A couple of years ago, while preparing a presentation on the subject of Elemental Dignities, I had a small epiphany. In the Golden Dawn system designed by Macgregor Mathers, Fire and Air are considered mutually friendly because one works hand-in-hand with the other in the act of combustion, just as Water and Earth are entirely agreeable to one another as long as they are kept in proportion for agricultural purposes. Fire and Water are hostile in combination for obvious reasons (unless you want to make steam, but you still can’t let them come into direct contact; Earth must intercede). Air and Earth are unfriendly for less apparent reasons that I assume have something to do with the wind’s drying effect on soil (in this case, Water must intercede to create harmony).
That leaves the relationships between Fire and Earth and Water and Air. Mathers called them “neutral and supportive” in their interaction. This has never seemed like a very satisfactory assumption to me. It sounds like they are “neutral” because they don’t actively engage with one other in a dynamic way, but “supportive” because one cooperates passively with the other even while not affecting its potency. It sounds like “aiding and abetting” to me, or an “accomplice-before-the-fact” scenario, or maybe even “one lies and the other swears to it.” There just seems to be something dicey about the whole arrangement.
What struck me about these combinations is that one supplies what the other lacks: Fire gains form and fuel from Earth while Earth in turn acquires solar warmth and quickening; Water takes on buoyancy and effervescence from Air, while Air derives nuance and definition from Water in the meeting of emotion and intellect. I decided that a much better definition for these would be “complementary opposites.” Fire is more “opposite” from Earth than Water is from Air, but the distinction seems to hold true well enough for this purpose. I took a look at the I Ching hexagrams Chin/Progress (Fire over Earth) and Ming I/Darkening of the Light (Earth over Fire); and Ching/The Well (Water over Wind/Air) and Huan/Dispersion (Dissolution) (Wind/Air over Water). While there isn’t an exact match between the titles of the trigrams and the classical Greek elements, some interpolation gets you there. However, I didn’t see any major corroboration between the I Ching judgments and Mathers’ concept of supportiveness. More thorough study is needed.