The Four Elements – a Brief Overview
The scientists and philosophers of Ancient Greece, such as Aristotle, thought that the physical world consisted only of four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. However, when we speak of Earth, Air, Fire and Water within the context of magic or modern paganism, we are not referring to the chemical elements now recognised by modern science, of which there are over a hundred. What we are referring to are four particular qualities. To fully understand what these qualities are, we need to approach them symbolically.
For example, the element of Earth governs the way we connect to the world at its most basic and mundane level. Earth relates to physical stability. The element of Air, on the other hand, governs how we relate to the world intellectually. In other words, it refers to our thoughts, ideas and mental processes. The element of Fire governs the way we respond to the world in an active way; it symbolises passion, energy and action. The element of Water governs our emotions and relates to how we respond emotionally and empathically to the world beyond the narrow confines of our own ego. The Four Elements, as we all know, are also fundamental to most pagan ritual practise – although not all traditions observe the same correspondences.
In addition to that, anyone on a spiritual path and a quest for personal understanding must acknowledge the importance of the Four Elements. This is why astrology is vital, because it enables you to discover which element is the most dominant in your own personality. If you are a Taurus, Virgo, or Capricorn, then the Element of Earth governs you. If you are a Gemini, a Libran, or an Aquarius, then the Element of Air governs you. If you are an Aries, Leo, or Sagittarius, then your dominant Element is Fire. Finally, if you are a Pisces, Cancer, or Scorpio, then your dominant Element is Water. It is important to note that none of the Elements exist in isolation. Everyone, to a greater or lesser extent, comes under the influence of the three remaining Elements. We also need to recognise that some Elements are fundamentally incompatible with others, which all adds to how complex and problematic life can be.
This means that the potential for conflict can arise – not just within ourselves, but also when dealing with the personalities of others governed by different Elements. For example, the Earth Element is contrary to the Air Element, and vice versa. The Fire Element is contrary to the Water Element, and vice versa. To further complicate the issue, the twelve signs of the Zodiac are also classified into three groups: Cardinal, Mutable, and Fixed. Each of these three classes greatly modifies the influence of all Four Elements. The subject is vast, because these Four Elements are fundamentally woven into all our lives and also woven into the Natural World as a whole.
For example, the four Elements are often reflected in popular culture. The success of the 1960s Star Trek series undoubtedly was partly to do with how its four main characters interacted. Captain Kirk was decisive and passionate, and therefore represented the Fire Element. Mr Spock was entirely logical and rational and represented the Air Element. Dr McCoy was the caring and sensitive medic and represented the Water Element. Last, but not least of the quartet, was Scotty the Chief Engineer, the “nuts & bolts” expert who dealt with the physicality of mechanics, which is why he represented the Earth Element.