During every traditional Baltic holiday a fire (ugnis) is lit, whether such is in an altar or bonfire, or by candle. Fire is the most important symbol of Lithuanian traditions. During ancient times, the Baltic people were known as fire worshipers. The Eternal Flame burned at Sventaragis Valley at the very center of Vilnius. Every household had a hearth, which was particularly respected by each member of the family, but cared for and safeguarded by the mother. The fire had greater meaning than merely the source of light and warmth. It symbolized the unbroken lifeline of the family and its ancestry. The Eternal Flame of the community served to unify not only its immediate members, but was also the unifying link with ancestors who had long since died and were now with the Gods. It was believed that numerous generations of the dead continued to live on at the hearth of the fire.
"Throughout all of Lithuania, people held fire to be sacred. Thus it was obligatory to honour it and behave before it with respect. Coals had to be closely accumulated. Fire could be extinguished only with cold and clean water. Fire was not to be insulted. It was not to be harmed nor polluted. People were not to spit nor urinate into fire, nor was it permitted to kick it or to stomp upon it. All that was considered sinful, and any such actions were sure to invite punishment, either while the person was still alive or after their death" (author J. Balys, Lietuviu Tautosakos Lobynas (Treasure Chest of Lithuanian Folklore), 1951, pg.39).
"No live coals nor smouldering ashes were to be extinguished on holiday days for that was considered a sin - it was necessary to wait until the fire burned out on its own accord."(Salakas) Thus, we should adhere to such tradition during rituals as well.
"When salt is sprinkled on the fire and it begins to crackle, it is said: 'Sacred Gabija, be nourished.' " The expression "to make the bed for the fire" - meant that it was to be carefully edged and ashes poured around delicately (Laukuva).
"When the fireplace was being lit at home, everyone had to remain quiet and were not to turn away, even in the event they were to hear someone calling" (1854 by A. Kirkoras). A cup of clean water was to be placed near to the fire, in order that "the beloved little fire would have the means to wash itself."
The fire for rituals was lit either on a hearth of stone or on an altar. Good oak logs were to be selected with care for the fire. A sutartine (archaic round refrain song) was chanted while lighting the fire, "Rimo rimo tuta, Rimo rimo tuta, Sutarjela, Sutarjela" (SIS.,1587). A prayer was said to the fire, as follows: "Sventa Gabija! Sugobta gabek, suziebta zibek" ("Sacred Gabija! As you were gathered, stay whole, as you were lit, stay bright.")
Another prayer was, "Thank you, little fire, for this our day, let us greet our good little night, and protect ourselves from those wish us bad, and let those who are lost find their road." The words can be improvised to express both desires, as well as wishes for others. All the participants to the ritual can approach the fire one by one, express their good will and offer their donation. Contact with Gods and with one's ancestors is sought through the fire.
Sacrificial donations to the fire can be bread, grains, beer grasses and flowers. Circling the Fire clockwise, three times, strengthens the ritual. All those who have gathered can also walk in a circle around the hearth.
The Sacred fire of Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth and goddess of fire, was an eternal flame which burned within the Temple of Vesta on the Roman Forum. According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, the Romans believed that the fire was closely tied to the fortunes of the city and viewed its extinction as a portent of disaster.
The practice of keeping a fire always burning was not limited to religious ritual: for the Romans, maintaining a constant fire was often easier than relighting one regularly. The worship of Vesta grew out of this practice; the position of the Vestal Virgins, who tended the sacred fire, was originally held by the Roman king's daughters, who, like other young Roman girls, were responsible for tending the house's fire. The fire in the temple of Vesta, who was herself always personified as living flame (Ovid, Fasti, vi), was thus the hearth fire of the city. As the extinction of a hearth fire was a misfortune for a family, so the extinction of Vesta's flame was thought to portend national disaster for Rome—which explains the severe punishment (usually death) of Vestals who allowed the fire to go out.
The Vestal Virgins (they originally numbered four, but were later increased to six) were selected by lot and served for thirty years, tending the holy fire and performing other rituals connected to domestic life—among them were the ritual sweeping of the temple on June 15 and the preparation of foods for certain festivals. By analogy, they also tended the life and soul of the city and of the body politic through the sacred fire of Vesta, which was renewed every year on the Kalends of March.
The sacred fire burned in Vesta's circular temple, which was built in pre-republican times, in the Roman Forum below the Aventine Hill. Other sacred objects were stored within the temple, including the Palladium (a statue of Pallas Athena) supposed to have been brought by Aeneas from Troy. The temple burned completely on at least four occasions and caught fire on two others. The current temple (somewhat restored in the 20th century) dates from 191 AD, when Julia Domna, wife of the emperor Septimius Severus, ordered a thorough rebuilding. The rites of Vesta ended in 394, when the fire was extinguished and the Vestal Virgins disbanded by order of Theodosius I.