The Element of Earth, Erosion, and Ancient Sages by Sean Abreu,

The Sun’s passage into the fecund realm of Taurus on April 20, 2011 inspires a look at the element of Earth, and an examination of the synergy between the five Chinese elements in nature. Lately the astrological conditions have stressed the presence of the element of Fire, but by the time Earth Day arrives, on April 22, we see our first shift in the balance of the elements with the presence of the Sun in the Cardinal-earth sign, Taurus.

Five thousand years before we arrived, ancient sages in the heart of the Yellow River basin divided the world into five principle categories: earth, metal, water, wood, and fire.

Cycles of destruction and creation flow dynamically between the five elements; whose individual health, nature, and properties are empty without the others presence. Two of the five elements are born from the earth: metal and wood. Earth, the foundation, resides in the center of the four cardinal directions. All life exists between the absolute planes of Heaven and Earth. From Heaven and Earth a myriad of things are manifested: God’s creation.

The Taoists attribute the characteristics of receptivity and stability to the element of Earth, proclaiming that the Earth produces or creates nothing. It simply receives and returns.

Earth is stable because it receives everything from heaven. With the earth stable, myriad beings form. With the earth broad, myriad beings gather. Being stable, it supports all, being broad, it accommodates all. With the formation of the earth deep and thick, water springs enter into it and collect. With the extent of the earth wide and vast, it can last forever. Sages take this as a model, whereby virtue accommodates all.

~ Wen-Tzu, Chapter 95

Taurus is the archetype of form, of body, emerging out of the numinous vapors of
creation. Taurus is the moment of first realizing and actualizing the element of earth, her soil, mountains, valleys, and the fruition of her fertility.

Earth is form. It is the only element that can hold and take shape. Life emerges from this base element, symbiotically arising from the soil; that receives the energy of the sun, the nourishment of water, and is circulated by the air. In the creation cycle, Earth is born out of the ashes produced by fire, as Taurus evolves out of the flames of Aries. From Earth metals and ores are formed under great pressure. Metal can contain and collect water, which feeds earth resulting in the growth of wood. Wood fuels fire, which in turn, creates Earth.

Collectively, society does not wisely model their relationship with earth as the Immortal Lao Tzu would prefer. Earth is being washed away by the forces of water in the ancient homeland of Lao Tzu. The balance between the elements in China and across the globe is in a state of crisis. Only recently has public and personal awareness of this gross imbalance of the elements in nature arrived in the collective consciousness. The only way we can live in accordance with earth is to model our sagely behavior in harmony with it.

The ancient Chinese believed that to enter the depths of hell, one had to cross to the other shore of the fabled Yellow River. Today the Yellow River may deliver us into an environmental hell by its toxic currents. The Yellow River washes away 2.4 billion tons of soil annually. Soil erosion is an environmental epidemic quietly consuming the not so endless resources of the earth, and rapidly sterilizing China’s agricultural fertility.

China is losing her nutrients. Her fecundity and bounty withers under the assailing forces of human expansion, development of infrastructure, industry exploitation, and an incomprehensible ignorance of the one attribute the Taoist sages of 5,000 years ago observed about the element of earth: receptivity. Instead the current focus is on taking.

Lao Tzu’s ancestral home is losing more than five billion tons of soil a year. Nearly 40% of the geography of China is affected with the erosion her fields, the expulsion of topsoil, and the clogging of the arteries of the nation; her vast waterways. The destructive forces of water, wind, and human intervention, in China alone, wash 20% of the world’s total soil away.

Some Chinese correlate and blame this alarming rate of decay to human expansion, construction, and the grotesque abuse of natural resources. The chain of events that could result if the current course is adhered to is potentially fatal. There is distinct and real possibility of famine, claiming millions of lives. If China maintains current environmental practices she will experience an almost 40% decline in agricultural production in the next five decades. Some of the damage will be permanent.

Earth is consumed by fire, desiccated under the sun, swept sterile by the wind, and washed out to sea by water. Pesticides and toxins are dumped into earth, which absorbs but cannot transmute the synthetic poisons we deposit into her.

The extirpation of the element of earth topples the balance of water, air, and wood. Rivers are polluted with toxic soils, dams are filled with sediment and hold less fresh water, forests are dying or being clear cut, while deltas spew pollution and once nutrient-rich earth out to sea. The arid sky hurls hot winds across the land, thrusting the sands of the Gobi into once fertile valleys, conquering and smothering ancient verdant forests. The desert invades China 2,500 square kilometers annually. The encroaching dunes blanket more than 27% of the nation, claiming approximately 2.5 million square kilometers.

The progeny of the great Taoist sages and Immortals have lost their way. The elements are out of balance, and we may figuratively cross to the other shore, finding ourselves in the midst of an irreversible environmental hell, if we are not going to change our perception and truths behind the nature of our relationship with earth and with the elements. A sage must take seriously the stewardship over the land required of every living being, and the preservation of the Taoist “stable earth.”

A mindful and careful practice of what is deposited into the ecosystem of our planet is a sagely mode of living in accordance with nature. The earth receives. There is a prevailing movement in China today to heal the scars on the earth by the employ of the element of wood. Ironically it is the destructive aspect of wood according to Taoist thought that may restore balance in the environment. The Taoist destructive cycle describes wood as growing into, consuming earth. Though the process of reclaiming China’s dead lands may take 300 years.

Aggressive programs are in action to reclaim the lost lands by planting sweeping belts of forests that will act as a literal “Green Wall of China.” The modern intention is much like the ancient one; to keep out an invader from the Gobi Desert—sand. Between 2008 and 2009 an estimated 500 million people reportedly planted in excess of 2 billion trees across the frontline on the war against desertification. The roots of the forests dive into the earth, consuming her and revitalizing her; stabilizing her top toil, introducing moisture in the air, and staving off the voracious sands of the Gobi. Those and other efforts are taking back about 1,717 square kilometers of earth a year.

Though the interplay between the desert and northern China is not new, the battle is exacerbated by modern human intervention. The construction of dams, roads, railways, and the proliferation of industrial waste, human waste, over farming, and dramatic changes in climate have distorted the cycles of the elements. To address this imbalance the sagely way would be to invest back into all the elements and work in accordance with the creative cycle.

The Sun travels through Taurus in May, a month commonly associated with fecundity. Mother Gaia fertile, blooming, rising from the earth awakens in the spring, ascending in harmony with and receiving the energy of the Sun. Earth Day provides a wonderful stage to meditate on such mythological concepts as Gaia, Taurus, and the pantheon of mythological earth goddesses.

The ancients distilled poignant information about life and death, codified in the stars and the planets, through the archetypes they represent. The mythology they gave form to contains basic truths regarding the synergy and complete interdependence between all aspects of our universe, and between the seemingly disparate realms of the external and the internal. Those myths act as accurate calendars marking the passage of the seasons, of harvest and planting cycles and of the geometry created by the movement of celestial objects.

Taurus also emphasizes the importance of the health of the body. The Earth is our macro body, of which we are individual organisms part of a collective, physical, and elemental whole. Are we not influenced by what our body receives? Change should first occur in the nature of our individual relationships with earth, with what and how we take from earth, and with what and how we give to her.

The earth does not create. It receives. Give wisely back to the whole, and you shall receive nature’s bounty. The Tao is nature, and from the Tao are born Heaven and Earth.

We are creatures of, and exist somewhere in between Heaven and Earth.

Connect –
Sean Abreu
seabreu at

About [ open myth source ]

The [open myth source] project gathers conversations, symbols, songs, visual art and stories. Building a house for Myth in the Sustainability Age.
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