"All is interrelated. Heaven and earth, air and water. Where they are not together, there is only an incomplete piece. Who else is the enemy of Nature but he who mistakes himself for more intelligent than Nature, though it is the highest school for all of us?"
Paracelsus, 16th Century Alchemist and Physician
Indigenous communities, like science today, looked to the world around them to learn from. Indigenous knowledge evolved from observation of, and participation with, the natural world. Natural forces are reliable teachers of the “way it is.” According to mythologist Michael Meade, indigenous cosmologies worldwide have five (not four) common elements: Fire, Earth, Mineral (Stones, Bones, Metal, Crystals), Water, and a fifth, the fifth element, which is always the one representative of change, or the transformative principle—air, ether, or, as the Dagara in West Africa name it, Nature.
In the Dagara culture, everyone is born into a “clan” of one of the five elements, and each element has a broad “job description” or area of cultural responsibility. They are simultaneously viewed as “energies” which need to be present in each situation and each person in order for healthy balance. The elements are also viewed as being “ancestors” in the same way that science understands that humans are a relatively recent member of the cosmos.
Understanding about the indigenous world is still evolving. Different interest groups have differing vocabulary, frames of reference and biases. The view that says there are common principles in all indigenous cultures is called pan-indigenousity. This view is helpful insofar as it can provide a framework for beginning to understand and apply some potentially life saving information that is contained within the human heritage. Here are five broad principles observable worldwide in indigenous cultures, and are also seen in the “indigenous soul” of modern people.
Spirit and Lineage in Everything
FIRE inherently teaches moderation and respect. The modern world has gone “fire-crazy.” The burning of fossil fuels and forests now threatens an even larger burning from the sun itself through ozone damage. Members of the fire clan will have a special care for the moderation taught appropriately by TRADITION.
[ fire ~ spiritual ]
EARTH gives life constant and reliable bounty and belonging. The fear of scarcity is a rejection of the “earthly realm,” and has been a defining motivation in “civilized” history. Those who work with Earth knowledge are the ones who exemplify the welcoming of RELATEDNESS.
[ earth ~ physical ]
Everything has Life Purpose MINERAL (stone, bone, metal or crystals) is seen as a holder of stories and meaningful frameworks (contrast the disempowerment of secret data bases). Mythology is the indigenous guidance system for culture, natural history, spiritual expression, and initiation—Mineral energy is a helper in WAYFINDING.
[ mineral ~ mental ]
WATER undergoes turbulence gracefully and reconciles differing origins. The modern loss of “water knowledge” is indicated in many conflicts which seem “frozen” by extreme “stagnant” positions of self-protection. The healing elixir of water knowledge helps us develop MOBILITY.
[ water ~ emotional ]
NATURE (plants and animals) represents the principle of ongoing evolution, growth and change—responding to the current situation. Modern growth and change is unbalanced and cancerous when left unchecked. Nature people are the holders of knowledge and teachings about TRANSFORMATION. [ nature ~ alchemical ]