“The thing is, we’re really the same person. We’re just four parts of the one.” – Paul McCartney
We all know the Beatles were something truly special, but they were far more than that. They were literally magic. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr each represented an elemental force within the band. When those elements blended together in perfect balance and harmony, they became a transcendent force that changed music and culture forever. The Beatles were the perfect foursome: an alchemy of the four basic elements of nature.
In ancient Greece a philosopher named Empedocles identified the four primordial elements in nature as Fire, Air, Water, and Earth. These four elements have stayed with us ever since, and are now often referred to scientifically as the states of matter: plasma (Fire), gas (Air), liquid (Water), and solid (Earth).
The idea here is that we can appreciate everything that exists in the world in its most basic state. In other words, at the most essential level, everything can be seen and understood in terms of these four classic elements.
What does this have to do with the Beatles? They are the perfect example of what happens when all four elements come together in perfect balance and harmony. It’s like a table that needs four legs of equal size to remain in equilibrium. Each member of the Fab Four filled their role exactly right in creating the ideal foursome.
The elemental role each member had within the band was:
John – Fire
Paul – Air
George – Water
Ringo – Earth
Before digging into how each of the Beatles played their crucial role, let’s look a little at the nature of the four elements themselves.
THE FOUR ELEMENTS IN NATURE AND IN ALL OF US
Everything in nature is essentially comprised of one of the four elements. This is true for the world around us and the internal world within us, also known as our psyche. Look at the physical properties of each element in nature, and you get a good idea how it behaves within us.
First, consider Fire. Look at a flame and what do you think of? It’s hot of course, and also forceful, unpredictable, and dangerous if it gets out of control. Its boundaries are difficult to define. It transforms the things it comes in contact with.
Fire in the psyche is our “spark”, will, and desire. Our Fire is what springs us into action. When we think of a fiery personality, we imagine someone who is bold, courageous, passionate, and creative. They may also be prone to angry outbursts, like an erupting volcano. Connecting to the inner fire leads someone to be authentic, adventurous, and a fearless leader.
Next, let’s think a little about the element Air. It is all around us, the gaseous state lacking boundaries and structure. We cannot see air, unless it appears in the form of clouds or smoke. Even then, it cannot be held onto, but escapes when we try to forcefully contain it. Air moves and dissipates on its own.
Air within the psyche is the mental realm. Acting like physical air, thoughts and ideas come in and out of our minds but they dissipate in time. Many of those thoughts are hard to grasp onto, as they appear in our subconscious or drift away as we forget them. A strong airy personality is likely someone intelligent, intuitive, and well-spoken. They think and see clearly and are good communicators.
The third element is Water. Physically, it is the liquid state of matter. It is of course wet, it flows, can be penetrated, and can create waves. A body of water may appear still on the surface yet run very deep. We can submerge into water and discover things under the surface.
Within the psyche, Water is the emotional realm. Feelings are experienced deeply and can wash over us in waves. We cry water when overcome with emotion. A watery person is in touch with the depths within themselves, also known as the spiritual realm. They may be still on the surface yet deep like the ocean.
Finally, the element Earth are all things solid. Earth is represented by material things, manifested stuff that you can actually hold on to. They have clearly marked boundaries and are strong enough to build on. Compared to the other three, Earth is predictable and reliable.
Earth within the psyche is the realistic, solid part of us. It is how we are “down to earth”: sensible, practical, workmanlike, and therefore reliable. Earth is a welcomed alternative to the other three elements. It is stable, substantial, and grounded in reality. We gain great power when we have our legs on solid ground beneath us.
THE FOUR ELEMENTS WITHIN THE BEATLES
John – Fire
It’s easy to identify John as the Fire of the Beatles. He was the group’s founder and intrepid leader. His intensity and drive motivated the others in the early years to keep going until they finally caught their big break. He was idealistic and passionate, but also prone to anger. The Fire element is associated with masculinity, and John was the most macho of the group. Musically, his guitar playing was characterized more for its force than its technical prowess.
Lennon took many risks in his career, a sign of his boldness and authenticity. In a moment of candor, he famously pointed out the Beatles had become more popular than Jesus, which made him a focal point for public scorn. Later he became a vocal proponent for peace, even writing songs about revolution. He was brave enough to appear naked on an album cover with Yoko.
John’s will and energy unquestionably led the band during its greatest leaps forward, from their intoxicating early moptop sound, to the baroque pop of Rubber Soul, and the pioneering experimentation of Revolver. It was when John started to withdraw as the leader of the band, around the time of Sgt. Pepper, that they slowly began to grow apart. His fire had kept them together until he redirected his energies to Yoko, new artistic directions, and political causes.
Paul – Air
The musical genius of the Beatles was Paul. They all wrote great songs, but no one had a gift for melody like he did. Paul pulled songs seemingly out of thin air; for example, he explained that the song Yesterday came to him intuitively in a dream. Even his style of playing bass, an instrument often known for its plodding simplicity in rock music, was bouncy, effervescent, and virtuosic.
Paul was a shapeshifter in terms of musical styles. Although he gained a reputation early as the sentimental one – and surely wrote plenty of silly love songs – he also wrote in styles as varied as rhythm & blues, chamber pop, psychedelic, music hall, western, and even heavy metal. Just look at his contributions to the White Album alone and you see he moved from style to style as easily as flying through air. He knew about flying; he named his post-Beatles band “Wings.”
Paul’s ingenuity came up with groundbreaking thematic ideas. He created the Sgt Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour concepts, the idea of getting back to their musical roots after their psychedelic period, and stringing together a medley to fill nearly an entire side of an album (Side 2 of Abbey Road). We might say he had his head in the clouds while coming up these visionary ideas.
George – Water
George had the reputation as the Quiet Beatle. He was introspective, reflective, turned inward. On the surface he appeared still, but the complexity of George’s personality and character would emerge later from the depths of his soul.
As he came of age, George emerged as the groups’ conscience and spiritual seeker. Having discovered the limitations of psychedelic drugs, he became drawn to Eastern mysticism. He spent the rest of his life plumbing the depths of consciousness through meditation and yogic practices. As he wrote on his final album, “I’m a Pisces Fish and the river runs through my soul.”
It takes a long time for anyone to develop spiritually, and similarly George was a late bloomer in his songwriting skills. He was afforded a song or two per album early on, but by 1969 his material was on par with Lennon/McCartney. You might say that for George, the creative floodgates opened once he mastered the ability to go within. His first solo record, All Things Must Pass, was a triple album!
Ringo – Earth
Where the other three seemed to have otherworldly talents, Ringo was more down to earth. He was accessible, plainspoken, the everyman as rock icon. He was easy to love because he was unpretentious and felt so relatable.
His birthname was Richard Starkey but he got his infamous moniker because he loved wearing fancy rings. Money and wealth fall within the element Earth because they represent earthly success. He grew up the poorest of the four, but Ringo had a distinct flash of style and sense of luxury.
Ringo’s most important contribution to the Beatles was his drumming. His rock-solid beat was the foundation that all the other instruments were built upon. While some of his contemporaries were known for showy solos, Ringo gained a reputation for being the most reliable and steady drummer in all of rock music.
As you see, The Beatles were the prototype of an ideal foursome. Each member filled the role of one of the four elements, and they all kept the whole in perfect balance. Like all of us, the members of the Beatles had all four elements within them individually. But in their role as Beatles, each filled their elemental function beautifully.
Whenever you have a foursome that works well together, you can notice how each member fills a respective elemental role. It’s fun to look at foursomes in this way. Let’s look at another famous English group from the 60’s, The Who. They also created an alchemy born from the balance and harmony of its four components.
Fire – Roger Daltrey. The singer was a macho tough guy. He sang and screamed with awesome power and fiery energy.
Air – Pete Townsend. The Who’s guitarist and leader was their creative and musical genius. He was the visionary behind most of the music, including epics Tommy and Quadrophenia.
Water – Keith Moon. Unlike Ringo, the Who’s drummer was anything but a solid beat. He had an erratic – albeit exciting – style to his drumming. Like the Moon’s tides he was subject to wild emotional ups and downs.
Earth – John Entwistle. The thundering bass from John provided the musical foundation of the Who’s music. His stage presence was stoic, unmoving, solid as a rock.
You see foursomes in pop culture all the time. Think back to your favorite movies and television shows and you’ll undoubtedly recall some magical groups of four, each member with its distinct elemental energy. Examples include Seinfeld, Sex and the City, the Fantastic Four, the Incredibles, the Golden Girls, Entourage, and countless others.
In the case of the Wizard of Oz it’s easy. The item each character is going to Oz to gain is the exact element each character represents. The Scarecrow needs a brain, even though he’s the smartest one. (Air) The Tin Man wants a heart, even though he is the most emotional of the group. (Water) The Lion lacks courage but proves heroic in the face of adversity. (Fire). And Dorothy is lost from home, the physical place where she longs to return. (Earth)
Consider your favorite films and shows and look for foursomes. Identify the four elements that make those groups work so well together and so entertaining to watch. Or, the next time you’re out with three friends, take notice of which element each person occupies. No one element is better than any others; it’s the magic of how they blend together that makes these units special. Have fun, gain an intuitive eye to see these patterns, and become better at identifying the four elements within yourself.
THE FOUR ELEMENTS AND YOU
Tarot and astrology are methods for better understanding the four elements with ourselves. When practiced with mindfulness and commitment they empower us to create the alchemical process within ourselves that is evident in the Beatles.
The zodiac in astrology contains 12 signs, three each for the four elements. They are:
Fire – Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
Air – Libra, Aquarius, Gemini
Water – Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
Earth – Capricorn, Taurus, Virgo
Those looking closely might point out that the zodiac signs of the four Beatles don’t perfectly match the elements I presented earlier. Yes, Paul is an Air sign (Gemini), and George was a Water sign (Pisces), but John was a Libra (Air) and Ringo is a Cancer (Water).
Fair enough. But it’s important to remember that our personalities are characterized by far more than our Sun Signs. All the other planets and aspects in a natal chart make a complex person. Moreover, John may have been very much “Airy” in other aspects of his life, as Ringo may have been “Watery”. But within the unit known as the Beatles, each fulfilled their elemental role, John as Fire and Ringo as Earth.
Tarot is another system for working with the four elements within ourselves. The 78-card deck is largely comprised of four suits; each suit corresponding to one of the elements. They are:
Fire – Wands
Air – Swords
Water – Cups
Earth – Pentacles (sometimes called Disks or Coins)
Each of those suits has cards numbered 1 – 10, plus four royalty cards. The Ace of the suit represents the element in its pure form. The two is a contrast or balance of the element. The three is an expansion of the element, and so on. As you learn the symbolic meanings of the cards you see them within yourself, and you learn to understand yourself on an elemental level, where real change becomes possible.
In time, with patient and steady practice, you will gain the opportunity to do the work of alchemy within you, like we saw with the Beatles and those other famous foursomes. We all have strong tendencies toward an element or two within us, and are weaker toward another element or two. Carl Jung wrote a lot about this, and you may consider studying his works to dig deeper. The bottom line is that when we learn to identify the four primordial elements inside of us, we can bring them into greater balance and perform the magic of alchemy within.
We all can tap into the elemental powers within ourselves. The Beatles showed us that magic is possible when the forces are in balance and harmony. Within all of us is a version of John, the fiery passion that leads the way; Paul, the talented genius; George, deeply spiritual and introspective; and Ringo, solid, down-to-earth, and dependable.
Embrace your inner-Beatles and you, too, can work magic like our heroes did.