Salt of the Earth

Alchemical Symbol for Earth

Alchemical Symbol for Earth

This is the final part of an introductory series on the four Elements in Astrology

Earth is among the four classical elements in ancient Greek philosophy. It was associated with qualities of heaviness, matter and the terrestrial world. Earth is the tangible, the solid. The elements remain very much the same in several cultures. In some, the Quintessence is also present as the source of all things. This is the primary meaning of the pentagram.

The Earthy Tripicity consists of Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn: Fixed, Mutable and Cardinal, respectively. Consider some of the qualities attributed to each sign: the Bull is latent potency – see the word Aleph inPan God the Hebrew alphabet. Virgo is the harvester, the anaylist, separating the wheat from the chafe. Capricorn is the Sea goat or Pan. The latter was at the top of his pantheon, dweller in wild places, half man half goat. He is the model for Satan, with cloven hoofs. Such was the malignant interpretation of monotheists with the intent of rendering the pagan gods extinct.

Earth is also physical sensuality  – in Water we have feelings,empathy and intuition. In Air we have intellect, discernment and the realm of ideas. In Fire we have Spirit, the forge and the will. In Earth we have nourishment, groundedness and perhaps most importantly the tangible — what can be known by the senses

Empedocles proposed four archai by which to comprehend the cosmos: fire, air, water, and earth.  The word archai is the root of the word Archetype. Plato uses the term Forms.

Plato conceived of  the elements as geometric forms: what we have previously discussed as Platonic Solids. The cube was assigned to the the element of Earth in Timaeus.

I wonder if it is too exotic to think of our association of Earth in the term ‘square deal.” We mean that it is what it appears to be and grounded in reality. We use the term ‘square’ to refer to a reliable, as well as a dull person.tree-roots

Probably it is; but when we use the term Salt of the Earth it has a universal meaning. Although the origin comes down to us via the New Testament, we use it to refer to someone who is completely reliable, unassuming, down to earth , humble and good hearted.

The meaning of Salt and Earth are closely related in Alchemy. In alchemy, Earth is primarily cold, and secondarily dry. Further, the chemical substance salt, was associated with earth and its alchemical symbol was a downward-pointing triangle, bisected by a horizontal line. It’s the same as the usual symbol for Earth.6-Ways-to-Be-Salt-of-the-Earth

Aristotle tells us that Earth is the heaviest of all elements. Reasoning from his theory of natural place he concluded that any earth–laden substances would drop rapidly  to the center of the cosmos.crystal-cave-1 Nat Geo

In Greek and Roman mythology, various chthonic gods and goddesses represented the Earth, seasons, crops and fertility. These belong to the element of Earth in her cycles. Among the better known are Hades and Persephone.

Chthonic pertains to spirits of the underworld. Many ancient cultures believed caves were the gateway to the underworld, which was not to be taken negatively in most cases. The idea of *going deep* to be raised up is a recurring theme.

The Triplicity itself is of course a cycle, from Cardinal to Fixed, to Mutable These expression of Earth are distinct from each other while sharing the same essence. Never make the mistake of taking these archetypes in the sense of Sun sign astrology.

Finally, a physician who was not also an astrologer was considered a charlatan prior to the 18th Century. Astrology, theory of the element and medicine all go hand in hand.

Buddha: Entangled by Roots

Buddha: Entangled by Roots

In Traditional Western medicine , each of the four humours is associated with an element. Black bile was the humor identified with earth, since both were cold and dry. An excess of black bile lead a more serious form of Melancholy. It is crucial to note, however, that determining the humour (s) was a skill. Diagnosis and decumbitures were astrological To be clear, someone might have their Sun in a certain sign, but they may not have the corresponding humour as dominant.

Gemini: Sign, Myth & Meaning


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We are fortunate to have such access to many Classical texts on astrology In the  The Anthology of Vettius Valens of Antioch, Book I. Concerning the Nature of the Stars  (Schmidt & Robert Hand p. 3). Valens introduces Mercury with these words:

“The star of Hermes (Mercury) is significant for the education of children, letters, disputation, speech, having brothers, interpretation, the herald’s office, number, counters, geometry, commerce, youth, playthings, theft, community, announcement, service, profit, discoveries, following, contest, wrestling, declamation, sealing, sending messages, setting up, being suspended, scrutinizing, hearing, versatility.”

L0068353 Monas hieroglyphica

John Dee – Modified Mercury Glyph from Monas Hieroglyphia . The Crescent of Soul is being drawn down to the centre of the Sun His glyph for the Monad adds the Horns of Aries at the Base and a Dot in the Circle of Spirit, signifying consciousness..

Hermes has two domiciles viz. Gemini and Virgo. Hermes is the most protean of all planets and is only masculine or feminine according to placement, that is to say Oriental or Occidental of the Sun. As the messenger of the gods you will find his glyph to be Solar and Lunar over the Cross of Matter; Mercury contains all three symbols, signifying the potential integration of spirit, soul and matter.

Hermes is the Primordial Hermaphrodite, adept at communicating with lightning speed. The price of speed however is lack of depth. This comes when he co joins other planets either by Aspect of Reception. It is important to note that Apollo is an ancient Greek name for Mercury as a morning star

Valens writes of the Sign Gemini:

“Gemini is male, bicorporeal, articulate, the house of Mercury, upward-trending, celestial, feminizing, a freedman, sterile, public. Under it are born scholars, those working in education and letters, poets, music-lovers, declaimers, stewards, those who receive trusts; also translators, merchants, judges of good and evil, sensible people, practicioners of the curious arts, and seekers after mystic lore.

Flora And Zephyr by William Bouguereau, 1875

Flora And Zephyr by William Bouguereau, 1875

In general, whatever the house ruler usually produces according to its own nature, whether good or bad, greater or lesser, this it produces in each of the signs according to the operative or inoperative configuration of the houseruler.”

I find this less satisfying than the description of Mercury itself.  It’s not that any of what he writes is false; but it has little meaning until the last sentence brings it all into focus. I dare say this is more true of Gemini than other signs, including Virgo.

Let’s turn now to the Gemini Myth. The tale of Castor and Polydeuces is complex. Other than the fact that they are called the twins (Gemini) it takes a bit of effort to find other elements of the myth that point to the sign.

They were the Dioscuri, twin sons of Zeus and Leda or Tydareus and Leda. When Tyndareus is called the father, Castor and Polydeuces — or Pollux, as he is known in Latin, are known as the Tyndaridae. Sometimes Castor is considered the son of Tyndareus and Polydeuces the son of Zeus, just as the Dioscuri’s sister Clytemnestra is the daughter of Tyndareus, while their sister Helen of Troy is the daughter of Zeus. Only Polydeuces  was divine.

Gemini finds its place in the Air triplicity, as the mutable (or common) expression of that element. The Air triplicity is concerned with the Intellectual faculties and the world of Mind. The sign is hot and moist, masculine, human and barren.

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Hermes stirring up the Ether – Botticelli’s Primavera.

Like the element Mercury, Gemini likes to run over the surface of things, without ever penetrating the surface. This can manifest as the joy of intellectual play. Gemini is a dual sign and needs focus in order to resolve the apparent dual natures of their being, as illustrated in the myth of Castor and Pollux. It is only apparent: this is not like the situation with Pisces where the two fish are bound together and swimming in different directions. Although one is an equestrian and the other a pugilist, the Gemini twins are inseparable and move as one .

When Castor was slain in battle, and Polydeuces, inconsolable for the loss of his brother, besought Zeus to be permitted to give his own life as a ransom for him. Zeus so far consented as to allow the two brothers to enjoy life alternately, passing one day under the earth and the next in the heavenly abodes. According to another form of the story, Zeus rewarded the brothers by placing them among the stars as Gemini the Twins. They received divine honours under the name of  Dioscuri.

The key here is knowing what it is to be human and divine at the same time.  Hermes weds Earth to Heaven.  Using Alchemical language, Paracelsus tells us that “The world is as God created it. In the beginning He made it into a body, which consists of four elements. He founded this primordial body on the trinity of Mercury, Sulphur and Salt . These are the three substances of which the complete body consists.” (Paracelsus Ed. Jacobi . Trans Guterman p. 14) Salt is Base Matter, Sulphur is omnipresent Spirit of life and Mercury brings about the divine fusion of opposites.

Roman remains of Temple of Castor & Pollox

Roman ruins – Temple of Castor & Pollox

Hermes is given many attributes in Classical sources. One of the better known is the association with the West Wind or Zephyr, the subject of much art work, including Botticelli’s  Birth of Venus.

Hermetic Philosophy & Astrology

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I have discussed the Hermetic Philosophy in a number of contexts. Here I want to get to the very core of the teaching because it is essential to Astrology as well as Sympathetic Magick. In such a medium it can only be an introductory article  – I hope it will inspire further research.

The image above is of the Goddess Nut. Her name is translated as ‘sky’ She is considered one of the most ancient deities in the Egyptian pantheon.

Her origin is found in the creation story of Heliopolis (city of the Sun). Originally Nut was goddess of the nighttime sky only. Eventually she was referred to simply as the sky goddess.

I have referred to the third century Alexandrian philosophy as essentially syncretic Neo Platonism and the Hermetic is very much part of the mix.

Her headdress was a hieroglyphic of part of her name which symbolizes the womb Female sky gods are not common.. Symbolically the Sky is the Mother — the divine origin.

The Magician weds Earth to Heaven - Note the infinity symbol above his head

The Magician weds Earth to Heaven – Note the infinity symbol above his head

The tractates of the Corpus Hermeticum, along with Asclepius, are the fundamental documents of the Hermetic tradition. It was written by unknown authors in Egypt towards the end of the third century C.E.

They were part of a once substantial body of writing attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, which means Thrice Great. They can ce seen as a Hellenistic fusion of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth.

The Hermetica is thoroughly compatible with Platonism and neo Platonism in most cases and are often used side by side. For example, Plato’s doctrine of the Forms is congruent with the Egyptian belief that the Milky Way was the true Nile – more accurately the ideal Nile..

Under the Sub Lunary Sphere everything is subject to decay and corruption. The Hermetic Philosophy taught the way to liberation. We have a n inner light or *spark* of divinity that grows as we progress. But we can never be separated from the source

Plotinus used the image of a fountain of light to explain the soul’s descent into matter and invetible return to the source.

The Hermetica is a rich text, but at it’s core is what has become known as The Emerald Table of Hermes. This where we find the words :

“True, without error, certain and most true: that which is above is as that which is below, and that which is below is as that which is above, to perform the miracles of the One Thing. “207688_301630169940725_1211993157_n

If we turn to Astrology in particular, we can see how these precepts are the core of authentic astrological work. Marsilio Ficino referred to this  as “making your life agree with the Heavens (Book of Life p. 86).

The teaching of As above, So Below isn’t just a concept. It implies that the relationship between Heaven and Earth is very real. Plato would call this doctrine of essence that of the Forms.

When we discuss the Elements, Signs, Houses etc  in Astrology, we remember this formula

Astrology would be a futile endeavour if this were not true. The horoscope connects it’s native to the heavens, the source. It’s a strong recognition of interconnectedness with natural and the celestial world.