THE FOUR ELEMENTS
“Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgement wage war against your passion and your appetite.
Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul
that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of
your elements into oneness and melody.
But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the
peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements?”
Kahlil Gibran, ‘The Prophet’
A small group of us developed an interest in discovering more about the four elements of earth, fire, air, and water.
Our journey led us back to 450 BC in Ancient Greece, where discoveries in philosophy, science, medicine, and astrology paved a way forward for future generations.
We read together chapters from the book, 'The Four Elements' by Margaret Gullan Whur. It became a fascinating source of knowledge for us, bringing a new-found appreciation and awareness of the four elements.
“I realised that everything is interrelated, interconnected and undergoing a constant change. Also, the idea of scale came to life. How small we are compared to the manifestations of the elements around us: the earth element in the form of mountains, rocks, and deserts; water in the form of oceans, seas, rains; air in the form of winds bringing weather changes over large regions or storms; or fire in the form of lightning in the sky, molten lava in the volcanoes or forest fires.”
The four elements with scenes from the Creation beyond by Hendrick de Clerck and Denis van Alsloot (1608) Hendrick de Clerck, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The study of the four elements brought up many questions for us, such as:
How do I understand the elements in and around me?
Am I elementally balanced? How does this relate to my habits and tendencies?
What role do the elements play in how I experience my life?
This area of study brought things to light for us in terms of seeing how we are, what our traits are and what elements they relate to.
We recognised that each of us resonated with different elements and that one or two elements were strongest in us, which can lead to an imbalance. It was an incredibly interesting study and also helped us look more keenly into our inner world.
Alchemic approach to four humors in relation to the four elements and zodiacal signs - Quinta Essentia (Thurneisse), Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
We became particularly interested in Jung’s understanding of the elements, which was inspired by many ancient cultures, from which he used their elemental principles in formulating his psychological types.
He recognised that difficulties could arise from the lack of attunement to an element and a subsequent imbalance. This was recognised in ourselves and helped us to see our own elemental natures.
Chaos: The Untangling of Chaos, or the Creation of the Elements - Hendrick Goltzius (1589), Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
“On a personal level, I began to notice more the element of fire, as anger in me, as it flared up and consumed my energy quickly, leaving me feeling burnt out afterwards.”
“I have been fascinated to learn how civilisations have understood, valued and interacted with the four elements throughout history and how much they are a part of us and our world. I began to notice each element more in my surroundings – in nature and in myself and saw more clearly which elements are more dominant and which I feel are weaker in me.”
The Four Elements - Giussepe Arcimboldo (1566), Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Outside of the human body, we learned how elements are also all around us. They are in the seasons; life cycles; the senses; the zodiac; planets and astrology. They are part of the whole universe and creation.
“The presence of the elements can be felt in our daily lives, for example we need fire to cook food, to give us light, to keep ourselves warm; water - to drink, wash, clean, keep plants alive; earth – giving us ground and a solid foundation to our houses, vessels to cook and store our food, and finally air, to dry our clothes and of course to breathe.”
The Five Senses and the Four Elements - Jacques Linard (1627), Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
“I understand more deeply that the four elements are all equally valuable and was struck by the truth that on their own, they can only be a quarter of the truth.”
This idea of balance and wholeness echoes the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff who stressed the importance of unity and oneness. He said that a study of the world and its cosmic laws can assist with a study of oneself and the laws within and vice versa:
“Everything in the universe is one, the difference is only of scale; in the infinitely small we shall find the same laws as in the infinitely great.
As above, so below.”
“We have in us the sun, the moon, and the planets, only on a very small scale.”