The Four Elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire are found in numerous magical and divinatory schools, such as Astrology, Tarot, the Tao, the I Ching, and many pagan and indigenous religions.
The four elements are the primordial energies that make up all creation. Each element represents a basic kind of energy and consciousness that operates within everyone, as well as within the world at large.
The Four Metaphysical Worlds
In Hermetic Magick the four elements are categories which correspond to the four metaphysical layers of a person—
as well as the Four Worlds of Existence—
FIRE corresponds to the energy of and world of the SPIRIT.
AIR corresponds to the energy and world of the MIND.
WATER corresponds to the energy and world of the EMOTIONS.
EARTH corresponds to the energy and world of the PHYSICAL.
In order to maintain balance in our lives, we must take care to nurture each of these aspects in ourselves.
We must feed the fire of our SPIRIT by striving to embody our values, ethics, religious aspirations and connection to a higher power…
We must nurture our MIND by learning, communicating, appreciating different perspectives and applying reason and objectivity with discipline…
We must nurture our EMOTIONS by enjoying healthy relationships and connection to others, and tending to our emotions, whatever they may be…
And we must tend to the health of our PHYSICAL bodies with proper diet and exercise.
In Astrology, there are three signs for each element. The elements in a birth chart reveal our ability to participate in certain realms of being and to tune in to specific fields of life experience. Each person is more attuned to some types of energy than others.
- Sagittarius, Aries and Leo are FIRE signs.
- Gemini, Aquarius and Libra are AIR signs.
- Pisces, Cancer and Scorpio are WATER signs.
- Capricorn, Taurus and Virgo are EARTH signs.
The FIRE signs express a universal, radiant energy, which is excitable, colorful, enthusiastic bold and ambitious. Flames are in a constant, joyful dance, ever reaching upwards, and people with a lot of planets in Fire signs are often of high-spirited, “larger than life” characters, with great faith in themselves and seemingly bottomless energy. Fire signs are very honest, even blunt and deeply value freedom of expression. Fiery people may often get “burned” in life, since they know no fear, leap before looking and have tremendous confidence even in new or dangerous situations. Fire loves to fight, but it needs a righteous cause.
The AIR signs express the life energy which has been associated with breath, prana or light. The air realm is the world of archetypal ideas, abstract concepts, philosophy, reason, justice and objectivity. Individuals with a lot of placements in Air signs have the ability to detach themselves from the immediate experiences of daily life in order to gain objectivity, perspective and a rational approach to everything they do. Air signs are excellent communicators, and excel at careers that involve writing, broadcasting, teaching, negotiation, networking, media, etc. Air sign people can “live in their heads” and seem somewhat withdrawn from the physical world. They are quite content to be this way, however, as they have a deep craving for learning new information, synthesizing concepts, mental organizing and articulating their perceptions.
The WATER signs represent the realm of deep emotion and feeling responses, ranging from obsessive passions to crippling fears to an all-encompassing devotion to mystical experience. Water signs can be very introverted, as they instinctively protect themselves from outside influences to ensure that they have a stable, calm container for reflection. Watery people can be very kind, open, non-judgmental, accepting, compassionate and creative, as they are more instinctively tuned into the collective unconscious which connects all human beings to one another. They can be highly intuitive and even display psychic or clairvoyant ability. People with an abundance of water can also be very indecisive, moody and unreliable, in the same way that water slips and slides away and escapes any attempt to grasp it.
The EARTH signs rely heavily on their five physical senses and practical reason. Their innate understanding of how the material world functions gives the earth signs more patience and self-discipline than other signs. The earth element tends to be cautious, premeditative, hard-working and reliable. They have a fluency with practical and manual work, and are quite effective at utilizing the material world. Earth signs are often security-oriented and care about having sturdiness, stability and abundance of resources. They can usually attain this for themselves, due to their innate practicality, patience, consistency and persistence.
In the Tarot, the Minor Arcana has four suits of Wands, Swords, Cups and Pentacles, which correspond to Fire, Air, Water and Earth. This is actually the origin of the four suits on modern playing cards: Clubs, Spades, Hearts and Diamonds.
The suits as a whole show activities and qualities of life which correspond to the themes we have already explored above in astrology and in magic. In astrology, when a person has a lot of planets in a given element, then he displays those characteristics in his personality. In a tarot reading, if many cards of one element appear, then we can predict that the client is currently going through many external experiences of that kind.
The Wands suit indicates experiences of action, movement, optimism, adventure, self-assertion, struggle and beginnings.
The Swords suit indicates experiences of decision making, discernment, arbitrating justice, critical distinction, neuroses, conflict and discovering the truth.
The Cups suit indicates experiences of emotional, intuitive or artistic development, connection, reflection, friendship, fantasy and receptivity.
The Pentacles suit indicates experiences of hard work, discipline, responsibility, duty, business, acquiring or maintaining security, money or resources, and caring for the body.