Fire in some works has the ability to burn away imperfections and evil. It burns up evil or evil-associated creatures, such as demons and the undead, entirely, and it works more effectively against those beings than most weapons or attacks would. It can also sometimes burn away only the evil parts, leaving any pure or good parts unharmed. In such cases, it is useful for de-possessing hapless creatures who have been possessed by evil beings.
This ability draws on fire's association with life and its ability to burn impurities out of metal; combining the two ideas to create a force against evil. This will often be a form of Magic Fire
, but sometimes all fire will have this property.
In some settings, the characters will believe that fire has this property, and act accordingly, even though fire does not actually have any extra powers against evil.
This may be a reason why Fire Keeps It Dead
, the trope for where burning a body prevents it from coming back to life.
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- In silent western Hell's Hinges, the bad guys burn down the church. The enraged hero then sets fire to the dance hall that doubles as bad guy headquarters. The ensuing conflagration burns down the whole wicked town.
- In the Discworld novel Carpe Jugulum, the flames of the Phoenix only burn evil creatures. Granny uses it to keep the darkness of the vampires at bay.
- Harry Potter: In Deathly Hallows, Fiendfyre turns out to be one of the few ways to destroy Horcruxes.
- Subverted in "The Road Virus Goes North," a short story by Stephen King. A horror writer buys the last surviving painting of a troubled artist who burned all his other works and then committed suicide. When he realises the painting is cursed he tries to get rid of it, but the painting keeps returning intact. Eventually he burns the picture, because that's what works in the books, right? Unfortunately it turns out that the artist didn't burn all his paintings except this one, he burned all his paintings including this one.
- Referred to in the title of the George MacDonald novel Salted By Fire ("salted" meaning purified in his Scots dialect). The plot involves a clergyman who doesn't really believe going through trials that "burn away" his apathy and self-centeredness, allowing him to truly find faith.
- In The Dresden Files, Harry notes that fire really is a highly-effective weapon against all sorts of nasties, as well as being used against magical enchantments. Fire can disrupt and destroy enchantments when used with that intent, and any wizard worth their salt in combat learns how to use fire first.
- Invoked by name by Firesong in the last Mage Winds novel, as he finally destroys Ma'ar's soul by incinerating its refuge in the Void.
- In the Young Wizards series the spiritual entity which empowers the Spear of Light, the Virtue of Purification, is associated with the element of fire. It can burn away the impurities and imperfections of any living being, but the process of doing so is lethal. The Spear does not care that purifying things destroys them (as one character says, patience is not one of its virtues), so it's a good thing that the Spear can't throw itself.
- In Chronicles of the Kencyrath fire is one of the few reliable ways to kill corrupted beings like Haunts and Changers, and usually the most practical. Also, until the body of a Kendar or Highborn is burned, their spirit is bound to the world.
- Fire is used to purify remains in Supernatural. Salting and burning the bones of a person or burning any other earthly remains (hair, fingernail, teeth, etc) is often the only way to put a vengeful spirit to rest.
- Nexus magazine #3 article "Land of the Pharaohs". The Purifying Flames spell will remove a curse or guilt from a person who enters the flames.
- Warhammer 40,000: Among the Imperial forces, flamers are usually seen as a good metaphor for purifying the God Emperor's enemies. Sisters of Battle take it even further, with most squads wielding flamers or wearing hats that are on fire. Not to mention virus bombing (which basically converts a large proportion of the planet's surface into fuel and strikes a match).
- It's also effective when dealing with Orks for more practical reasons; they're fungus based lifeforms which release spores (which eventually grow into new orks). Burning them helps prevent them reinfecting planets they've attacked.
- Used classically straight in Dungeons & Dragons when dealing with green slime. Fire is one of the few things that will kill it, and burning it off while it's still busily trying to turn your comrade's flesh into more green slime is about the only way to save them if you don't have just the right healing spell handy at the moment.
- A sidequest in Silent Hill: Downpour involves setting fire to the picture of a man who murdered his family, allowing their spirits to rest.
- In World of Warcraft, after a battlefield was covered in a weaponized Plague, a group of red dragons use their fire breath to destroy the lingering disease before it can permanently poison the land.
- Long before there was any scientific germ theory to explain disease humans had learned that fire made rotting corpses and things that had been in contact with sick people and animals harmless. If cleaning infectous things with water didn't work, fire would do the job as a last resort, which makes fire the ultimate form of purification in cultures all over the world.
- Zoroastrians regard fire as a symbol of purity.
- Heretics were burnt alive because it was believed that death by fire purified the soul. Which would have been great comfort to the heretics in question, I'm sure.
- Cooking in general, as the high temperatures of the fire or grease used for most foods will kill most whatever germs are in the raw meat, making it safe to eat without fear of becoming poisoned.