In an effort to modernize astrology along the lines of material science, many astrological writers have disregarded or almost completely ignored the ancient concept of the four elements. Some writers state things like, "Now that science has given us the periodic table of chemistry, we know that there are many more than four elements." Other writers and teachers who still use the elements to some extent do not sufficiently explain what these "elements" are or how they function, nor do they seem to realize that the elements are indeed the very foundation of the zodiac and therefore of all astrology.
One of the best expositions on the four elements that I have been able to find is in the introduction to C.E.O. Carter's An Encyclopedia of Psychological Astrology, which I will refer to later in detail. After describing what he calls the "root-principles" of astrology, Carter states that the elements "are capable of being described from many standpoints and in great detail, but it is necessarily far from easy to understand, explain, and exemplify what are, in fact, no less than the basic laws of our solar system, if not of the universe." Carter further writes that astrology is a certain means of gaining some understanding of how these life principles operate, although "to comprehend them fully would require an intellectual grasp such as we may ascribe to the Architect of that System alone."
I agree completely with Carter that the four elements are not merely "symbols" or abstract concepts, but rather that they refer to the vital forces that make up the entire creation that can be perceived by the physical senses. (This is why the zodiac was referred to in ancient times as the "soul of nature.") The elements are therefore not only the foundation of astrology and all occult sciences, but they comprise everything we can normally perceive and experience. It is true that the elements, if taken as purely material factors, symbolize the four states of matter described in modern physics: earth is solid; water liquid; air gaseous; and fire plasma or radiant ionized energy. They may also be said to represent the four primary needs of any advanced organism: air, water, earth (or food), and fire (warmth). But this alone does not begin to reveal the true meaning of the elements.
As Manley P. Hall writes in his booklet Unseen Forces, "The four elements are the basis of, as well as the life behind, the four physical material elements — earth, fire, air, and water." He goes on to state that "All things superior to those four essences can be cognized only by spiritual vision." In other words, the four elements with which astrology deals transcend mere material chemistry. As Dr. William Davidson, M.D. states in his Medical Astrology Lectures, "behind chemistry is force." In our attempt to understand the real meaning of the elements, we should be careful not to confuse the outer results of these vital forces with the ultimate energizing factors.
Although at first glance it may seem a rather daring generalization to assert that the four elements have such a complete and encompassing scope of action, it will become apparent during the course of this work that evidence from many diverse cultures and fields of knowledge point to this fact. In the field of astrology alone, why is it that astrological factors have been used successfully to understand the nature of cycles, events, personal experiences, and changes in mundane affairs at every level: physical, social, economic, psychological, emotional, political, and so forth? Astrology would obviously not be so useful in such a wide variety of life activities if it did not indeed provide us with a language of life's essential dynamic forces. To understand what we are really working with in the practice of astrology, we must approach astrology itself on the level where it operates; and that is the level of energy patterns, energy flow, and energy transmutation. In order to grasp the essence of astrological science, one has to fully understand the elements; and, in order to do that, one needs to look at not only the physical and psychological significance of the elements, but also to view the elements from the vantage point of a high state of spiritual awareness.
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