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Symbolism of the Four Elements

Symbolism of the Four Elements

The world was believed to be made up of four fundamental elements: air, water, fire, and earth. The ancients thought of them as life-sustaining energy forces; hence, the importance these elements have maintained all these years. 

To put it simply, the human body is a physical construct that exists in the material world, and air, water, earth, and fire are vital aspects of the physical universe and matter. As a result, humans were considered to be made up of and regulated by the four elements.

Therefore, it was essential for humans to try and establish a balance between all these factors if they indeed wanted to benefit physically and psychologically. 

All things existing in the physical world have been found to have a mix of four main qualities: hot, dry, cold, and wet. A combination of dry and hot weather resulted in fire; hot and wet produced air while cold and wet produced water and earth. 

Moreover, these four elements worked together to produce life, but only with the fifth element, the spirit, the life force, often known as ‘aether or ‘prana.’

Almost all societies across the world placed a high value on the four elements, and the symbols associated with them became strong.

The Four Elements 

Around 450 BCE, the great philosopher Aristotle devised the idea of elements, which we may credit him for. Other philosophers such as Plato, Empedocles, and Pythagoras contributed their own components to the elements’ recipe, but it was Aristotle who created the entire four-layer cake that resulted in fundamental elements matter.

He postulated that all matter and life are made up of one or more of the following four elements: air, water, fire, and earth. He also discovered a fifth element known as ‘aether.’ It is the ‘all that is’ and the non-matter aspect of the material universe.

The intangible element signifies balance and oneness. Consider aether to be the energy super glue that holds the four elements with each other in a balanced, harmonious manner. 

Let’s take a closer look at the main four elements before we learn more about the four elements. 


Camp Fire.
The Fire Element
Image courtesy:

Fire has been connected to rage, aggression, and anger more often than not, but it is also a source of life, warmth, assertiveness, and power. When respected and used with caution, fire is an element that enriches our lives every single day. 

The Southern region is often connected to the fire element (often connected to the equator line too). The colors yellow, red, and orange are often associated with the element, but blue-green fire is also a popular depiction of the element –signifying unparalleled heat. The salamander, a mythical creature, is also connected to fire. 

The sun is often associated with the fire element –it is an entire ball of fire, so why not! It offers hope and light to all of us, enough to survive during the cold and dark months of winters. It is a transformative element that works in tandem with other elements to reshape the world. For example, fire turns water into steam and earth into lava. 

The symbol for fire is a pyramid, or triangle, facing up towards the heavens (or the sun, in some cultures). Fire signs in the zodiac stars are Sagittarius, Aries, and Leo –all known to have a fierce side to them. 


The sea.
The Water Element
Anastasia Taioglou thenata, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Water symbolizes peace, calmness, transformation, and fertility. Water is essential for life since all living things need water to survive, which is why it is one of the four essential elements that make up life. The oceans hold unparalleled secrets that we have yet to explore, making the depths of the ocean quite mysterious.

Colors often associated with the water symbol, of course, include blue; however, the unknown depths and darkness of the ocean are often symbolized by black and gray, while the icy nature of water is denoted by silver. 

The oceans, rivers, springs, lakes, and waves are all symbols of this element. The purifying effect of water, as well as the flowy nature, motivates people to go through life accepting all that comes. 

This wet and cold element is often connected to the direction of the West as well as the fall season. It is often drawn like a pyramid or triangle, facing towards the ground. Zodiac water signs are Cancer, Pisces, and Scorpio. While it is definitely an element that exudes relaxation, it can also bring melancholy and sadness if indulged in excessively.  


Clouds, sky, and open-air .
The element of air
Image Courtesy:

Air is often associated with independence, free spirit, creativity, strategy, and knowledge. It is an essential element that all life is dependent on. It is a wet and energizing element that can be found everywhere around us. It is depicted by winds and breezes. 

It is represented by colors like white, blue, yellow, and gray and is often depicted with imagery of dawn and spring. It is associated with the East direction and represented by the sylph animal (a legendary mythical creature). 

The symbol for air is similar to fire, a pyramid facing upwards but with a solid line through the triangle at the peak. Air zodiac signs are Aquarius, Gemini, and Libra, all known for their free-spirited nature and creativity. 


Landscape of a mountain.
The Element of Earth
Image Courtesy: Piqsels

Earth is often associated with a natural connotation since all life comes from and returns to the earth. It is often associated with a motherly trait (Mother Earth rules all); earth feeds and protects all. In Ancient Times, earth was even represented by Mother Gaia in Greek mythology that created all life. 

It is depicted by plains, mountains, fields, and hills –natural landscapes with trees and grass. Earth provides all organisms with nutrition and energy since it offers a fertile and rich ground where food comes from. 

It is an element that is known to be quite grounding. It is denoted by the Northern direction and is often associated with the winter season. The mythical creature often associated with it is the gnome. The colors often used around Earth symbology are brown, yellow, and green. 

It is represented by a pyramid facing the ground (no surprises there). The three zodiac signs of the Earth element are Capricorn, Taurus, and Virgo –all known for their strong-minded and grounded attitude. Saturn is also associated with this element. Earth is the ruler of the body and is found in the root chakra.

Although Earth is an essential element, its full power and potential can only be achieved when it is in the company of others.

The Fifth Element: The Spirit

Spiritual concept.
The spirit element
Image by Activedia from Pixabay

As spirit is not a physical element, it does not have the same set of symbols as the four physical elements. It may be associated with tools, planets, and other things in various systems, although such associations are significantly less conventional than the four elements.

Spirit is known by a variety of names. Spirit, aether, ether, and quintessence (Latin for “fifth element”) are the most prevalent.

There is no universal symbol for spirit. However, circles are often used. Spirit is sometimes represented as eight-spoked spirals and wheels.

In cosmological conceptions, the spirit is the transitional substance between the heavenly and physical worlds that serves as a link between the spiritual and physical realms. It also serves as a link between the soul and body in the microcosm.

How to Use the Four Elements to Bring Balance

The four elements are effective guidelines for living in harmony with nature. Every breath of fresh air helps us to unwind. Fire provides us with both strength and vitality. Like water, we learn to be more fluid and flow through life.

The soil tells us to take care of ourselves by healing and nourishing us. We become much more conscious and tap into the knowledge of life itself when we connect with the four elements.

We all have a tendency to depend on one aspect of ourselves while dismissing the others. For example, in contemporary culture, we are more concerned with our physical bodies (earth) than with our spiritual nature (fire). We put our faith in our thoughts (air), but we overlook our emotional bodies (water).