way of Rome. The lamp was found inside a sealed vault that remained unopened for around 1,550 years, and its light only died after the tomb was opened and the lamp got exposed to the air.
When King Henry VIII separated from the Roman Catholic Church to establish his own Church of England, he commanded the destruction of several churches in Britain, which also led to the plundering of many tombs. Among them was supposedly the resting place of Constantius Chlorus, the father of the emperor Constantine, who passed away around the 4th century. When they opened his tomb, they found a burning lamp which they believed remained lit for over 1,200 years.
Another interesting story about ever-burning lamps is told by occult writer Eliphas Levi in his book titled “Histoire de la Magie.” He wrote about a man named Jechiele, an enigmatic French rabbi who served as an advisor in Louis IX’s court in the 13th century. Jechiele is said to have owned a lamp he placed in front of his house which possessed neither oil nor wick. When people inquired about the source that fueled the lamp’s light, he insisted on keeping it a secret. Many tried to replicate what he achieved but failed to do so. Speculations suggest that Jechiele managed to create a primitive form of electricity but no one could attest to this claim with absolute certainty.
The idea of a perpetual and inextinguishable light without a fuel source remains a controversial and polarizing topic to this day. Logic will tell us that it is very likely that tales about these ever-burning lamps could be nothing more than imaginative stories that hold no water in real life especially when you factor in the fact that physical evidence of these perpetually-burning fires has yet to be found. And even if there is irrefutable proof, it has yet to be made known to the rest of the world.
But when we look at it from a different perspective, maybe our ancestors did possess some ancient knowledge on how to light up a perpetual flame, only this information somehow got lost with the passage of time. And if these ever-burning lamps are not just mere legend, then maybe their existence could only be explained by factors beyond what mainstream science is currently capable of fathoming such as extra-terrestrial beings or supernatural phenomena.
For now, we can’t definitively validate or totally discredit the existence of these eternally-lit fires, but what we can be certain of at this point is that people’s fiery fascination over these so-called ever-burning lamps will probably endure for many years to come, maybe even forever.