The Ancient Elements
Ancient understanding of the material world often defined the earth as consisting of four elements: "earth, air, fire, water". The Greek philosopher Empedocles proposed this explanation in his teaching and Aristotle later added a fifth element, "ether" or "void". Similar lists with some variations were essential to the mythology and beliefs in Hinduism, Buddhism, China, Egypt and Japan. In early medical teaching, Galen and Hippocrates defined care as helping the patient maintain a balance among the four "humors", defined very much along the lines of the four elements. Judeo Christian images in both testaments describe the divinity by using images inherent in the four elements. Alchemists, predecessors of today's chemists, developed a series of symbols to reference common elements and compounds that was commonly understood and used until the 17th century.
Though we have moved much past this early understanding of nature and now comprehend atomic structure and the chemical table of elements, there is power in an awareness of how we are part of this simple view of creation.