The Five Elements

January 26, 2022

Water, by condensation, becomes stone and earth. When melted and dispersed, passes into vapour and air.

Air when inflamed, becomes fire.

Fire, when condensed and extinguished, passes once more into the form of air

Air, when collected and condensed, produces cloud and mist

From these, when still more compressed, comes flowing water, and from water comes earth and stones once more.


  • generation is transmitted from one to the other in a circle.
  • the several elements never present themselves in the same form.

That in which the elements severally grow up, and appear, and decay, is alone to be called by the name ‘this’ or ‘that’; but that which is of a certain nature, hot or white, or anything which admits of opposite qualities, and all things that are compounded of them, should not be called as this or that.

Suppose a person to make all kinds of figures of gold and to be always transmuting one form into all the rest;—somebody points to one of them and asks what it is.

His safest and truest answer is= That is gold. It is not a triangle or any other shape.

The same argument applies to the universal nature which receives all bodies. That must be always called the same; for, while receiving all things, she never departs at all from her own nature in any way or at any time.

She is the natural recipient of all impressions, and is stirred and informed by them, and appears different from time to time by reason of them. But the forms which enter into and go out of her are the likenesses of real existences modelled after their patterns in a wonderful and inexplicable manner, which we will hereafter investigate. For now, we conceive of 3 natures:

  1. The nature in process of generation

  2. The nature where the generation takes place

  3. The nature of the thing generated as a resemblance

The receiving principle is like a mother. The source or spring is like a father. The intermediate nature is a child.

If this model is to take every variety of form, then the ouput matter will not be duly prepared unless it is formless and free from the impress of any of those shapes which it is hereafter to receive from outside.

If the matter were like any of the supervening forms, then whenever any opposite or entirely different nature was stamped upon its surface, it would take the impression badly, because it would intrude its own shape.

But that which is to receive all forms should have no form. For example, in making perfumes they first contrive that the liquid substance which is to receive the scent shall be as inodorous as possible; or as those who wish to impress figures on soft substances do not allow any previous impression to remain, but begin by making the surface as even and smooth as possible.

In the same way that which is to receive perpetually and through its whole extent the resemblances of all eternal beings should be devoid of any particular form. Wherefore, the mother and receptacle of all created and visible and in any way sensible things, is not to be termed earth, or air, or fire, or water, or any of their compounds or any of the elements from which these are derived, but is an invisible and formless being which receives all things and in some mysterious way partakes of the intelligible, and is most incomprehensible.

Fire is that part of her nature which from time to time is inflamed, and water that which is moistened, and that the mother substance becomes earth and air, in so far as she receives the impressions of them.

Is there any self-existent fire?

Do all those things which we call self-existent exist?

Or are only those things which we see, or in some way perceive through the bodily organs, truly existent, and nothing whatever besides them? And is all that which we call an intelligible essence nothing at all, and only a name?

If mind and true opinion are two distinct classes, then there certainly are these self-existent ideas unperceived by sense, and apprehended only by the mind.

If, however, as some say, true opinion does not differ from mind, then everything that we perceive through the body is to be regarded as real and certain.

But we must affirm them to be distinct, for they have a distinct origin and are of a different nature.

  • The one is implanted in us by instruction, the other by persuasion.
  • The one is always accompanied by true reason, the other is without reason.
  • The one cannot be overcome by persuasion, but the other can
  • Every man shares in true opinion, but mind is the attribute of the gods and of very few men.

Being (Nirguna), Space (Saguna), and Generation (Taraka?)

There is one kind of being which is:

  • always the same, uncreated and indestructible
  • never receiving anything into itself from without, nor itself going out to any other, but invisible and imperceptible by any sense, and of which the contemplation is granted to intelligence only.

There is another nature of the same name with it, and like to it, perceived by sense, created, always in motion, becoming in place and again vanishing out of place, which is apprehended by opinion and sense.

There is a third nature called space which is eternal. It cannot be destroyed. It provides a home for all created things. It is apprehended without the help of sense, by a kind of spurious reason, and is hardly real. This is like a dream. say of all existence that it must of necessity be in some place and occupy a space, but that what is neither in heaven nor in earth has no existence.

Of these and other things of the same kind, relating to the true and waking reality of nature, we have only this dreamlike sense. We are unable to cast off sleep and determine the truth about them.

The reality of an image belongs to its model and not to itself. It exists ever as the fleeting shadow of some other. It must be inferred to be in another (i.e. in space), grasping existence in some way or other, or it could not be at all.

But true and exact reason, vindicating the nature of true being, maintains that while two things (i.e. the image and space) are different, they cannot exist one of them in the other and be one and two at the same time.

Big Bootup

Being, space, and generation existed in their 3 ways before the heaven. The nurse of generation was moistened by water and inflamed by fire. She received the forms of earth and air. She experienced all the affections which accompany these, presented a strange variety of appearances.

She was full of powers which were neither similar nor equally balanced and was never in a state of equipoise. Instead, she swayed unevenly here and there from being shaken by them. This motion again shook them. The elements thus moved were separated and carried continually. This is similar to grain shaken and winnowed by fans in the threshing of corn.

  • The close and heavy particles are borne away and settle in one direction.
  • The loose and light particles in another.

In this way, the 4 elements were then shaken by the receiving vessel which moved like a winnowing machine. The most dissimilar elements were scattered far away. The most similar elements were forced into close contact. This put the various elements in different places before they were arranged to form the universe.

At first, they were all without reason and measure. But when the world began to get into order, fire and water and earth and air had only certain faint traces of themselves, and were altogether such as everything might be expected to be in the absence of God.

In the first place, fire and earth and water and air are bodies.

Every body has solidity. Every solid must be contained in planes. Every plane rectilinear figure is composed of triangles. All triangles are originally of two kinds: both of which are made up of one right and two acute angles; one of them has at either end of the base the half of a divided right angle, having equal sides, while in the other the right angle is divided into unequal parts, having unequal sides.

These are the original elements of fire and the other bodies.

The isosceles triangle has one form only. The scalene or unequal-sided has an infinite number.

Of the infinite forms we must select the most beautiful, if we are to proceed in due order, and any one who can point out a more beautiful form than ours for the construction of these bodies, shall carry off the palm, not as an enemy, but as a friend.

The equilateral triangle is the most beautiful of all the many triangles.

Then let us choose two triangles, out of which fire and the other elements have been constructed, one isosceles, the other having the square of the longer side equal to three times the square of the lesser side.

It is wrong to imagine that all the four elements might be generated by and into one another. for there are generated from the triangles which we have selected four kinds—three from the one which has the sides unequal; the fourth alone is framed out of the isosceles triangle. Hence they cannot all be resolved into one another, a great number of small bodies being combined into a few large ones, or the converse.

But 3 of them can be thus resolved and compounded, for they all spring from one, and when the greater bodies are broken up, many small bodies will spring up out of them and take their own proper figures; or, again, when many small bodies are dissolved into their triangles, if they become one, they will form one large mass of another kind.

The first will be the simplest and smallest construction, and its element is that triangle which has its hypotenuse twice the lesser side.

When two such triangles are joined at the diagonal, and this is repeated 3 times, and the triangles rest their diagonals and shorter sides on the same point as a centre, a single equilateral triangle is formed out of 6 triangles; and 4 equilateral triangles, if put together, make out of every 3 plane angles one solid angle, being that which is nearest to the most obtuse of plane angles;

Out of the combination of these 4 angles arises the first solid form which distributes into equal and similar parts the whole circle in which it is inscribed.

The 2nd species of solid is formed out of the same triangles, which unite as 8 equilateral triangles and form one solid angle out of four plane angles, and out of six such angles the second body is completed.

The 3rd body is made up of 120 triangular elements, forming 12 solid angles. Each of them included in five plane equilateral triangles, having 20 bases in all. Each of which is an equilateral triangle.

The one element (that is, the triangle which has its hypotenuse twice the lesser side) having generated these figures, generated no more; but the isosceles triangle produced the 4th elementary figure, which is compounded of four such triangles, joining their right angles in a centre, and forming one equilateral quadrangle.

Six of these united form eight solid angles, each of which is made by the combination of three plane right angles; the figure of the body thus composed is a cube, having six plane quadrangular equilateral bases. There was yet a 5th combination which God used in the delineation of the universe.

He, however, who raises the question whether they are to be truly regarded as one or five, takes up a more reasonable position.

The earth element has a cubical form because the earth is the most immoveable of the four and the most plastic of all bodies.

The plane equilateral quadrangle has a more stable basis than the equilateral triangle, both in the whole and in the parts.

Rank | Movable | Smallness | Acuteness +++ | +++ | +++ | +++ 1 | Fire | Fire | Fire 2 | Air | Air | Air 3 | Water | Water | Water

According to strict reason and probability, the pyramid is the solid which is the original element and seed of fire. The next in the order of generation is air. The third is water.

We must imagine all these to be so small that no single particle of any of the four kinds is seen by us on account of their smallness.

but when many of them are collected together their aggregates are seen. And the ratios of their numbers, motions, and other properties, everywhere God, as far as necessity allowed or gave consent, has exactly perfected, and harmonized in due proportion.

Earth meets fire and is dissolved by its sharpness, whether the dissolution take place in the fire itself or perhaps in some mass of air or water, is borne hither and thither, until its parts, meeting together and mutually harmonising, again become earth; for they can never take any other form.

But water, when divided by fire or by air, on re-forming, may become one part fire and two parts air; and a single volume of air divided becomes two of fire.

When a small body of fire is contained in a larger body of air or water or earth, and both are moving, and the fire struggling is overcome and broken up, then two volumes of fire form one volume of air; and when air is overcome and cut up into small pieces, two and a half parts of air are condensed into one part of water.

When one of the other elements is fastened upon by fire, and is cut by the sharpness of its angles and sides, it coalesces with the fire, and then ceases to be cut by them any longer. For no element which is one and the same with itself can be changed by or change another of the same kind and in the same state.

But so long as in the process of transition the weaker is fighting against the stronger, the dissolution continues. Again, when a few small particles, enclosed in many larger ones, are in process of decomposition and extinction, they only cease from their tendency to extinction when they consent to pass into the conquering nature, and fire becomes air and air water.

But if bodies of another kind go and attack them (i.e. the small particles), the latter continue to be dissolved until, being completely forced back and dispersed, they make their escape to their own kindred, or else, being overcome and assimilated to the conquering power, they remain where they are and dwell with their victors, and from being many become one.

Owing to these affections, all things are changing their place, for by the motion of the receiving vessel the bulk of each class is distributed into its proper place; but those things which become unlike themselves and like other things, are hurried by the shaking into the place of the things to which they grow like.

All unmixed and primary bodies are produced by such causes as these. As to the subordinate species which are included in the greater kinds, they are to be attributed to the varieties in the structure of the two original triangles.

For either structure did not originally produce the triangle of one size only, but some larger and some smaller, and there are as many sizes as there are species of the four elements. Hence when they are mingled with themselves and with one another there is an endless variety of them, which those who would arrive at the probable truth of nature ought duly to consider.

Unless a person comes to an understanding about the nature and conditions of rest and motion, he will meet with many difficulties in the discussion which follows. Something has been said of this matter already, and something more remains to be said, which is, that motion never exists in what is uniform.

For to conceive that anything can be moved without a mover is hard or indeed impossible, and equally impossible to conceive that there can be a mover unless there be something which can be moved—motion cannot exist where either of these are wanting, and for these to be uniform is impossible; wherefore we must assign rest to uniformity and motion to the want of uniformity. Now inequality is the cause of the nature which is wanting in uniformity; and of this we have already described the origin.

But there still remains the further point—why things when divided after their kinds do not cease to pass through one another and to change their place—which we will now proceed to explain. In the revolution of the universe are comprehended all the four elements, and this being circular and having a tendency to come together, compresses everything and will not allow any place to be left void. Wherefore, also, fire above all things penetrates everywhere, and air next, as being next in rarity of the elements; and the two other elements in like manner penetrate according to their degrees of rarity.

For those things which are composed of the largest particles have the largest void left in their compositions, and those which are composed of the smallest particles have the least. And the contraction caused by the compression thrusts the smaller particles into the interstices of the larger. And thus, when the small parts are placed side by side with the larger, and the lesser divide the greater and the greater unite the lesser, all the elements are borne up and down and hither and thither towards their own places; for the change in the size of each changes its position in space.

These causes generate an inequality which is always maintained, and is continually creating a perpetual motion of the elements in all time.

Kinds of Fire

  1. Flame
  2. Emanations of flame which do not burn but only give light to the eyes
  3. The remains of fire, which are seen in red-hot embers after the flame has been extinguished.


There are similar differences in the air. The brightest part is called the aether. The most turbid sort mist and darkness. There are various other nameless kinds which arise from the inequality of the triangles.

Water is divided into two kinds=

  1. liquid
  • small and unequal particles of water. This moves itself and is moved by other bodies owing to the want of uniformity and the shape of its particles
  1. fusile.
  • this is formed of large and uniform particles, is more stable than the other, and is heavy and compact by reason of its uniformity.

When fire gets in and dissolves the particles and destroys the uniformity, it has greater mobility, and becoming fluid is thrust forth by the neighbouring air and spreads upon the earth. This dissolution of the solid masses is called melting. Their spreading out upon the earth flowing. Again, when the fire goes out of the fusile substance, it does not pass into a vacuum, but into the neighbouring air.

The air which is displaced forces together the liquid and still moveable mass into the place which was occupied by the fire, and unites it with itself. Thus compressed the mass resumes its equability, and is again at unity with itself, because the fire which was the author of the inequality has retreated; and this departure of the fire is called cooling, and the coming together which follows upon it is termed congealment.

Of all the kinds termed fusile, that which is the densest and is formed out of the finest and most uniform parts is that most precious possession called gold, which is hardened by filtration through rock; this is unique in kind, and has both a glittering and a yellow colour.

A shoot of gold, which is so dense as to be very hard, and takes a black colour, is termed adamant. There is also another kind which has parts nearly like gold, and of which there are several species; it is denser than gold, and it contains a small and fine portion of earth, and is therefore harder, yet also lighter because of the great interstices which it has within itself; and this substance, which is one of the bright and denser kinds of water, when solidified is called copper.

There is an alloy of earth mingled with it, which, when the two parts grow old and are disunited, shows itself separately and is called rust. The remaining phenomena of the same kind there will be no difficulty in reasoning out by the method of probabilities.

A man may sometimes set aside meditations about eternal things, and for recreation turn to consider the truths of generation which are probable only; he will thus gain a pleasure not to be repented of, and secure for himself while he lives a wise and moderate pastime. Let us grant ourselves this indulgence, and go through the probabilities relating to the same subjects which follow next in order.

Water which is mingled with fire, so much as is fine and liquid (being so called by reason of its motion and the way in which it rolls along the ground), and soft, because its bases give way and are less stable than those of earth, when separated from fire and air and isolated, becomes more uniform, and by their retirement is compressed into itself; and if the condensation be very great, the water above the earth becomes hail, but on the earth, ice; and that which is congealed in a less degree and is only half solid, when above the earth is called snow, and when upon the earth, and condensed from dew, hoar-frost.

There are many kinds of water which have been mingled with one another, and are distilled through plants which grow in the earth. This whole class is called by the name of juices or saps.

The unequal admixture of these fluids creates a variety of species; most of them are nameless, but four which are of a fiery nature are clearly distinguished and have names.

  1. There is wine, which warms the soul as well as the body
  2. There is the oily nature, which is smooth and divides the visual ray, and for this reason is bright and shining and of a glistening appearance, including pitch, the juice of the castor berry, oil itself, and other things of a like kind
  3. There is the class of substances which expand the contracted parts of the mouth, until they return to their natural state, and by reason of this property create sweetness;—these are included under the general name of honey=
  4. There is a frothy nature, which differs from all juices, having a burning quality which dissolves the flesh; it is called opos (a vegetable acid).

The kind of earth that is filtered through water passes into stone in the following way:

The water which mixes with the earth and is broken up in the process changes into air, and taking this form mounts into its own place.

But as there is no surrounding vacuum it thrusts away the neighbouring air, and this being rendered heavy, and, when it is displaced, having been poured around the mass of earth, forcibly compresses it and drives it into the vacant space whence the new air had come up; and the earth when compressed by the air into an indissoluble union with water becomes rock.

The fairer sort is that which is made up of equal and similar parts and is transparent; that which has the opposite qualities is inferior.

But when all the watery part is suddenly drawn out by fire, a more brittle substance is formed, to which we give the name of pottery. Sometimes also moisture may remain, and the earth which has been fused by fire becomes, when cool, a certain stone of a black colour.

A like separation of the water which had been copiously mingled with them may occur in two substances composed of finer particles of earth and of a briny nature; out of either of them a half-solid-body is then formed, soluble in water—the one, soda, which is used for purging away oil and earth, the other, salt, which harmonizes so well in combinations pleasing to the palate, and is, as the law testifies, a substance dear to the gods.

The compounds of earth and water are not soluble by water, but by fire only, and for this reason:—Neither fire nor air melt masses of earth; for their particles, being smaller than the interstices in its structure, have plenty of room to move without forcing their way, and so they leave the earth unmelted and undissolved; but particles of water, which are larger, force a passage, and dissolve and melt the earth. Wherefore earth when not consolidated by force is dissolved by water only; when consolidated, by nothing but fire; for this is the only body which can find an entrance.

The cohesion of water again, when very strong, is dissolved by fire only—when weaker, then either by air or fire—the former entering the interstices, and the latter penetrating even the triangles. But nothing can dissolve air, when strongly condensed, which does not reach the elements or triangles; or if not strongly condensed, then only fire can dissolve it.

While the water occupies the vacant interstices of the earth in them which are compressed by force, the particles of water which approach them from without, finding no entrance, flow around the entire mass and leave it undissolved; but the particles of fire, entering into the interstices of the water, do to the water what water does to earth and fire to air (The text seems to be corrupt.), and are the sole causes of the compound body of earth and water liquefying and becoming fluid.

These bodies are of two kinds; some of them, such as glass and the fusible sort of stones, have less water than they have earth; on the other hand, substances of the nature of wax and incense have more of water entering into their composition.