In Australia we welcome in the New Year on January 1st with fireworks, parties and new year resolutions. The most spectacular pyrotechnic display is on Sydney Harbor, where a combination of fire and water holds people in awe and wonder. In many other cultures the New Year is celebrated at a different time of year. While I’d like to wish everyone a Happy New Year based on the Gregorian calendar, of particular interest in this post are the Tibetan astrological and astronomical systems that are intimately connected to the elements.
The Rivered Earth contains four libretti written by Vikram Seth, a celebrated Indian novelist and poet, designed to be set to music by Alec Roth. The final libretti is called ‘Seven Elements’. It is a song cycle that includes seven poems – Earth, Air, Wood, Fire, Metal, Water and Space.
Very few western scientists take the elements – earth, fire, water, air and space/spirit – seriously. David Suzuki is an exception.
The prayers, sacred mantras and symbols on Tibetan prayer flags have been carried by the wind for millennia. First Bon, then Buddhism. Always elemental.
The elements are part of our lives in a multitude of ways, some more obvious than others. Today, the first ‘official’ day of Spring in the Southern Hemisphere, seemed a perfect occasion to explore a day in my life with the elements. These experiences are shared and connect us, wherever we are in the world.
It seems like Paracelsus, the influential Swiss-German alchemist, was onto something. He was the first to use the term ‘elemental’ to describe mythological beings associated with the elements of earth, water, air and fire. His works were written in the 16th century, around 500 years ago. As you read on, and as shown by the Google images of ‘Elementals’, the idea has caught on!
‘Fire Up Water Down: An exploration of the elements’ was launched on the first day of autumn in the southern hemisphere, five months ago to this day. Now well into winter, we have been experiencing very elemental weather with wild winds, torrential rain, thunder, lightning and pounding seas. Something to be appreciated with awe and wonder.
I will never see my hands and fingers in the same light again. Many cultures and religions consider that everything in the universe, including humans, are made up of the elements of fire, air, earth, water and (often) space/ether/spirit. Even so, I had not made the connection between the elements and our fingers, and in particular with mudras – those elegant and powerful gestures commonly associated with Buddhism, Yoga (e.g. Raja and Hatha) and Indian dance and drama.
One of the most magical pieces of elemental music I have heard is the air escaping from Arctic glacial ice as it was melted by the sun. Very subtle, calming, beautiful and quite a surprise. Who would have thought of musical ice? I hadn’t until I experienced it directly.
Late spring in Hokkaido
Playground of the gods
Earth expels steam
Snow melt brings living water
Cherry blossoms dance in the wind
In transition, the earth changes her cloak