- By Giambattista della Porta (1535?-1615)
- Published 1658
- A highly under-rated and seemingly barely-known treasure trove.
Of the Elements¶
Natural Magick, Book 1, Chapter 4
The opinions of the ancient Philosophers touching the causes of strange operations; and first, of the elements
Those effects of Nature which we often see, have so employed the ancient Philosopher’s minds in the searching forth of their causes, that they have taken great pains, and yet were much deceived therein; inasmuch that so many of them held such diverse opinions; which it shall not be amiss to relate, before we proceed any further.
The first sort held that all things proceed from the Elements, and that these are the first beginnings of things:
- the fire, according to Hippasus Metapontimus, and Heraclides Ponticus;
- the air, according to Diogenes Apolloniates, and Anaximenes;
- and the water, according to Thales Milefius.
These therefore they held to be the very original and first seeds of Nature.
Even the Elements, simple and pure bodies (whereas the Elements that now are, be but counterfeits and bastards to them; for they are all changed, every one of them being more or less meddled with one another) those, say they, are the material principles of a natural body, and they are moved and altered by continual succession of change; and they are so wrapped up together within the huge cape of Heaven, that they fill up this whole space of the world which is situated beneath the Moon.
- For the fire being the lightest and purest Element, has gotten up aloft, and chose itself the highest room, which they call the Element of fire.
- The next Element to this is the Air, which is somewhat more weighty than the fire, and it is spread abroad in a large and huge Compass; and passing through all places, does make men’s bodies framable to her temperature, and is gathered together sometimes thick into dark clouds, sometimes thinner into mists and so is resolved.
- The next to the air is the water;
- and then the last and lowest of all, which is scraped and compacted together out of the purer Elements, and is called the Earth; a thick and gross substance, very solid, and by no means to be pierced through; so that there is no solid and firm body but has Earth in it, as also there is no vacant space but has air in it.
This Element of Earth is situated in the middle and center of all, and is round beset with all the rest. And this only stands still and unmovable, where all the rest are carried with a circular motion round about it.
But Hippon and Critias held that the vapors of the Elements were the first beginnings; Parmenides held that their qualities were the principles; for all things (said he) consist of cold and heat.
The Physicians hold that all things consist of four qualities, heat, cold, moisture, drought, and of their predominance when they meet together.
For every Element does embrace as it were with certain arms his neighbor-Element which is next situated to him; and yet they have also contrary and sundry qualities whereby they differ.
For the wisdom of Nature has framed this workmanship of the world by due and set measure, and by a wonderful fitness and convenience of one thing with another; for whereas every Element had two qualities, where it agreed with some, and disagreed with other Elements, Nature has bestowed such a double quality upon every one, as finds in other two her like, which she cleaves unto; as for example, the air the fire; this is hot and dry, that is hot and moist.
Now dry and moist are contraries, and thereby fire and air disagree; but because either of them is hot, thereby they are reconciled.
So the Earth is cold and dry, and water cold and moist; so that they disagree, in that the one is moist, and the other dry; but yet are reconciled, in as much as they are both cold; otherwise they could hardly agree.
Thus the fire by little and little is changed into air, because either of them is hot; the air into water, because either of them is moist; the water into Earth, because either of them is cold; and the Earth into fire, because either of them is dry; and so they succeed each other after a most provident order.
From there also they are turned back again into themselves, the order being inverted, and so they are made mutually of one another; for the change is easy in those that agree in any one common quality; as fire and air be easily changed into each other, by reason of heat; but where either of the qualities are opposite in both, as in fire and water, there is change is not so easy.
So then, heat, cold, moisture, and drought, are the first and principle qualities, in as much as they proceed immediately from the Elements, and produce certain secondary effects.
- Now two of them, namely heat and cold, are active qualities, fitter to be doing themselves, than to suffer of others.
- The other two, namely moisture and drought, are passive; not because they are altogether idle, but because they follow and are preferred by the other.
There are certain secondary qualities, which attend as it were upon the first; and these are said to work in a second sort; as to soften, to ripen, to resolve, to make less or thinner:
- as when heat works into any mixed body, it brings out that which is impure, and so while it strives to make it fit for his purpose that it may be more simple, the body becomes thereby smaller and thinner.
- So cold does preserve, bind, and congeal;
- drought does thicken or harden, and makes uneven; for when there is great store of moisture in the outer parts, that which the drought is not able to consume, it hardens, and the outer parts become rugged; for that part where the moisture is gone, sinking down, and the other where it is hardened, rising up, there must needs be great roughness and ruggedness.
- So moisture does augment, corrupt, and for the most part works on thing by itself, and another by some accident; as by ripening, binding, expelling, and such like, it brings forth milk, urine, monthly flowers, and sweat; which Physicians call the third qualities, that do so wait upon the second, as the second upon the first.
And sometimes they have their operations in some certain parts, as to strengthen the head, to succor the reins; and these, some call fourth qualities.
So then, these are the foundations, as they call them, of all mixed bodies, and of all wonderful operations; and whatever experiments they proved, the causes hereof raised (as they supposed) and were to be found in the Elements and their qualities.
Concord & Discord¶
But Empedocles Agrigentinus not thinking that the Elements were sufficient for this purpose, added unto them moreover concord and discord, as the causes of generation and corruption: There be four principal seeds or beginning of all things:
- Jupiter, that is to say, Fire;
- Pluto, that is to say, Earth;
- Juno, that is to say, Air;
- and Nestis, that is to say, Water.
All these sometimes love and concord knits together in one, and sometimes discord does sunder them and make them fly apart.
This concord and discord, said he, are found in the Elements by reason of their sundry qualities where they agree and disagree.
Yes, even in Heaven itself, as Jupiter and Venus love all Planets save Mars and Saturn, Venus agrees with Mars, where no other plant agrees with him.
There also is another disagreement among them, which rises from the oppositions and elevations of their houses. For even the twelve signs are both at concord and at discord among themselves, as Manilius the Poet has shown.
- By Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535)
- Originally published 1533
- Translation by John French published 1651
- “The Foundation Book of Western Occultism”. Don’t you have a copy already?
Qualities & Mixtures¶
Occult Philosophy, Book 1 (Natural Magick), Chapter 3
Of the four Elements, their qualities, and mutual mixtures
There are four Elements, and original grounds of all corporeal things, Fire, Earth, Water, Air, of which all inferior bodies are compounded; not by way of heaping them up together, but by transmutation, and union; and when they are destroyed, they are resolved into Elements.
For there is none of the sensible Elements that is pure, but they are more or less mixed, and apt to be changed one into the other: Even as Earth becoming dirty, and being dissolved, becomes Water, and the same being made thick and hard, become Earth again; but being evaporated through heat, passes into Air, and that being kindled, passes into Fire, and this being extinguished, returns back again into Air, but being cooled again after its burning, becomes Earth, or Stone, or Sulfur, and this is manifested by Lightening: Plato also was of that opinion, that Earth was wholly changeable, and that the rest of the Elements are changed, as into this, so into one another successively. But it is the opinion of the subtler sort of Philosophers, that Earth is not changed, but relented and mixed with other Elements, which do dissolve it, and that it returns back into it self again.
Now every one of the Elements hath two specific qualities, the former whereof it retains as proper to it self, in the other, as a mean, it agrees with that which comes next after it.
- For Fire is hot and dry,
- the Earth dry and cold,
- the Water cold and moist,
- the Air moist and hot.
And so after this manner the Elements, according to two contrary qualities, are contrary one to the other, as Fire to Water, and Earth to Air. Moreover, the Elements are upon another account opposite one to the other: For some are heavy, as Earth and Water, and others are light, as Air and Fire. Wherefore the Stoics called the former passives, but the latter actives.
And yet once again Plato distinguishes them after another manner, and assigns to every one of them three qualities, viz. to the Fire brightness, thinness, and motion, but to the Earth darkness, thickness and quietness. And according to these qualities the Elements of Fire and Earth are contrary. But the other Elements borrow their qualities from these, so that the Air receives two qualities of the Fire, thinness and motion; and one of the Earth, viz. darkness. In like manner Water receives two qualities of the Earth, darkness and thickness, and one of Fire, viz. motion.
But Fire is twice more thin than Air, thrice more movable, and four times more bright:
and the Air is twice more bright, thrice more thin, and four times more movable than Water.
Wherefore Water is twice more bright than Earth, thrice more thin, and four times more movable.
As therefore the Fire is to the Air, so Air to the Water, and Water to the Earth; and again, as the Earth is to the Water, so the Water to the Air, and the Air to the Fire.
And this is the root and foundation of all bodies, natures, virtues, and wonderful works; and he which shall know these qualities of the Elements, and their mixtures, shall easily bring to pass such things that are wonderful, and astonishing, and shall be perfect in Magick.
Three Fold Consideration¶
Occult Philosophy, Book 1 (Natural Magick), Chapter 4
Of a three-fold consideration of the Elements
There are then, as we have said, four Elements, without the perfect knowledge whereof we can effect nothing in Magick. Now each of them is three-fold, that so the number of four may make up the number of twelve; and by passing by the number of seven into the number of ten, there may be a progress to the Supreme Unity, upon which all virtue and wonderful operation depends.
Of the first Order are the pure Elements, which are neither compounded nor changed, nor admit of mixing, but are incorruptible, and not of which, but through which the virtues of all natural things are brought forth into act. No man is able to declare their virtues, because they can do all things upon all things. He which is ignorant of these, shall never be able to bring to pass any wonderful matter.
Of the second Order are Elements that are compounded, changeable, and impure, yet such as may by art be reduced to their pure simplicity, whose virtue, when they are thus reduced to their simplicity, doth above all things perfect all occult, and common operations of nature: and these are the foundation of the whole Natural Magick.
Twice Compounded Elements¶
Of the third Order are those Elements, which originally and of themselves are not Elements, but are twice compounded, various, and changeable one into the other. They are the infallible Medium, and therefore are called the middle nature, or Soul of the middle nature: Very few there are that understand the deep mysteries thereof. In them is, by means of certain numbers, degrees, and orders, the perfection of every effect in what thing soever, whether Natural, Celestial, or super Celestial; they are full of wonders, and mysteries, and are operative, as in Magic Natural, so Divine: For from these, through them, proceed the bindings, loosenings, and transmutations of all things, the knowing and foretelling of things to come, also the driving forth of evil, and the gaining of good spirits.
Let no man therefore, without these three sorts of Elements, and the knowledge thereof, be confident that he is able to work any thing in the occult Sciences of Magick, and Nature. But whosoever shall know how to reduce those of one Order, into those of another, impure into pure, compounded into simple, and shall know how to understand distinctly the nature, virtue, and power of them in number, degrees, and order, without dividing the substance, he shall easily attain to the knowledge, and perfect operation of all Natural things, and Celestial secrets.
Fire & Earth¶
Occult Philosophy, Book 1 (Natural Magick), Chapter 5
Of the wonderful Natures of Fire, and Earth
There are two things (saith Hermes) viz. Fire and Earth, which are sufficient for the operation of all wonderful things: the former is active, the latter passive.
Fire (as saith Dionysius) in all things, and through all things, comes and goes away bright, it is in all things bright, and at the same time occult, and unknown; When it is by it self (no other matter coming to it, in which it should manifest its proper action) it is boundless, and invisible, of it self sufficient for every action that is proper to it, movable, yielding it self after a manner to all things that come next to it, renewing guarding nature, enlightening, not comprehended by lights that are veiled over, clear, parted, leaping back, bending upwards, quick in motion, high, always raising motions, comprehending another, not Comprehended it self, not standing in need of another, secretly increasing of it self, and manifesting its greatness to things that receive it.
Active, Powerful, Invisibly present in all things at once; it will not be affronted or opposed, but as it were in a way of revenge, it will reduce on a sudden things into obedience to it self, incomprehensible, impalpable, not lessened, most rich in all dispensations of it self.
Fire (as saith Pliny) is the boundless, and mischievous part of the nature of things, it being a question whether it destroys, or produces most things.
Fire itself is one, and penetrates through all things (as say the Pythagoreans) also spread abroad in the Heavens, and shining: but in the infernal place straightened, dark, and tormenting, in the mid way it partakes of both.
Fire therefore in it self is one, but in that which receives it, manifold, and in differing subjects it is distributed in a different manner, as Cleanthes witnesses in Cicero.
That fire then which we use is fetched out of other things.
It is in stones, and is fetched out by the stroke of the steel:
it is in Earth, and makes that, after digging up, to smoke:
it is in Water, and heats springs, and wells:
it is in the depth of the Sea, and makes that, being tossed with winds, warm:
it is in the Air, and makes it (as we oftentimes see) to burn.
And all Animals, and living things whatsoever, as also all Vegetables are preserved by heat: and every thing that lives, lives by reason of the enclosed heat.
The properties of the Fire that is above, are heat, making all things Fruitful, and light, giving life to all things.
The properties of the infernal Fire are a parching heat, consuming all things, and darkness, making all things barren.
The Celestial, and bright Fire drives away spirits of darkness; also this our Fire made with Wood drives away the same, in as much as it hath an Analogy with, and is the vehicle of that Superior light; as also of him, who saith, I am the Light of the World, which is true Fire, the Father of lights, from whom every good thing that is given, comes; sending forth the light of his Fire, and communicating it first to the Sun, and the rest of the Celestial bodies, and by these, as by mediating instruments conveying that light into our Fire.
As therefore the spirits of darkness are stronger in the dark: so good spirits, which are Angels of Light, are augmented, not only by that light, which is Divine, of the Sun, and Celestial, but also by the light of our common Fire.
Hence it was that the first, and most wise instituters of Religions, and Ceremonies ordained, that Prayers, Singing, and all manner of Divine Worships whatsoever should not be performed without lighted Candles, or Torches.
(Hence also was that significant saying of Pythagoras: Do not speak of God without a Light) and they commanded that for the driving away of wicked spirits, Lights and Fires should be kindled by the Corpses of the dead, and that they should not be removed, until the expiations were after a Holy manner performed, and they buried.
And the great Jehovah himself in the Old Law commanded that all his Sacrifices should be offered with Fire, and that Fire should always be burning upon the Altar, which Custom the Priests of the Altar did always observe, and keep among the Romans.
Now the Basis, and foundation of all the Elements, is the Earth, for that is the object, subject, and receptacle of all Celestial rays, and influences; in it are contained the seeds, and Seminal virtues of all things; and therefore it is said to be Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral.
It being made fruitful by the other Elements, and the Heavens, brings forth all things of it self; It receives the abundance of all things, and is, as it were the first fountain, from whence all things spring, it is the Center, foundation, and mother of all things.
Take as much of it as you please, separated, washed, depurated, stabilized, if you let it lie in the open Air a little while, it will, being full, and abounding with Heavenly virtues, of it self bring forth Plants, Worms, and other living things, also Stones, and bright sparks of Metals.
In it are great secrets, if at any time it shall be purified by the help of Fire, and reduced unto its simplicity by a convenient washing.
It is the first matter of our Creation, and the truest Medicine that can restore, and preserve us.
Water, Air, & Winds¶
Occult Philosophy, Book 1 (Natural Magick), Chapter 6
Of the wonderful Natures of Water, Air, and Winds
The other two Elements, viz. Water, and Air are not less efficacious than the former; neither is nature wanting to work wonderful things in them.
There is so great a necessity of Water, that without it no living thing can live.
No Herb, nor Plant whatsoever, without the moistening of Water can branch forth.
In it is the Seminary virtue of all things, especially of Animals, whose seed is manifestly waterish.
The seeds also of Trees, and Plants, although they are earthy, must notwithstanding of necessity be rotted in Water, before they can be fruitful; whether they be imbibed with the moisture of the Earth, or with Dew, or Rain, or any other Water that is on purpose put to them.
For Moses writes, that only Earth, and Water bring forth a living soul.
But he ascribes a twofold production of things to Water, viz. of things swimming in the Water, and of things flying in the Air above the Earth.
And that those productions that are made in, and upon the Earth, are partly attributed to the very Water, the same Scripture testifies, where it saith that the Plants, and the Herbs did not grow, because God had not caused it to rain upon the Earth.
Such is the efficacy of this Element of Water, that Spiritual regeneration cannot be done without it, as Christ himself testified to Nicodemus.
Very great also is the virtue of it in the Religious Worship of God, in expiations, and purifications; yea, the necessity of it is no less than that of Fire.
Infinite are the benefits, and diverse are the uses thereof, as being that by virtue of which all things subsist, are generated, nourished, and increased.
Thence it was that Thales of Miletus, and Hesiod concluded that Water was the beginning of all things, and said it was the first of all the Elements, and the most potent, and that because it hath the mastery over all the rest.
For, as Pliny saith, Waters swallow up the Earth, extinguish flames, ascend on high, and by the stretching forth of the clouds, challenge the Heaven for their own: the same falling down become the Cause of all things that grow in the Earth.
Very many are the wonders that are done by Waters, according to the Writings of Pliny, Solinus, and many other Historians, of the wonderful virtue whereof, Ovid also makes mention in these Verses:
—Hornd Hammons Waters at high noon
Are cold; hot at Sun-rise and setting Sun.
Wood, put in bub’ling Athemas is Fir’d,
The Moon then farthest from the Sun retir’d;
Circonian streams congeal his guts to Stone
That thereof drinks, and what therein is thrown.
Crathis and Sybaris (from the Mountains rol’d)
Color the hair like Amber or pure Gold.
Some fountains, of a more prodigious kinde,
Not only change the body but the minde.
Who hath not heard of obscene Salmacis?
Of th’ Aethiopian lake? for, who of this
But only tast, their wits no longer keep,
Or forthwith fall into a deadly sleep.
Who at Clitorius fountain thirst remove,
Loath Wine, and abstinent, meer Water love.
With streams oppos’d to these Lincestus flowes:
They reel, as drunk, who drink too much of those.
A Lake in fair Arcadia stands, of old
Call’d Pheneus; suspected, as twofold:
Fear, and forbear to drink thereof by night:
By night unwholesome, wholesome by day-light.
Josephus also makes relation of the wonderful nature of a certain river betwixt Arcea, and Raphanea, Cities of Syria: which runs with a full Channel all the Sabbath Day, and then on a sudden ceases, as if the springs were stopped, and all the six days you may pass over it dry-shod: but again on the seventh day (no man knowing the reason of it) the Waters return again in abundance, as before.
Wherefore the inhabitants thereabout called it the Sabbath-day river, because of the Seventh day, which was holy to the Jews.
The Gospel also testifies of a sheep-pool, into which whosoever stepped first, after the Water was troubled by the Angel, was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
The same virtue, and efficacy we read was in a spring of the Jonian Nymphs, which was in the territories belonging to the Town of Elis, at a Village called Heraclea, near the river Citheron: which whosoever stepped into, being diseased came forth whole, and cured of all his diseases.
Pausanias also reports, that in Lyceus, a mountain of Arcadia, there was a spring called Agria, to which, as often as the dryness of the Region threatened the destruction of fruits, Jupiter’s Priest of Lyceus went, and after the offering of Sacrifices, devoutly praying to the Water of the Spring, holding a Bough of an Oak in his hand, put it down to the bottom of the hallowed spring; Then the waters being troubled, a Vapor ascending from thence into the Air was blown into Clouds, with which being joined together, the whole Heaven was overspread: which being a little after dissolved into rain, watered all the Country most wholesomely.
Moreover Ruffus, a Physician of Ephesus, besides many other Authors, wrote strange things concerning the wonders of Water, which, for ought I know, are found in no other Author.
It remains that I speak of the Air.
This is a vital spirit, passing through all Beings, giving life, and subsistence to all things, binding, moving, and filling all things.
Hence it is that the Hebrew Doctors reckon it not among the Elements, but count it as a Medium or glue, joining things together, and as the resounding spirit of the worlds instrument.
It immediately receives into it self the influences of all Celestial bodies, and then communicates them to the other Elements, as also to all mixed bodies: Also it receives into it self, as if it were a divine Looking-glass, the species of all things, as well natural, as artificial, as also of all manner of speeches, and retains them; And carrying them with it, and entering into the bodies of Men, and other Animals, through their pores, makes an Impression upon them, as well when they sleep, as when they be awake, and affords matter for diverse strange Dreams and Divinations.
Hence they say it is, that a man passing by a place where a man was slain, or the Carcass newly hid, is moved with fear and dread; because the Air in that place being full of the dreadful species of Man-slaughter, doth, being breathed in, move and trouble the spirit of the man with the like species, whence it is that he comes to be afraid.
For everything that makes a sudden impression, astonishes nature.
Whence it is, that many Philosophers were of opinion that Air is the cause of dreams, and of many other impressions of the mind, through the prolonging of Images, or similitudes, or species (which are fallen from things, and speeches, multiplied in the very Air) until they come to the senses, and then to the fantasy, and soul of him that receives them, which being freed from cares, and no way hindered, expecting to meet such kind of species, is informed by them.
For the species of things, although of their own proper nature, they are carried to the senses of men, and other animals in general, may notwithstanding get some impression from the Heaven, while they be in the Air, by reason of which, together with the aptness and disposition of him that receives them, they may be carried to the sense of one, rather then of another.
And hence it is possible naturally, and far from all manner of superstition, no other spirit coming between, that a man should be able in a very time to signify his mind unto another man, abiding at a very long and unknown distance from him; although he cannot precisely give an estimate of the time when it is, yet of necessity it must be within 24 hours; and I my self know how to do it, and have often done it.
The same also in time past did the Abbot Tritenius both know and do.
Also when certain appearances, not only spiritual, but also natural do flow forth from things, that is to say, by a certain kind of flowings forth of bodies from bodies, and do gather strength in the Air, they offer, and shew themselves to us as well through light as motion, as well to the sight as to other senses, and sometimes work wonderful things upon us, as Plotinus proves and teaches.
And we see how by the South wind the Air is condensed into thin clouds, in which, as in a Looking-glass are reflected representations at a great distance of Castles, Mountains, Horses, and Men, and other things, which when the clouds are gone, presently vanish.
And Aristotle in his Meteors shows, that a Rainbow is conceived in a cloud of the Air, as in a Looking-glass.
And Albertus saith, that the effigies of bodies may by the strength of nature, in a moist Air be easily represented, in the same manner as the representations of things are in things.
And Aristotle tells of a man, to whom it happened by reason of the weakness of his sight, that the Air that was near to him, became as it were a Looking-glass to him, and the optic beam did reflect back upon himself, and could not penetrate the Air, so that whither soever he went, he thought he saw his own image, with his face towards him, go before him.
In like manner, by the artificialness of some certain Looking-glasses, may be produced at a distance in the Air, beside the Looking-glasses, what images we please; which when ignorant men see, they think they see the appearances of spirits, or souls; when indeed they are nothing else but semblances kin to themselves, and without life.
And it is well known, if in a dark place where there is no light but by the coming in of a beam of the Sun somewhere through a little hole, a white paper, or plain Looking-glass be set up against that light, that there may be seen upon them, whatsoever things are done without, being shined upon by the Sun.
And there is another sleight, or trick yet more wonderful.
If any one shall take images artificially painted, or written letters, and in a clear night set them against the beams of the full Moon, whose resemblances being multiplied in the Air, and caught upward, and reflected back together with the beams of the Moon, any other man that is privy to the thing, at a long distance sees, reads, and knows them in the very compass, and Circle of the Moon, which Art of declaring secrets is indeed very profitable for Towns, and Cities that are besieged, being a thing which Pythagoras long since did often do, and which is not unknown to some in these days, I will not except myself.
And all these, and many more, and greater then these are grounded in the very nature of the Air, and have their reasons, and causes declared in Mathematics, and Optics.
And as these resemblances are reflected back to the sight, so also sometimes to the hearing, as is manifest in the Echo.
But there are more secret arts than these, and such whereby any one may at a very remote distance hear, and understand what another speaks, or whispers softly.
There are also from the airy Element Winds.
For they are nothing else, but Air moved, and stirred up.
Of these there are four that are principal, blowing from the four corners of the Heaven, viz.
- Notus from the South,
- Boreas from the North,
- Zephyrus from the West,
- Eurus from the East,
which Pontanus comprehending in these verses, saith:
Cold Boreas from the top of ‘lympus blows,
And from the bottom cloudy Notus flows.
From setting Phoebus fruitfull Zeph’rus flies,
And barren Eurus from the Sun’s up-rise.
Notus is the Southern Wind, cloudy, moist, warm, and sickly, which Hieronimus calls the butler of the rains. Ovid describes it thus:
Out flies South-wind, with dropping wings, who shrowds
His fearful aspect in the pitchie clouds,
His white Haire stream’s, his Beard big-swoln with showres;
Mists binde his Brows, rain from his Bosome powres.
But Boreas is contrary to Notus, and is the Northern Wind, fierce, and roaring, and discussing clouds, makes the Air serene, and binds the Water with Frost. Him doth Ovid thus bring in speaking of himself:
Force me befits: with this thick cloud I drive;
Toss the blew Billows, knotty Okes up-rive;
Congeal soft Snow, and beat the Earth with haile;
When I my brethren in the Aire assaile,
(For thats our Field) we meet with such a shock,
That thundring Skies with our encounters rock
And cloud-struck lightning flashes from on high,
When through the Crannies of the Earth I flie,
And force her in her hollow Caves, I make
The Ghosts to tremble, and the ground to quake.
And Zephyrus, which is the Western Wind, is most soft, blowing from the West with a pleasant gale, it is cold and moist, removing the effects of Winter, bringing forth Branches, and Flowers.
To this Eurus is contrary, which is the Eastern wind, and is called Apeliotes, it is waterish, cloudy, and ravenous. Of these two Ovid sings thus:
To Persis and Sabea, Eurus flies;
Whose gums perfume the blushing Mornes up-rise:
Next to the Evening, and the Coast that glows
With setting Phoebus, flowry Zeph’rus blows:
In Scythia horrid Boreas holds his rain,
Beneath Boites, and the frozen Wain:
The land to this oppos’d doth Auster steep
With fruitfull showres, and clouds which ever weep.
Occult Philosophy, Book 1 (Natural Magick), Chapter 7
Of the kinds of Compounds, what relation they stand in to the Elements, and what relation there is betwixt the Elements themselves, and the soul, senses, and dispositions of men.
Next after the four simple Elements follow the four kinds of perfect Bodies compounded of them, and they are Stones, Metals, Plants, and Animals: and although unto the generation of each of these all the Elements meet together in the composition, yet every one of them follows, and resembles one of the Elements, which is most predominant.
For all Stones are earthy, for they are naturally heavy, and descend, and so hardened with dryness, that they cannot be melted.
But Metals are waterish, and may be melted, which Naturalists confess, and Chemists find to be true, viz. that they are generated of a viscous Water, or waterish argent vive.
Plants have such an affinity with the Air, that unless they be abroad in the open Air, they do neither bud, nor increase.
So also all Animals
Have in their Natures a most fiery force,
And also spring from a Celestial source.
And Fire is so natural to them, that it being extinguished they presently die.
And again every one of those kinds is distinguished within it self by reason of degrees of the Elements.
For among the Stones they especially are called earthy that are dark, and more heavy; and those waterish, which are transparent, and are compacted of water, as Crystal, Beryl, and Pearls in the Shells of Fishes: and they are called airy, which swim upon the Water, and are spongious, as the Stones of a Sponge, the pumice Stone, and the Stone Sophus: and they are called fiery, out of which fire is extracted, or which are resolved into Fire, or which are produced of Fire: as Thunderbolts, Fire-stones, and the Stone Asbestos.
Also among Metals, Lead, and Silver are earthy; Quicksilver is waterish: Copper, and Tin are airy: and Gold, and Iron are fiery.
In Plants also, the Roots resemble the Earth, by reason of their thickness: and the Leaves, Water, because of their juice: Flowers, the Air, because of their subtlety, and the Seeds the Fire, by reason of their multiplying spirit.
Besides, they are called some hot, some cold, some moist, some dry, borrowing their names from the qualities of the Elements.
Among Animals also, some are in comparison of others earthy, and dwell in the bowels of the Earth, as Worms and Moles, and many other small creeping Vermin:
others are watery, as Fishes;
others airy, which cannot live out of the Air:
others also are fiery, living in the Fire, as Salamanders, and Crickets, such as are of a fiery heat, as Pigeons, Ostriches, Lions, and such as the wise man calls beasts breathing Fire.
Besides, in Animals the bones resemble the Earth, flesh the Air, the vital spirit the Fire, and the humors the Water.
And these humors also partake of the Elements, for yellow choler is instead of Fire, blood instead of Air, phlegm instead of Water, and black choler, or melancholy instead of Earth.
And lastly, in the Soul it self, according to Austin, the understanding resembles Fire, reason the Air, imagination the Water, and the senses the Earth.
And these senses also are divided among themselves by reason of the Elements, for the sight is fiery, neither can it perceive without Fire, and Light: the hearing is airy, for a sound is made by the striking of the Air; The smell, and taste resemble the Water, without the moisture of which there is neither smell, nor taste; and lastly the feeling is wholly earthy, and takes gross bodies for its object.
The actions also, and the operations of man are governed by the Elements.
The Earth signifies a slow, and firm motion; The Water signifies fearfulness, & sluggishness, and remissness in working: Air signifies cheerfulness, and an amiable disposition: but Fire a fierce, quick, and angry disposition.
The Elements therefore are the first of all things, and all things are of, and according to them, and they are in all things, and diffuse their virtues through all things.
Occult Philosophy, Book 1 (Natural Magick), Chapter 8
How the Elements are in the Heavens, in Stars, in Devils, in Angels, and lastly in God himself.
It is the unanimous consent of all Platonists, that as in the original, and exemplary World, all things are in all; so also in this corporeal world, all things are in all: so also the Elements are not only in these inferior bodies, but also in the Heavens, in Stars, in Devils, in Angels, and lastly in God, the maker, and original example of all things.
Now in these inferior bodies, the Elements are accompanied with much gross matter; but in the Heavens the Elements are with their natures, and virtues, viz. after a Celestial, and more excellent manner, than in sublunary things.
For the firmness of the Celestial Earth is there without the grossness of Water: and the agility of the Air without running over its bounds; the heat of Fire without burning, only shining, and giving life to all things by its heat.
Among the Stars also, some are fiery, as Mars, and Sol: airy, as Jupiter, and Venus: watery, as Saturn, and Mercury: and earthy, such as inhabit the eighth Orb, and the Moon (which notwithstanding by many is accounted watery) seeing, as if it were Earth, it attracts to it self the Celestial waters, with which being imbibed, it doth by reason of its nearness to us power out, and communicate to us.
There are also among the Signs, some fiery, some earthy, some airy, some watery: the Elements rule them also in the Heavens, distributing to them these four threefold considerations of every Element, viz. the beginning, middle, and end: so
Aries possesses the beginning of Fire, Leo the progress, and increase, and Sagittarius the end.
Taurus the beginning of the Earth, Virgo the progress, Capricorn the end.
Gemini the beginning of the Air, Libra the progress, Aquarius the end.
Cancer the beginning of Water, Scorpius the middle, and Pisces the end.
Of the mixtures therefore of these Planets, and Signs, together with the Elements are all bodies made.
Moreover Devils also are upon this account distinguished the one from the other, so that some are called fiery, some earthy, some airy, and some watery.
Hence also those four Infernal Rivers, fiery Phlegethon, airy Cocytus, watery Styx, earthy Acheron.
Also in the Gospel we read of Hell Fire, and eternal Fire, into which the Cursed shall be commanded to go: and in the Revelation we read of a Lake of Fire, and Isaiah speaks of the damned, that the Lord will smite them with corrupt Air.
And in Job, They shall skip from the Waters of the Snow to extremity of heat, and in the same we read, That the Earth is dark, and covered with the darkness of death, and miserable darkness.
Moreover also these Elements are placed in the Angels in Heaven, and the blessed intelligences; there is in them a stability of their essence, which is an earthy virtue, in which is the steadfast seat of God; also their mercy, and piety is a watery cleansing virtue.
Hence by the Psalmist they are called Waters, where he speaking of the Heavens, saith, Who rules the Waters that are higher then the Heavens; also in them their subtle breath is Air, and their love is shining Fire: Hence they are called in Scripture the Wings of the Wind; and in another place the Psalmist speaks of them, Who makes Angels thy Spirits and thy Ministers a flaming fire.
Also according to orders of Angels, some are fiery, as Seraphim, and authorities, and powers; earthy as Cherubs: watery as Thrones, and Archangels: airy as Dominions, and Principalities.
Do we not also read of the original maker of all things, that the earth shall be opened and bring forth a Savior? Is it not spoken of the same, that he shall be a fountain of living Water, cleansing, and regenerating? Is not the same Spirit breathing the breath of life: and the same according to Moses, and Paul’s testimony, A consuming Fire?
That Elements therefore are to be found every where, and in all things after their manner, no man can deny: First in these inferior bodies feculent, and gross, and in Celestials more pure, and clear; but in super-Celestials living, and in all respects blessed.
Elements therefore in the exemplary world are Ideas of things to be produced, in Intelligencies are distributed powers, in Heavens are virtues, and in inferior bodies gross forms.
Generation & Corruption¶
- By Aristotle (384-322 BC)
- Translation by Harold Joachim published 1922
- Where everything the west thinks it knows about the four elements came from, and the model which both of the above assumed.
Book 2. Chapter 2
Since, then, we are looking for originating sources of perceptible body; and since perceptible is equivalent to tangible, and tangible is that of which the perception is touch; it is clear that not all the contraries constitute forms and originating sources of body, but only those which correspond to touch. For it is in accordance with a contrariety—a contrariety, moreover, of tangible qualities—that the primary bodies are differentiated. That is why neither whiteness (and blackness), nor sweetness (and bitterness), nor (similarly) any quality belonging to the other perceptible contraries either, constitutes an element. And yet vision is prior to touch, so that its object also is prior to the object of touch. The object of vision, however, is a quality of tangible body not qua tangible, but qua something else—qua something which may well be naturally prior to the object of touch.
Accordingly, we must segregate the tangible differences and contraries, and distinguish which among them are primary. Contraries correlative to touch are the following: hot–cold, dry–moist, heavy–light, hard–soft, viscous–brittle, rough–smooth, coarse–fine.
Of these (i) heavy and light are neither active nor susceptible. Things are not called heavy and light because they act upon, or suffer action from, other things. But the elements must be reciprocally active and susceptible, since they combine and are transformed into one another.
On the other hand (ii) hot and cold, and dry and moist, are terms, of which the first pair implies power to act and the second pair susceptibility. Hot is that which associates things of the same kind (for dissociating, which people attribute to Fire as its function, is associating things of the same class, since its effect is to eliminate what is foreign), while cold is that which brings together, i.e. associates, homogeneous and heterogeneous things alike. And moist is that which, being readily adaptable in shape, is not determinable by any limit of its own: while dry is that which is readily determinable by its own limit, but not readily adaptable in shape.
From moist and dry are derived (iii) the fine and coarse, viscous and brittle, hard and soft, and the remaining tangible differences.
For (a) since the moist has no determinate shape, but is readily adaptable and follows the outline of that which is in contact with it, it is characteristic of it to be such as to fill up. Now the fine is such as to fill up. For the fine consists of subtle particles; but that which consists of small particles is such as to fill up, inasmuch as it is in contact whole with whole—and the fine exhibits this character in a superlative degree. Hence it is evident that the fine derives from the moist, while the coarse derives from the dry.
Again (b) the viscous derives from the moist: for the viscous (e.g. oil) is a moist modified in a certain way. The brittle, on the other hand, derives from the dry: for brittle is that which is completely dry—so completely, that its solidification has actually been due to failure of moisture.
Further (c) the soft derives from the moist. For soft is that which yields to pressure by retiring into itself, though it does not yield by total displacement as the moist does—which explains why the moist is not soft, although the soft derives from the moist. The hard, on the other hand, derives from the dry: for hard is that which is solidified, and the solidified is dry.
The terms dry and moist have more senses than one. For the damp, as well as the moist, is opposed to the dry: and again the solidified, as well as the dry, is opposed to the moist. But all these qualities derive from the dry and moist we mentioned first.
For (i) the dry is opposed to the damp: i.e. damp is that which has foreign moisture on its surface (sodden being that which is penetrated to its core), while dry is that which has lost foreign moisture. Hence it is evident that the damp will derive from the moist, and the dry which is opposed to it will derive from the primary dry.
Again (ii) the moist and the solidified derive in the same way from the primary pair. For moist is that which contains moisture of its own deep within it (sodden being that which is deeply penetrated by foreign moisture), whereas solidified is that which has lost this inner moisture. Hence these too derive from the primary pair, the solidified from the dry and the liquefiable from the moist.
It is clear, then, that all the other differences reduce to the first four, but that these admit of no further reduction. For the hot is not essentially moist or dry, nor the moist essentially hot or cold: nor are the cold and the dry derivative forms, either of one another or of the hot and the moist. Hence these must be four.
Couplings of Elementary Qualities¶
Book 2. Chapter 3.
The elementary qualities are four, and any four terms can be combined in six couples. Contraries, however, refuse to be coupled: for it is impossible for the same thing to be hot and cold, or moist and dry. Hence it is evident that the couplings of the elementary qualities will be four: hot with dry and moist with hot, and again cold with dry and cold with moist. And these four couples have attached themselves to the apparently simple bodies (Fire, Air, Water, and Earth) in a manner consonant with theory. For Fire is hot and dry, whereas Air is hot and moist (Air being a sort of aqueous vapor); and Water is cold and moist, while Earth is cold and dry. Thus the differences are reasonably distributed among the primary bodies, and the number of the latter is consonant with theory. For all who make the simple bodies elements postulate either one, or two, or three, or four.
Now (i) those who assert there is one only, and then generate everything else by condensation and rarefaction, are in effect making their originating sources two, viz. the rare and the dense, or rather the hot and the cold: for it is these which are the molding forces, while the one underlies them as a matter.
But (ii) those who postulate two from the start—as Parmenides postulated Fire and Earth—make the intermediates (e.g. Air and Water) blends of these.
The same course is followed (iii) by those who advocate three. (We may compare what Plato does in `The Divisions’: for he makes the middle a blend.) Indeed, there is practically no difference between those who postulate two and those who postulate three, except that the former split the middle element into two, while the latter treat it as only one.
But (iv) some advocate four from the start, e.g. Empedocles: yet he too draws them together so as to reduce them to the two, for he opposes all the others to Fire.
In fact, however, fire and air, and each of the bodies we have mentioned, are not simple, but blended. The simple bodies are indeed similar in nature to them, but not identical with them. Thus the simple body corresponding to fire is such-as-fire, not fire: that which corresponds to air is such-as-air: and so on with the rest of them. But fire is an excess of heat, just as ice is an excess of cold. For boiling and freezing are excesses of heat and cold respectively. Assuming, therefore, that ice is a freezing of moist and cold, fire analogously will be a boiling of dry and hot: a fact, by the way, which explains why nothing comes-to-be either out of ice or out of fire.
The simple bodies, since they are four, fall into two pairs which belong to the two regions, each to each: for Fire and Air are forms of the body moving towards the limit, while Earth and Water are forms of the body which moves towards the center. Fire and Earth, moreover, are extremes and purest: Water and Air, on the contrary are intermediates and more like blends. And, further, the members of either pair are contrary to those of the other, Water being contrary to Fire, and Earth to Air; for the qualities constituting Water and Earth are contrary to those that constitute Fire and Air.
Nevertheless, since they are four, each of them is characterized par excellence a single quality: Earth by dry rather than by cold, Water by cold rather than by moist, Air by moist rather than by hot, and Fire by hot rather than by dry.
Book 2. Chapter 4.
It has been established before that the coming-to-be of the simple bodies is reciprocal. At the same time, it is manifest, even on the evidence of perception, that they do come-to-be: for otherwise there would not have been alteration, since alteration is change in respect to the qualities of the objects of touch.
Consequently, we must explain (i) what is the manner of their reciprocal transformation,
and (ii) whether every one of them can come-to-be out of every one—or whether some can do so, but not others.
Now it is evident that all of them are by nature such as to change into one another: for coming-to-be is a change into contraries and out of contraries, and the elements all involve a contrariety in their mutual relations because their distinctive qualities are contrary. For in some of them both qualities are contrary—e.g. in Fire and Water, the first of these being dry and hot, and the second moist and cold: while in others one of the qualities (though only one) is contrary—e.g. in Air and Water, the first being moist and hot, and the second moist and cold. It is evident, therefore, if we consider them in general, that every one is by nature such as to come-to-be out of every one: and when we come to consider them severally, it is not difficult to see the manner in which their transformation is effected. For, though all will result from all, both the speed and the facility of their conversion will differ in degree.
Thus (i) the process of conversion will be quick between those which have interchangeable complementary factors, but slow between those which have none. The reason is that it is easier for a single thing to change than for many. Air, e.g. will result from Fire if a single quality changes: for Fire, as we saw, is hot and dry while Air is hot and moist, so that there will be Air if the dry be overcome by the moist. Again, Water will result from Air if the hot be overcome by the cold: for Air, as we saw, is hot and moist while Water is cold and moist, so that, if the hot changes, there will be Water. So too, in the same manner, Earth will result from Water and Fire from Earth, since the two elements in both these couples have interchangeable complementary factors. For Water is moist and cold while Earth is cold and dry—so that, if the moist be overcome, there will be Earth: and again, since Fire is dry and hot while Earth is cold and dry, Fire will result from Earth if the cold passes-away.
It is evident, therefore, that the coming-to-be of the simple bodies will be cyclical; and that this cyclical method of transformation is the easiest, because the consecutive elements contain interchangeable complementary factors.
On the other hand (ii) the transformation of Fire into Water and of Air into Earth, and again of Water and Earth into Fire and Air respectively, though possible, is more difficult because it involves the change of more qualities. For if Fire is to result from Water, both the cold and the moist must pass-away: and again, both the cold and the dry must pass-away if Air is to result from Earth. So too, if Water and Earth are to result from Fire and Air respectively—both qualities must change.
This second method of coming-to-be, then, takes a longer time.
But (iii) if one quality in each of two elements passes-away, the transformation, though easier, is not reciprocal. Still, from Fire plus Water there will result Earth and Air, and from Air plus Earth Fire and Water. For there will be Air, when the cold of the Water and the dry of the Fire have passed-away (since the hot of the latter and the moist of the former are left): whereas, when the hot of the Fire and the moist of the Water have passed-away, there will be Earth, owing to the survival of the dry of the Fire and the cold of the Water.
So, too, in the same way, Fire and Water will result from Air plus Earth. For there will be Water, when the hot of the Air and the dry of the Earth have passed-away (since the moist of the former and the cold of the latter are left): whereas, when the moist of the Air and the cold of the Earth have passed-away, there will be Fire, owing to the survival of the hot of the Air and the dry of the Earth—qualities essentially constitutive of Fire. Moreover, this mode of Fire’s coming-to-be is confirmed by perception. For flame is par excellence Fire: but flame is burning smoke, and smoke consists of Air and Earth.
No transformation, however, into any of the simple bodies can result from the passing-away of one elementary quality in each of two elements when they are taken in their consecutive order, because either identical or contrary qualities are left in the pair: but no simple body can be formed either out of identical, or out of contrary, qualities. Thus no simple body would result, if the dry of Fire and the moist of Air were to pass-away: for the hot is left in both. On the other hand, if the hot passes-away out both, the contraries—dry and moist—are left. A similar result will occur in all the others too: for all the consecutive elements contain one identical, and one contrary, quality. Hence, too, it clearly follows that, when one of the consecutive elements is transformed into one, the coming-to-be is effected by the passing-away of a single quality: whereas, when two of them are transformed into a third, more than one quality must have passed-away.
We have stated that all the elements come-to-be out of any one of them; and we have explained the manner in which their mutual conversion takes place. Let us nevertheless supplement our theory by the following speculations concerning them.
Only Four Elements¶
Book 2. Chapter 5.
If Water, Air, and the like are a matter of which the natural bodies consist, as some thinkers in fact believe, these elements must be either one, or two, or more. Now they cannot all of them be one—they cannot, e.g. all be Air or Water or Fire or Earth—because “Change is into contraries”. For if they all were Air, then (assuming Air to persist) there will be alteration instead of coming-to-be. Besides, nobody supposes a single element to persist, as the basis of all, in such a way that it is Water as well as Air (or any other element) at the same time. So there will be a certain contrariety, i.e. a differentiating quality: and the other member of this contrariety, e.g. heat, will belong to some other element, e.g. to Fire. But Fire will certainly not be “hot Air”.
For a change of that kind (a) is alteration,
and (b) is not what is observed.
Moreover (c) if Air is again to result out of the Fire, it will do so by the conversion of the hot into its contrary: this contrary, therefore, will belong to Air, and Air will be a cold something: hence it is impossible for Fire to be “hot Air”, since in that case the same thing will be simultaneously hot and cold. Both Fire and Air, therefore, will be something else which is the same; i.e. there will be some matter, other than either, common to both.
The same argument applies to all the elements, proving that there is no single one of them out of which they all originate. But neither is there, beside these four, some other body from which they originate—a something intermediate, e.g. between Air and Water (coarser than Air, but finer than Water), or between Air and Fire (coarser than Fire, but finer than Air). For the supposed intermediate will be Air and Fire when a pair of contrasted qualities is added to it: but, since one of every two contrary qualities is a privation, the intermediate never can exist—as some thinkers assert the Boundless or the Environing exists—in isolation. It is, therefore, equally and indifferently any one of the elements, or else it is nothing.
Since, then, there is nothing—at least, nothing perceptible—prior to these, they must be all. That being so, either they must always persist and not be transformable into one another, or they must undergo transformation—either all of them, or some only (as Plato wrote in the `Timaeus’). Now it has been proven before that they must undergo reciprocal transformation. It has also been proven that the speed with which they come-to-be, one out of another, is not uniform—since the process of reciprocal transformation is relatively quick between the elements with a complementary factor, but relatively slow between those which possess no such factor. Assuming, then, that the contrariety, in respect to which they are transformed, is one, the elements will inevitably be two: for it is matter that is the mean between the two contraries, and matter is imperceptible and inseparable from them. Since, however, the elements are seen to be more than two, the contraries must at the least be two. But the contraries being two, the elements must be four (as they evidently are) and cannot be three: for the couplings are four, since, though six are possible, the two in which the qualities are contrary to one another cannot occur.
These subjects have been discussed before: but the following arguments will make it clear that, since the elements are transformed into one another, it is impossible for any one of them—whether it be at the end or in the middle—to be an originating source of the rest. There can be no such originating element at the ends: for all of them would then be Fire or Earth, and this theory amounts to the assertion that all things are made of Fire or Earth. Nor can a middle-element be such an originating source—as some thinkers suppose that Air is transformed both into Fire and into Water, and Water both into Air and into Earth, while the end-elements are not further transformed into one another. For the process must come to a stop, and cannot continue ad infinitum in a straight line in either direction, since otherwise an infinite number of contraries would attach to the single element.
Let E stand for Earth, W for Water, A for Air, and F for Fire.1
Then (i) since Air is transformed into Fire and Water, there will be a contrariety belonging to Air and Fire. Let these contraries be Whiteness and Blackness.
Again (ii) since Air is transformed into Water, there will be another contrariety: for Water is not the same as Fire. Let this second contrariety be Dryness and Moistness.
Now if, when Air is transformed into Water, the whiteness persists, Water will be moist and white: but if it does not persist, Water will be black since change is into contraries. Water, therefore, must be either white or black. Let it then be the first.
On similar grounds, therefore, dryness will also belong to Fire. Consequently Fire as well as Air will be able to be transformed into Water: for it has qualities contrary to those of Water, since Fire was first taken to be black and then to be dry, while Water was moist and then showed itself white. Thus it is evident that all the elements will be able to be transformed out of one another; and that, in the instances we have taken, Earth also will contain the remaining two complementary factors, viz. the black and the moist (for these have not yet been coupled).
We have dealt with this last topic before the thesis we set out to prove. That thesis—viz. that the process cannot continue ad infinitum—will be clear from the following considerations.
If Fire is not to revert, but is to be transformed in turn into some other element (e.g. into Q), a new contrariety, other than those mentioned, will belong to Fire and Q: for it has been assumed that Q is not the same as any of the four, Earth, Water, Air and Fire.
Let K, then, belong to Fire and Y to Q. Then K will belong to all four, Earth, Water, Air, and Fire: for they are transformed into one another. This last point, however, we may admit, has not yet been proven: but at any rate it is clear that if Q is to be transformed in turn into yet another element, yet another contrariety will belong not only to Q but also to Fire. And, similarly, every addition of a new element will carry with it the attachment of a new contrariety to the preceding elements. Consequently, if the elements are infinitely many, there will also belong to the single element an infinite number of contraries. But if that be so, it will be impossible to define any element: impossible also for any to come-to-be. For if one is to result from another, it will have to pass through such a vast number of contraries—and indeed even more than any determinate number.
Consequently (i) into some elements transformation will never be effected—viz. if the intermediates are infinite in number, as they must be if the elements are infinitely many:
further (ii) there will not even be a transformation of Air into Fire, if the contraries are infinitely many:
moreover (iii) all the elements become one. For all the contraries of the elements above Fire must belong to those below Fire, and vice versa: hence they will all be one.
Flesh and Bones¶
Book 2. Chapter 7.
The discussion of these difficulties,2 however, is a task appropriate to a different investigation: let us return to the elements of which bodies are composed. The theories that ‘there is something common to all the “elements”’, and that ‘they are reciprocally transformed’, are so related that those who accept either are bound to accept the other as well. Those, on the other hand, who do not make their coming-to-be reciprocal—who refuse to suppose that any one of the elements comes-to-be out of any other taken singly, except in the sense in which bricks come-to-be out of a wall—are faced with a paradox. How, in their theory, are flesh and bones or any of the other compounds to result from the elements taken together?
Indeed, the point we have raised constitutes a problem even for those who generate the elements out of one another. In what manner does anything other than, and beside, the elements come-to-be out of them? Let me illustrate my meaning. Water can come-to-be out of Fire and Fire out of Water; for their substratum is something common to them both. But flesh too, presumably, and marrow come-to-be out of them. How, then, do such things come-to-be?
For (a) how is the manner of their coming-to-be to be conceived by those who maintain a theory like that of Empedocles? They must conceive it as composition—just as a wall comes-to-be out of bricks and stones: and the Mixture, of which they speak, will be composed of the elements, these being preserved in it unaltered but with their small particles juxtaposed each to each. That will be the manner, presumably, in which flesh and every other compound results from the elements. Consequently, it follows that Fire and Water do not come-to-be ‘out of any and every part of flesh’. For instance, although a sphere might come-to-be out of this part of a lump of wax and a pyramid out of some other part, it was nevertheless possible for either figure to have come-to-be out of either part indifferently: that is the manner of coming-to-be when ‘both Fire and Water come-to-be out of any and every part of flesh’. Those, however, who maintain the theory in question, are not at liberty to conceive that ‘both come-to-be out of flesh’ in that manner, but only as a stone and a brick ‘both come-to-be out of a wall’—viz. each out of a different place or part.
Similarly (b) even for those who postulate a single matter of their elements there is a certain difficulty in explaining how anything is to result from two of them taken together—e.g. from cold and hot, or from Fire and Earth. For if flesh consists of both and is neither of them, nor again is a composition of them in which they are preserved unaltered, what alternative is left except to identify the resultant of the two elements with their matter? For the passing-away of either element produces either the other or the matter.
Perhaps we may suggest the following solution.
(i) There are differences of degree in hot and cold. Although, therefore, when either is fully real without qualification, the other will exist potentially; yet, when neither exists in the full completeness of its being, but both by combining destroy one another’s excesses so that there exist instead a hot which (for a hot) is cold and a cold which (for a cold) is hot; then what results from these two contraries will be neither their matter, nor either of them existing in its full reality without qualification. There will result instead an intermediate: and this intermediate, according as it is potentially more hot than cold or vice versa, will possess a power-of-heating that is double or triple its power-of-cooling, or otherwise related thereto in some similar ratio. Thus all the other bodies will result from the contraries, or rather from the elements, in so far as these have been combined: while the elements will result from the contraries, in so far as these ‘exist potentially’ in a special sense—not as matter ‘exists potentially’, but in the sense explained above. And when a thing comes-to-be in this manner, the process is combination; whereas what comes-to-be in the other manner is matter.
Moreover (ii) contraries also ‘suffer action’, in accordance with the disjunctively-articulated definition established in the early part of this work. For the actually-hot is potentially-cold and the actually-cold is potentially-hot; so that hot and cold, unless they are equally balanced, are transformed into one another (and all the other contraries behave in a similar way). It is thus, then, that in the first place the elements are transformed; and that (in the second place) out of the elements there come-to-be flesh and bones and the like—the hot becoming cold and the cold becoming hot when they have been brought to the mean. For at the mean is neither hot nor cold. The mean, however, is of considerable extent and not indivisible. Similarly, it is qua reduced to a mean condition that the dry and the moist, as well as the contraries we have used as examples, produce flesh and bone and the remaining compounds.
Book 2. Chapter 8.
All the compound bodies—all of which exist in the region belonging to the central body—are composed of all the simple bodies. For they all contain Earth because every simple body is to be found specially and most abundantly in its own place.
And they all contain Water because (a) the compound must possess a definite outline and Water, alone of the simple bodies, is readily adaptable in shape:
moreover (b) Earth has no power of cohesion without the moist.
On the contrary, the moist is what holds it together; for it would fall to pieces if the moist were eliminated from it completely.
They contain Earth and Water, then, for the reasons we have given: and they contain Air and Fire, because these are contrary to Earth and Water (Earth being contrary to Air and Water to Fire, in so far as one Substance can be contrary to another). Now all compounds presuppose in their coming-to-be constituents which are contrary to one another: and in all compounds there is contained one set of the contrasted extremes. Hence the other set must be contained in them also, so that every compound will include all the simple bodies.
Additional evidence seems to be furnished by the food each compound takes. For all of them are fed by substances which are the same as their constituents, and all of them are fed by more substances than one. Indeed, even the plants, though it might be thought they are fed by one substance only, viz. by Water, are fed by more than one: for Earth has been mixed with the Water. That is why farmers too endeavor to mix before watering. Although food is akin to the matter, that which is fed is the figure—i.e. the form taken along with the matter. This fact enables us to understand why, whereas all the simple bodies come-to-be out of one another, Fire is the only one of them which (as our predecessors also assert) ‘is fed’. For Fire alone—or more than all the rest—is akin to the form because it tends by nature to be borne towards the limit. Now each of them naturally tends to be borne towards its own place; but the figure—i.e. the form—of them all is at the limits.
Thus we have explained that all the compound bodies are composed of all the simple bodies.
Book 2. Chapter 9.
Since some things are such as to come-to-be and pass-away, and since coming-to-be in fact occurs in the region about the center, we must explain the number and the nature of the ‘original sources’ of all coming-to-be alike: for a grasp of the true theory of any universal facilitates the understanding of its specific forms.
The ‘original sources’, then, of the things which come-to-be are equal in number to, and identical in kind with, those in the sphere of the eternal and primary things. For there is one in the sense of matter, and a second in the sense of form: and, in addition, the third ‘original source’ must be present as well. For the two first are not sufficient to bring things into being, any more than they are adequate to account for the primary things.
Now cause, in the sense of material origin, for the things which are such as to come-to-be is ‘that which can be-and-not-be’: and this is identical with ‘that which can come-to-be-and-pass-away’, since the latter, while it is at one time, at another time is not. (For whereas some things are of necessity, viz. the eternal things, others of necessity are not. And of these two sets of things, since they cannot diverge from the necessity of their nature, it is impossible for the first not to be and impossible for the second to be. Other things, however, can both be and not be.) Hence coming-to-be and passing-away must occur within the field of ‘that which can be-and not-be’. This, therefore, is cause in the sense of material origin for the things which are such as to come-to-be; while cause, in the sense of their end, is their figure or form—and that is the formula expressing the essential nature of each of them.
But the third ‘original source’ must be present as well—the cause vaguely dreamed of by all our predecessors, definitely stated by none of them.
On the contrary (a) some among them thought the nature of ‘the Forms’ was adequate to account for coming-to-be. Thus Socrates in the `Phaedo’ first blames everybody else for having given no explanation; and then lays it down; that ‘some things are Forms, others Participants in the Forms’, and that ‘while a thing is said to “be” in virtue of the Form, it is said to “come-to-be”, qua sharing in, to “pass-away”, qua “losing,” the Form.’ Hence he thinks that ‘assuming the truth of these theses, the Forms must be causes both of coming-to-be and of passing-away’.
On the other hand (b) there were others who thought ‘the matter’ was adequate by itself to account for coming-to-be, since ‘the movement originates from the matter’.
Neither of these theories, however, is sound.
For (a) if the Forms are causes, why is their generating activity intermittent instead of perpetual and continuous—since there always are Participants as well as Forms? Besides, in some instances we see that the cause is other than the Form. For it is the doctor who implants health and the man of science who implants science, although ‘Health itself’ and ‘Science itself’ are as well as the Participants: and the same principle applies to everything else that is produced in accordance with an art.
On the other hand (b) to say that ‘matter generates owing to its movement’ would be, no doubt, more scientific than to make such statements as are made by the thinkers we have been criticizing. For what alters and transfigures plays a greater part in bringing things into being; and we are everywhere accustomed, in the products of nature and of art alike, to look upon that which can initiate movement as the producing cause. Nevertheless this second theory is not right either.
For, to begin with, it is characteristic of matter to suffer action, i.e. to be moved: but to move, i.e. to act, belongs to a different power. This is obvious both in the things that come-to-be by art and in those that come-to-be by nature. Water does not of itself produce out of itself an animal: and it is the art, not the wood, that makes a bed. Nor is this their only error. They make a second mistake in omitting the more controlling cause: for they eliminate the essential nature, i.e. the form. And what is more, since they remove the formal cause, they invest the forces they assign to the simple bodies—the forces which enable these bodies to bring things into being—with too instrumental a character. For “since” (as they say) “it is the nature of the hot to dissociate, of the cold to bring together, and of each remaining contrary either to act or to suffer action”, it is out of such materials and by their agency (so they maintain) that everything else comes-to-be and passes-away.
Yet (a) it is evident that even Fire is itself moved, i.e. suffers action.
Moreover (b) their procedure is virtually the same as if one were to treat the saw (and the various instruments of carpentry) as ‘the cause’ of the things that come-to-be: for the wood must be divided if a man saws, must become smooth if he planes, and so on with the remaining tools. Hence, however true it may be that Fire is active, i.e. sets things moving, there is a further point they fail to observe—viz. that Fire is inferior to the tools or instruments in the manner in which it sets things moving.
- Natural Magick
- Three Books of Occult Philosophy
- On Generation and Corruption
- Natural Magick
- Occult Philosophy
- Generation & Corruption