Elementary, My Dear
In all cultures there are at least four basic Elements—the folklore version of the building blocks of material existence. The four basic elements are Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. In some cultures, Metal, Wood and Stone are added. In general, Western- European culture lists four Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. Eastern-Asian cultures often have five Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Metal. When we hear the word “Elementary” (as used by the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels), we tend to think that “elementary” must mean “easy.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Elementary physics, for example, is still very complex and difficult to understand, yet one must master it to move to the even more difficult levels of physics! Indeed, the information offered for learning in Elementary grades is not easy for young minds both to retain and understand, yet it must be mastered for later grades’ information to be understood. In essence, then, it would be best to think of “elementary” as equivalent to “basic,” and to realize that “basic” may not be simple or easy at all! So, while these folklore “elements” are considered basic to early people’s view of how their world functioned, there are complex scientific truths to be found in the cultural symbolism attached to the Elements and people (both non-magic and magic) believed one needed to grasp this understanding before moving to a higher level of personal consciousness and, especially, magical achievement.
The Element of Air
The element of Fire is represented by and symbolizes Anger, Blood, War, Love, and it can represent Change as in Death and Destruction, and Birth and Creation. In folklore, Fire is often portrayed negatively as destructive; even an overabundance of Love (seen as Passion) can cause a human being’s downfall. However, in some cultures, Fire is revered for its cleansing and purifying properties. And, we do know that someone who has a “passion”—a fire—for something usually achieves a lot more in life than someone who finds life dull! The Good powers/properties of Fire are fuel, rebirth (seeds in the forest which will only sprout after intense heat and the Phoenix), nourishment (cooks food to make it safe), sanitization, etc. Thus, we see Growth, Cleanliness, Healing, etc. The Evil powers/properties are seen in volcanoes, lava, burning, even doing illegal drugs and cigarettes, etc., and a destructive jealousy, or consuming passion (envy, greed, etc.). Here we see Destruction, Burning and Pain, even some religions’ concept of Hell. The South is the direction most often associated with the Element of Fire; however, Fire may occur in all directions and conditions (even underwater and in anaerobic—no oxygen--conditions).
The representative colors for Fire are reds, oranges, sometimes yellow and deep blue—the least hot and almost the hottest of the flame colors, respectively-- and even black (the final stage of destruction). Occasionally, we hear the term “white hot flame,” which is actually the hottest of the Fire element, but rarely achieved. This “color,” however, represents the purifying level of Fire.
Magical, and other, creatures representing Fire are the salamander, the Phoenix, some Dragons, fire ants, and many stinging insects. Notice that many of these are Air creatures as well. Hephaestus and Ares, Mars and Vulcan were all names of gods associated in the Greek and Roman cultures with Fire. Other cultures and religions have gods and goddesses who are linked with this element. However, it is important to note that many cultures have legends that say Fire was an element that was secretly, and in defiance of a head god, brought to humanity by a member of the gods (and the bringer was usually punished for this transgression). This was because the gods feared that the possession of Fire would allow humanity to become more godlike and powerful in their control over their environment and, ultimately, given the other three elements, ensure their survival.
The Element of Water
We have already seen that Air and Water are elements that have “double identities.” The Water element is also dual: nurturing and creation vs. erosion and destruction. It is necessary, like Air, for human survival. It is a universal symbol of Cleansing and Birth (Baptism, etc.). On the positive (Good) side, there are buoyancy, soothing, life-giving, thirst-quenching, nourishment (fish and other aquatic food sources), and cleansing powers, etc. Indeed, the Good powers of water all concern Life, Birth or Rebirth, and Healing properties/powers. On the other hand, the negative (Evil) properties/powers are seen in stormy weather (rain, sleet, snow, etc.), ice, whirlpools, riptides, flooding, undertows, etc. In this side of Water, we see Death and Destruction.
Magical beings associated with Water are the Merpeople, Octopi, Squid, Sharks, Sea serpents, Whales and Dolphins (although they are also creatures of Air), Basilisks (also of the Earth), and other aquatic beings/and creatures. Naiads and river sprites exercise watery powers.
Colors associated with Water included the Blues, Greens, and their Aqua combinations, White, the Rainbow colors, and Black (deepest depths of Water).
The Directions most associated with Water seems to be North (tons of frozen water), and East or West because of the larger oceans; indeed, the Element of Water can occur in ALL of the Directions and its powers might be influenced by the Direction with which it associates.
The Element of Earth
The Element of Metal
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