Dark Matters: Earth, Air, Fire and Water
The Hauntings Continue
The current series on Paranormal Witness on the Really TV channel is as frightening as that of last season. The number of these real-life instances of haunting make for grim viewing; men, women and even children terrorised and hurt physically in their own homes. Those last five words put the most macabre spin of all on the situation. The majority of us expect to feel secure in our homes, and most of us are safe when we lock the doors against the stresses and dangers of the outside world. However, when the inhabitants of a haunted house arrive home from school or work and try to settle down for the night, their ordeal is just beginning.
In my two previous Dark Matters (The Search for Supernature & The Search Continues, published last year) features, I drew parallels between various hauntings, pinpointing their similarities and differences, and trying to match effects to causes. One matter I did pin down was that entities involved in explained happenings did seem to respond to ritual. The current series of Paranormal Witness began with the story of a woman and her two daughters whose house was assailed by unexplained happenings. Dark shapes and loud noises repeatedly assailed the three of them; even the garden of the house was unsafe. Matters came to a head when the elder girl was pushed off a swing by a force that she could not see, and suffered a broken leg. The desperate Mom sent her and her sister to the safety of a relative’s house while she called in a psychic and her assistant.
Together, they discovered that the house had once been occupied by a group of Satanists. This all made a kind of sense because, one day while clearing junk from the garage, the family had pulled aside a large chest from a pentacle painted on the floor. The strange happenings began soon afterwards, the family having apparently disturbed the demon, and the psychic recommended a ritual cleansing of the house.
In the dead of night, the psychic, her assistant and the homeowner went in procession to the garage, the apparent “hub” of all of the happenings. The psychic carried a bowl of smouldering incense while the other two women carried candles, all three of them chanting as they progressed. Just as they reached the door behind which the happenings seemed to originate, a pillar of flame arose suddenly from the incense and vanished just as swiftly. The happenings stopped, also. The daughters returned to the house and the family lives there still. However, another cleansing ritual was not so successful.
Back in the nineteen nineties, a devout Baptist and his wife, son and two daughters moved into a simple and beautiful little house. They were all strong believers and read the Bible routinely, the kind of people that you would least expect to be haunted. Yet, right from the beginning of their stay in the house, they were assailed by an unseen and violent entity that seemed to resent their deep, Christian faith. One morning, the young son found a scissors stuck up into the high ceiling. On another occasion, a portion of ceiling collapsed on top of the father as he sat in the seat where he normally read his Bible. Luckily, he escaped with cuts and bruises.
Their family called in their pastor, who read prayers while they all sat about a table. However, this only served to make the demon even more violent. One night, one of the daughters was violently assaulted in her bed, and only saved when the family dog ran barking into her room. However, the same force picked up the dog and pitched him through the windowpane, leaving the poor beast dazed and bleeding on the grass outside. Least you think she imagined it all, the incident was witnessed by her sister who occupied a bed in the same room. The two sisters, now grown up, recalled the incident in tandem.
These two intelligent and matter-of-fact young women spoke sadly of how marriage to their sweethearts was their only escape from the house and its happenings. Their parents eventually left the house but by then, the father was ill from stress and died soon afterwards. I remain puzzled by the failure of the rite, instigated by the pastor. Why did his words have no effect upon the entity, while the rite of the psychics cleansed the house in the earlier episode? I pondered the question for a long time, until a theory came suddenly to me: earth, air fire and water.
The Age-Old Elementals
The ancients, most notably the Greeks, believed that everything in the universe was a mixture of earth, air, fire and water. In the fifth century BC, both Empedocles and Democritus tied colour theory to different combinations of these elements. Democritus theorized that every colour in the universe was a combination of four colours; black, white, red and chloron, their word for green. In the first century AD, the Roman writer Marcus Vitruvuis Pollio wrote in Book One of his Ten Books on Architecture: all bodies are composed of the four elements, that is, of heat, moisture, the earthy and the air, yet there are mixtures according to natural temperament which make up the natures of all the different animals of the world, each after its kind...
He believed that illness was caused by an imbalance of one or other of these "elements" in the body, a belief that lasted through the Dark Ages and into medieval times. This was partly of the prevailance of alchemy, the practise of which involved the ritual use of earth, air, fire and water. Scholars have often linked the motifs in Jan van Eyck's painting of 1437, The Marriage of the Arnolfini symbolic of these elements; the green, blue and white of Giovanna's dress, and the string of amber beads upon the wall.
Theories: New and Ancient
Today, the newer theories of matter and colour are not a million miles in spirit from the older ones. We know that there are about a hundred elements, not four. However, all elements are composed of suprisingly few, basic subatomic particles. We also know that all light visible to us is composed of three colours; red, green and blue. Really, Democritus was not far out here. We equate earth, air, water and fire with solid, gas, liquid and energy, the four states of matter. The ancients instinctively recognised this significance, in addition to knowing that the seeming complexity of the universe is based on relatively few, simple rules and states. This is why the "elementals" were important in ritual. In the Old Testament, Moses and his priests slaughtered and burned animals while chanting prayers. Roman Catholic masses involve candles, incense and holy water while the prayers and communion rites are carried out.
With the fate of the Baptist family in mind, I believe that it is time for us to investigate more fully the role of the elementals when dealing with unknown and malign forces, to try to end the kind of suffering that they endured. After all, Baptists do believe in the cleansing power of water. The Paranormal Witness season is only half-way through and I look forward to the insights that it may yet bring.
The Holy Bible
Colour and Culture: Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction by John Gage, Thames & Hudson, London
The Ten Books on Architecture by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, Dover Publications
Really television channel, UK broadcast area.