One of the most important basic paradigms of western mysticism and metaphysics is the law of four elements. It is a very ancient and important belief that spans across almost every known era of European history except our current.The reason of this is caused not only by its ties with things which the scientific era getting rid of all philosophies tied up with mystical practices, as they were seen as unscientific and superstitious, but also because of a common misconception caused by a new slant on an old word, Element. As current society sees this word, it is meant to mean one of a set group of base chemicals that make up our reality. Science, hearing this claim that their complex table of elements could be simplified down to 4 simple elements saw this idea as ridiculous, which of course it is. Especially when they are thought of as such simplified, endlessly general and elementary elements as earth, fire, air, and water. It is obvious that these things are not even elements in the traditional sense of the word. Yet herein lies the problem.
When looked up in a dictionary the first two definitions of the word appear as "A fundamental, essential, or irreducible constituent of a composite entity" and "The basic assumptions or principles of a subject." Not until the fourth do the elements as known in basic chemistry come to play. In truth, what was meant by the ancient mystics by these elements where philosophical ideals (or 'archetypes' if you will) of the four pieces which all fully existing entities in the universe must be made up of. The reason for the names as such was to help in explanation of the nature of these constructs, as these where the best physical representations of the ideas they could find. These principles truly only stand for ideas of potential and kinetic energy (masculine and feminine, if you will), along with the principles of subjectivity and objectivity. Thus leaving us with: Subjective Kinetic Energy (fire), Objective Kinetic Energy (air), Objective Potential Energy(earth), Subjective Potential Energy
Subjective Kinetic Energy(Fire)
An important point in eastern metaphysics, is that all things are based on at their core as on a 'belief' of some sort. That there is something that all things are impelled to do. Whether that is for a plant to grow, or an atom to move, to a human to find meaning or a rock to just stay motionless. All things are based in their own subjective will based on some sort of construct of what they feel inherently they are 'supposed' to be doing. The magic of this process is that most things upon this planet are so completely engrossed by the belief which fills them, that they are unaware that it even exists. Even so much to the fact that they do not realize that they exist. Although my understanding of biology is lacking, it seems to me only higher mammals and possibly birds have enough brain capacity to understand that they are more than the sum of their own beliefs. Yet it is only humans that are given the power over there own belief, that can decide of their own accord what it is that they believe. Even so, human beings can be just as much a slave to their particular belief patterns as the lowliest beast because of its powerful strength. So you can see why the ancient mystics and philosophers put to this element of life, the power of fire. For our beliefs inside us, are like a fire burning, they enflame us with purpose and meaning, and our beliefs move us into instantaneous action. Yet a fire can be used for good or for ill. A fire can be used to heat an entire household. Subtler and more complicated types of 'fire' can be used to run an entire city. Yet an uncontrolled fire can destroy an entire countryside. Likewise an un-kept chemical fire could destroy the very city it had once run in its entirety. So it is with our belief. For the other important aspect of fire in metaphysical terms is will. That which you believe fully, you enact without thought. For you believe its truth so much, taking action upon it is second nature.
Fire is also known to some as dry heat. To continue to exist it must pull the very moisture from the air and send it to the heavens. Likewise it must build upon a willing fuel source for without it a fire will rapidly dissappear. So is the same with out beliefs, if there is nothing which proves our beliefs to ourselves, it becomes more and more difficult to believe them. So in order to continue our beliefs, we must bend reality to suit our own beliefs. And so it is the constant search of a sentient will to bring its beliefs into manifestation, as a failure would end in a dissipation of its beliefs, thereby falling to an evaporation of the beings purpose. So a will must be ever vigilant, yet careful, for it totters the edge between destruction and evaporation.
For these reasons, it is obvious a sister element is needed to temper the fiery motions of belief and will. For a pure and unadulterated belief (which as we will soon see, is impossible except as some sort of platonic form) has absolutely no connection with reality, which of course means that in its unadulterated form it has more chance of getting snuffed out or causing massive damage than hitting its mark of manifesting in actual reality.
Objective Kinetic Energy(Air)
As was said in the last article, belief in itself is wholly unconnected from the source, which is the rest of existence. Yet for an entity to actually bring its will into manifestation, it must consider the wills of others who have been brought into manifestation. In a sense, it must reach out to grander wills beliefs, so that it may understand how to will its own beliefs. In fact it would be wisest if it looked at an array of different beliefs, and tried to find the universal ties between them all. Rationalization is the nature of an entity which moves to understand the process of another's 'beliefs'. Thereby drawing links between the beliefs of itself, along with the beliefs of that which it observes and taken further to make links between itself and all of creation. Air is unique in that only few species on the planet have evolved far enough to use it. Ourselves being the only species in which it has come to fruition within. Yet its tracks can be seen everywhere. For laws are abound in everything we see. From the highest echelons of math, to the greatest sonatas of mozart to the behavioral patterns seen in cognitive psychology, all of these 'beliefs' which move entities seem to following similar rules much of the time. Although always there is room left for those which rebel.
Air as a physical part of reality invades all things. It hides itself at the deepest recesses of the deepest caves and floats about among the most ancient of ruins. There is not a place that air has not seeped at least somewhat into. Yet at the same time, it flits and spurts, and it moves around with no true connection with anything except to continue to move along in flows with itself. Of the physical manifestations these philosophical ideas it is the most etheric. Without that which it carries with it, and its motion, it would be as nonexistent to our senses. It would exist ironically only as one of the abstract thoughts which those ancient people felt its existence best explained. For one can see how thoughts and rationale move between people like cold and warm fronts blowing to and fro. How a small wind may pick up, only to grow into such a powerful gust that it may topple all that surrounds. especially how air is always there to help move that which needs to be moved, bring new life and life giving water to our planet as well. Much of this can be attributed to motions of this ghost of rationality that we as human beings chase so far after. How an idea may pass clear across time and country nonchalantly. Only to stop in on someone whose beliefs need only that. Or how one idea can move slowly through a populace until it starts gains such explosive power that a revolution may happen. Yet it still must serve its ultimate purpose, in being that for each person, it must be a search for what is true on the whole, so that one may find the place and mechanisms that his will may be manifested within it.
Potential Subjective Energy(Water)
When someone takes action, there must always be a reaction to balance at the action taken. So is made the response of potential subjective. It is that within each entity that responds to its surroundings. For in a way, we are all only products of our environment. We must move towards that which gives us pleasure, while we must escape from that which gives us fear. There is no way to escape this, for the only reason one would move towards a fear, was either to escape from a stronger fear, or reach for a greater pleasure. So it is that the universe pulls each entity from place to place, having those which feel safe in one place constantly pulled only to it or places like it. We each have our own subjective natures, which makes each one of us react to outside stimuli in a different way. Yet most have discovered that the abstract principle that runs abstract natures is negative things are bad, and positive things are good. Yet when one enters the realm of reflection upon their own subjective motivations. Usually what is found is handfuls of paradoxes, answers that don't makes sense, and points where trails fade off into oblivion. The reason for this is our own subjective natures are constantly changing based on the almost infinite different stimuli that are facing us at any given moment. Most of which cannot even be put into words, such as how your feet feel against your shoes, or the grand total of subjective feelings gained from your childhood interactions with your parents, or your musical interests of the last few days. All of these things are added up to make up your current mood, which is really just an amalgam of all these things connected into one entity. Curious, happy, sad, intrigued, bored, excited, anxious, loving and apathetic are all words that every person can explain up to a point, but at a certain place, words can no longer explain it, they just are. Emotions are the place where everything meets up underneath your mind to make a game plan to input into your beliefs. These things come to you through your subjective reaction to them, which is known as a feeling, which... as well as words can put it, is inherently unexplainable.
Certainly one can see how water is the perfect philosophical counterpart for such an aspect of energy. it is completely reflective, always takes something with it from everything it encounters. Also it is responsive to anything that enters into it, allowing it deep within, and allowing its cleansing, freeing and life giving gift to all. It is also the only element which can change form to reach all other elements (except fire). Yet it is still because it is made to respond to other things in the area. Yet for all its receptivity, it has a dangerous side, if it is held back, or sent in dangerous directions, it is one of the most powerful forces known to man. It destroys all in its path. The analogy can be made to denial and to debauchery respectively, that either path could claim destruction if followed to far, as all elements, it walks the dangerous line of stagnation and destruction on the edge of chaos. As for subjective kinetic energy, there must be a guiding force in which to control the power which is water, from seeping to deeply into place which it is wont to go, or from raging uncontrollably beyond its better limits.
Objective Potential Energy(Earth)
The final of the great energies explained is the most obvious of the four and the most prevalent of energies sought after today. It is the lowest of the energies, as it makes up all that we can see. Earth is the other three elements solidified. for when an entity holds belief, rational, and emotional content within itself, in a way it becomes completely whole. Thus allowing it work within an actual terrestrial plane. Earth is the actual manifestation of phenomena, it is what happens when we test a hypothesis, and everything that can exist must have a form of 'earth'. Although this is the most obvious of the elements, there are still some interesting ideas that can be thought of when on the subject. Many in our specific time frame see things in only a physical cause and effect sense. Although what this system shows is that cause and effect reach much deeper than just a physical plain. That true cause and effect must be seen for more than just what is seen in the realm of calculus, or economics, for each issue is inherently rational, as well as emotional and spiritual.
It is important that one try to grasp what and where the lines and the blurs of these four elements exist, for understanding these shall give a much fuller understanding of almost all of the different details of the systems involved in western metaphysics. A few more examples of different delineations of the elements, depending on different out looks are as follows (in fire, water, wind, earth order): Spirit, Soul, Mind, Body; Super-ego, Id, Ego, Body.
One of the things that has bothered me for long times is the idea of ordering the elements. Yet it seems that each begin from the other, where it becomes an issue that you cannot have one without the preexistance the other, and it becomes a chicken and the egg fiasco. Although there are two major systems of ordering I have stumbled upon. That of astrology, and that of Kabbalah. The switch is a simple one of the feminine, or potential energies of water and earth. Astrology purports that first you must believe something, then you must what is actually there, then you can examine the possibilities, and finally you feel the effects. Kabbalah on the other hand Say that first you have will, then expression of the wills of others, a balance of all things, and finally a full manifestation. The problem with these issues is that none of it is true unless you believe it be (which does indeed hold the case of fire being the first element) but there is even a case for wind being the first element, in the sense of the great vacuum of space that exists before belief.