Easy Intro to the 4 Elements: Awesome Foresight of the Ancients
In ancient times, before the advent of microscopes and modern atomic theory, philosophers attempted to describe the nature of human life and the world around us. The Ionian philosopher and herbalist Empedocles developed a theory of four “Roots,” now called elements, of which everything in the universe was composed. These Roots existed in their simplest form, and could neither be destroyed nor broken down into smaller components.
Everything in the world was made up of some combination of these four elements, which Empedocles thought of as more than mere substances. To him, they transcended form, and he equated each with a deity known in his time:
Earth: Hera, the pre-Hellenic earth mother and goddess of creation
Fire: Hades, the Greek god of the Underworld
Air: Zeus, the thunder god and ruler of the Olympian gods
Water: Nestis (aka Persephone,) whose kidnapping by Hades was at the heart of the Greek explanation for the seasons
Integral to this theory of elements was the supposition that Love drew the Roots together to create new things, and that Strife drove them apart at the end of their existence.
Superstition or Science?
While many in our time look back on this model of natural existence as uninformed, and those who continue to study the classical elements today as superstitious, Empedocles can also be seen as an early scientist. His elemental theory, and his discussions on the speed of light, are seen by some as an early forerunner of contemporary particle physics. The opposition of forces that could either attract or repel, and the belief that nothing in the universe could be created or destroyed, both foreshadow other aspects of contemporary science.
While it has been popular for several centuries to view those who study the arts of alchemy, astrology and magick as ignorant and backward, many of the Pagans I know are university educated – often in the health sciences, technology or engineering. The study if ancient arts and sciences does not conflict with their practise of contemporary science, but rather complements it in the same way that herbal remedies and other traditional approaches to health care complement contemporary medicine.
Image Credit » https://pixabay.com/en/galaxy-gold-yellow-star-universe-773842/