Dragons have us captivated. Mysterious, magical, embodiments of energy, they have been referred to throughout history in one form or another across diverse cultures. They still feature today in areas such as art, music, film, television, festivals, Magic, Feng Shui, Apps, national flags and astrology. October 24th 2015 marked the second World Dragon Day with events held around the globe. Dragons and the elements are closely connected – this post shares a selection of stories about this relationship with a focus on East Asia and Europe.
Goethe and I share the same birthday, albeit in different centuries. We also share an interest in science, art, literature, the natural world, communication and the elements. Best known as the author of Faust and other literary classics, Goethe also produced an extensive body of work on geology, botany, zoology, colour theory, physics and meteorology. The elements of earth, air, fire and water are woven through his efforts to read the book of nature and understand the human condition. Great thinkers and writers like Darwin, Alexander von Humboldt, Hermann von Helmholtz, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau, Carl Jung and Rudolf Steiner were influenced by Goethe’s work. There is still much to be learnt from him today.
Since 2005, the last Sunday in September has been designated World Rivers Day. In 2015 it falls on September 27th, an occasion worth celebrating. Water is an element that is essential to life and rivers have a special place in cultures around the world. Called the arteries of our planet, they inspire creativity in all sorts of mediums. People love to paint, draw, photograph, film and worship them. Stories and songs about rivers and waterways abound. They are the source of parables, metaphors and lessons in life. What a wonderful day to share some of the river related material, both practical and philosophical, that has captured my attention as part of the elemental world.
‘Elemental ecology’ was coined in 1968 by Professor Bill Jackson, a Tasmanian academic. It was captured for prosperity in his scientific publication ‘Fire, air, water and earth – An elemental ecology of Tasmania.’ This time last year I was preparing a spoken paper for the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) conference that would revisit Bill’s concept. My first post on elemental ecology was written before the presentation, this one provides an update 12 months on.
Albert Einstein is the most famous Alumni of ETH Zurich, which is consistently ranked amongst the top Universities in the world. It is encouraging therefore that this illustrious institution ran a four semester course between Autumn 2012 and Spring 2014 on architecture and the elements – Earth, Water, Air and Fire. The Chair of the Department of Architecture, Professor Dr Josep Lluis Mateo, used this framework to examine how the elements connect the conceptual and physical in architecture. In doing so he wanted his students to think from the start about the structure and materials of the buildings they were designing.
In 1959 the mathematics lecturer and musical humourist Tom Lehrer wrote a song titled ‘The Elements’. The song refers to the chemical elements, the ones that are classified in the periodic table. The opening lines are “There’s antimony, arsenic, aluminium, selenium; And hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and helium”. Sung to the tune of the Major-General’s Song from The Pirates of Penzance, ‘The Elements’ has popped up in all sorts of places since it was composed. There have been many other attempts to popularise the chemical elements since 1959 including giving them personalities, showing them in action and translating them into art works. These efforts are educational, entertaining and worth further examination.
We are born with a sense of wonder. Taking delight in the warmth of the sun, the colours of the rainbow, the leaves dancing in the wind. Mesmerised by the beauty of fireflies and dragonflies. Amazement in the smallest of things. It is a sense to celebrate and recapture if it has been buried under day to day distractions.