Element

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In ancient times, and in some modern occult practices, there's a belief that the universe is composed of a small number of classical elements, the simplest essential parts everything is built from.

Western Elements

The four elements from which everything else is composed are (in western alchemy) Fire, Water, Air and Earth. These have many correspondences with many different occult systems.

Additionally some systems use Quintessence, the fifth essence described by Plato, similar to Akasa. It is basically Spirit or Consciousness. John Dee called it Spirit and described it as the force which both unites and keeps separate the other four elements.

The Elements

Only a brief description is given here and the alchemical symbol. For more details see the specific page for that element.

Symbol Name Number Description Gender *
Alchemy fire symbol.svg Fire 1 Creation and inspiration. Masculine
Alchemy water symbol.svg Water 2 Change, intuition and imagination. Feminine
Alchemy air symbol.svg Air 3 Reason, communication, and division. Masculine
Alchemy earth symbol.svg Earth 4 Solidity and practicality. Feminine
Alchemy aether symbol.svg Aether 5 Both unites and separates the elements. None

* Note that these are only loose symbolic associations and shouldn't be taken as sexist absolutes.

Correspondences

Tarot Suits

It's interesting to note that the attributions of the "passive" elements are almost always the same, while the attributions of the "active" elements vary. Some decks have even more idiosyncratic attributions such as the Crystal Tarot.

Some authors see the court cards as having a special relationships to the elements. The following is the most usual attribution system:

Combined with the elemental attributions of the suits, that makes for interesting possibilities of interpretation (see court cards)

Genders

Don't take the gender mapping too far, it can confuse and upset people, or seem sexist. They are just symbols.

The Four Worlds

The four worlds of the Tree of Life are also related to the elements:

  1. Fire -> Atziluth - The world of Archetypes
  2. Water -> Briah - The Creative world
  3. Air -> Yetzirah - The Formative world
  4. Earth -> Assiah - The Active world

Eastern Elements

The five Chinese elements are Earth, Metal, Water, Wood and Fire. In Japanese theory, there are two systems of elements, the go gyo and the go dai.

Go Gyo

Go Gyo describes how the elements in creation interact with each other through organic processes within the body, and is used chiefly as a mimetic device for students of traditional Chinese medicine. The first cycle is the creation cycle and goes as follows:

  • Earth creates Metal
  • Metal creates Water
  • Water creates Wood
  • Wood Creates Fire
  • Fire creates Earth

Another cycle, known as the destruction or control cycle, is ordered as follows:

  • Earth controls Water
  • Water controls Fire
  • Fire controls Metal
  • Metal controls Wood
  • Wood controls Earth

Go Dai

The Go Dai uses a slightly different set of elements (earth, water, fire, wind, void) to describe how the 10,000 things arise from out of the void. It is used for more metaphysical purposes, in order to understand creation. Neither is considered to be "true" in an absolute sense, but are merely devices for categorization and learning. Medical practitioners that rely too much on the go gyo will miss some of the finer points of organ theory, as it tends to oversimplify processes.

Body Correspondence

The Go Dai also corresponds to areas of the body in certain martial arts with mikkyo buddhist leanings. They are used interchangeably with the concept of chakras.

  • The legs and perineum correlate to the earth element, as well as stable, grounded postures.
  • The Pelvic girdle houses the water element, and is associated with adaptivity, receptivity,and neutralizing postures.
  • The Solar plexus houses the fire chakra, and is associated with intensity, activity and the lessons of humility.
  • The wind element is housed in the heart and shoulders. It deals with flight, vision, and the purification of desire. When activated, compassion results through empathy.

The void rests in the throat and head. There are actually three parts to this one, but they interrelate and are called collectively "entering the void" when activated.

  • The first part is the jade gate at the base of the brain. It is associated with the larynx, eloquence, and the limbic system that is the seat of the emotions.
  • The second level is the ajna or "third eye" in the brow. It is associated with creative vision, the powers of the 'imagination' and telepathy.
  • The third level relates to the pineal gland and higher brain function. Activating it leads to the development of one's 'halo' as the phosphenes are seen as white light emanating from the head of the practitioner when viewed by a clairvoyant. It transcends the personal and leads to realization of the interconnectedness of all things.