I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Look at the Classical Elements + a Giveaway!

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,

The Waterwitch Babes presents an unofficial blog tour celebrating the upcoming novel Truthwitch by Susan Dennard.  For two weeks, a new post on some aspect of the novel will be featured on one Waterwitch Babes' blog.  And every post will feature a question asked by that blogger and Susan Dennard's answer!  The tour runs from October 13th to October 26th and there are many giveaways planned for this tour, so check out all our stops!

My post for today's tour stop is a look at the history behind the classical elements - air, earth, fire, water, etc.  The witches in Truthwitch all have magic based on the elements, and I thought it would be fun to learn a little more about why these particular elements were thought to form the basis of our world.  

Ancient beliefs varied in different parts of the world, but it was usually held that the four basic elements were earth, air, fire and water.  That everything could be seen as combinations of those four things.  The human body for instance, is made up of all four.  All of our bones, tissue, teeth, and hair come from earth.  Water makes up all the fluids, as well as mucus and some of the lighter, fluid filled organs like the kidney, liver and the brain.  Hollow and porous parts like the lungs, the chest, the arteries come from air.  Fire is the original of the biles, enzymes and the heart.  

These elements not only explained the make up of matter, but was also the basis of cosmology.  The base level would be earth, with water next, followed by air and then fire in the upper levels of atmosphere.  It was observed that while these four elements were corruptible and changing, the stars did not change and therefore must be made of something other - the aether, which was also at times interchangeable with the void.

And now for a focus on each element.  I'm mostly basing my information on Greek theories.  (The symbols I'm using to represent each element comes from the world of Susan Dennard's book, and is not always the classical representation.)

Earth was the foundation of our world.  It was the ground we lived on and was represented by stability and endurance.  It also had two of four qualities that were given to each element.  Earth was primarily dry, and secondarily cold.  'Dry' meaning solid and discrete (it did not melt for instance) and 'cold' meaning low energy and sedate.  In ancient medicine, earth also represented one of the four humors which was said to control a person's health.  Earth was 'black bile', which was consistent with the temperament of melancholy.  If you were melancholic you were thought to have an excess of black bile (from the spleen), and so a doctor would have to get rid of the excess (through bloodletting, emetics or purges.)  Also a body was seen as healthy if the four humors were in balance.  Earth was associated with the season of autumn.

Water was the next level of the macrocosm because it ran over and around earth.  Water gives earth life and was the element of change and adaptability.  Water's primarily 'cold' (again low energy), and 'wet', which meant coherent and indiscrete - it can flow with something.  In medicine, water represented the humor phlegm, which was associated with the brain.  The temperament that gave rise to phlegm was called phlegmatic - or calm, peaceful or thoughtful.  Meaning if you were phlegmatic, you had those qualities.  Water was associated with the season of winter.

Air presides over earth and water and is the element in which we move and breathe.  Air is primarily 'hot', which was high energy - it flowed upward - it expanded and moved quickly, and secondarily it was 'wet' because it could become a part of other things.  Air (and earth) were the subtler elements - more passive and receptive.  In medicine, air represented the blood, which came from the heart and if you had an excess of blood, you were thought sanguine which was courageous, carefree and playful.  Spring was associated with air.

Fire was seen as the upper level because it was associated with the sun, moon and stars.  It was a celestial thing - incandescent and metamorphic.  Fire was primarily 'hot' (of course) and secondarily "dry".  Fire (and water) were seen as the extreme elements because they drive and initiate great change.  They could be very destructive.  In medicine, fire was associated with yellow bile and with the liver, and if you had an excess of yellow bile you were choleric - restless, aggressive and ambitious.  Fire was associated with summer.

Aether was introduced as a fifth element by Aristotle (not called aether by him however.)  It was observed that the above four elements moved linearly, but the fifth element moved circularly, and among the celestial beings.  It was not associated with hot and cold or wet and dry and only had local motion  - in a way aether was used to explain the movements of the stars and planets which is now explained by gravity.  Aether was also used as an explanation for the motion of light.  Aether was subtle and was seen as the original element of all matter.  Everything came from aether.

Void  The four basic elements can be paired into their opposites - Fire/Water, Air/Earth, so it makes sense that aether has it's opposite in void.  Perhaps more in an ideological way, than in a historical way however. Classically, there is not much to distinguish aether and void.  In Japanese ideology, the void replaces aether and it represents everything that is not in our everyday experience.  It is pure energy and it is associated with thought and creativity.  Just to keep my descriptions consistent in regards to cosmology, I like to see the void as representing dark matter in the universe.


I'm not sure if or how this relates to the witcheries in Susan Dennard's book yet (as I haven't been able to read it yet *tears*), but knowing more about the origins of these philosophies concerning the elements should only make it more interesting to see how it's incorporated in Truthwitch.  I find ancient beliefs to be fascinating as well (but ancient medicine is scary yo) and love learning about it.  I hope there was something thought-provoking for everyone in this post!

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard is out January 6th!

Synopsis: On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a "witchery", a magical skill that ests them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic are there are ways to get in trouble - as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie.  It's a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born.  So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her - but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart.  Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi's hotheaded impulsiveness.

Sources: Wikipedia: 1, 2, 3  | Greek Medicine 1, 2

The Truthwitch Blog Tour Stops

Oct 13: The Candid Cover: Truthwitch Teaser
Oct 14: BooksABlog: So What’s Your Story?
Oct 15: The Eater of Books! - Swoon Thursday
Oct 16: Dreaming in Libraries - Guest post by Beatrice Lampe (German Editor of Truthwitch)
Oct 17: Shanna Hughes: Susan Dennard's Invaluable Writing Lessons
Oct 18: Kit's Books: Truthwitch Questions with Heidi Heilig, Nicole Castroman & Emily Strutskie
Oct 19: Ceres Books World : Character Interview with Iseult and Safiya
Oct 20: Bookish Whimsy: A Look At The Classical Elements
Oct 21: Bookish Things & More: Truthwitch Fashion
Oct 22: These Flying Pages: Fan Cast
Oct 23: In Wonderland: On Meeting Sooz & Interview with Erin Bowman
Oct 24: Infinite Wonders: Photo Collage
Oct 25: Bookish Unicorn: Truthwitch Rhythms: Short Edition
Oct 26: The Soul Sisters: Street Team Appreciation and Closing Remarks


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My Interview Question for Susan Dennard

What is one interesting or weird fact you learned in your work as a marine biologist? (Charlene @ Bookish Whimsy)

Susan: Oh goodness, I learned SO MUCH. So many crazy facts. But one that I still love to share is that barnacles have the largest (pardon my language!) penis-to-body ratio size of any animal in the world. Hilarious, right? It can reach up to 50 times the size of their bodies!!!
Note: The interview in it's entirety will be posted on the Waterwitch Babes tumblr at the end of the tour!  Thank you so much Susan for your hilariously disturbing answer! :D

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