>> It seems to me that the ancients saw the elements as fire, air, water and earth mainly due to an incomplete understanding of physics. Yet, Franz Bardon's system is so tied into these 4 elements. Can someone explain this? <<
It certainly appears that way from our modern perspective which is so saturated with the philosophy of the physical sciences, but the ancients held a different understanding and a different philosophy. It's really incorrect to say that the ancients held an "incomplete" understanding of the universe or to assume that modern Physics holds a "complete" one -- each perspective is simply *different*. Each uses a different set of symbols to describe the same essential thing -- our universe. What distinguishes the Elemental model however, is that it encompasses more than just the physical aspect of the universe. Therefore, it is *more than* Physics and can't really be compared directly with Physics. Much of Physics can be explained from a Hermetic perspective, using Hermetic symbols, but very little of Hermetics can (as yet) be explained from a Physics perspective, using the symbols of Physics.
The reason for this is because the Elements are not physically measurable things. Physics deals with the physical materia that naturally *adheres to the Elements*, so in this sense, Physics studies the *results of* the Elements. Hermetics, on the other hand, studies the *action of* the Elements AND the *results of* them. This is why I said that the Hermetic Philosophy is *more than* physics.
They also differ in methodology. Physics uses physical tools to explore the universe, whereas the Hermetic uses their own self -- their own physical, astral and mental bodies -- as the tools of exploration. This places the exploration into an entirely different context and *in that context*, the symbols of Elements, Fluids, Principles, etc., make perfect sense.
>> Is it just a magical thing that doesn't need to correspond to physical reality? Or is it just a convenient construct for humans to work with - like north, south, east, west? <<
Both correspond to physical reality, it's just that Hermetics also corresponds to the other aspects of reality that Physics has no direct cognizance of. Hermetics deals with the physical, astral and mental levels of reality directly, whereas Physics deals only with the physical *results of* the astral and mental levels of reality. As R. hinted at in his comment about an Alchemist's understanding of the Elements: within the Philosophy of the Elements, there's also cognizance of what a physicist would call "atomic structure".
Both these models are, of course, human constructs. However, the fact that they are human constructs does not diminish the validity of either since EVERY philosophical system is a human construct! ;-) They are nonetheless, quite different in their respective approaches and ultimately, their goals.
My best to you,
:) Rawn Clark
12 Nov 2002