How The Four Ancient Elements
by Jason Augustus Newcomb
The four ancient elements, fire, water, air and earth continue to play an important role in the collective psyche of humankind, but sadly the concepts have largely moved into our subconscious minds in modern times. Western science has consciously abandoned the four ancient elements that were theorized by the ancient Greeks, but they still manage to make an appearance as the modern four states of matter, solids, liquids, gases and plasma. The four elements were never really conceived as physical things, but rather ideas or qualities of ideas. Fire represented the ideas of heat and dryness, and the quality of expansion, while water symbolized coldness and wetness, and the quality of contraction or shrinking. Air symbolized heat and wetness, and the quality of lightness, with earth representing coldness and dryness, and the quality of heaviness.
These four ideas recur throughout western and eastern thought. In yoga philosophy they are called tejas- fire, vayu- air, apas- water, prithivi- earth. In Taoism they are chen- fire, tui- water, sun- air, ken- earth. In the west they are intrinsic to much of our esoteric thought. The signs of astrology are tied to the elements: Fire- Aries, Leo, Sagittarius; Water- Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces; Air- Gemini, Libra, Aquarius; Earth- Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn. The four suits of the tarot represent the four elements as well: Fire- Wands, Water- Cups, Air- Swords, Earth- Pentacles. The elements are the seeds of the four winds, the cardinal directions and any ideas that naturally break down into "four-ness."
This is vitally important for us today because it is our ideas that create our identities and the ways in which we interact with the world. The four elements play significant roles in our psyches, forming our senses, the parts of our consciousness and our character. These four ideas symbolize patterns of energy that will transform your life if you let them. The element of earth can be seen as the animal needs of the human mind, the element of water the emotions, the element of air the intellect and the element of fire the will. The four elements conveniently separate our major negative emotions: Fire- Anger, Water- Sadness, Air- Fear, Earth- Depression.
Perhaps most importantly, the four elements correspond to tendencies in our personalities. In medieval Europe, these elemental personality types were called the four humors: Phlegmatic, Choleric, Melancholic, And Sanguine. They are a simple fourfold system for classifying character traits that will enable you to see which elements you favor in your own personality. By balancing these elemental tendencies, we can achieve a greater level of personal equilibrium and positive momentum in your life. As you look at the following sets of traits, you can see that you have certain Positive and Negative character tendencies that correspond to the elements:
Fire- Choleric: High Self Esteem, Egotistical, Vigorous, Irritable, Quick to Anger, Enthusiastic, Excitable, Monomaniacal, Courageous, Macho, Passionate, Obsessive, Jealous, Natural Leader, Domineering, Productive, Workaholic, Self Respecting, Snobbish, Creative, Original, Critical of Others' Work, Resourceful, Gluttonous, All-consuming.
Water- Melancholic: Self Aware, Low Self Esteem, Tranquil, Stagnant, Adaptive, Apathetic, Modest, Cowardly, Empathetic, Un-possessive, Jaded, Sexually Addicted, Devoted, Credulous, Follower, Reflective, Lazy, Authentic, Self-Doubting, Integrating, Imitative, Cooperative, Needy, Dependent
Air- Sanguine: Unconventional, Antisocial, Big Picture Oriented, Sloppy, slipshod, Flexible, Lacking Endurance, Lenient, Uncaring, Curious, Penetrating, Gossiping, Independent, Adventurous, Undependable, Casual, Fickle, Interpretive, Dishonest, Unpredictable, Flaky, Tardy, Intellectual, Stuck in Head
Earth- Phlegmatic: Respectable, Overly Conventional, Socially Superficial, Thorough in work, Detail-Oriented, Perfectionist, Stable, Restrictive, Tenacious, Stubborn, Cautious, Unable to Take Action, Reliable, Boring, Serious, Compulsive, Objective, Uncreative, Punctual, Predictable, Practical, Mentally Dull
Please go ahead and circle all of the character traits that apply to your personality above. Count how many you have from each category and write the number next to each element. You will probably notice that you have quite a few more qualities of one or two elements. Ideally, you should have a balance of qualities, tending toward the positive rather than the negative qualities of the elements. Now, using the four elements as experiential models can greatly empower us to swiftly make changes in these areas. By drawing the elements into ourselves, we can draw new traits into our consciousness, creating greater choice and exciting new possibilities.
To begin with you’ll need to form some vivid impressions of the elements in your mind. The easiest way to do this is simply to expose yourself to the elements in their primitive forms. Put your hands into dirt, feeling the coolness, heaviness and solidity of the ancient earth element. Take a bath or visit a stream to feel the flowing wetness of water. Feel the breeze blowing on your skin and get in touch with the changeability and lightness of air. Turn on your stove or make a campfire and connect with the heat and power of fire. By doing this, you will get closer to an archetypal understanding of these concepts, and you will be able to form them more vividly in your mind.
Now that you are familiar with the elements you can start to balance out some of the elements in your personality. There is a specific New Hermetics Tool, designed for this, but you can also simply approach the matter like this. Let's say that you are currently more of an earthy personality. You tend to be practical, stable, and thorough, but also a little boring and a bit of a perfectionist. And let's say that you would like to be more adventurous, flexible or lenient.
To balance this out all that you would need to do is imagine your body filling with the air element. Simply visualize and feel your whole body becoming lighter and filling up with the whirling energy of air. As you are doing this, imagine that the air carries the character trait that you desire. See it, feel it, hear it vividly inside you.
Move your body the way it would move if you had this quality. Feel it and experience it inside you. Let it find a home there. Then let the imagined element dissolve into the rest of your being. Let yourself experience this new trait as a part of you. Imagine yourself vividly using this new quality in the near future. You may want to repeat this a few times and you will discover that you have expanded your possibilities permanently in this new direction. The process is exactly the same for all the elements and qualities.
If you want to rid yourself of a negative trait, imagine the appropriate element carrying it away, or you can imagine the opposite element extinguishing it Fire is the opposite of water, and Air the opposite of earth. If you are feeling watery sadness, you could imagine fire entering, drying up all the water and filling you instead with fiery passion. Your imagination is the only limit to what you can do with the elements. From now on all four elements will offer you new possibilities for expanding your life beautifully toward your dreams.