Raise the Mizzenmast, Matey
This is the fourth in my Elementals Perspectives series for Pagan Pages. If you have not already guessed it, this one is about the Element of Air.
Popular modern Paganism declares that Air is the province of ideas, dreams, questions, and all things intellectual. It also correlates with clouds, light, vision, and stuff we associate with the sky. That is an interesting relationship.
When we think an idea is not truly well thought out or complete, we label it as being airy. If we believe a person is mentally not very connected to his or her total environment, we might say they have their head in the clouds. We also have words like windbag, blowhard, and airhead, all of which are not very flattering epithets. It seems we often use Air terms in unkind ways. And parents all over the world keep telling their children to stop imagining things, which fortunately, has not worked very well.
Simply saying that Air is concerned with the mental aspects of our universe does not even come close to relating how important it is to us. Just as air – that gaseous mixture we breathe all the time – is absolutely necessary to sustaining our lives, so too is Air the Element vital to our existence as well as the universe we inhabit. Strangely, modern physics supports this notion. I find this fascinating because much of the way in which physicists describe this phenomenon sounds almost like ancient Hindu teachings as well as many more modern magical theorists. I will attempt to put it in terms that make it easier to understand, but ‘proof’ of these ideas I will leave to others who are more qualified.
The physics theories and the Hindu Vedic scripts are so close it is spooky, so I will not try to separate them. Rather, I will pull from each and try to show how magic is supported by them. The concept starts easily enough:
Existence is a much bigger clump of stuff than our senses can tell us about. In fact, what our pitiful sensory equipment reports about the so-called universe is but a tiny fraction of everything that is. And, because we are so greatly deficient in our ability to observe, our ability to understand the great big ALL is also extremely limited.
There is a classic story about Flatland where the inhabitants of a two-dimensional world observe the effects of a three-dimensional object passing through their world. Imagine a ball passing through a piece of paper. As it starts, the people of Flatland would only detect a spot on the paper. Slowly, the point expands to a circle and that circle grows larger until the ball is halfway through the paper. Now the circle begins to shrink and its last hurrah is an exquisitely small point once again. Then there is nothing on the paper to show what has happened. That’s the mystery that’s left to the people of Flatland. What was that phenomenon and how can they possibly fully understand it? To us, living in a three dimensional world, it is easy to describe and understand. But to the poor, clueless Flatlanders it might remain a mystery forever. Although their scientists might come up with an explanation that exactly fits my description, the common Flatlander would not be able to grasp much more than a vague concept and even the most disciplined scientific mind might not understand much more about the phenomenon than the mathematics of it. Every explanation that comes even close to the truth requires an extra dimension be hypothesized. Of course, the mathematics would require it, but everybody in Flatland would think that an extra dimension is merely theoretical and perhaps a tad too convenient a way to explain the ‘impossible’. To us, the three dimensional people, it is completely intuitive. (But then, according to the Flatlanders, we do not truly exist!)
This is exactly the problem we face when trying to explain the universe as we ‘know’ it so far. It requires several more dimensions to come up with any sort of explanation for many of the phenomena we observe. A great deal of people secretly – or sometimes even openly – believes that all this extra dimension stuff is pretty farfetched and just some trick of mathematics to make it look like we know what is happening. It is harder to get our minds around extra dimensions than it is to accept omniscient deities and supernatural miracles. However, the scientists tell us, the two concepts are not as far apart as we might believe.
I could go into quantum physics, string theory, and all that other esoteric stuff to support my next statement, but I will not bother. There are several good books that do just that and they are written in everyday language if you’re interested. I would start with The Dancing Wu Li Masters, it’s a masterful work and highly entertaining. The crux of all this is truly a very simple but startling statement: the Universe, the great big total ALL and every little piece of it is all thought of some kind. The part of the universe we can say is observable is the way it is because we (and billions of other human beings) think it is that way.
Now, I know that might not seem very plausible to most of us. In fact, it almost seems somehow blasphemous! At the very least, it seems arrogant beyond words. But remember that the Flatlanders believe they have points expanding to circles and back again. Perhaps there are some fourth dimensional people out there saying, “Those poor dupes in that three-dimension world haven’t a clue about what really is going on, do they?” And, of course, there’s a scientist in their world trying to explain stuff that requires another dimension or two (or three, or four, or five…) and they (the fourth dimension inhabitants) secretly smirk and raise their eyebrows (exactly in what direction would an eyebrow go in the fifth dimension?) at the introduction of those mathematical constructs. But then, there’s possibly a fifth dimension person thinking, “Those poor dupes,” about our fourth dimension folks. And so on.
Suffice it to say that the notion that we essentially create our universe from one moment to the next, one thought at a time, is a truly amazing idea to most people. An idea that does not go over well in great deal of quarters; magic workers tend to be more receptive, but it is still pretty wild even for us. It does explain a great deal but it is a little too much, a little over the top for all but a few magic workers. It is hard to make use of this theory on all but the simplest of terms for most of us.
Several written works about the ‘rules’ of magic have been produced over the ages and, ultimately, they all affirm the truth of the concept that we are the master’s of our reality but to say we are the creators of our universe? Wow, that’s heavy!
The biggest problem with the Air Element isn’t why it is important; it is how freaking, enormously, overwhelmingly important it is! One way of looking at it is that this is the beginning for all the other Elements; without our ability for thought, how could we say anything ‘IS’? Thought is the beginning of existence. It is the way our universe is formed and the method by which we define the how and why of everything of which we are aware.
It would be difficult to say what constitutes ‘mastery’ over the Air Element. For about the last two-hundred years, western science has taken the view that most of what we call thought is a function of our brain. There has been considerable study along this line and a great deal about the physical aspects of brain function has been discovered. But there hasn’t been much that ‘proved’ that the mind is only a product of the grey gunk in our cranium. For all its wondrous research, there is still a big hole in our understanding of what thought actually is. A great deal of the science surrounding the subject sounds more like philosophy or spirituality.
Also, since the whole scientific approach about mentality and thought is driven mostly by the several thousand-year-old philosophers of the Mediterranean area, we might be employing the completely wrong model for attaining real understanding. There are some parts of the more eastern philosophies that seem to offer more promise in some ways. In fact, a good deal of our current physical science and cosmology is drifting ever nearer to sounding like the mystical writings of ancient Asians. And, at least in some areas, mystics everywhere agree that thought and the universe are inseparable.
But step back a second. Are we the creators of our universe? Or are we just the beings that see that WHICH IS as a matrix, a construct that is explained in terms of our ability to impose order upon it? Remember that in some higher dimension, we are the Flatlanders; we’re the ‘poor dupes’. Is there yet another Element we should pay attention to?
Indeed there is: it is the ‘final’ Element, the one we call Spirit. It is the One, the ALL, the Alpha and Omega, blah, blah, blah. It is the most difficult to understand and the hardest to ‘master’ because nobody in this incarnated form can possibly attain anything close to complete mastery over this Element. But to strive for understanding of it is quite possibly the most wondrous quest any of us can perform. It will be the final piece of this series and likely the shortest because I do not pretend to know much about Spirit. But I will share what I can and, hopefully, it will help you a little in your journeys. So, until next month…