Pyrotechny is the art of fire. This is the literal meaning; a definition so broad that it relates the art to almost every variety of human activity.
It might even be applied justly to describe the operations of the Creator throughout His cosmos.
For, in that sacrament which wo call fire, flame is the outward and visible sign of an inner grace - heat. And the universe has its genesis in heat; heat terrific, inconceivable. So stupendous is the truth we know that we dare not even guess concerning the quality of that infinite flame which burns at the heart of God, wherein the cosmic fire has its source. The enormous activity of heat gives its highest known expression in the temperature of the constellation Argo, which is calculated by astronomers to be 30,000° centigrade. The Piscian temperature, the nearest to that of our own period, is 5,000° centigrade. And somewhere amid the aeons there is one tiniest speck of time with a temperature between the boiling and the freezing points. In that fleeting moment in the history of the universe - a moment measured by man in cycles of millions of years - organic life comes into being; to endure briefly, soon to vanish utterly.
We may well marvel over the miracles of transmutation wrought by heat's magic when we consider the simplicity of those materials that assume protean forms of infinite variety under the impulse of changing temperatures. Hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, calcium, magnesium, iron, sodium, and silicon constitute sea water and air, and, too, the substance of our own bodies. And these same elements line the spectra of the hottest stars.
The art of fire touches man more intimately than does any other art; for it is his very life. The Troglodyte realized the truth, just as does the most enlightened scientist of today. Primitive humanity gave all honor to that flaming orb which we call the sun; hailed it as the generous giver, the single source whence every variety of earthly life draws its being - just as the race of this present age recognizes, in the far-flung radiant energy of the heavenly light, the vital causation for all earthly processes. An instinctive understanding set the face of the first man toward the east, that he might adore the daily miracle of the dawn.
In the beginning man made the sun a god and worshiped, and he worshiped as well the god's sign and agent, fire. On every altar blazed those lights kindled by the priests, to be reverenced by the devout. The priesthood wrote the scroll of mysteries in letters of flame.
The divine quality of fire made it also the constant familiar of each magician, whether his magic were white or black.
In due time the sorcerers turned from incantations to distillations. Wizards became alchemists, seeking madly for the secret of transmuting baser metals into gold. But fire was still the familiar spirit to give its tireless aid throughout all researches.
The alchemist was metamorphosed into the chemist, into the scientist. And with the new learning came new uses for fire, that most subtle among the ancient elements, with resources inexhaustible and eternal. To-day, the whole fabric of our civilization would crash into hopeless chaos were the countless busy flames of industry to be extinguished.
The art of fire is indeed the supreme art; for fire is at once the universal slave, the universal master.