THEOSOPHY, Vol. 81, No. 4, February, 1993
(Pages 112-115; Size: 10K)



[Part 3 of a 16-part series]

In ancient times all creatures were considered as being made of and living in four Elements: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. Modern science classifies elements in a different fashion, and has come up with a little over 100 basic atoms out of which everything on the earth is made. The ancient concept of Elements, however, is directly related to environmental problems and needs.

Different Forms of Fire

Fire is perhaps the most refined, subtle, and mysterious of the Elements. Theosophically, it is the source of the other Elements, and it relates to processes like thought and feeling, which are not really physical. The fire of constructive thought is creative; the fire (energy) in food is preservative; a raging fire out of control is usually destructive. Creation, preservation, and destruction are natural phases of existence for all creatures from birth to death, another ancient concept. The Secret Doctrine (II, 114) relates Fire to the three phases as follows:

The Spirit, beyond manifested Nature, is the fiery BREATH in its absolute Unity. In the manifested Universe, it is the Central Spiritual Sun, the electric Fire of all Life. In our System it is the visible Sun, the Spirit of Nature, the terrestrial god. And in, on, and around the Earth, the fiery Spirit thereof -- air, fluidic fire; water, liquid fire; Earth, solid fire. All is fire -- ignis, in its ultimate constitution. ... Pro-Mater is divine fire. It is the Creator, the Destroyer, the Preserver.
The Element Air: Fluidic Fire

Although made up of many gases, air also hosts watery fluids (fine liquid particles of fog, clouds, mist) and some solid earth particles (dust, pollen, soot, snow, meteoric, radioactive, and volcanic dust, etc.). Air carries and distributes the oxygen essential to animal and human life as well as the carbon dioxide needed by plants. In addition to being the major source of food for animals and human beings, plants work symbiotically with higher forms of life by giving off oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide, a well-known relationship. There is a delicate natural balance between all life forms, which pollution of Air, Water and Earth upsets.

Air is host to billions of visible and microscopic plants and animals: birds, flying mammals, insects, viruses, fungi, and plant seeds. Even people now occupy the air in limited ways in balloons, gliders, aircraft, rockets, and spacecraft. Occasional visitors from space, such as meteors, and a steady flow of radiant energy travel through air to the earth. Bright daylight is a result of the diffusion of solar light in the air. How drab life would be without the presence of such light and color during the daytime!

Large charges of static electricity are carried by air within the clouds covering much of the earth at various altitudes. During lightning storms, this cloud electricity discharges in thunderous bursts of energy. Magnetic fields can be detected in the air, and are especially strong over the polar regions. The relationship of electricity to light is given in Isis Unveiled, I, 258:

Light is ... the first emanation of the Supreme, and Light is Life. ... Both are electricity -- the life-principle, the anima mundi, pervading the universe, the electric vivifier of all things.
The Watery Element: Liquid Fire

Water as a liquid is perhaps the most abundant of the Elements on the surface of the earth. We also find it as a solid (snow, ice, glaciers, frost) and as a gas (water vapor). Clouds are formed when surface water evaporates, rises, and, as cooler air is reached, condenses into fine droplets, which literally float at high altitudes.

A life-sustaining necessity, water is precious, but man has wasted and polluted it throughout history. Fortunately, it is purified constantly in the cycle of evaporation and condensation, and returns to earth as rain and snow. However, in areas where water is scarce, it must be conserved. In North Africa the Romans built ducts to channel seasonal rain runoff into underground cisterns. The Incas in Peru devised similar means of irrigation and conservation.

Today, water is constantly moved to distant cities from reservoirs, rivers, and lakes to supply the needs of large populations. People in the urban areas of Europe and America use more water than in other parts of the world, but efforts are being made to reduce that usage. Agriculture in states that irrigate, California for example, uses much more water than cities do. Important new residential and agricultural methods to conserve water will be discussed in a future article.

Progress has been made in water conservation, and more will take place in the future as recycling methods are developed that do not require evaporation. Natural solar evaporation does not utilize energy from our limited resources of coal, oil, and natural gas. Purifying water by distillation requires large amounts of energy, which in some cases may be justified, but we are better off if ways other than evaporation are used, for example, deionization or reverse osmosis through a membrane.

The Element Earth: Solid Fire

To the rich variety of life that lives on our planet, the Element Earth has great familiarity; yet we humans possess very limited knowledge of its numerous species. As hundreds of endangered species disappear weekly, new ones are discovered in remote areas; yet they are also endangered as we pollute and destroy their habitats.

The Earth Element is made up largely of minerals, which, as "building blocks," support higher forms of life. On top of this basic structure are plants, starting out with the simple lichen. The progression of life forms is well expressed in terms of monadic development in Isis Unveiled, I, 302:

Thus the monad was shot down into the first form of matter and became encased in stone; then, in the course of time, through the combined efforts of living fire and living water, both of which shone their reflection upon the stone, the monad crept out of its prison to sunlight as a lichen. From change to change it went higher and higher; the monad, with every new transformation borrowing more of the radiance of its parent ...
What is the purpose of the many plant and animal forms on the earth? Each must have its place of learning for a period of time and will gradually be replaced as evolutionary needs change. Attempts by people to force changes quickly through self-serving actions will bring inevitable environmental and Karmic reactions (e.g., drastic weather changes, global warming, depletion of the protective ozone layer, poisoning of water resources and food supplies).

We will explore in future articles how human ignorance and greed are affecting all these Elements, and what the Karmic consequences may be. Hazardous human actions include: the generation of radioactive and other toxic wastes; contamination of agricultural soil and oceans; destruction of forests and species; the deterioration of urban centers and rural life; and the placing of undue stress on all beings. We will search for what Theosophy offers that will help us and the earth heal our physical, psychic, and mental wounds.

It is not enough to take only physical courses of action to solve environmental problems. We must seek out and address the real causes of problems, which go back to human actions in the past, as well as the present. The teachings of Reincarnation and Karma are a necessary background for understanding environmental issues and solutions.

Next article:
[The Industrial Revolution -- Before and After.
A New Industrial Revolution?]
[Part 4 of a 16-part series]

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