Air (classical element)

Air (classical element)

In traditional cultures, "air" is often seen as a universal power or pure substance. Its fundamental importance to life can be seen in words such as spirit, inspire, expire, and aspire, all derived from the Latin "spirare" ("to breathe").

Greek and Roman Tradition

"Air" is one of the four classical elements in ancient Greek philosophy and science. According to Plato, it is associated with the octahedron; "air" is considered to be both hot and wet. The ancient Greeks used two words for "air": "aer" meant the dim lower atmosphere, and "aether" meant the bright upper atmosphere above the clouds. [ W. K. C. Guthrie, "A History of Greek Philosophy", vol. 1, pp. 466, 470-71.] Plato, for instance writes that "So it is with "air": there is the brightest variety which we call "aether", the muddiest which we call mist and darkness, and other kinds for which we have no name...." [Plato, "Timaeus", ch. 27, p. 83.] Among the early Greek Pre-Socratic philosophers, Anaximenes (mid-6th century BCE) named "air" as the "arche" (first principle of the world). As it grows warm and rarefied, "air" becomes fire; as it cools and condenses it becomes water, then earth and rock. [Guthrie, "History of Greek Philosophy", vol. 1, pp. 115-16, 120-32; Jonathan Barnes, "Early Greek Philosophy", pp. 77-80.] A similar belief was attributed by some ancient sources to Diogenes Apolloniates (late 5th century BCE), who also linked "air" with intelligence and soul ("psyche"), but other sources claim that his "arche" was a substance between air and fire. [Guthrie, vol. 2, pp. 362-81; Barnes, pp. 289-94.] Aristophanes parodied such teachings in his play "The Clouds" by putting a prayer to "air" in the mouth of Socrates.

"Air" was one of many "archai" proposed by the Pre-socratics, most of whom tried to reduce all things to a single substance. However, Empedocles of Acragas (c. 495-c. 435 BCE) selected four "archai" for his four roots: "air", fire, water, and earth. Ancient and modern opinions differ as to whether he identified "air" by the divine name Hera, Aidoneus, or even Zeus. Empedocles’ roots became the four classical elements of Greek philosophy. [Guthrie, vol. 2, pp. 138-46. Guthrie suggests that Hera is the safest identification for "air".] Plato (427-347 BCE) took over the four elements of Empedocles. In the "Timaeus", his major cosmological dialogue, the Platonic solid associated with "air" is the octahedron which is formed from eight equilateral triangles. This places "air" between fire (four triangular sides) and water (twenty triangular sides), which Plato regarded as appropriate because it is intermediate in its mobility, sharpness, and ability to penetrate. He also said of "air" that its minuscule components are so smooth that one can barely feel them. [Plato, "Timaeus", chap. 22-23; Gregory Vlastos, "Plato’s Universe", pp. 66-82.]

Plato’s student Aristotle (384-322 BCE) developed a different explanation for the elements based on pairs of qualities. The four elements were arranged concentrically around the center of the universe to form the sublunary sphere. According to Aristotle, "air" is both hot and wet, and occupies a place between fire and water among the elemental spheres. Aristotle definitively separated "air" from aether. For him, aether was an unchanging, almost divine substance that was found only in the heavens, where it formed celestial spheres. [G. E. R. Lloyd, "Aristotle", chapters 7-8.]

In ancient Greek medicine, each of the four humours became associated with an element. Blood was the humor identified with "air", since both were hot and wet. Other things associated with air and blood in ancient and medieval medicine included the season of spring, since it increased the qualities of heat and moisture; the sanguine temperament (of a person dominated by the blood humour); hermaphrodite (combining the masculine quality of heat with the feminine quality of moisture); and the northern point of the compass. [Londa Schiebinger, "The Mind Has No Sex?", p. 162.]

The alchemical symbol for "air" is an upward-pointing triangle, bisected by a horizontal line.

Indian Tradition

In Hinduism, Vayu (Sanskrit वायु ), "also known as" Vāta वात, Pavana पवन (meaning the Purifier) [The Book of Hindu Imagery: Gods, Manifestations and Their Meaning By Eva Rudy Jansen p. 68 ] , or Prāna, is a primary deity, who is the father of Bhima and the spiritual father of Lord Hanuman. As the words for air (Vāyu) or wind (Pavana) it is one of the "Panchamahābhuta" the "five great elements" in Hinduism. The Sanskrit word 'Vāta' literally means "", 'Vāyu' "", and 'Prāna' "" (viz. the breath of life, cf. the *an- in ").

In Indian tradition the element Air is also linked to Shani or Saturn and the north-west direction.

Chinese Tradition

"Air" is not one of the traditional five Chinese classical elements. Nevertheless, the ancient Chinese concept of "Qi" or "chi" is believed to be close to that of air. Qi (spelled in Mandarin Pinyin romanization), pronounced IPA2|tɕʰi, also ch'i (in Wade-Giles romanization) or ki (in Japanese romanization), is a fundamental concept of traditional Chinese culture. Qi is believed to be part of every living thing that exists, as a kind of "life force" or "spiritual energy". It is frequently translated as "energy flow", or literally as "air" or "breath". (For example, "tiānqì", literally "sky breath", is the ordinary Chinese word for "weather"). In Mandarin Chinese it is pronounced something like "chee" in English, but the tongue position is different. (See .) The concept of qi is often reified, however no scientific evidence supports its existence.

The element air also appears as a concept in the Buddhist religion, which has an ancient history in China.

Some modern occultists equate the Chinese classical element of wood with "air". [Donald Michael Kraig, "Modern Magick", p. 115.]

In Modern Magic

Ceremonial Magic

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, founded in 1888, combined ideas from many different sources including Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, the angelic system of 16th-century magician John Dee and his assistant Edward Kelley, Hermetic Qabalah, and recent archaeological discoveries of Egyptian and Greco-Roman magic and religion. [Ronald Hutton, "Triumph of the Moon", pp. 72-83.] Thus "air" and the other Greek classical elements were incorporated into the Golden Dawn system despite being considered obsolete by modern science. Theoricus (2=9) is the elemental grade attributed to "air"; this grade is also attributed to the Moon and the Qabalistic sphere Yesod. [Israel Regardie, "The Golden Dawn", pp. 154-65.] The elemental weapon of "air" is the dagger, which must be painted yellow with magical names and sigils written upon it in violet. [Regardie, "Golden Dawn", p.322; Kraig, "Modern Magick", pp. 149-53.] Each of the elements has several associated spiritual beings. The archangel of "air" is Raphael, the angel is Chassan, the ruler is Aral, the king is Paralda, and the "air" elementals (following Paracelsus) are called sylphs. [Regardie, "Golden Dawn", p. 80.] "Air" is considered to be active; it is represented by the Man and the symbol for Aquarius, and it is referred to the upper left point of the pentagram in the Supreme Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram. [Regardie, "Golden Dawn", pp. 280-286; Kraig, "Modern Magick", pp. 206-209.] Many of these associations have since spread throughout the occult community.

In the Golden Dawn and many other magical systems, each element is associated with one of the cardinal points and is placed under the care of guardian Watchtowers. The Watchtowers derive from the Enochian system of magic founded by Dee. In the Golden Dawn, they are represented by the Enochian elemental tablets. [Doreen Valiente, "The Rebirth of Witchcraft", p. 64.] "Air" is associated with the east, which is guarded by the First Watchtower. [Regardie, "Golden Dawn", p. 631.]


"Air" is one of the four elements appears in many neopagan traditions. Wicca in particular was influenced by the Golden Dawn system of magic, and Aleister Crowley's mysticism, which was in turn inspired by the Golden Dawn. [Hutton, "Triumph of the Moon", pp. 216-23; Valiente, Witchcraft for Tomorrow, p. 17.] Common Wiccan attributions include:

*The cardinal direction of east.
*Yellow, or pastel colors. "(Some associate air with green or even a light blue.)"
*The wand or the athame.
*Woodwind instruments.
*The suit of Wands or Swords in the Minor Arcana of tarot. Swords are traditionally associated with Air, and still are in most Tarot decks, however, increasingly decks are being published with Wands associated with Air and Swords with Fire. This is still a matter of debate within the esoteric and Wiccan community. [See Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm DruidCraft Tarot Handbook, or]
*Mind, intellect, consciousness, study, communication.
*The alchemic notion of Azoth.
*Sunrise, childhood, spring, beginnings.
*Birds, insects, flying creatures.
*Masculine energy.
*Many gods and goddesses, including Aradia, Athena, Hermes, Mercury, Nuit, Shu, Thoth, and Zeus.

Astrological Personalities

People born under the astrological signs of Libra, Gemini and Aquarius are thought to have dominant "air" personalities. "Air" personalities tend to be kind, intellectual, communicative, social, and helpful. They also have a dark side.Fact|date=July 2008

Other Traditions

Enlil was the god of "air" in ancient Sumer. Shu was the ancient Egyptian god of "air" and the husband of Tefnut, goddess of moisture. He became an emblem of strength by virtue of his role in separating Nut (sky) from Geb (earth). He played a primary role in the Coffin Texts, which were spells intended to help the deceased reach the realm of the afterlife safely. On the way to the sky, the spirit had to travel through the "air", as one spell indicates: "I have gone up in Shu, I have climbed on the sunbeams." [Bob Brier, "Ancient Egyptian Magic", p.128.]

In East Asia, "air" is seen as the equivalent of "spirit" or "chi," or wood (classical element) or metal (classical element) are sometimes seen as the equivalent of "air" which is represented by the Azure Dragon, known as 青龍 ("Qīng Lóng") in Chinese, "Seiryuu" in Japanese and "Cheong-ryong" (청룡, Hanja:靑龍) in Korean. "Air" is represented in the Aztec religion by a snake; to the Scythians, a yoke; to the Hindus and Greeks, a swordFact|date=February 2007; and in Christian iconography, as mankind.

ee also

*Earth's atmosphere
*Deities of the sky


References and Further Reading

*Barnes, Jonathan. "Early Greek Philosophy". London: Penguin, 1987.
*Brier, Bob. "Ancient Egyptian Magic". New York: Quill, 1980.
*Guthrie, W. K. C. "A History of Greek Philosophy". 6 volumes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962-81.
*Cunningham, Scott. "Earth, Air, Fire and Water: More Techniques of Natural Magic".
*Hutton, Ronald. "Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft". Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, 2001.
*Kraig, Donald Michael. "Modern Magick: Eleven Lessons in the High Magickal Arts". St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1994.
*Lloyd, G. E. R. "Aristotle: The Growth and Structure of His Thought". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968.
*Plato. "Timaeus and Critias". Translated by Desmond Lee. Revised edition. London: Penguin, 1977.
*Regardie, Israel. "The Golden Dawn". 6th edition. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1990.
*Schiebinger, Londa. "The Mind Has No Sex? Women in the Origins of Modern Science". Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989.
*Starhawk. "The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess". 3rd edition. 1999.
*Valiente, Doreen. "Witchcraft for Tomorrow". Custer, Wash.: Phoenix Publishing, 1978.
*Valiente, Doreen. "The Rebirth of Witchcraft". Custer, Wash.: Phoenix Publishing, 1989.
*Vlastos, Gregory. "Plato’s Universe". Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1975.

External links

* [ The elements] Elemental correspondences from Wicca: For the rest of us.
* [ The Four Elements In the Western Tradition] Essay on Golden Dawn elemental tradition by V.N. Frater I.C.L.
* [ The Elements:Air] Neo-pagan version of "The Ancient Greek Esoteric Doctrine of the Elements" by John Opsopaus.
* [ Different versions of the classical elements]
* [ Overview the 5 elements]

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