Posted in Philosophy


The Ouroboros is a symbol that depicts a serpent or a dragon biting its own tail, forming a ring. It is the symbol of cyclicality – something that is in a constant cycle of rebirth through the three steps of creation, maintenance and destruction.

The concept of a serpent devouring itself likely stems from the ancient belief that a snake shedding its skin is the act of leaving an old, inferior body to be reborn into a better, new body. The ancient Greeks explained that the Ouroboros connects its beginning (mouth) and end (tail) to form a metaphor for the link between life and death. By forming a circle, the Ouroboros has no beginning and no end; it is an infinite, linear path that cycles endlessly. Because of this, the Ouroboros is also the symbol of infinity, immortality and the cycle of time. An alternate ancient explanation for the Ouroboros is that because it eats itself, it will ultimately end up as nothing.

The Ouroboros was an important symbol in medieval alchemy. Alchemists used the symbol “O” to represent the Ouroboros. To the alchemists, the Ouroboros was an entity that did not place importance in the two natural processes of creation and destruction, but the often-neglected third force – maintenance. This neutral process is the connection between the start and end of anything. Alchemists knew that in any chemical reaction, the process is just as important as the starting ingredients and the final product. The Ouroboros also represented “everything” and “perfection” to alchemists as it connected its own beginning and end. Because of this, the Ouroboros came to represent the Philosopher’s stone.

Perhaps the most relevant application of the Ouroboros to us is the concept of rebirth and cycling. Nothing in nature is permanent. Matter changes states, chemicals react and species evolve. We too are never permanent. There is always room for change – to destroy what you do not like about yourself, create something better and then maintain that state until the next cycle comes. As much as it is important to know to love who you are, it is vital that you continuously recycle, refine and develop yourself to become the person that you are truly happy to call “me”.

Posted in History & Literature

Elements: Four Elements Of The West

Human beings have believed that all matter can be divided into basic elements for a very long time. Although we now know that the basic building block of the universe is atoms, what did ancient people believe matter was made of?

In ancient Greece, the seat of Western culture, it was believed that everything was made from the four elements: earth, fire, water and air. According to Aristotle, every element has a primary and secondary characteristic, with the four characteristics being hot, cold, dry and wet. Air is primarily wet and secondarily hot, fire is primarily hot and secondarily dry, earth is primarily dry and secondarily cold and water is primarily cold and secondarily wet. He also spoke of a fifth element (quintessence) beyond the four elements. The name of the fifth element is aether and it is a pure and heavenly element that cannot be corrupted like the earthly four elements. Furthermore, it was thought that aether was the element of the sky and stars were composed of it as they were heavenly, not earthly.

The four classic elements of ancient Greece had an impact not only on physics and chemistry, but also on philosophy and culture (the concept of the four elements is popular in modern games too). The most interesting example of these is a theory by Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, that states that the human body is composed of four bodily fluids (humours) and an imbalance between the humours caused diseases. The four humours are yellow bile (fire), black bile (earth), blood (air) and phlegm (water). Furthermore, he believed that the four humours affected personalities too. For example, an excess of black bile (“melan chole” in Greek) would cause a person to become introspective and think negatively, leading to depression or “melancholy”. This is quite possibly the first medical records on clinical depression.

The four classic elements of ancient Greece can also be found in ancient Egypt and many other ancient civilisations. It also had a significant influence on alchemy in the Middle Ages.

(Image source

Posted in History & Literature


Alchemy, which is considered the origin of chemistry, is commonly thought to have originated in ancient Egypt, but many scholars in the East studied it also. For example, Chinese alchemists invented black powder, the first gunpowder.
The history of alchemy can be seen from ancient Egyptian books dating to 4000BC.

There were two things that alchemists sought: transmutation of common metals into gold, and the creation of the philosopher’s stone. A philosopher’s stone is a mystical stone believed to drastically boost an alchemist’s abilities and grant immortality. This is similar to Eastern alchemy’s goals of seeking immortality. 
Also, the idea from ancient Greece that all matter is formed from the four elements air, water, fire and earth, is very similar to the Five Element Theory of Eastern philosophy.
However, the major difference between Western and Eastern alchemy is that Western alchemists sought gold for wealth while Eastern alchemists sought medicine for the people.

In the Middle Ages, a “recipe” was invented for transmutation and the creation of the philosopher’s stone, called Magnum Opus, or “The Great Work”. It mentions three steps, which strangely mimics the creation of the world.
Firstly, the Black Step (nigredo) involves mixing Materia Prima (the first matter) in earth and burning it. This causes all the ingredients to become a black, solid mixture, entering a state of chaos.
Secondly, the White Step (albedo) heats this black solid, turning it into a liquid (a property of water). Impurities are washed away by aqua vitae, The Water of Life.
(Some sources suggest that there is another step, the Yellow Step (citrinitas), between the White Step and the Red Step, that involves the “yellowing” of the matter into gold.) 
Lastly, the Red Step (rubedo) continues to add heat until the liquid is totally purified, while obtaining the sediments created from the fusion of matter and spirit, which is gold.

At the end of these three steps, the alchemist gains the philosopher’s stone. Upon closer inspection, one can see how the steps transform simplicity into complexity, bring order to chaos, and develop ignorance into enlightenment.
Therefore, the philosopher’s stone is only the knowledge that we gain, nothing more, nothing less. Although that may not be a simple task.