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Alchemical symbol for air

Air is one of the four "classical elements in ancient "Greek philosophy and in Western "alchemy.


Greek and Roman tradition[edit]

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.[1] "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...."[2] Among the early Greek "Pre-Socratic philosophers, "Anaximenes (mid-6th century BCE) named air as the "arche.[3] 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.[4] "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.[5] "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 and water 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.[6]

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.[7]

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.[8]

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

Modern reception[edit]

The "Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, founded in 1888, incorporates air and the other Greek classical elements into its teachings.[9] The "elemental weapon of air is the dagger which must be painted yellow with magical names and sigils written upon it in violet.[10] 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.[11] Air is considerable and it is referred to the upper left point of the pentagram in the Supreme Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram.[12] 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.[13] Air is associated with the east, which is guarded by the First Watchtower.[14]

Air is one of the five elements that appear in most "Wiccan and Pagan traditions. "Wicca in particular was influenced by the Golden Dawn system of magic and "Aleister Crowley's mysticism.[15]

Parallels in non-Western traditions[edit]

In "Hinduism, "Vayu ("Sanskrit वायु ), also known as Vāta वात, Pavana पवन (meaning the Purifier),[16] 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.

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 (Mandarin pronunciation: "[tɕʰî]; spelled in "Pinyin "romanization and ch'i4 in "Wade-Giles) 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 Media:Difficult Sounds.GIF.) 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 philosophy which has an ancient history in China.

Some Western modern occultists equate the "Chinese classical element of "metal with air,[17] others with "wood due to the elemental association of wind and wood in the "bagua.

"Enlil was the god of air in ancient "Sumer. "Shu was the "ancient Egyptian "deity of air and the husband of "Tefnut, goddess of moisture. He became an emblem of strength by virtue of his role in separating "Nut from "Geb. Shu 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."[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, vol. 1, pp. 466, 470–71.
  2. ^ Plato, Timaeus, ch. 27, p. 83.
  3. ^ Guthrie, History of Greek Philosophy, vol. 1, pp. 115–16, 120–32; Jonathan Barnes, Early Greek Philosophy, pp. 77–80.
  4. ^ Guthrie, vol. 2, pp. 362–81; Barnes, pp. 289–94.
  5. ^ Guthrie, vol. 2, pp. 138–46. Guthrie suggests that Hera is the safest identification for air.
  6. ^ Plato, Timaeus, chap. 22–23; Gregory Vlastos, Plato’s Universe, pp. 66–82.
  7. ^ "G. E. R. Lloyd, Aristotle, chapters 7–8.
  8. ^ Londa Schiebinger, p. 162.
  9. ^ Israel Regardie, The Golden Dawn, pp. 154–65.
  10. ^ Regardie, Golden Dawn, p.322; Kraig, Modern Magick, pp. 149–53.
  11. ^ Regardie, Golden Dawn, p. 80.
  12. ^ Regardie, Golden Dawn, pp. 280–286; Kraig, Modern Magick, pp. 206–209.
  13. ^ Doreen Valiente, The Rebirth of Witchcraft, p. 64.
  14. ^ Regardie, Golden Dawn, p. 631.
  15. ^ Hutton, pp. 216–23; Valiente, Witchcraft for Tomorrow, p. 17.
  16. ^ The Book of Hindu Imagery: Gods, Manifestations and Their Meaning By Eva Rudy Jansen p. 68
  17. ^ Donald Michael Kraig, Modern Magick, p. 115.
  18. ^ Bob Brier, Ancient Egyptian Magic, p.128.

References and further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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