Elemental Perspectives

Not Rocket $cience

The system of categorizing the universe that’s most commonly learned by Pagans is called the Elements.  Although the four classic Elements (Air, Fire, Water, and Earth) proposed by the ancients aren’t nearly as scientific as the modern-day Periodic Table of Elements, the ideas behind both are the same and the four-element system was actually the basis for the hundred plus modern chart.  Magic dictates that we have an acute knowledge of the world(s) around us.  And that means we need some sort of system to categorize, prioritize, and organize what we are able to perceive in those worlds.  The four-element system works quite well for this because of its simplicity and flexibility.  Each Element offers a way to view the universe and provides a niche in which to put our observations and ideas.  Relationships between the four realms, though often subjective, are not too complicated to befuddle our minds and allow us to make general conclusions rapidly.  When it comes to magic-on-the-fly, this is very handy.  It is definitely to the magic-worker’s advantage to study the Elements closely and practice applying the system to the worlds around them.

This will be the beginning to a series on the Elements.  Unlike most such discussions, though, I will not be giving you long, dry lists of correspondences or how to decorate an altar for the Element.  Instead, I will briefly try to describe the properties of the Element and then go on to show how working with those properties can be applied to common, every-day situations.  Using the Elements as a guide for understanding the world is, after all, the primary reason for learning about them.  In other words, this series will be a demonstration of how our magic is applicable anywhere and everywhere.

The first Element I wish to explore is the one we all are probably most familiar with: Earth.  Before we were born, we were experiencing the Earth Element.  This Element is the realm of our five senses and what most people call ‘reality.’ Earth is the measurable manifestations of the other Elements’ activities.  In other words, this is where the rubber meets the road.

The reason I’ve chosen Earth to be the topic of my first article in this series is quite simple:  Its most prominent symbol is a really hot topic in the news lately.  That symbol is money.  Money is a symbol for the ability to make a change.  By the way, I didn’t make up that definition.  It was actually the result of a quarter’s worth of Economics 103 at the Univ. of WA when I went there back in the early ‘60’s.  The professor told us that we were to come up with a workable definition of money.  It took a lot of study and argumentation between the students to arrive at that one simple definition but I haven’t heard a more suitable one since then.  Along the way of learning a lot about the subject of economics, we found out how wrong our outlook on money had been.  Viewed from the perspective of this simple definition, almost everything else about economics can be understood.  In the Tarot, the set called Pentacles or Coins represents the Earth Element, which proves how universal it is that money is a good symbol for this Element.  And since so many Pagans seem to have a poor (pun intended) understanding about how to keep their Earth altar in order, I offer a lesson in how to un-complicate the issue that occupies so much of the news of late from the standpoint of the Earth Element:

Let’s not make this economy thing too complicated.  You turn on the news or read an article about stimulus packages, bank policies, pork earmarks, and all those other buzzwords used by the so-called experts and it’s easy to think that our economic woes are too complex to understand.  That’s wrong.  It’s as easy as a child’s summertime lemonade stand.

There are essentially only two kinds of economic activities.  You are either spending or getting money.  Savings and credit are just ways to put middlemen into the equation.  Companies, people, institutions, governments, and (who knows?) maybe even little green men from Mars can either spend money or get money to spend later.  Every other facet of this entire economic circus comes down to one or both of these activities.

Money that sits in your pocket does nothing except maybe give you some peace of mind.  While it sits there, in whatever form it might be in (cash, credit cards, gold doubloons, whatever), it serves no purpose except to wear a hole in the pocket.  Money is only a way of keeping from hauling around wagons of grain, barrels of bear, tons of steel, or shiploads of imported cars.  It’s a form of energy, energy to cause change.  If you spend X amount of dollars, you get back something valued at X.  Once you get your brand new X machine (or whatever), you can use it.  That’s a change.  You can argue about what the real value may be, but the fact that you’ve spent your hard-earned money to buy it says you are making a change and that change is valued as X amount of money.  When you spend X dollars, those dollars go to the people who make the X machine, the people who sold it to you, the folks who got the raw materials together for making it, the people who designed it, etc., etc..  But, remember, if they just let the dollars sit in their pockets, there is nothing getting done, no change, and therefore no economic activity.

When dollars fail to make changes, that is, get spent, the economy goes in the tank.  Economic stimulus means dollars change hands for goods and services.  Every other activity is just smoke and mirrors.  When politicians argue over what will or will not stimulate the economy, they’re really arguing over who gets their hands on the dollars first.  ANY dollar put into the system and used in ANY way stimulates the economy.  A dollar spent by the congressman on a high-priced call girl is just as stimulating as a dollar spent on feeding your dog.  (Okay, I’m not talking about that kind of stimulation.)

In the long run, money is useful ONLY for goods and services.  Playing with money, sometimes called investing, is a way of gambling.  Gambling that you can increase your supply of money without providing some sort of goods or services.  I know the argument that investing creates jobs, blah, blah, blah.  And it does; no doubt about it, but only after the dollar has been spent many times on its way to the factory floor.  Everybody is trying to get a bigger piece of pie and your tax dollar has been put on the table as sustenance for their hunger.  So, in the broader scope of things, investing is just a way of trying to get more money for the money you’ve decided to gamble.  And ask anyone who has been in the stock market lately, it is a gamble.

What about credit?  Credit is just another way of speculating (gambling).  In this case, it’s a gamble that the future will be as rosy as we think it will be.  Credit is a way of gambling on the future while getting paid for it in the now.  It’s a loan and it must be paid back one way or another.  Our current economic mess is a way of paying for the credit extended in the past.  Unfortunately, the gamble didn’t keep paying off as we’d hoped.  Our loan will be paid for in watered-down dollars.  And, because our banks have over-extended their loan capacity, we all are paying for the atmosphere of plenty in the recent past that made investors think the future would be even better.

This country is not alone in this.  The whole planet is having the same set of problems.  As we use up the goods of the planet (sometimes called natural resources), it becomes more expensive to get them.  And there are more mouths to feed and people who want those resources.  This means it takes more money (you know, that stuff that is supposed to represent our ability to make changes) to make the changes we need… like getting food and stuff.  The short story?  Life is getting harder.  The long story?  The politicians don’t want to say that out loud unless they’ve got some way to make it look like they’ve figured out to make your life easier.  This, of course, means somebody else’s life will be even more difficult.  But, (and you can take this to the bank) somebody will be paying big for the problem.  The argument in Washington D.C. really is over who will get to be first in line for that colossal pile of ‘stimulus’ money.

Only two factors are involved in this stimulus package that need be of any concern:  how much money is to be spent and how fast those dollars will circulate.  Now, the government is going to spend money no matter what.  After all, they’ve got a money habit that won’t quit and they can legally print it.  The number of dollars the government puts into circulation determines the price of things.  When lots of dollars get pushed into the economy, each dollar’s buying power gets diluted and it takes more of them to buy things (make changes).  This is called inflation and no matter how you look at it, that is what’s going to happen when you print money without there being an increase in goods and services.

How fast a dollar changes hands is an extremely important factor.  If a dollar circulates quickly, the overall economy is good; if it slows down, the economy is bad.  This is true regardless of the inflation rate.  Look at it this way: if one dollar gets passed around to five people today, then five people have made a dollar.  If it has only passed hands (been spent) twice, only two people made a dollar today.  The circulation rate is actually more important than the inflation rate.  If the stimulus package gets dollars circulating at a rate fast enough, how inflationary it is will matter very little.  A robust economy means the lifeblood of the economy (dollars) is circulating well.  If that circulation rate goes below a certain level, the economy collapses.

That is what’s happened at the moment; the patient (our economy) has fainted due to poor circulation.  And it appears to have gone into shock.  The usual dose of smelling salts didn’t seem to bring them around so they are being rushed to the hospital for more drastic measures.

In the mean time, until the patient returns to run the business, everyone else should stop standing around gawking and get back to what they were doing before.  Don’t worry, this happens sometimes; the patient will be fine after a little time in the hospital and probably a long time in therapy.  Of course, there’ll be one heck of a doctor’s bill.

Despite the overuse of metaphor in my example, I think you get the idea.  When you look at something and think about it as an example of one of the Elements, it becomes easier to get a handle on it and makes dealing with it easier.  Of course, nearly everything in the universe can be viewed from any of the Elements because there’s hardly anything that isn’t a mix of all of them.  But before trying to understand something as a combination of the four classics plus Spirit, practice looking at it from one Element alone.  When it becomes natural to dissect a problem into four Elements and you can bounce from one perspective to the other with ease, you will be amazed at how much more effective your magic will be.

My next article in this series will be on the Water Element.  I will pick a topic from the current news again to illustrate how using Water as the perspective point can provide useful information about the matter.