For as the powers of our soul are communicated to the members of the body by the spirit, so also the soul of the world is diffused through all things by the quintessence: for there is nothing found in the whole world that hath not a spark of the virtue thereof. – Agrippa
Soul, spirit, aether, the quintessence, the five-petalled flower. The fifth element in the ancient scheme is described as the purest of the five and binds them all together while transcending their limitations. It is the living thing that animates or gives something its deepest and most profound characteristics.
Sounds mysterious, and it is – this was one of the primary riddles of the alchemists not only in the West but in other, even older traditions. In Chinese Taoist thought this element was represented by wood, a plant associated with life force and regenerative energy. It is also called chi, a kind of unseen energy that flows through all things and that can be harnessed into movement and meditative practices (such as tai chi). Another tradition calls this energy kundalini, the latent power sleeping at the base of your spine – the release and rise of this energy is said to merge the practitioner with the divine. Other terms for this element are prana, pneuma, rauch, philosopher’s stone.
But what does it mean, what is it exactly? Simply, the fifth element of essence is the spirit of the world that permeates all of nature and binds it together. Literature provides further clues: it is elusive, penetrating, incorruptible. It is everywhere, and renews itself constantly. It is both science and spirituality, translating into infinite forms. The Pythagoreans believed it is what the stars are made of – and that within everything there exists a spark of a star that is that thing’s quintessence. Each of us carries a spark of the original source of all things.
As we have done with water, earth, air and fire, make a list of associations or thoughts you have about this mysterious fifth element, keeping in mind that at any given moment it is likely to manifest differently right in front of you. Be patient and stay open-minded. Here’s my list:
love, spirit, the Source, play, poetry, potential, desire, consciousness, vitality, integrity, instinct, creative impulse, faith, amazement, persistence, the soul of the world, the immortal and eternal, also the fleeting and transient, change, and yet always forever itself in all things, that which draws me to my dog, and her to me, the heart to itself and to all other things
It is better to create than to learn! Creating is the essence of life. – Julius Caesar
* Write a poem about the quintessence in the spiritual tradition you were brought up in – for Buddhists, the fifth element might be The Way. For Christians, it might be The Word.
* What always remains true for you though its aspect may change?
* Do you dare seek out what is perfect about yourself?
* What holds all other things together for you, what is absolutely necessary?
* What is life in its most distilled form? This one lends itself particularly well to small, condensed forms such as haiku.
Extra credit for describing this element in solid, concrete imagery.