In early November 2016 I received an email from Rych Somdah, a gentleman living in the US who had traced his ancestry to the Dagara people of Burkina Faso in West Africa. Rych reminded me that in my first post on Africa I wrote that at some later time I would explore the shamanistic practices of the Dagara tribe in relation to the elements. Now is that time. I am grateful that Malidoma Patrice Somé has devoted his life to sharing the teachings and practices of the Dagara with the English speaking world. The five elements of fire, water, earth, minerals and nature are an essential part of his, and their, story.
On July 7th, 2016 I had the great fortune to experience the name of my blog, ‘Fire up, Water down’ in real life. It came as a pleasant surprise. The location was at Kinpusen-ji Temple in Yoshino, Japan (near Nara). The occasion, a Shugendo festival that included a remarkable fire ceremony where flames and purifying smoke reached for the sky. Fire up. Down a flight of several hundred steps from the main Temple hall there is a small shrine called Noten-o-kami, where one can drink from a small spring said to promote health. Water down. I have written about fire and water being complementary and opposite. Here, they are part of a long and shared history of respect of and engagement with the elements to gain spiritual power. I will let the pictures tell the story.
India is a remarkable, diverse, vibrant country that I come across frequently in my exploration of the elements. It is a country that has developed philosophies, arts, medicine and sciences that use the elements as fundamental building blocks. Earth, air, fire, water, ether/sky – and consciousness – are abundantly expressed. So far I have touched on Praktri, mudras, Vastu Shastra (embedded in various posts), Ayurveda (ditto), Vikram Seth and other references to the elements in India. These posts draw on a range of books written by Indian and other authors. On a more immediate and intimate level the blog ‘Enchanted Forests‘ written by Mukul Chand has opened up a whole other world of India, and the elements.
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.
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.
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!
What would you say if asked “what does ‘the fifth element’ bring to mind”? For many in the west, quintessence would be the answer. Or alternatively the 1997 movie “The Fifth Element”. This story is set in the twenty-third century, when the universe is (still) threatened by evil. The only hope for mankind is the Fifth Element, who comes to Earth every five thousand years to protect the humans with four stones of the four elements: fire, water, earth and air.