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The Four Elements

In ancient times, scientists and philosophers divided matter into four basic elements: EARTH, WATER, FIRE, AIR . It has been said that these elements are the building blocks of life.

Four Elements

According to the Empedocles, a Greek philosopher/scientist and herbal magician/healer who lived in Sicily in the fifth century B.C., all matter is comprised of four "roots" or elements of earth, air, fire and water.

Fire and air are outwardly reaching elements, reaching up and out, whereas earth and water turn inward and downward. He defined these elements, or "roots," as not only physical substances, but also as "spiritual essences." He even assigned gods and goddesses to these energies:


  • Air = Zeus
  • Fire = Hades
  • Water = Nestis (also called Persephone)
  • Earth = Hera

Most philosophers and alchemists also believed that the four elements exhibited itself in man as four varying natures and that one was more prevalent in an individual than the other three.


  • Air= thinking
  • Fire = intuiting
  • Water = feeling
  • Earth = sensing

The physician Hippocrates subscribed to the idea of four personality types. But, rather than considering them to be "roots" or elements, he viewed them as bodily fluids or humors.


  • Air = yellow bile (irritable, changeable)
  • Fire = his conceptualization of blood (active, enthusiastic),
  • Water = black bile (sad, brooding)
  • Earth = phlegm (apathetic and sluggish)

As further developed in his Metaphysics, Aristotle assigned properties of hotness and coldness to the elements:

  • Air = hot/moist
  • Fire = hot/dry
  • Water = cool/moist
  • Earth = cool/dry

Aristotle explained that moistness is the quality of flexibility and fluidity, which allows a thing to adapt to its external conditions. Dryness is the quality of rigidity, which allows a thing to define its own shape and bounds. As a consequence, moist things tend to be volatile and expansive, since they can fill spaces in their surroundings, whereas Dry things are fixed and structured, since they define their own form.

Mystics throughout the ages have recognized these elements as four spiritual modes of being. Air, Fire, Water and Earth are also represented by the four suits of the Tarot:

  • Air = Swords
  • Fire = Wands
  • Warer = Cups
  • Earth = Pentacles


You will also find these elements in astrology:

  • Air Signs = Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
  • Fire Signs = Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
  • Water Signs = Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
  • Earth Signs = Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn

In some other cultures, however, five elements were the standard. In China, Pinyin Wu Xing proclaimed the five basic components as: earth, wood, metal, fire, and water, while in India, Ishvarakrsna (c. 3rd century AD), stated the five gross elements as: space, air, fire, water, and earth.

For this purpose, we shall stick with the western standard of four basic elements. The idea is that nature and the Self are equal.


The four seasons of a year can be compared to the four stages of life: birth, growth, maturity and death. We can utilize the four elements as dimensions of psychic and spiritual growth. The natural way would be to strive to achieve an equal proportion of each. Understanding the psychic energies of these elements can help us balance our lives and experience greater harmony. If you know which elements to call upon and how to connect with them, you can manage whatever life throws your way much more easily.


  • Season - Spring
  • Time of Day - Dawn
  • Direction - East
  • Color - Yellow

As you think or communicate, you are drawing on the element of Air. Our connections with others are formed through Air and Air is the most elusive of all the elements. It is uncontainable, unseen, and changeable. Whenever you seek insight, discover a new idea, change your mind, clarify a vision, develop a plan or concentrate on your breathing, you are becoming Air. Air is intellect, truth and wisdom. If you have difficulty making decisions, taking action, understanding or being understood, Air can help you.

To awaken your connection to the Air element, open your windows and clear the air around you by burning some incense or smudging your home with sage. Play music that inspires or go outside and feel the wind on your face. Its flexibility makes it unstoppable. Singing or whistling and dancing are all Air activities. Crystal singing bowls and tuning forks are useful tools for invoking Air energy.


  • Season - Summer
  • Time of Day - Noon
  • Direction - South
  • Color - Red

Fire is desire. It is dynamic, passionate, bold, enthusiastic, active and hopeful. It is the life principle, providing heat and light. It is the element of Spirit: charming, flamboyant and inspirational. It is transformational. If you want to improve your sense of humor or build courage, confidence, or motivation, look to Fire.

To open up to the power of Fire within you, you can light a candle and see what the living flame has to show you. Watch a sunset and take in the brilliance of this vital element. Try dancing around a campfire and watch the way the fire dances with you. Let the heat of the Fire penetrate and warm your soul. Competitive sports and games are also good ways to stimulate the spark of Fire in your life. Do something spontaneous; set life goals. Complete a task you've been meaning to finish. Learn to trust your intuition. Listen to a motivational tape or energize yourself with affirmations.


  • Season - Autumn
  • Time of Day - Dusk/sunset
  • Direction - West
  • Color - Blue

Water is the most psychic of all the elements. And serenity is a result of Water's presence in our lives. It cleanses, nourishes and reflects. It is passive and malleable, taking on the shape of whatever contains it. The Holy Grail is associated with Water, the original Primordial Chaos. Water rules the emotions and subconscious. If you have prophetic dreams, you are using the element of Water. If you are lonely, depressed, overwhelmed or having trouble opening your heart, let Water clear the way for you.

To get water flowing in your life, the easiest, most accessible tool is the bathtub. Add essential oils or milk and honey to cleanse and nurture your inner self. Drink pure water to purify your body. Taking a walk in the rain. Throw a stone into a lake or a pond and watch the endless ripples. Note its beauty and fluidity. Feeling compassion, shedding tears and giving to charity are the workings of this gentle element. Scrying bowls and table fountains are easy ways to get more Water into your life. Read poetry to get a feel for Water's subtle, soothing properties.


  • Season - Winter
  • Time of Day - Midnight
  • Direction - North
  • Color - Green

When you eat, exercise or save money, you are interacting with the Earth element. Stability is Earth's unique gift. Seeing, smelling, tasting and touching are functions of Earth. Earth is solid, rich, strong and dependable. It is the foundation for all the other elements. It represents commitment, permanence, form, facts and law, practicality and consequence. Earth is about getting results. Poverty, insecurity, safety issues, obsessions and a sense of being "weak-willed"or incapable can all be resolved with earth.

If you would like to strengthen your connection to Earth, put your bare feet on the ground. Walk, run, jump. Let the immovable nature of the Earth element support you. You could also plant a garden or grow houseplants. Root foods such as potatoes, carrots, beets and turnips are known as "grounding" foods that can increase your personal Earth energy. Learn to respect and accept yourself. Work with your hands. Place stones or a dish of sea salt on your altar, or wear a hematite pendant, to represent the Earth in your spiritual workings. Strive to be at home in your body.

Integrate Elements Into Your Life
Decide which elements you are lacking and integrate them into your life. Let the elements of nature bring you into closer contact with your True Self. As you grow on each of these levels, you will experience greater and greater joy. Don't let yourself get too much of one element. Too much air can make you spacey. Too much fire can cause burn-out. Too much water can make you "wishy-washy." And too much earth can make you rigid. Keep your personal elements balanced and your life will reflect that balance back to you by giving you all that you need, on every level.

According to many mystics and transpersonal psychologists today, individual psychological and spiritual development is indeed related to the presence of and relationship between the elements within the psyche. When two opposing elements encounter each other, they may neutralize each other, or according to alchemy and Jungian thought, lead to the Conjunction of Opposites, a form of higher unity and transcendence of polarities.

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