Nowadays, someone thinking about the earth envisages the image of our planet and, upon closer inspection, its mantle of soil, containing varying quantities of mineral and vegetable raw materials.
In a little under two hundred years we have lost that vision of the world which had remained reasonably intact since the Egyptian, and subsequently Greek and Roman, traditions, after the first great rift caused by the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the acquisition of knowledge from Islam and Christendom in the Middle Ages, throughout the Renaissance up to the end of the 18th century.
Then the second great rift took place, which led to the present-day vision of the world, relegating to certain branches of wisdom, for example herbal medicine, a more archaic vision of the world which previously belonged to the educated world, with macrocosm and microcosm reflected in each other in an organic unity in which sky, earth, plants, animals and man form a dynamic network of synchronies, mutual likenesses and relations.
I am a herbalist and, thanks to the work of a colleague, Dr Luigi Giannelli of San Quirico d'Orcia near Siena, who has created the first Archive of Mediterranean Traditional Medicine and has collected and catalogued texts and herbal forms belonging to our tradition from ancient medicine to present-day traditional herbal medicine, I can try to explain to you what the earth was like for a human tied to these traditions up to the period prior to the industrial revolution.
It must immediately be said that in the ancient world the way of thinking did not divide objects into separate items as happens nowadays. For ancient man, for example, in a red object, the colour was not a separate quality as it is for us, but was part of the object itself.
In fact, common characteristics linked the various worlds (mineral, vegetable, animal), from stars to pebbles, not only on horizontal planes (the various kingdoms of nature) but also vertically, and these were the fundamental points, the foundations, also in philosophical terms, and basic elements which constituted the moulding forces of the universe.
These were the four famous cardinal elements: Water, Earth, Air and Fire, which were all present, in varying degrees, in every manifestation. These principal elements contained the two couples of opposite complementaries
heat which expands
cold which contracts
dryness which sharpens
humidity which dulls
which were united in four different combinations.
For a person who saw the world like this the EARTH was: stagnation, blockage, firmness, up to the incoercible order of the crystalline state, a manifestation of the qualities of COLD (contraction, withdrawal, internal retreat) and DRYNESS (drying up, emptiness, sharpness).
A moulding force of the universe which was at its greatest in the cardinal point of the WEST, where the sun reclines on the horizon and seems to die, but the ancient humans were well aware that that cardinal point was a precise stage in what seemed the circular movement of the planet through the four cardinal points. It was also evident in AUTUMN, when the light seems to recline and die before the darkness which advances, in the period of the day from noon to 6pm, from the sun at dusk. It was also in the age of man which corresponds to MATURITY which, seen through archaic eyes, is none other than the beginning of the curve which takes man back to the point of departure, because birth and death open and close the same door. And it was evident in the colours which range from DARK BLUE to BLACK (including all the shades of brown) in the various hues like the colour of the sky, the covering which surrounds us in all the nuances of the day and night. And, finally, it was in flavours in decreasing order, SOUR, SHARP, BITTER, flavours which contract, set teeth on edge, dry.
It was also present in tenacious animals with curved horns (bone, our organic earth) like goats, and ones that are slow, heavy, like the BULL. In plants that have woody parts, bowed towards the ground, dry, not oily, empty fruits, which produce TANNIN and ACIDS. In a heavy, dark mineral like LEAD and, the EARTH itself which alchemically, in its solidity, encompasses the other three elements of water, air and fire and is the origin of material manifestations, and in SATURN, the planet which for archaic man who studied the sky with the naked eye, was the last and slowest of the visible planets, the one which marked the frontier between our planetary system and the zodiacal cosmos. It was also in the zodiacal cosmos in the triangle of the three earth signs with TAURUS at its apex, as the cardinal sign, and VIRGO and CAPRICORN at the base.
And when qualities linked to the moulding forces of the earth were strongly manifested in a person, often clear from the individual's astrological birth chart, in lean, hollow features (Edoardo De Filippo's face, for example), a long or triangular face, with thin, closed lips, a thin body, with fine, taut, sinewy musculature, visible, lean, thin veins, olive or wan complexion, harsh, thin hair and a temperament prevalent at a physiological level defined by the ancients as MELANCHOLY (from the Greek melanos-chole - black bile, produced by the spleen) which led to a fundamentally reflective character, profound and steady, but which could slip into depression, misanthropy, envy and avarice.
This is what EARTH has meant for thousands of years for man. Today it would be important to claim it back with the knowledge of its energy value, of such a wide vision of the world which would allow us not only to talk abou| compatible ecosystems but to feel an integral part of a universe where every interference damages the balance of these moulding forces of Water, Earth, Air and Fire, within and around us.