The Occidental Theory of the Four Elements and the Constitution
The Four-Dimensional Human
Picture: The Polarity of Sun (Fire) and Moon (Water); Aurora consurgens; 14th cent.
One can also regard the elements as spiritual primal components, bringing about life. Fire and air form the active, male, procreating principle; water and earth on the other hand the passive, female, receiving principle. This thought reminds us of the Yang/Yin polarity of Chinese medicine. In the Occident, one also knows this truth; here it is called Sun and Moon. A Hermetic message says, “His father (Yang / fire) is the Sun, his mother (Yin / Water) is the Moon.” Accordingly, the basic polarity of life is Warmth/Fire and Cold/Water. This polarity binds the invisible air that is said to be the carrier of the creating elementary powers, which it communicates to the other elements. The union of fire, water, and air finally forms the fundament of material existence, which is corresponding to earth.
Here it is important that the elements are invisible in their being and are transcendental, and thus represent the spiritual basis of life. The mineral basic components of matter stem from the densest of elements, the earth. The water element connects these matters in an energetic way and this way forms the basis of organic life. As a kingdom of nature, the world of plants is allocated to water. The air inspires nature and forms the base for the kingdom of animals. The fire spiritualizes the world and is thus allocated to man.
In Hermetic-oriented Anthroposophic medicine, man, by analogy with the elements, consists of four dimensions of being or bodies (see graph). First of all, it is the physical body that is similar to the kingdom of minerals (earth), which represents the material vessel for our spiritual being. The manifestation of this body is responsible for the intensity of the connection of spirit to matter (incarnation). The second body is that of the formatic force or etheric body with its metabolic functions and its regenerative forces (water). It corresponds with the realm of the vegetal. This is the body of vital force. As a third one, we find the emotion or astral body (air), which connects us with the animality. Through it, we feel sympathy and antipathy, love and hate, joy and pain. Fourthly, man consists of the mental body (fire) or the ego-organization. It bestows us with the ability of conscious awareness. The body is reserved for the human being.
The Four Main Organs of Man
According to the Hermetic tradition, each main organ is assigned to an element: fire – heart / air – kidneys / water – liver / earth – lungs. These assignments are of essential significance for practice.
Coronary diseases now are not only a disturbance in the element of fire but have their origin in a conflict between conscious ego awareness and the realization of the imaginations of the will. Accordingly, a therapy with cardiotonic remedies, – for example hawthorn, sloe, or motherwort – present a possibility for creating ego-strength, which enables the person to express his will outwardly. One of the most important remedies for creating ego-awareness is the Sun metal, gold (Aurum metallicum). In lower potencies (D6 to D12), it is suited for the treatment of an ego-weakness or of a lack of orientation of the self. High potencies (D30), however, are being used when the ego-organization spreads out boundlessly into the environment and thus turns into a problem for fellow human beings and for the environment. Deficiencies in the “digestion” of emotions, psychological trauma, or shocking experiences have a pathological effect on the air element and can lead to kidney diseases.
Vice versa, a therapy of the kidneys with respective remedies is a possibility for creating harmony in the emotional experiences. For this, particularly, the Venus metal, copper (Cuprum metallicum D12), is suited. It relaxes the soul and leads to inner peace. A proven remedy of copper and typical kidney plants like goldenrod and birch-tree is “Renalin” of Soluna.
As the air element is in correspondence with the animal kingdom, the balms for the soul also include several animal remedies like Lachesis, Naja, Apis, Ambra, or musk.
If, however, disturbances in the water element occur, this is always a problem of the regenerative forces of the body, too. Liver plants like milk thistle are therefore a true fountain of youth. They do not only improve the liver function, but also vitalize the complete organism.
The most important remedy for the strengthening of the liver function is tin, the Jupiter metal (Stannum metallicum D12). A good supplementing remedy is “Hepatik” of Soluna. In “Metaheptachol” of Metafackler and in “Hepar 202” of Staufen-Pharma, tin is already contained. “Hepar 202” is only supplied as an ampoule preparation and should be injected above the liver.
Finally, there remains the earth element with its main organ, the lungs. Chronic diseases of the lungs, which always mean a disturbance of the earth element, too, lastingly weaken the structural forces of the body. The etheric body will then no more be in a position to provide the body with vital energy via the material. Power of breathing is thus a precondition for the vitality of the person. This is a wisdom not only known by the Chinese. Raising the Chi in a person means prolonging his life.
Therefore, typical lung plants like elecampane, burnet, ivy, lichen, or lungwort range among the elixirs of life and the strength donors. Further precious remedies are mainly mineral substances like arsenic and arsenic compounds (Arsenicum album D12, Auripigmentum D12), silicic acid (Silicea D12), and in particular antimony (e.g., Antimonium crudum D12), – one of the best elixirs of life there is. Paracelsus writes about this metal of the earth that it is able to transform the sinister properties of Saturn who is synonymous for all chronical and wasting diseases, into the regenerative powers of Venus.
From the Four Elements to the Tripartism of the World
Paracelsus regarded the origin of disease not only in a disharmony of the four elements, but above all in the three basic elements of life, – Sal (salt), Sulphur, and Mercury (quicksilver), also referred to as the Tria Principia.
While the elements stand for the transcendental in nature, all visible manifestations of this world came into being by the three principles, “The visible and concrete is the body of the world, which consists of the three primary matters, the sulphur, quicksilver, and salt (…) From these three things stem all properties, the kind and the being, the nature and suchlike. They indicate for every physician that he must not perceive the impact of these three things with seeing eyes; then he understands the invisible.” (Paracelsus).
In order that something can manifest itself visibly, first of all the idea of a form must be existing – this is sulphur. The characteristic and specific power of this idea is Mercury. The densification of these forces into a material form is salt.
The three principles are in secret connection with the elements (see graph), – Sulphur connects the ascending signs of fire and air with each other. It therefore forms the male, the active and the warm pillar. As a counter pole, salt connects the two descending elements of water and earth. It therefore forms the female, the passive, and the cold pillar. Between the two is Mercury. He is the neutral child, created from the union of the male and female. He connects the ascending elements with the descending ones. Because he melds the warm and the cold harmoniously, he is also called the hermaphrodite. (Graph)
Tripartism in Man
All visible things are allocated to these three principles, therefore also man is, his diseases, and his remedies.
The heat pole of man, also called “metabolism-limb-system” in Anthroposophic medicine, is mainly situated inside the belly. We also find it everywhere where metabolic performances take place and where energy is produced. In the head area, however, it is less pronounced than in the belly area. The heat pole corresponds with the youth of man, the unconscious, with acute sufferings, and all pathological appearances with heat, for example hysteria, inflammations, and swellings. Contrarily, we find the cold pole of man mainly in the area of the head and in the sensory organs; in Anthroposophic medicine it is therefore called “nerve-sense system”. We also find it everywhere where energy is used or where the body hardens itself, for example in the bones. It corresponds with age, with consciousness, with chronic diseases, and with all diseases that are accompanied by cold and hardening, e.g., neurasthenia or sclerosis.
Thus, in principle all diseases can be allocated to a hot or a cold constitution. In the middle, between the poles, we find the neutral principle of Mercury with its balancing functions between cold and heat; it is called the “rhythmic system in Anthroposophic medicine”.
We mainly find this principle in the chest, thus in heart and lungs. Diastole and systole of the heart as well as breathing in and out of the lungs are the rhythms of life. But also the intestinal peristalsis, the hormone system or the menstruation are rhythmical. They create harmony in the body. If these functions wane, this can lead to life-threatening conditions, for example to an infarction or to acute abdomen.
The Plant in Analogy to Man
The world of remedies also appears tripartite. As the healing agent should be as similar as possible to the illness, one uses remedies of the salt for cold diseases, remedies of sulphur for hot diseases, and remedies of mercury for rhythmic diseases. Using the plant as an example, tripartism is particularly clearly shown.
We find the cold pole in plants with a pronounced root formation. They are the best remedies for ailments of the head organs, for excessive awareness processes, bone diseases, senile diseases, or hardenings inside the body. Examples would be valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) for sleep disorders, couch grass root (Agropyron repens) for chronic inflammations in the area of the head, arnica root (Arnica Montana) for the results of head traumas, comfrey root (Symphytum officinale) for osteoporosis, turmeric (Curcuma longa) for gallstones, or ginseng root (Panax ginseng) for senile diseases.
Therapies with roots complement mineral remedies. As a method, – according to the teachings of Rudolf Steiner – also a therapy from the outside should take place, like for example baths, embrocations, or gymnastics. Contrarily, we find the heat pole mainly in plants with a pronounced formation of blossoms or seeds. They are the ideal healing agents for inflammatory illnesses, mainly of the abdominal organs, childhood diseases, or situations with lacking awareness. Examples for this would be camomile blossoms (Matricaria chamomilla) for gastro-intestinal inflammations, marigold blossoms (Calendula officinalis) for wound inflammations, caraway (Carum carvi) for flatulence, opium poppy (Papaver somniferum from D6 onwards) for feverish infects with hypersomnia, or pansies (Viola tricolor) for skin diseases of children. Blossom preparations stimulate awareness processes; examples for this are Bach flowers. Blossom therapy is complemented by further internal therapy measures, mainly by a diet. Phytotherapy as such has a favourable influence on heat processes. There still remains the “rhythmic system”, which we find in particular in plants with a pronounced rhythmic leaf formation and an emphasis of stem and leaf. They are remedies for complaints of heart and circulation, for disturbances in the breathing process, for hormonal diseases, and for menstruation disorders. Examples would be motherwort (Leonurus cardiac), henbane (Hyoscyamus niger D4), and lily of the valley leaves (Convallaria majalis) for heart diseases, lady’s mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) and silverweed (Pontentilla anserina) for menstruation disorders, or lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) and ivy (Hedera helix) for lung diseases.
The therapy is mainly supplemented by animal remedies (e.g., Naja, Blatta orientalis, musk). According to the directions of Rudolf Steiner, the administration of the remedy by means injection is the method of choice for a positive influence on the “rhythmic system”. This also explains why the companies of Wala and Weleda deliver ampoules of every preparation. This should be injected once to twice a week. On days without injections, the other therapy takes place.