Q-001: What are the ancient “elements of nature”?
Earth, Water, Air, and Fire are the generally known and often quoted ancient elements of nature, within which, and through which, life (including humanity) has prevailed and evolved.
Q-002: Are there any other “elements of nature”?
YES. In addition, and behind the terrestrially manifest elements of nature it is recorded that in many of the ancient traditions and recorded writings there is a reference to the fifth element of nature – the quitessence.
The name given to the celestial or heavenly or cosmic “element of nature” under the ancient European sun, is the Aether.
“Thus he then classified living creatures into genera and species, and divided them in every way until he came to their elements, which he called the five shapes and bodies, either, fire, water, earth, and air.”
The name given to the celestial or heavenly or cosmic “element of nature” under the ancient Indian sun, is Akasha. In his work published 220AD, “The Life of Apollonius of Tyana“, Philostratus reports:
“Of elements.””Are there then four” he asked.”Not four,” said Iarchas, “but five.””And how can there be a fifth,” said Apollonius, “alongside of water and air and earth and fire ?””There is the ether”, replied the other, “which we must regard as the stuff of which gods are made; for just as all mortal creatures inhale tbe air, so do immortal and divine natures inhale the ether.”Apollonius again asked which was the first of the elements, and Iarchas answered:”All are simultaneous, for a living creature is not born bit by bit.”
“Am I,” said Apollonius, “to regard the universe as a living creature?”
“Yes,” said the other, “if you have a sound knowledge of it, for it engenders all living things.”
– The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Philostratus, 220AD.
And they allowed Apollonius to ask questions, and he asked them of what they thought the cosmos was composed, but they replied:
Additionally, other cultures included the elements of metal and wood – such as the ancient Chinese peoples; and in some of the native peoples of North America, the frost was considered another element of nature over and above the other four.
Finally, it is noteworthy to also mention here that the entire arrangement of these elements of nature is systematized in one (Vaisheshika = physics) of the six component disciplines of the ancient Vedic philosophical system. This will be dealt with in more detail elsewhere.
Q-003: Are these “elements of nature” known by any other names?
The elements of nature were (and are) also known as the elements of life, or the elements of survival, for without them, life could not exist.
Q-004: How do the ancient elements relate to the atomic elements?
One of the more common questions asked concerning the specifications of the ancient elements of nature is this: If water is known to be consistent of molecules of H2O, and air is known to be consistent predominantly of a mixture of molecules of N2, and O2, and are thus reducible to the atomic elements, why are they considered elemental? Water and air are recognized as elements of life, elements of survival, for all living beings. It is at the level of living systems that water and air are hereby being considered elemental – they are two of the elements of life.
Q-005: What is the element Earth?
The element earth is the name given to all material living and non-living substances on the planet, with the exception of air and water. The diversity of the ancient element of earth is thus of extremely high order. Earth is the generic metaphysical name applied to all substances within the terrestrial environment. Whereas by chemical and atomic analysis, the hundred plus different atomic elements are uniquely specified as the atomic elements, the ancient element earth encompasses them all. In the form of food, to be ingested into the metabolic matrix of living systems, it shares, along with its fellow ancient elements of nature, it’s status an element of life, an element of survival.
Q-006: What is the element Fire?
The element fire is the ancient name given that which is known by the contemporary scientific program as electromagnetic energy. Terrestrial fire, as in a struck match or a camp-fire or forest fire, requires the presence of something to burn and air and has two aspects – heat and light. The cosmic fire is the electromagnetic energy manifest as the sunshine, which stands at the center of all terrestrial ecosystems, and permeates the terrestrial realms as the predominant source both heat and light, the energy which moves the global atmosphere (air) and thus the pump which stands as the prime-mover of the life-sustaining water-cycle.
Q-007: What is the cosmology of the elements of nature?
Well, in short, Pythagoras was right – the cosmic fire is at the center, and about it orbits the earth/moon binary consistent of the terrestrial elements of earth, water, and air, themselves interspersed with this cosmic fire of life. The generic cosmological teachings of man changed only a few hundred years ago when the paradigm of geocentricity (where the sun, moon, planets, and stars all orbited the earth) gave way to the paradigm of heliocentricity (where the earth and planets orbited the sun, and the stars were distant suns). The distribution of the elements in the cosmos reflects the image of remote terrestrial islands scattered in an ocean of cosmic fire. The ubiquitous nature of the cosmic fire can be perceived and understood by a simple Thought Experiment.
Q-008: When did the elements of nature cease to be referenced as such?
The elements of nature were still commonly referenced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, on the one hand, the diverse chemical properties of earth were systematically examined and analyzed and eventually reduced to the preparation of the Periodic Table of Atomic Elements, and on the other hand, the physical properties of air and water were systematically collated and researched until they became harnessed to perform industrial work – first on a very small scale, before their global usage. The steam engine is a classic example of this. At this point in time, and increasingly thereafter, the analytical specifications of matter were by way of its three (terrestrial) states, namely – solid, liquid and gas, and these man-made concepts gradually supplanted the notion of the corresponding three elements of nature – earth, water, and air respectively. In this recent century, the discovery of the fourth state of matter, known as plasma, finally supplanted the ancient terminology of fire.
Q-009: What is the essential difference between these states of matter, and the ancient elements in terms of descriptions of nature?
The states of matter describe the analytical stochastic behavior of matter in relation to energy (heat and pressure) whereas the ancient elements form part of a more holistic description which encompasses the phenomena of life. The phenomena of life is undefined and is irrelevant to the current specifications of the scientific program, and its descriptions of nature are while having the potential for high precision in certain areas, totally lifeless. On the other hand, the ancient elements are inextricably interwoven with the phenomena of life on this planet and are today being re-introduced by the emergence of the recognition of other inter-disciplinary domains such as environmental science, ecological science and the like. These newly emergent sciences reserve special privileges for the ancient elements of nature and recognize them as the elements of life and more so, the elements of the survival of mankind.
Q-010: Should the ancient elements of nature be regarded as a proto-science?
Yes – in a definite sense, the pattern of thinking which was afforded in the identification of certain fundamental considerations out of an otherwise diverse environment, represented the evolution of scientific reductionism, which made possible summary level assessments. Moreover, in these possible summary level assessments, there was the beginning of predictive power. Take for example the task of determining the direction to be taken through unknown desert terrain. The failure to predict the location of a water source could quite easily mean life or death for the proto-scientist of ancient days.
Q-011: What is the spiritual significance of the elements of nature?
– Krishna Yajur Veda, Svetasvatara Upanishad 2.12, The Poems of Tukaram (p.88)
“When the Yogi has full power over his body composed of the elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether, then he obtains a new body of spiritual fire which is beyond illness, old age, and death”.
Much is to be gained in contemplation of the differing characteristic properties of the ancient elements of nature, for man at his most fundamental level of being as a living system, is himself or herself a dissipative structure which is composed of these elements, and is constantly therefore in the process of exchanging these elements of nature with the environment: