August 15, 2018
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The Earth Element in the Greek and Roman Traditions

Element_EarthAs we have already seen, Earth is one of the four classical elements in ancient Greek philosophy and science. It was commonly associated with qualities of heaviness, matter and the terrestrial world. Due to the hero cults, and chthonic underworld deities, the elemental of earth is also associated with the sensual aspects of both life and death in later occultism.

Empedocles proposed four archai by which to understand the cosmos: fire, air, water, and earth. Plato believed the elements were geometric forms (the platonic solids) and he assigned the cube to the element of earth in his dialogue Timaeus.[1] Aristotle, (384 – 322 BCE), believed earth was the heaviest element, and his theory of natural place suggested that any earth–laden substances, would fall quickly, straight down, toward the center of the cosmos.[2]

In Classical Greek and Roman myth, various goddesses represented the Earth, seasons, crops and fertility, including Demeter and Persephone; Ceres; the Horae (goddesses of the seasons), and Proserpina; and Hades (Pluto) who ruled the souls of dead in the Underworld.

In ancient Greek medicine, each of the four humours became associated with an element. Black bile was the humor identified with earth, since both were cold and dry. Other things associated with earth and black bile in ancient and medieval medicine included the season of fall, since it increased the qualities of cold and aridity; the melancholic temperament (of a person dominated by the black bile humour); the feminine; and the southern point of the compass.

The Earth Element in the Alchemical Tradition

sign_earth-The practicality of earth is emphasised in the importance of being grounded, on which frequently absent or ignored by people who get wrapped up in the glamour of magic, and forget that at the end of the day, earth provides the test of solidity. An alchemical acronym for earth, or Terra is Trium Elementorum Receptaculum Recondo Aurifodinam, meaning “I Conceal the God-bearing Refuge of Three Elements.” This emphasises the form-giving qualitird of earth as the source not only of gold (and by implication the other metals and minerals) but also the solidified forms of the other elements such as ice and lava. In the Corpus Hermeticum, Hermes says of earth: “Tis earth alone, in that it resteth on itself, that is the Receiver of all things, and also the Restorer of all genera that it receives.”[3] In alchemy, earth was believed to be primarily cold, and secondarily dry, (as per Aristotle). Beyond those classical attributes, the chemical substance salt was associated with earth and its alchemical symbol was a downward-pointing triangle, bisected by a horizontal line.

The Element of Earth in the Indian Tradition

hindu-firePrithvi (Sanskrit: pṛthvī, also pṛthivī) is the Hindu earth and mother goddess. According to one such tradition, she is the personification of the Earth itself; according to another, its actual mother, being Prithvi Tattwa, the essence of the element earth.

As Prithvi Mata, or “Mother Earth”, she contrasts with Dyaus Pita, “father sky”. In the Rigveda, earth and sky are frequently addressed as a duality, often indicated by the idea of two complementary “half-shells.” In addition, the element Earth is associated with Budha or Mercury, who represents communication, business, mathematics and other practical matters. Earth is also associated with the south-west direction.


The Element of Earth in Astrology

earth-signsPeople born under the astrological signs of Capricorn, Taurus and Virgo being one of the two drawn elements meaning it is part of two of the classical elements are thought to have dominant earth personalities. Earth personalities tend to be calm, practical, hard working, wise, stable, patient and sensual; however, they can also be stubborn, possessive, jealous, nearsighted and very harsh.

The Elemental Earth as a Symbolic Quality

Earth is a feminine element associated with matter (hulê). In the macrocosm it is most obvious as the ground beneath our feet, giving us the solidity of physicality and form. With form come qualities like endurance, patience, tolerance and steadfastness. Earth is further associated with sensuality and the sense of touch. The physical Earth underfoot is obvious, as Dr. Johnson demonstrated when outraged at Bishop Berkeley’s proof of the non-existence of matter “I refute it thus!” he said, and kicked a rock! Earth is common sense; hard facts. The usual image of the Buddha, reputedly Taurean, has him seated on, and with one hand touching, the Earth, thus calling the Earth to witness the reality of his experience, which she does by trembling.

The magical axiom of earth is To Be Silent. This describes the enduring stillness of earth, which can be felt when standing alone on a mountain or in a field, and which is reflected I the inner silence of meditation and contemplation. The silence of Earth also reflects its non-judgmental nature, which by its very selfness encourages us to be the same, to be responsible in our actions, to try and make our world something of beauty, and leave it better than we found it. The silence of a winter’s day, when the world is blanketed with snow, when even the water has been given the solidity of earth as ice and snow, emphasises the elemental tide of earth at its peak.

Earth is a nurturing element, providing the food we eat, and making up the materials used to build houses, and indeed being the ground beneath our feet. Earth teaches us thatb through dedication, patience and toil, all things are possible. Earth is nature as well as nurture, and all we do impacts on the people we are and the environment we live in. Earth is the element that is most often taken for granted, yet it is ouir home, supplying all our needs.

As the giver of forms, earth also represent manifestation. Manifestation can represent several levels of activity. On a physical level it can be the manifestation of of a conclusion or result, the end goal of a process. On an emotional level it can be the realisation of a desire or dream. The same is true on a magical level, or it can be the physical appearance of a spiritual creature in a tangible form.

Earth implies a literal-mindedness: Jungian analyst James Hillman once remarked that people “out of touch” with the Earth are told to dig the soil, but we don’t tell people who “lack Air” to fly in an airplane. Air is more subtle than Earth. The Greek philosopher Thales claimed supremacy for Water. Anaximenes for Air, Heraclitus, and as Goethe claims. Anaxagoras for Fire. None envisioned Earth as the first or most basic element. It remained for the alchemists to make solid matter their primary metaphor, starting with the prima materia and ending with the Philosopher’s Stone. The early philosophers began at the other end, seeking to explain the solid in terms of some higher principle.

No matter how basic, Earth is the mysterious mother of all physical being matter and mother share the same etymological root. Earth is the dust we come from and go to, from which everything physical is spun, the source of all productivity, lushness, wealth and beauty. The Western Tradition identifies Earth with the Goddess, Gaia; Demeter, mistress of plant growth and material welfare. It became obvious to identify as Earth Signs half of those already characterized as feminine according to an ancient division by sex.

Earth also implies the inevitable limitations of physical existence, the birth into a physical body, despised by those with transcendental aspirations, and thus grossly undervalued by the alliance of Christian tradition and Aristotlean distinction between spirit and matter. Body and matter must be worked and subdued, planted in rows and built into solid structures. Aristotle and the Stoics after him, bearers of the astrological tradition, schematized the four Elements vertically with Earth at the bottom, then Water, Air, and at the top Fire implying thus a scale of values, The qabalistic scheme uses the same vertical orders. Earth lies at the bottom, the beast of burden and provider of goods, which overvalued leads to materialism and undervalued becomes dreary necessity and imprisoning flesh. Humble Earth came to be associated with Saturn, once the Great Mother, then as old Father Time, Lord of past time and memory. Of all the Elements only enduring Earth records time in rock strata and fossils.

The Element of Earth in Ceremonial Magick

earth-magicEarth and the other Greek classical elements were incorporated into the Golden Dawn system despite being considered obsolete by modern science. Zelator (1=10) is the elemental grade attributed to earth; this grade is also attributed to the Qabalistic sphere Malkuth.[4] The elemental weapon of earth is the Pentacle.[5] Each of the elements has several associated spiritual beings. The archangel of earth is Uriel, the angel is Phorlakh, the ruler is Kerub, the king is Ghob, and the earth elementals (following Paracelsus) are called gnomes.[6] Earth is considered to be passive; it is represented by the symbol for Taurus, and it is referred to the lower left point of the pentagram in the Supreme Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram.[7] Many of these associations have since spread throughout the occult community. It is sometimes represented by its Hindu tattva (a yellow square), or by a downward pointing triangle with a horizontal line through it.

Working with the element of Earth helps you develop both the physical and emotional-social side of your being. On the physical side you can enhance qualities such as endurance, practicality and strength. On the emotional and social side, patience, tolerance, selfness, humility and pragmatism can all help you not waste energy and actually benefit from your social life and emotional interactions.

The negative earthly qualities are ones which need to be transformed whenever they appear, and they tend to recur like deep-rtooted weeds, you cannot just bury them and hope they will go away. Vigilance will help you spot the signs of negative Earth behaviour, which you can then transform into positivce Earth contributing to your progress forward.

[1] Plato, Timaeus, chap. 22–23; Gregory Vlastos, Plato’s Universe, pp. 66–82.

[2] G. E. R. Lloyd, Aristotle, chapters 7–8.

[3]The Perfect Sermon, Thrice-Greatest Hermes, Mead (ed).

[4] Israel Regardie, The Golden Dawn, pp. 154-65.

[5] Regardie, Golden Dawn, p.322; Kraig, Modern Magick, pp. 149-53.

[6] Regardie, Golden Dawn, p. 80.

[7] Regardie, Golden Dawn, pp. 280-286; Kraig, Modern Magick, pp. 206-209.

The Earth Elementals: The Gnomes

240px-Earth_Elemental_renderThe earth elementals are best known as Gnomes, though they were also refered to in the Grimoires as Cubitali and as Pygmies due to their short stature. The word gnome may have been derived from the Greek word genomos, meaning ‘earth dweller’. A gnome is a diminutive spirit in Renaissance magic and alchemy, first introduced by Paracelsus and later adopted by more recent authors including those of modern fantasy literature.[1] Its characteristics have been reinterpreted to suit the needs of various story-tellers, but it is typically said to be a small, humanoid creature that lives underground.[2] The word comes from Renaissance Latin gnomus, which first appears in the works of 16th Century Swiss alchemist Paracelsus. He is perhaps deriving the term from Latin gēnomos (itself representing a Greek γη-νομος, literally “earth-dweller”). In this case, the omission of the ē is, as the OED calls it, a blunder. Alternatively, the term may be an original invention of Paracelsus. The English word is attested from the early 18th century but remains obscure until the early 19th century, when it is taken up by authors of Romanticist collections of fairy tales and becomes mostly synonymous with the older word goblin. Paracelsus uses the term “Gnomi” as a synonym of “Pygmæi,” and classifies them as earth elementals. He describes them as two spans high, very reluctant to interact with humans, and able to move through solid earth as easily as humans move through air.[3]

The chthonic spirit has precedents in numerous ancient and medieval mythologies, often guarding mines and precious underground treasures, notably in the Germanic dwarves and the Greek Chalybes, Telchines or Dactyls. The Gnomes dwell in the earth, and in the past were believed to often be found in mines and under mountains, especially in the places where metals and gems were mined, where they are considered as “the guardians of treasures, minerals and precious stones.”[4] Those Gnomes who dwelt in mines were sometimes knows as Kmockers, due to their tendency to knock on the mine walls for various reasons. If they knocked once, twice or thrice it was thought to indicate a cave-in or accident, and the wise man would immediately move to a different part of the mine. Knockers could be troublesome when angered, but they were also known to work for wages when befriended, being the best miners an employer could ever hope for, but woe betide the man who tried to short-change a knocker, for he would be beset with troubles. According to Gjellerup (1895): “The type of gnome most frequently seen is the brownie, or elf, a mischievous and grotesque little creature from twelve to eighteen inches high, usually dressed in green or russet brown. Most of them appear as very aged, often with long white beards, and their figures are inclined to rotundity. They can be seen scampering out of the holes in the stumnps of trees and sometimes they vanish by actually dissolving into the tree itself.”[5]

In general apparence Gnomes are said to appear short, being described as being around 1m tall or less. Although considered small by nature, Gnomes can change their shape to whatever size and apparence they choose. When Gnomes appear as Giants, it usually presages great ruin or mischief in the area where they are seen. This brings us to an interesting point made in Grimoires that fairies, which are often considered to be airy and ethereal beings, are in fact part of the family of beings often referred to as Gnomes.

In 19th century fiction, the chthonic gnome became a sort of antithesis to the more airy or luminous fairy. Nathaniel Hawthorne in Twice-Told Tales (1837) contrasts the two in “Small enough to be king of the fairies, and ugly enough to be king of the gnomes” (cited after OED). Similarly, gnomes are contrasted to elves, as in William Cullen Bryant’s Little People of the Snow (1877), which has “let us have a tale of elves that ride by night, with jingling reins, or gnomes of the mine” (cited after OED).

In the musical domain, it is interesting to mention that one of the first movements in Mussorgsky’s 1874 work Pictures at an Exhibition, named “Gnomus” (Latin for “The Gnome”), is written to sound as if a gnome is moving about, his movements constantly changing in speed.

German occultist Franz Hartmann in 1895 satirized materialism in an allegorical tale entitled Unter den Gnomen im Untersberg. The English translation appeared in 1896 as Among the Gnomes: An Occult Tale of Adventure in the Untersberg. In this story, the Gnomes are still clearly subterranean creatures, guarding treasures of gold within the Untersberg Mountain.

As a figure of 19th century fairy tales, the term gnome by the 20th century became largely synonymous with other terms for the “little people”, such as goblin, brownie, kobold, leprechaun, Heinzelmännchen and other instances of the “domestic spirit” type, losing its strict association with earth or the underground world. In modern fantasy literature, more precisely in L. Frank Baum’s Oz series, the Nomes (so spelled), especially their king, are the chief adversaries of the Oz people. Ruth Plumly Thompson, who continued the series after Baum’s death, reverted to the traditional spelling. In C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, gnomes, or “Earthmen” as they are sometimes called, live in the Underland, a series of subterranean caverns. Unlike the traditional, more humanlike gnomes, they can have a wide variety of physical features and skin colors. They are used as slaves by the Lady of the Green Kirtle. Finally, J. R. R. Tolkien, in The Lords of the Ring, describing the legendarium surrounding his Elves, uses “Gnomes” as a name of the Noldor, the most gifted and technologically minded of his elvish races, in conscious exploitation of the similarity with gnomic; Gnomes is thus Tolkien’s English loan-translation of Quenya Noldor, “those with knowledge”. In The Father Christmas Letters, which Tolkien wrote for his children, Red Gnomes are helpful creatures who come from Norway to the North Pole to assist Father Christmas and his Elves in fighting the wicked Goblins.

More recently in the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons, The Earth Elementals or Gnomes, have have been described as having “the eternal strength of stone and the endurance of mountains.”[6] Primordially connected to the land they inhabit and because they are so closely associated with the mineral and geological time perspective, “they take a long-term view of things, scorning the impetuous haste of short-lived mortal creatures.”[7] It is evident that we are not talking about the nice garden dwarves of the fairy tales and bedtimes story here, for most elementals creatures are hostile at worst (or uncaring at best) toward humanity and the elementals of Earth of the Dungeon and Dragon magical universe are more so than is normal, owing to the fact that they can hide from humans easily and that most travelers cannot pursue them far into their own plane.

[1] Gnome. Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2nd ed. 1989.

[2] Gnome. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2008-03-12.

[3]Paracelsus (1566). Liber de nymphis, sylphis, pygmaeis et salamandris et de caeteris spiritibus. Nissae Silesiorum.

[4] “The earth is filled well-nigh to its center with Gnomes, peoples of slight stature, who are the guardians of treasures, minerals and precious stones. They are ingenious, friends of man and easy to govern.” (Sloane MSS3825, C 17th CE.)

[5]Den Aedra Eddas Gudesange, Gjellerup, 1895.

[6] Jeff Grubb, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, The Manual of the Planes, p. 45.

[7] Jeff Grubb, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, The Manual of the Planes, p. 45.

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