There are 118 known elements in the Periodic Table. These elements combine with one another (or themselves) in various combinations, creating all of the matter that we know in the Universe. They are the basic building blocks of matter, of chemistry, of the Earth, and of life. They are constantly interacting and integrating with one another through complex chemical processes and equations, forming complex systems, structures, and processes.
Occidental magic, relying upon an esoteric system that far predates modern chemistry, posits four elements. Five, if you count spirit, which is some sort of blending or encompassing force of the other four.
But what really interests me is the focus on elemental theory. Chemistry is based upon the interaction between and combination of the periodic elements. But a lot of magical theory I have encountered tends to focus upon the division between the elements, or according to the vagueries of mysticism, the dismissal of those divisions as being an illusion anyway.
I suppose that alchemy involves the combination of various magical elements, but honestly I’m not that familiar with that craft (aside from the understanding that it was probably some manner of code for sexually based magic ritual). This lack of knowledge on my part is unfortunate and frustrating, as it may be that alchemy as a magical craft may negate the entire observation that is the basis for this post, but as most people do, I will continue with what I know.
I’ve worked a lot with what has often been termed “energy work” – the sensing of subtle energies generated by people and things. And I have done this work with individuals and groups employing vastly different systems and models and understandings of that energy and its elemental basis. Of all of those experiences, very few have branched out of the standard four occidental elements, and most of those cases involved people playing loosely with Wu Xing. And the vast majority of those experiences involved generating and manipulating those elements, and not blending them together in any meaningful way.
The Whytar system I employ relies upon 9 elements. And while that in itself is magically, useful in many ways, it is the interaction and flow between the elements that is important. It is one thing to know that Earth and Darkness are different, and even how they differ, but it is something entirely different to understand that the earthly quality of Resistance blends into the dark quality of Corruption, and that the place they meet defines the quality of Power. And that adding the fiery quality of Destruction to that mix creates the quality of Rebellion.
It is the blending that gives us the processes and qualities that enable life and magic to function.
And I suppose some similar concepts are present in occidental occultism via the Qabalah, with its Tree of Life (and the Tarot that describes it) exhibiting this kind of blending of different qualities. But the qualities of the Tree of Life are not seen as “elements” in the same sense, even though they would probably fit the bill if you squinted really hard after a few glasses of wine.
And I think that a lot of it comes down to the mystical concept of “being” or “being-ness,” whatever that is. We tend to focus on what things “are” and what a thing or energy “is.” So we look at what elemental qualities best define what a person or object or energy “is.” Chaos Magic gleefully slaughtered that sacred cow by insisting that “being” isn’t really a thing, and that “doing” is what defines out reality. This is more like chemistry, which describes how reactions work based of the processes involved in the interactions. Chemical elements are defined by how they interact with one another. (Okay, they’re defined by how many protons they have. But one has to understand that 1] a proton is an interaction between three quarks, which are defined by how they spin; and 2] how the elements are classified is based upon the properties they exhibit in reacting with other elements.)
But most of our magical systems are so focused on being that they don’t take into account how those elements interact (at least not generally beyond astrological compatibility). And I think this is a serious flaw in how we understand magical energy.
My understanding of elemental energies as flowing into one another and interacting with one another allows me to weave that energy together in ways that a more standard occidental system wouldn’t generally consider. And that is of great benefit to me magically, but also in my understanding of how the Universe works. I take my example from nature and see the complexity even among basic structures, and how those interactions create even more complex and adaptable workings in the world around me.