The ancients, among whom I highlight the philosopher Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), interpreted reality as if everything were made up of four Elements: Fire, Earth, Air and Water. For these philosophers, there was a precise division between our world and heaven, a division of a metaphysical nature.
Our world would be the place of changes, the space where everything is transformed; the sky would be the supralunar world, gathering everything that is above the Moon. In the supralunar world, it was believed, there were the planets and the stars, composed not of ordinary matter, but of an unchanging and eternal substance called “ether”.
Human knowledge has improved, and today we know that there is no difference between the matter found in our world and that of which planets and stars are composed. Everything changes, everything transforms, and no planet or star is composed of a special substance called “ether”.
Likewise, we also know that our world is not composed of four Elements in a physical sense. When we talk about “elements” these days, we mean those on the chemical periodic table: hydrogen, oxygen, helium and everything in between – and they were all created inside stars!
About the four Elements of antiquity, however, it is perfectly possible to understand them as a sophisticated metaphor. A metaphor referring to the structure of reality in a symbolic sense. Astrology, after all, unlike Astronomy, is not a science that deals with physical reality. Astrology is a language based on analogies, symbols and possible interpretations for these symbols. Want to see?
Let’s consider, for example, the four fundamental human needs: water to drink, food (which comes from the earth), air to breathe and light/heat (from the Sun). Take away any one of these elements, and human existence (and that of most animals) becomes unviable.
We can also show that our world is divided into four parts. We have a continental part, also known as the lithosphere (earth), we have water (rivers, oceans, lakes), we have air (the atmosphere) and we have fire (the glowing core of the planet).
Only together do the Elements reach their true power
Likewise, for Astrology, four are the Elements that constitute existence: Fire, Earth, Air and Water. Each of them manifests itself in three different ways, totaling the 12 signs of the zodiac. From the perspective of each of the Elements, reality is interpreted in various ways.
It is as if each Element, when dealing with a fact, weaves particular considerations, and none of them apprehends the fact in its entirety, in its fullness. Fire sees the possible senses and meanings of the fact. Water addresses the emotional implications. Earth deals with cause and consequence.
Air, in turn, wants to understand the theory behind the fact. Each of the Elements, in its own way, is blind to other perspectives. Only together do they achieve true power.
Psychology itself drank (and drinks) from the four Elements as structuring figures of the psyche, and many currents are based on this. Carl Jung, for example, tells us about the four psychic functions: sensation, feeling, thinking and intuition. Each of these four functions is related to an Element:
The sensation would have to do with the perspective of the Earth
Things have value to the extent that I can experience them with my physical senses.
The feeling, with the perspective of Water
Things have value insofar as they stimulate my emotions.
Thought would be related to Air
Things have value insofar as their theories are understood.
Intuition to Fire
Things have value insofar as they have philosophical, spiritual or moral meanings and teachings.
Assuming that one of these elements is “more important” is a crass mistake. Each of them offers us just a piece of perspective on things.
Elements are present in music and movies
Taking into account the idea that there are distinct abilities and that such abilities are worth little if separated, it is not surprising that screenwriters tend to materialize this concept in groups of superheroes. Whether they do this intentionally or not, I don’t know the answer. But the fact is that the four Elements can be found even in the world of comics, united in a way where the whole is stronger than its component parts.
From left to right: Invisible Woman (Air), Mister Fantastic (Water), Human Torch (Fire) and The Thing (Earth)
Take the case of the Fantastic Four. The group’s name is self-explanatory, but the curious thing is that the powers of the members have everything to do with the Elements of classical antiquity. We have the Human Torch, which represents the Element of Fire. The Thing represents Earth’s brute strength. The Invisible Woman, as the name says, is invisible as air! And Mister Fantastic has the power of super malleability, just like the Water Element, which molds itself to any container.
It’s ironic to note that the Fantastic Four’s main enemy is a villain named Doom. A perhaps unconscious reference to the fact that humanity’s great struggle concerns the use of free will to overcome destiny? The question is: was all this thought by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, creators of the group, or was it a coincidence (or synchronicity, as the Jungians prefer)?
Upstairs, left. to right: Cyclops (Fire) and Angel (Air). Below, from left. Right: Iceman (Water) and Beast (Earth)
Another group of heroes marked by the archetype of the four Elements is the original X-Men lineup (in the comics, not the movies). The first X-Men summoned by Professor Charles Xavier were four: Cyclops, who shoots laser beams through his eyes and represents the Fire Element; the Angel, able to fly, representing the Element of Air; the Beast, which represents the Element of Earth; and Iceman, whose powers associate him with the Element of Water. After the creation of the group, Professor Xavier recruited a fifth element: the teenager Jean Grey, who would come to be known first as Marvel Girl and later as Phoenix – a clear reference to the powerful cosmic ether. The X-Men were also created by the Lee-Kirby duo, showing the two authors’ penchant for mythologies involving the four Elements.
As with superhero groups, no Element is more important than another. Separated, they can even be strong. Together, however, they become unbeatable and overcome challenges.
Analogically, we can say that these heroes are within us. After all, each person has a bit of the four Elements within him.
The music is also full of references – conscious or unconscious – to the four Elements. In Forever Young, one of the greatest hits of international pop music, released in 1984 by the German band Alphaville, a certain passage says:
Some are like water, some are like the heat
Some are a melody and some are the beat
Sooner or later they all will be gone
The lyrics say: “some are like water, some are like heat. Some are melody and some are rhythm. Sooner or later they will all be dead.” In this case, water and heat do not even require explanations. “Melody” can be understood as a reference to the Air Element, which in Astrology represents music. You can only hear music, after all, because air conducts sound. “Rhythm” or “beat” can be understood as the Earth Element. And what’s the conclusion of the song? Exactly what the ancients said: in the world of becoming, of changes, of the four Elements, everything changes, everything at some point ends, dies, goes away. The only immutable thing is change, and this is the great object of study in Astrology: the changes and adventures that occur without ceasing between birth and death.
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