The Five Elements

The Five Elements

The fundamental principles of matter

The Building Blocks

The Elements are the building blocks of the words (or thoughts) of the creator – the Mental Universe.

The Elements are spiritual essences and originate in the higher realm Above. As such, they represent perfect images or cosmic ideals. In the Hermetic teachings, the Four Elements result from the materialization of light or imagery within the divine One Mind of the universe.

Fire and Air are expansive outwardly reaching constants of nature, reaching up and out, whereas Earth and Water are contractive and turn inward and downward.
Fire and Air are considered active, masculine Elements. Whereas Water and Earth are considered passive, feminine Elements.

The idea of The Fifth Element of Ether was introduced by Aristotle, who said it is what the heavens are made of. But more details on the additions of Aristotle to the Alchemical understanding of The Elements below. 

Working with The Elements

Working with The Elements in your spiritual practice can be extremely powerful. Moreover, the applications are plentiful and it is only your imagination setting the limits here. For instance, you can work with the Element of Air as you smudge and cleanse your living space, body or ceremonial area. You can use Fire rituals to let go of things that does not serve you. You can work with Water to transmute emotional issues. And finally, you can use Earth for manifestation rituals.

I believe the beach is so very powerful because we have all The Four Elements represented. Air = the wind. Fire = the sun. Water = the ocean. Earth = the sand…and the salt. And with our own presence the Fifth Element of Ether is represented. So we get all balanced out, recharged, energized and can let all The Elements take away what does not serve anymore. Each in their own way, but simultaneously working in conjunction.

Below is an overview of what each of The Elements represent and govern. 

The Element of Air

The Element of Air

Function:  Thinking
Action:  Inspires
Operation:  Active
Polarity:  Masculine
Direction:  East
Color:  Yellow / Blue

General areas of influence:
• increasing education and learning
• improving memory
• enhancing the intellect
• improving communication
• encouraging travel
• inspiring writing
• developing new theories
• organizing your things
• assigned to the higher realms

The Element of Fire

The Element of Fire

Function:  Intuition
Action:  Energizes
Operation:  Active
Polarity:  Masculine
Direction:  South
Color:  Red / Orange

General areas of influence:
• inspiring passion
• promoting inspiration
• obtaining and improving sex
• creating sexual love
• enhancing creativity
• developing strength
• developing courage
• strengthening the willpower
• improving soul connection

The Element of Water

The Element of Water

Function:  Feeling
Action:  Calms
Operation:  Passive
Polarity:  Feminine
Direction:  West
Color: Blue

General areas of influence:
• creating friendships
• attracting and understanding love
• increasing tranquility
• improving emotional and spiritual healing
• calming and changing emotions
• promoting needed rest
• improving understanding
• improving intuition
• increasing compassion

The Element of Earth

The Element of Earth

Function:  Sensation
Action:  Manifests
Operation: Passive
Polarity:  Feminine
Direction:  North
Color:  Green / Brown

General areas of influence:
• attracting money
• obtaining jobs & promotions
• improving investments and business
• constructing buildings and plans
• improving physical health
• increasing endurance
• improving growth and stability
• improving physical appearance and strength
• understanding and making peace with materialism

The Element of Ether

The Element of Ether

Function:  Transcendence
Action:  Vibrates
Operation:  Active
Polarity:  Unified
Direction:  All
Color:  Purple / Black

General areas of influence:
• represents the One Mind of the Mental Universe
• the spiritual Life Force
• the spirit of breath – Prana/Chi/Kundalini
• our inner essence
• lack of resistance is key
• the Quintessence of our spirit
• the spiritual Life Force that animates our existence
• a transcendence of the polarity of existence
• promoting unity

The Square of Opposition

According to Aristotle, the Four Elements are combinations of two sets of opposing qualities of hot and cold, wet and dry.
Water is cold and wet; Earth is cold and dry; Air is hot and wet; and Fire is hot and dry. Wet, or moistness, is the quality of fluidity or flexibility, which allows a thing to adapt to its external conditions; whereas dry, or dryness, is the quality of rigidity, which allows a thing to define its own shape and bounds.

As a consequence, wet things tend to be volatile and expansive, because they can fill spaces in their surroundings. Dry things are fixed and structured, because they define their own form. When an Element is out of its natural place, it has an innate tendency to return to its level. Thus bodies sink in water; air bubbles up; rain falls; and flames rise.

Earth is predominantly Dry, Water predominantly Cool, Air predominantly Moist, and Fire predominantly Warm. The dominant Power is the one in a counterclockwise direction from the Element in the Square of Opposition; thus the arrow by each Element points to its dominant Power. The vertical axis represents the active Qualities (Warm, Cool), the horizontal represents the passive (Moist, Dry).

 The upper Elements (Air, Fire) are active, light and ascending, the lower (Water, Earth) are passive, heavy and descending. The Elements on the right are pure, extreme and absolutely light (Fire) or heavy (Earth); those on the left are mixed, intermediate and relatively light (Air) or heavy (Water).

According to Aristotle’s theory each element can be transformed into another element through the quality they possess in common. In this way Fire can become Air through the action of heat; Air can become Water through the action of moistness; Water can become Earth through the action of coldness; and Earth can become Fire through the action of dryness.

Similarly, to the comparison between The First Matter in Western Alchemy and the principle of Yin-Yang in Eastern tradition. We can also find many similarities in the alchemical understanding of the Five Elements and their properties in the Square of Opposition, and the understanding of the Five Elements found in the tradition of Ayurveda. 

Further Your Understanding

Learn what The Seven Planets of Alchemy and their associated metals represent and govern.