Open Thread: Four Elements

What is your favorite element of the Traditional Four (water, earth, wind, fire), and why?

(I've always found this question to be incredibly tough. Multiple answers are allowed and encouraged, as well as the ability to fill in new elements as needed.)



chris the cynic said...

Water I guess*, but I think it goes really well with fire. They're both very pretty.

*love to swim, think Ariel totally made the wrong decision by not staying a mermaid. Actually, I don't, if being human was right for her, who am I to judge? But from my perspective swimming all the time, breathing underwater, how would you not want that?

Maartje said...

Used to be all water, all the time (I dream about being able to breathe underwater at least twice a week, and when I was growing up my parents had to bodily remove me from any ponds, lakes, seas and pools we went to).

Now I'm tending towards fire more - have a sudden passion for everything orange and heat and passion and action.

Will Wildman said...

Ooh, classical elements. It is a tough call.

Earth is most likely me - I don't have a lot of patience for growing things myself, but I love trees and grasses and plants in general, and its characterisation as 'stubborn, slow and steady, supporter of life but also kind of uncaring' often matches me quite well.

I also like water a lot, because it's soothing and the stuff of life, but has the potential to turn tempestuous, and it's often far bigger and more complicated than it seems - rivers cutting through mountains, mysteries at the depths of the sea. It's not me, but it feels complementary. I like big rivers partly for their strangeness: standing on the bank of the St Lawrence, there are hills and mountains all over but in that space there's just this vast flatness and a whole lot of sky overhead, and it feels like a place where vital things could happen.

(Note: it is in no way coincidental that one of the first things determined between me and my first long-term girlfriend was that I was Earth and she was Water. One of our initial shared interests was a game/world that was very big on the classical elements, so we talked about these things a lot.)

Wind is even less me - rapidly changeable, wide-ranging, and occasionally bursting with electrical fulmination. By rights, it should also have a lot of life associations (we can go without fresh water for a whole lot longer than we can go without fresh breath) but it doesn't, which I've always thought was unfair. I don't feel like I quite get what wind's deal is, but it cheers me up - ever since I was tiny, a breeze in my face makes me laugh, without fail.

Fire always seems to be the outsider, so that also makes it interesting to me (YOU JUST DON'T GET ME). People talk about its dual nature as both the destroyer and the transformer, in that it can scour away a wide area and make room for new growth, and it's sort of the fundamental tool of civilisations as we recognise them. But it's still usually treated as the least-natural one, to which I tend to think: has anyone tried getting by without heat? There's a reason we're so happy to be warm-blooded creatures. Most life as we understand it needs heat, and if it can't produce enough itself, it has to feed on it from some other source. Fire (if allowed to stand in as representative for warmth in general) is as much an element of life as any of them. It's at the core of us, in no figurative terms.

(This relates to another story that's still in workshop-hiatus, involving a shaman girl on a literally-revolutionary quest. Her people are all great at classical-element magic and they have their various theories and philosophies that guide their techniques, but she's trying to create a kind of Unified Field Theory of Stoikheiurgy, and she's stuck because she can't see how to fit in fire. Natural places for earth and water and air are all obvious, but the relevant natural fire seems to be the sun, and trying to draw on that is like trying to shout across an ocean. The epiphany strikes when she starts thinking about internal fire and realises that the world has a vast molten heart. It's a nice parallel with the overarching theme of searching for external guidance/orders versus determining one's own values/direction.)

Nathaniel said...

Fire is the best.

Michael Mock said...

Depending on the details, Air has some interesting qualities, too: weather magics, the Breath of Life, the potential for flight, the ability to slip past obstacles with complete indifference...

A lot of the modern fantasy systems add two more (usually light and darkness), for a six element system; when I tried the Bakugan: Battle Brawlers video game, I initially went with Darkus. (And Firstborn immediately demanded to know why I was playing a Bad Guy.)

But, after exploring it for a bit, I went back and started over with the Light element (called "Haos" for no good reason that I can see). That wasn't so much a statement of inclination, though, as the recognition that the special power for Light-aspected Bakugans was a lot more useful to me.

One of my fantasy worlds uses a variable/arbitrary elemental system: that is, for the warrior class, the magic is incorporated into their fighting techniques - but different fighting styles use different systems of elements, so a student of the Wind and Water style might associate a particular movement with Earth, while a student of Eight Directions style might associate the same movement with a completely different element.

Anonymous said...

I'd say earth, because I like burrowing -- though I tend to do my burrowing in blankets and sheets not dirt -- but I'd feel safe deep in the earth, with all that rock and soil above me to keep me sheltered and safe. I'm not much for gardening, though. But I think caves are really cool.

Wind is pleasant, especially in summer. And fire is nice in winter, and what's the fourth one? *scrolls up* oh, water. bleh. i don't like water.

Ana Mardoll said...

I simply cannot answer this question, though I'm eternally fascinated by it.

As a child, I wanted to be a mermaid and spent all my time swimming. It was common family knowledge that if I was taken near a fountain, I would be elbows-deep in it (or more) within minutes. I was also terrified of heat and fire, and I was in my late teens/early twenties before I could get things out of the oven on my own (DON'T JUDGE ME. LOL).

But... that was awhile ago. Now I love cooking and I've burned my fingers and not died. I love the gas fireplace in our bedroom. Fire is kind of supposed to by my zodiac element. And while I don't like the summer heat, I love sunlight and I hate winter with a passion. Winter, ick, ick, ick. So... am I fire?

If I had a choice, I think I would be earth. But I can't grow a thing and grass and plants make me feel itchy so I go outside as little as possible. But I *like* trees and I like looking at them and I like the concept of earth. I like the calmness and the (usually) unchangingness and the steadiness.

Except, of course, I have emotional meltdowns on a dime and have been known to burst into tears if Husband uses the "wrong tone of voice" when he comes home in the evening. So. Fire it is, I reckon. *sigh*

Will Wildman said...

I will also randomly share my hipstery dissatisfaction with the classical elements, because they have long bothered me for non-mythic reasons that then feed into mythic reasons. I feel sometimes like they show up everywhere, to the point where the saturation and the I-will-throw-in-the-elements-and-that-will-make-it-MYSTIC feeling is overwhelming. It seems to be the most basic kind of magical system that a lot of aspiring authors default to; This Is How Magic Is Done and no more thought goes into it. And on a mechanical level, how does it make sense that a person would have the power to control 'water' (conjure it, move it, change its state) of every kind but they can't do the same to any other matter, including hydrogen and oxygen in other configurations? What possible justification is there for telekinesis that only works on rocks (ALL rocks) but not water, including frozen water (which we only don't consider a rock Because Jasper, as near as I can tell). There are vast unexplained features of this system that no one seems at all interested in, and it bugs me. Does everything fall under the domain of one element, or do we keep filling in more? Should water be distinct from ice, or does water encompass 'cold'? If so, then shouldn't the existence of steam mean that water also encompasses heat? But how can heat be the domain of the opposite of fire?

Which is not to say that just using classical element-pushing magic is automatically a bad thing. Avatar TLA gives no further explanation beyond Because Kung Fu, and is excellent regardless.

So I've also had a longstanding hobby of trying to develop alternative systems of magic that have the same sense of representing fundamental forces but with better coverage and less chemistry fail. ("Sorry, I only have the power to control crystals. Can't do a thing with metal." "But metal can crystalise! Metal crystallises all the time!" "Them's fighting words around here, sir; I'm going to have to ask you to leave. We don't serve geologists in these parts.")

Susan Beckhardt said...

As a Pratchett fan, I have to say that my favorite element is the fifth: Surprise!

chris the cynic said...

It seems like it would make sense for the more scientifically inclined to interpret the elements as representing states of mater:

Earth = Solid
Water = Liquid
Air = Gas
Fire = Plasma

JarredH said...

Water. It's the element of both intuition and emotions. It's both soothing and tempestuous. It's depths contain great mysteries and treasures. It teaches when to go with the flow and when to crash against the rocks in your path.

Plus, it's often associated with the west, the realm of the dead, and the Vanir (granted, they're not classical, but sue me), which are all important to me.

Thomas Keyton said...

Water. It has oceans and ice (movie!Jotunheim was absolutely beautiful and I want one) and rain and fog and clouds (and thus lightning), and makes up most of the human body, and destroys mountains, and mitigates the horrible effects of summer. Air's a close second, but water manifests itself in more varied and beautiful forms.

Loquat said...

By rights, it should also have a lot of life associations (we can go without fresh water for a whole lot longer than we can go without fresh breath) but it doesn't, which I've always thought was unfair.

I suspect that's because air is so omnipresent. Water can be present or absent, and its prolonged absence can turn good cropland into near-desert, but as long as you're on dry land and aboveground air is pretty much always going to be there for you.

Ben Reis said...

I like earth. Solid, dependable, and slow to get going, but utterly unstoppable when it does. Also I like the color schemes that tend to go with earth. Greens and browns are my thing.

Ice said...

Fire, definitely fire. Not just because my sign of the zodiac is a fire sign, but because I tend to be spontaneous, and hot-tempered, and sometimes even a little destructive. Passion is something that is never in short supply around me, and I just like (and relate well to) its unpredictability.

Plus, campfires are the best thing in the world.

swanblood said...

Absolutely, air. Because flight. Because open skies, the feeling I get when I stand on the edge of a cliff and wind rushes around me.

I think that my second element is probably water... I'm a water bird therian that is usually found in cold places and I love the cold, I love winter, my given name actually means "icicle". And I have been told that I am a "cold person" in many ways (probably related to the fact that I am autistic), I don't usually feel things with a lot of passion, I am very logical, so... I relate to elements that are cold and distant.

I am an earth sign in the Western zodiac, and for a long time I didn't think it was right, but I guess that, the more I think about it, I do have a lot of the qualities of a Taurus... I am very practical and I like good simple comforting things, like food and soft blankets. I am a spiritual person, but I don't have a lot of "beliefs"... I do absolutely feel that there is something spiritual in the world, but, I don't make up a lot of theories about what it is. I am the kind of person who believes that being rational doesn't mean shutting out every idea but, admitting "we don't know".

I suppose fire is the least like me. I don't get angry much and I'm not that passionate at all, haha.

Dav said...

I like darkness. I'm quite fond of all the elements (except I admit I'm not much of an air buff), but I like darkness best. Cool, still, damp darkness in caves; prickly suffocating darkness in the back of the linen closet; eerie fragrant darkness when the storm clouds gather; the darkness under the porch when you scare yourself for the fun of it. Like all the elements, there are downsides, but people neglect the awesomeness of darkness.

I'm a total night owl, when I set my own schedule - sleep through the afternoon, then rise as the sun sets and the world changes. Then through the social hours, into the lonely private hours at 3 a.m., then back towards the grey spread of dawn, and the virtuous feeling that I get when I'm up before everyone and can go to the fish market or vegetable market or flower market (okay, we only have one of those things, but I could if I were living in a city like that). And maybe coffee with the old men at the diner, and then bed again.

Dav said...

Except, of course, I have emotional meltdowns on a dime and have been known to burst into tears if Husband uses the "wrong tone of voice" when he comes home in the evening.

I dunno. Not all earth is good for growing plants. There's bedrock and sugar sand and lava flows, gravel and boulders and adobe, cliffs and chasms and slabs. Life usually shows up *eventually* because that's what life is good at, but earth isn't always rich river-bottom soil. There's a real temptation to declare the soil that's easy to use for our purposes "good" and earth that isn't "bad", but sometimes you find really interesting things in the other bits.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you. That's food for thought. :)

Silver Adept said...

According to the classical zodiac, I'm a water sign, but the kind of water sign that builds a fortress from which to venture forth and to return to at the end if the day. If my home life is not harmonious, or if the financials are not in proper order, I get depressed and moody. (Even when things are going well, I get emotional if others aren't having good times) I do like rain (good thing, too, since it drizzles near-constantly here) and being around water.

If you use the adjusted zodiac, though, I'm an air sign, and I really do like the idea of being able to fly through the air, and I'm pretty good at the pursuits of the mind and intellect, to the point where I make my living off of that.

If you want to find my allotment, though, you should go to the element where the two meet - lightning. (Yes, classically and Avatar-wise, lightning is the domain of fire, but the most naturally-occurring lightning happens in thunderclouds) If it engages my mind and emotions, there's usually a sizzle. Sometimes its a sort sizzle, sometimes it's not, but eventually someone feels the hair on their neck rise, and I strike. Sometimes one, sometimes many in a short time, but there's a long loud echo of the sonic boom that happens when I go. And then I go back to the charging state and need a little time to rejuvenate.

(Yes, in the badge thread I said sleeping dragon for a symbol, but both that and the lightning bolt reflect the same personality, both positive and negative.)

EdinburghEye said...

When I was very young, Wind. On really windy days I liked to run up and down the playground with my arms out feeling as if the wind was blowing me. I still like wind, but I don't feel part of it any more.

When I was a bit older, Fire. I still like lighting fires, but I used to do it for fun. (Under rigidly controlled conditions: I didn't go around burning things down! I just liked Fire. My parents made me read and abide by all the rules of lighting small safe fires.)

Now, Water. I love t o swim. I love rain. I love rivers. I love the sea. I love diving.

I have a garden. I grow things. I think Earth, soon.

Rikalous said...

Earth. I'm generally calm. I tend to do things according to the rules, with the steps in order and every i dotted and t crossed. I don't usually see the need to leave my familiar space or deviate from my routine. I'm not big on spontaneity or risk. I like green growing things, especially redwood trees.

Possibly some darkness as well, since I'm a night owl with a fondness for heroes using the traditional trappings of Evil, such as necromancy, mad science, and Eldritch Things.

Bificommander said...

I'm enough of a gaming and fantasy fan I can't see that question without thinking of it in term of magic. Where I always like air, especially when that includes lightning. You've got the cool mobility that way, and the coolest attack. What's not to like.

But I'll try to think of it in the spirit of the real world as most other commenters have... Hmm, water I guess. Soft, cool, feels comforting, refreshing... Man, it's way harder to think of it in these kind of terms. I guess I am a nerd/geek/dork/whichever-cause-I-couldn't-care-less-about-that-distinction.

JonathanPelikan said...

I was going to lament being late to the party, but apparently I'm not that late. Yay~

Of the traditional-traditional elements, I'd have to say Water, both because I like it and have some dislike for at least two of the others, Fire and Earth.

Earth is dirt and bugs and other things which, while entirely necessary to life as we know it in all of its forms, don't necessarily need to ever be around me for any reason. Trees are nice, though. We have lots of trees in Missouri. Hills, too. Driving can be an adventure sometimes.

Air is cool .It would definitely be my second choice, but I feel like less of a 'free and omnipresent and flowing' than a 'calm or roiling in a huge mass and vast and deep and full of murky bits' sort of thing.

Also, I like cool colors, particularly blue itself.

I hate Fire and Fire hates me. Hot weather, summer... we've had ninety-odd degrees (measured in Freedoms, not Communisms, of course) this entire Gods-damned week and I hate it so bad. I can barely cook for fear of being burned, and chemistry stuff was always fun. Especially since the burners we used were on flimsy little stands with a hose to one side that could oh so easily be knocked over.

cjmr said...

I have a hard time choosing between water and wind/air.

swanblood said...

What was the "badge thread"? I think I missed that...

chris the cynic said...
As I keep banging on about it, you already know I've been reading a lot of Tudor history. I'm fascinated by the idea of having personal badges or crests -- of course, Anne Boleyn's badge was a falcon, and Katherine of Aragon had as her symbol a pomegranate.

If you had one animal, or one fruit, or one... anything really, to depict yourself as a sort of visual shorthand, what would you choose?

Gelliebean said...

Water has always been my favorite. I associate it with peace, calm, quiet.... Not to mention refreshment and rejuvenation. I love thunderstorms, rivers, swimming, and I always feel very happy and relaxed around any kind of water, from lakes to little indoor fountains. Fire is very antithetical to me; I can't stand when it's dry and hot out (unfortunately, you get a whole lot of that where I live). I like the idea of fireplaces and candles in theory, but don't much care to be around them in practice.

I guess it's no real coincidence that Sailor Mercury was always my favorite.... :-D

Lonespark said...

Earth all the way. Not so much the green or wiggly bits. I do appreciate them, but I don't associate them with Earth, so much, and anyway that's biology. Layers and lava and rivers and mountains and fossils and time and heat pressure... To me, though, earth implies water. Rivers and magmas...and fire, too. Huh.

redsixwing said...

Air for me; enduring, but perhaps unreliable. Changeable in the extreme, and prone to sudden alterations in feel and form. Occasionally full of lightning or smoke, but usually there, invisible and unremarked-upon. As soft as a breeze, but as mighty as the ocean-spanning winds.

I was lucky enough to ride an airplane that was traveling the Jet Stream at one point, and the way the feel of the plane and the sound of the engines changed as we entered a wind that was going almost as fast as the plane itself is one of my fondest memories of that trip.

Also earth, the appearance of solidity and association to eternity, but full of cold dark spaces. The strong support, with its own secrets, flaws, and hidden things. The shifting sand as well as the bedrock. I can't but aspire to the sort of slow enduring strength Earth has - to move a continent, not just once but always.

I'm quite aware of the contradiction there, and consider it fundamental to the association with both air and earth. Caves, then, perhaps? Air-filled spaces in stone, ever-changing, but so slowly most people won't ever observe it happening.

I'm theoretically a water sign, but large bodies of water repel me as much as small ones fascinate me. I can watch a stream for hours, but the big ones... they're even more full of secrets than earth, and the ocean scares me to bits.

Post a Comment