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Alphabets, Elements and Cosmologies Abstract

This article explores links between alphabets, elements and cosmological systems. The word ‘alphabet’ is generally said to derive from Alpha, Beta. Part one offers a close reading of the letters in alphabet and reveals connections with Sanskrit roots. Part two explores links between alphabets, especially vowels, elements and cosmologies.

In India, the Sanskrit alphabet was intimately connected with stories of creation and with early models of cosmology. One starting point of the system was five fundamental elements (ether, air, fire, water, earth). This evolved into a complex system. The 16 vowels were spirit and the 36 consonants were matter. These 36 consonants became linked with 36 elements (tattvas) and associated with the 12 zodiac signs. Key combinations of vowels and consonants became seed letters (bija) and linked with the 7 chakras in the body, the 7 days of the week etc. This idea formed a starting point for Indian, Chinese, Japanese and other oriental cosmologies.

European cosmology seemed entirely independent of this Indian model. Recent studies have demonstrated that the 22 letters of Phoenician are linked with Chinese astronomy and thus confirm that there was important interplay between East and West. A study of Indo/Chinese magic squares reveals a key to the underlying structure of Western alphabets.

In the West, vowels of alphabets and elements also played a central role in cosmology. Instead of 16 vowels, the Western systems typically used 7 vowels or 5 vowels. The system of 5 vowels became linked with the 5 elements and a foundation for cosmologies ranging from those of ancient Greece to those of the Celtic world. As in India, these links between vowels and elements become a basis for Western religion. In Europe, something else also happened. Systematic study of combinations of the elements became a basis of disciplines of knowledge and eventually led to modern science.

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