The ancient Greeks believed that the world was made up of four elements. The idea that earth, fire, air and water made up all matter was the cornerstone of their philosophy, science and medicine for nearly two thousand years. However, in ancient China there are said to be five elements – earth, fire, metal, water and wood, each with its own symbolic creature or elemental. Earth is represented by a yellow phoenix: fire by a red pheasant; metal by a white tiger and water by a black turtle. Wood is usually represented by a green dragon.
In the world of fantasy these elements are sometimes used to assist in both magic and witchcraft. However, did you know that even today there are those who live ‘in the real world’ that still use the four elements on a day to day basis?
Long before history was written there has been an understanding of the elemental balance. Many indigenous traditions honour the sacred circle, formed by the four elements, and seen in the Zodiacal wheel.Western astrology uses the four elements in connection with astrological charts and horoscopes.
The twelve signs of the zodiac are divided into the four elements:
Fire: Aries, Leo and Sagittarius
Earth: Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn
Air: Gemini, Libra and Aquarius
Water: Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces
In recorded history, Ptolemy is credited with making the association between the four elements and the signs of astrology in the 2nd Century AD. Using longstanding theories of the four elements, he assigned three signs to each element. However, the use of the classical elements doesn’t stop there. If you look at divinatory tarot, the suit of cups, sword baton/wands, and discs/coins are said to correspond to water, air, fire, and earth respectively.
Fire signs: the spirit, inspired, energy, instinctual, outgoing, active
Air signs: the mind, intellectual, ideas, detached, social, conceptual
Water signs: the emotions, imaginative, nurturing, introverted
Earth Signs: the body, practical, sensual, grounded
The tarot believes your life can be determined by the four elements …
Ace of Wands is the creative energy; a new project or creative endeavour; a passionate union; a new start; willpower; drive and ambition.
Ace of Cups is love in its purest sense; connection to the divine source; intuition; feelings and emotions; mind, body and spirit in union; abundance.
Ace of Swords represents the creative idea; the sword of truth; gaining clarity; a brilliant idea; justice; mental strength.
Ace of Pentacles represents the beginning stages of something tangible; prosperity; growth; material abundance; new enterprise; improving finances or wealth; a solid fruitful foundation.
The different weighting of the elements is also claimed to be detectable in people. We intuitively sense which element most shapes and influences us. Some people are drawn to water, such as sailing or diving whilst others love gardening, or simply find pleasure in having dirt beneath their finger nails. It’s how we find peace within ourselves. There are those who are drawn to fire and others simply feel at their best whilst enjoying the great outdoors. Everyone has a choice in which to develop the power of the elements and which qualities will help them throughout their lives. The power of the four elements can enrich your lives but can be as complex as the solar system.
Elementals in Books and Films:
Sinners of Magic by Lynette Creswell
The Tears of the Salamander by Peter Dickinson
The Ragwitch by Garth Nix
Fantasia (film) Walt Disney