|Figure 1: The Cosmology of the Elements|
Astrology and Health
vitalism and humours [part 2]
As can be seen in Figure 1, the two masculine Elements (Fire and Air) have their apexes pointing upwards, while the feminine Elements (Water and Earth) have their apexes pointing downwards. The direction of the tips reflects, in the former case, the combustion of Fire and Air, in which the generated heat rises upwards. In the latter case, it implies the precipitation of Earth through Water, whereby it sinks downwards.
When all four of these shapes are superimposed on top of one another, they form the six-pointed star of Solomon's Seal, which
represents Ether. Its shape is a synthesis of the masculine
and feminine Elements, the joining of heaven and earth – As above, so below.
Without any one of the four
gross Elements, life would simply not be able to exist upon the planet. When the four Elements are in a state of balance, then the vital force flourishes.
Conversely, if they are in a state of imbalance, then the life force is
repressed. Ether, representing the vital force, is a paradoxical
Element. It is described as being beyond physical manifestation –
yet it embodies all creation; it has no form yet contains all forms; it
has no quality and yet embodies all qualities.
The four gross Elements are
directly experienced through the physical senses of the body: Earth
through the sense of touch; Water through the sense of taste;
Gross Air through the sense of smell; Subtle Air through the sense
of hearing. Lastly Fire, or light, is perceived through the sense of vision. Ether connects with the consciousness of the person that experiences all
the sensory impressions. As Plato described it, Ether is the sensus
communis – the common sense that unites all the separate sensory impressions into one whole.
The Symbolism of the Elements
Using the cosmology of the Elements symbolically, a relationship between mind and body is described: the solidness of Earth is used to describe the structure of body, the
fluidity of Water is used to describe the changeability of the emotions,
invisibility of Air is used to describe the nature of mental experience
and the dynamism of Fire is used to describe the energy and motivation.
Ether represents the consciousness that unites all these aspects together in human experience. Heath is synonymous with the balance of the
Elements within a person, while disease, their imbalance.
Within the cosmology of the
five Elements, mind and emotions are seen to interface directly with the
physical or material world. In other words, to put it into a more
scientific context, matter is not considered separately from the person
observing it. Though Ether evades definition, by knowing that life
depends upon the balance of the four gross Elements, what more powerful
tools can be found for describing the nature of life? Accordingly,
philosophers using this symbolic language over centuries have evolved a
very intricate way of describing life, the flows of vital force and the
interconnection of mental, emotional and physical experience. This
is the true cultural importance of this knowledge. It is important
to note when considering the word Culture in relation to Elemental knowledge that its root comes from the Latin culturae meaning to grow or cultivate!
Ether and the Vital Force
Scientific historians dismiss Ether as a hypothetical substance, that has no reality! This simply is totally untrue. Without what is symbolically represented by Ether, we would all be dead. The mind of a scientist simply would not exist,
let alone be able to theorize! Yet it is interesting to understand how scientists have arrived at such an attitude; this will be discussed a little later.
Though the nature of Ether is beyond detection by the physical sense and definition of the intellect, the vital force has been perceived intuitively as being simultaneously able to flow like a liquid while pervading space like a gaseous vapour. It is this perception of the vital force that gave it the name Aqua Vitae or the Water of Life. The alchemists in their investigation into the nature of metals saw the liquid metal, quicksilver, as being analogous to the vital force. Light shining on the flowing metal has a very characteristic lustre, while on gentle heating it readily evaporates to
form a thick heavy vapour. Since the planet Mercury rules this metal,
so too the planet was perceived as ruling the vital force. Accordingly,
philosophers and physicians referred to the vital force as the philosophical
Mercury. It is this correspondence that explains why traditionally
Mercury is the god of medicine and healing, for he rules the vital force
in the body.
This symbolic link between Mercury and the vital force led to the widespread practice in the 18th and 19th centuries of giving liquid metal mercury as a universal panacea. Despite the alchemists proclaiming that their Mercury was not the poisonous liquid metal, the literal interpretation of this symbolic knowledge had tragic consequences. The term quack was originally applied to those doctors who used quicksilver as a medicine, for in so doing not only were they poisoning their patients, but also displaying their medical ignorance. When the term quack is seen symbolically, it properly implies someone who practices medicine without an understanding of the vital force.