According to traditional cosmogony, one of the four elements. Like Fire, it is male and active, while the other elements, Earth and Water, are held to be passive and female. While the nature of the two latter is considered material, that of Air is spiritual. The element of Air is linked symbolically with wind and breath. It typifies that rarefied zone between Earth and Heaven, home of what the Chinese call the k’i, the breath of universal life. Vayu, who represents the same principle in Hindu mythology, is depicted riding upon a gazelle and bearing a standard which floats in the breeze and which may be identified with the winnowing fan.
Vayu is the cosmic breath of life and may be identified with the Word, itself breath. On the more rarefied plane of existence, Vayu may represent the five vital functions, considered as modalities of prana, the breath of life.
St Martin termed the element Air ‘a palpable symbol of invisible life’, a ‘universal driving force’, and a ‘purifier’, ideas corresponding almost exactly to those of the function of Vayu who, it should be added, is also considered as a purifier.
In the esoteric teachings of the Ismailis, Air is ‘the principle of harmonization and fructification’; it is the intermediary between Fire and Water, the first lam of the name of God. It corresponds to the function of the Universal Soul, or Tali, which made the Earth fruitful in the beginning and enables shapes and colours to be perceived - which brings us back to the function of ‘breath’.
Air is the proper medium for light, scent, colour, flight and interplanetary vibrations and is the channel of communication between Heaven and Earth. ‘Resonance, translucency and fluidity... a trilogy, spring from the inner sense of lightening of the self. They are not impressed upon us by the external world.’ Someone, once dull and confused, acquires through ‘a shift of the imagination, a power which enables him or her to become quick, clear and resonant by obeying the dictates of an airy imagination... Airy freedom speaks, enlightens, flies’. The airy being is ‘free as air’ and so far from being blown away, actually shares the pure and rarefied properties of air.