It’s time to put the mystical continent of Africa on the elemental map. It’s been just over a year since I started my blog exploring the elements and this will be my first post on Africa. Its day has come. The cultures and belief systems found in Africa are diverse and many. Having chosen Sufism as the starting point, perhaps I could have selected something simpler! Having begun though, I felt that it was important to finish what I started.
At the start of a new year, many people’s thoughts turn to how they can improve their wellbeing over the coming months. Certainly mine do. In addition to being inspired by beautiful views, enjoying the calming effect of water or warming ourselves with fire there are many other ways the elements can help us to be well.
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.
Every so often I discover books that use the elements to frame their stories. Having just returned from a trip to the USA, I was drawn to a book titled ‘The Men Who United the States’. The author, Simon Winchester, uses wood, earth, water, fire and metal as the basis of the five ‘Parts’ in the book. This framework is loosely based on Wu Xing, the fivefold conceptual scheme that is found throughout traditional Chinese thought.
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.
Nearly 50 years ago, Professor Bill Jackson published the paper ‘Fire, air, water, earth – An elemental ecology of Tasmania’. With a title like that, one could say he was ahead of his time.
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.
There is something very elemental about making pottery from clay. Clay is earth and water, the kiln combines fire and air, the artist provides the spirit. The Moche, or Mochica culture were masters of clay. They flourished in present-day northern Peru between around 100 to 800 AD. The diversity and beauty of their ceramics is a sight to behold.
‘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.