The four elements represent the four states of matter and the building blocks of the material universe. While some traditions may recognize different numbers and types of elements, please entertain the rationale for the explanation presented here. Going back to the remotest times of human existence, mankind has endeavored to work with the forces of nature to control our environment and ensure survival. The model presented here is a very simple one, one that with deep meditation each human may come to understand differently, but as a model, it provides a simple tool that is just as valid to us today as it was to our distant ancestors. So, here is a starting point, a place to begin our understanding of the Universe, and in that spirit, I offer the following model of the elements.
- Fire – Plasma
- Air – Gas
- Water – Liquid
- Earth – Solid
Arranged in a circular pattern, with each element occupying a compass point, we have Fire in the North, Air in the East, Water in the South, and Earth in the West. If we visualize the elements plotted on a cross within a circle, we get the representation presented below.
Tracing the circle in a counter-clockwise direction, the elements become more dense as we move around the circle, and less dense as we move around it clockwise. This is important, as you will see later, for these are the two basic motions of the universe, representing the duality of polarity, expressing masculine and feminine force. Masculine energy moves counter-clockwise, is generative, moving lighter elements into heavier elements, through gravity and concentration, while feminine energy moves clockwise, is radiative, moving heavier elements into lighter elements through growth and dissipation.
The elements interact with one another in unique and interesting ways. Taken individually, each element interacts with the other elements in one of three ways; it is either carried by it’s neighbor, fuels it, or is countered by the element directly opposed to it. For each of the elements, this has the effects described below.
- Fire carries air, fuels earth, and boils water.
- Air carries water, fuels fire, and erodes earth.
- Water carries earth, fuels air, and extinguishes fire.
- Earth carries fire, fuels water, and directs air.
These relationships represent complex interactions between the elements, and work to provide most if not all observable phenomena we witness in natural systems. As you can see, the elements work in ways both harmonizing and antagonizing to each other. Let’s consider how these relationships work in nature.
Fire, as heat, carries Air currents aloft, creating turbulence and wind, while as electricity it fuels the magnetic field of the Earth, and boils Water into a gas, releasing it to Air. Air, as oxygen, makes Fire possible, feeding the heat that creates it’s winds, while as atmosphere, it is the primary transporter of water vapor that has been boiled into a gas by Fire’s heat, and it works to constantly transform Earth by erosion, checking and sculpting it as it grows. Water vapor powers Air, creating mass in the atmosphere, and providing momentum for the winds, it is the prime mover of Earth, transporting and depositing the stones and silts loosened by Air, and it provides a cooling check against the rampant expansion of Fire. Earth charges Water, the meandering path taken through Earth, over boulders and around bends energizes and electrifies Water, enlivening it and making it healthy, Earth is the only vessel that can contain and carry Fire, and provides protection and channels to check the flow of Air.
When placed into motion, each element takes on the form of a vortex. All motion in the universe is curved, and all curves are spirals. This can be witnessed in nature if one observes each element; Fire produces whorls of flame; Air produces tornadoes, cyclones, and hurricanes; Water produces whirlpools; while in Earth, swirling magnetic fields. In all of nature, motion and turbulence produce vortical flows within each element.
Each element expresses polarity, not so much negative and positive as male and female. The elements clearly exhibit the duality of universal forces, expressing polar opposites in their character. Along one axis, the element of Fire is masculine, while the element of Water is feminine. Along the other axis, Air is masculine and Earth is feminine. To be accurate, each element embodies aspects of both polarities, but Fire and Water have a tendency towards the extremes while Air and Earth contain more balanced ratios, becoming almost androgynous.
There are always two basic aspects associated with each element, those of constructive and destructive forces. This shouldn’t be confused with good and bad, as no such thing exists in the universe, everything in the universe maintains a balance between these opposites, the universal law of expansion and contraction.
I encourage you to meditate on the elements and their interactions, there are other interesting phenomena that exist here for the engineer to study and learn from.