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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

elements Certain materials (such as carbon, iron, oxygen, and gold) are themselves unique substances which are not combinations of other ingredients. These are the proper chemical elements.
      The alchemists believed that all substances were combinations of sulfur, mercury, and common salt, which they said were themselves composed of the four basic “elements”: fire, air, earth, and water. (Sulfur and mercury actually are proper elements, but salt is a combination of the metal sodium and the gas chlorine, each of them elements.) Every element, to the alchemists, had specific attributes. These were:


      Fire: colors red and orange, hot and dry conditions, motion, light, and heat, animals, strength.  
     
      Air: color yellow, hot and damp conditions, light, activity, bravery, intellect.  
     
      Earth: colors brown and black, cold and dry conditions, fertility, passivity, silence.  
     
      Water: colors blue and green, cold and damp conditions, intuition, wisdom, cleansing.

      Early Tibetan scholars recognized, in addition to these four basic elements, a fifth which they called “ether.” The five elements of the early Chinese were fire, earth, water, wood, and metal.
      In medieval times, only 10 of the real elements were known to occur in a natural, uncombined state. We now know of 107 elements, 90 of which occur on Earth naturally, 17 of which are created during nuclear reactions or radioactive decay.



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Copyright (C) 1995-2007 James Randi.

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