Earth was one of many archai proposed by the Pre-socratics, most of whom tried to reduce all things to a single substance. However, Empedocles of Acragas (c. 495-c. 435 BCE) selected four archai for his four roots: air, fire, water, and earth. Empedocles’ roots became the four classical elements of Greek philosophy. Plato (427-347 BCE) took over the four elements of Empedocles. In the Timaeus, his major cosmological dialogue, the Platonic solid associated with earth is the cube which is formed from six square sides. This places earth between fire (four triangular sides) and air (eight triangular sides). A highly un-spherical solid, these clumsy little cubes cause dirt to crumble and break when picked up, in stark difference to the smooth flow of water or air.
Plato’s student Aristotle (384-322 BCE) developed a different explanation for the elements based on pairs of qualities. The four elements were arranged concentrically around the center of the universe to form the sublunary sphere. According to Aristotle, earth is both cold and dry, and occupies a place between water and fire among the elemental spheres.
In ancient ancient Greek medicine, each of the four humours became associated with an element. Black bile was the humor identified with earth, since both were cold and dry. Other things associated with earth and black bile in ancient and medieval medicine included the season of fall, since it increased the qualities of cold and aridity; the melancholic temperament (of a person dominated by the black bile humour); the feminine; and the southern point of the compass.
As Prithvi Mata, or "Mother Earth," she contrasts with Dyaus Pita, "father sky." In the Rigveda, earth and sky are frequently addressed as a duality, often indicated by the idea of two complementary "half-shells." In addition, the element Earth is associated with Budha or Mercury, who represents communication, business, mathematics and other practical matters. Earth is also associated with the south-west direction.
In Chinese thought Earth is associated with the qualities of patience, thoughtfulness, practicality, hard work and stability. The earth element is also nurturing and seeks to draw all things together with itself, in order to bring harmony, rootedness and stability. Other attributes of the earth element include ambition, stubbornness, responsibility and long-term planning. In pathology, the earth can represent selfishness and self-centeredness. In the controlling cycle earth controls water and is controlled by wood; while in the conducive cycle earth is produced by fire, and in turn produces metal.
Earth plays an important role in Chinese Astrology. In Chinese astrology earth is included in the 10 heavenly stems (the five elements in their yin and yang forms), which combine with the 12 earthly branches (or Chinese signs of the zodiac), to form the 60 year cycle. Yang earth years end in 8 (eg 1998), while Yin earth years end in 9 (eg 1999).
The element earth is associated with the planet Saturn on account of its yellow color. However, some Western astrologers have suggested that the Western associations of Saturn give it greater affinity with the rigid, controlling Chinese element of Metal; while the Chinese conception of earth as a centring, harmonizing element has more in common with the Western notion of the planet Venus.
The manifestations of the earth element are found in plants, trees, mountains, forests, caves and gardens. The stag, boar, bull, sow, bear and snake are also thought to personify the element, as are all burrowing animals, such as the mole or rabbit. The astral creatures of earth, known as elementals, are the Satyr/Faun, Gnome/Goblin, and Sylvestre/Dryad. Earth’s place on the pentagram is the lower left point.
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