The Four Elements

Four Elements

The early Greek philosophers sought a single fundamental principle to which all forms of matter could be reduced.

Empedocles, in the 5th Century BCE, recognised four primary elements, fire, earth, air and water.

The thinkers of ancient Greece accepted his theory almost unanimously.

The Pythagoreans adapted the theory of the four elements to human physiology as the theory of the four humours:-

Fluids- whose proportions in the body determined health and temperament

Blood – air

Phlegm – water

choler or yellow bile – fire

Melancholy, or black bile – earth

This idea continued to dominate medicine until after the Renaissance.

Claudius Ptolemy in the 2nd century CE applied the theory of the four elements to astrology, assigning to each element three signs which together made up the “triplicity” of that element.


When a substance is on fire its molecules are in a state of great excitement and transformation.

Fire can eat up and destroy, it can cleanse and purify, it can throw ‘new light’ on a situation and it provides warmth, cheer and a raising of the spirits.

Fire is very exciting. Fire represents universal radiant energy. It is excitable and enthusiastic – a dynamic core of psychic energy. Fire experience is centred on personal identity. It manifests as high spirits, great faith in self, enthusiasm and honesty, need for freedom and willpower. Detrimental aspects of fire include insistence on own point of view, impatience and insensitivity.

Some keywords for Fire

Yang, Changing, active, initiating, forceful, demanding, insensitive, unstable, intense, excitable, premature, positive, acting on – not acted upon, energetic, self motivated, dominant, wilful, bombastic, pushy, ascending, dramatic, restless, dynamic, demonstrative, outgoing, outflowing of energy

The fire signs are Aries, Leo and Sagittarius.


Earth is the element that is basic to our survival, our grounding, and it is from the Earth that we have sprung, and to which we shall all return, until the time that we are reborn, again upon Earth.

Earth energy is in touch with the physical senses. Earth is about here-and-now reality, reliance on senses, practical reasons, the world of forms, patience and self-discipline, understanding of the natural world, the strength of endurance, persistence, caution, pre-meditative, conventional, dependable

Some Keywords for Earth

Practical, down to earth, stable, acted upon, actualising, perceptive on gut level, direct, resisting, nurturing, supportive, unable to deal with abstractions, common sense, sensual, passive, inflexible, lack of vision, matter and materialism, substance, limits, structures, fertility, disregard of subtleties.

The earth signs are Capricorn, Taurus and Virgo


The element of Air relates to our ability to think, to analyse, to be detached and reflective, so we may understand, feel free and find inspiration.

Air represents the realm of archetypal ideas behind the veil of the physical world, patterns of thought, theory and concepts, ability to detach from the immediate experience of daily living, to gain objectivity, perspective and a rational approach, versatile, not emotional, social, appreciation of others thoughts without necessarily agreeing, overvaluing intellect, threatened if opinions are ignored.

Some Keywords for Air

Animated, abstractions, extensive, concepts, logic, connecting mentally, relating, clever, circulating, thinking, detached, conceptualisation, social, impersonal, externally motivated, intellectual

The Air signs are Libra, Gemini and Aquarius


We know that Molecules in their liquid state are at once fluid but accessible to the senses.

Water energy is in touch with intangible factors, feelings, nuances, subtleties, moods, ambience, realm of deep emotions and feeling responses, aware of the unconscious, intuitive, physically sensitive, in touch with the oneness of all creation or prompted by compulsive desires, fears and over sensitivity, no solidity or shape of own, much going on under the surface, sensitive to hurt, vulnerable, realisation of soul’s deepest yearnings.

Some Keywords for Water

Yin, subtle, understanding, non-rational perceptions, sensitive, empathy, descending movement, vulnerable, emotional depth, maternal, ties with the past, bonding, fantasy, imaginative, receptive, feeling, compassionate, personal, secretive, psychic, subjective, protective, nurturing, soul, private, moodiness, withdrawn

The water signs are Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces


Faculty Moral Physical Intellectual Emotional
Humor Blood Phlegm Yellow Bile Black Bile
State Plasma Solid Gas Liquid
Function Spirit Matter Mind Feeling
Type Choleric Phlegmatic Sanguine Melancholic
Lesson Love Service Brotherhood Peace
Body Etheric, vital Physical Mental Astral
Energy Ascending Contracting Circulating Sinking
Polarity Yang Yin Yang Yin


















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