From what lung, out of what bellows, comes this wind? Where lies that aperture in the heavens that blasts its current into our universe? What god's lips purse its stream? One may as well ask where is the source of motion, where the source of breath? And if it is breathed out, must it first be breathed in? Into what? Into that which is perfectly still? Into motion itself, which knows itself not? Standing upon the cliffs at the end of land, at the edge of the known world, one receives the wind full upon one's soul and quivers with the awareness of communion with all it has touched. Its wildness invades and obliterates the defence of the small self standing there. It batters and whips and cleanses. It overwhelms and yet awakens the heart to a forgotten promise eddying through endless corridors of space. Dreams of childhoods lived long ago and of mythic flight to vision's lofty peaks momentarily appear. Written on the wind, the vision swirls and is blasted across the universe, carried away and yet never erased.
Some have called the wind the primary element by virtue of its connection with the creative breath in its exhalation. Others have claimed it is merely air in its active and violent aspect. But the languages of people spread widely through the world indicate a persistent connection between wind and breath and spirit. Often 'breath' and 'spirit' share the same identifying terms, as with the Arabic ruh and the Greek pneuma, or the will of God is identified with the voice of a howling gale or whirlwind. To many the wind has seemed to be the spiritual and vital breath of the universe. Its power to sustain life and hold it together has caused it to be associated with cords, threads and ropes. "The rope of the wind" and "the thread [which] is the same as the wind" are spoken of in the Upanishads. It links all together as the invisible chain and bears within its twists and coils the intangible, transient-seeming, insubstantial and elusive presence of Deity. On the cliffs, the presence storms and makes sails of the senses, which are filled to bursting with its power. Standing there, the body clings like a feeble root to the rock of earth and the soul leaps up to fly in the soaring stream.
Destroyer or preserver? Is the wind possessed of evil powers as the ancient Egyptians thought? Is it the might of a horrible Pazuzu, the raging and wrathful Semitic 'Lord of wind-demons' called 'the Destroyer of the beautiful hills' and believed to spread fever and disease even while commanding the four directional regions? Even the Greeks, who possessed a more subtly shaded view of natural forces, believed there was evil in the winds, until the fleet of Xerxes was destroyed by a tempest as he sought to attack their coast. Perhaps its unpredictability, its suddenness and lack of discrimination make the wind seem so blindly devastating. At times its relentlessness wears down the mind just as it erodes the beautiful hills. William Butler Yeats wrote of "the levelling wind", and one pictures such erosion through days and years and centuries, displacing, devouring and spewing away. But it is equally true that the wind separates the wheat from the chaff and carries the rain cloud over the parched earth. In the words of Thomas Tusser,
To the ancient Hindus the winds were the Four Maharajas, the Regents of the Four Cardinal Points. Like others of the classical world, they associated them with corresponding signs of the zodiac and notions of qualities to be assigned to the various directions. The Vedic god of wind, Vayu, played a central role in the magnificent conception of cosmogenesis outlined in the profoundly suggestive hymns of the Rig Veda. The Greeks also recognized a powerful god of wind, who controlled all winds from all directions. Hesiod wrote that they were all the sons of Typhoeus (derived from tuphein), kept chained or unchained to the rocks at the will of Aeolus. He was their master and the lord of all musical instruments, producing sound by his power. By his leave, Boreas (the cold and stormy north wind) wrecked the four hundred ships of the Persian fleet, and Zephyrus breathed the mild western breeze that refreshed the sun-drenched land of Hellas. The name Aeolus reveals much about the nature of this god, suggesting quick movement, nimbleness and a rapid shifting of wiles and forms, the attributes proper to some sort of Demiurge. If one traces the etymological roots of the term 'wind', one finds that one is led to the vindr of the Old Norse, the ventus of the Latin, and vatas of the Sanskrit, whose root, va, lies in the name Vayu and means 'to blow'.
The Egyptian word bai, found in the names of all the four winds, was the term used by them to describe both 'soul' and 'breath'. One can trace a similar connection between the Latin animare (quicken), anima (air, breath, life, soul), animus (spirit), the Greek anemos (or wind), and the Sanskrit aviti (breathe). More specialized names like Boreas (or devouring) indicate the nature and effects of a particular wind or a type such as 'tornado', which derives from the Spanish tornar (turn), or 'storm', which can be traced to the old Germanic sturm, meaning 'to stir'. The Greek tuphein describes a smoking up caused by a terrific wind and suggests a remarkable link with the Chinese tai fung - 'typhoon', from tai (big), and fung (wind). The notion that spirit has no form, no tangible permanence, is suggested by 'smoke' in various cultures. Perhaps this is because it takes on some of the substance and coloration of the earth while yet remaining ethereal. A big wind stirring up the dust and the loose ends of the world seems to exhibit a similar power while carrying them aloft and grinding them into an ever smaller common denominator.
Plato taught that the Four Elements were that "which composes and decomposes the compound bodies". What we see are only their visible garbs, the "symbols of the informing invisible Souls or Spirits". These phenomenal expressions of noumenal Elements are then informed by elementals, or the nature-spirits of the lower planes of manifest existence, through which the shaman attempts to control the wind or rain. Ancient man experienced a close communion with these potencies and recognized in them a hierarchy of expression. The Greek word for the elements (stoicheion) points to rows of potencies, ranked one above the other in causation, from gods to physical expressions of force. In the Hebrew tradition the first Sephiroth wrapped himself in the garment of Elements which was the world to be. "He maketh the wind His messengers, flaming Fire His servants." Theosophically, the wind as messenger is equated with ether and described as the agent of transmission by which the solar and lunar influences are carried down and diffused on earth. As such, it is a 'nurse' acting to quicken and nurture new generations of life. In the hurricane is found the synthesis and conjunction of all the Four Elements. The wind, at the height of its activity, is credited with the power of fecundation and regeneration. Some dim awareness of this might lie behind the folk sayings found among Mediterranean peasants who credit the formidable Boreas with the many conceptions accomplished during its shivering blast. At Ithaca there is a cave whose northern gate is guarded by Boreas, and it is said that through this gate souls are ushered into mortal life.
The Gnostics, like the ancient Pythagoreans and students of Plato before them, recognized a hierarchy of Beings or Elements. They spoke of the Aeons, who created the world and were, in their various branches and levels, the Tree of Life. With the Creative Fire of the manifest Logos at their summit, the first six Aeons answered to what is described as the Seven Winds or Priests of the Anugita. They are the Dhyan Chohans through whom Divine Ideation passes into action. As indicated by Simon Magus, they perform this lofty function in pairs or syzygies: the occult expression of the solar Father manifesting as Spirit, voice and reason, and the active expression of the lunar Mother as thought, name and reflection. From their union, the second generation of Aeons is brought forth to express Divine Ideation on a slightly grosser plane (the astral). Thence, their progeny in turn will usher in more and more diversified and concretized worlds of being. They are the offspring of the Priests, the Winds, who take on an increasingly material garb and who sometimes manifest in a whirlwind of communication, spanning the generations from a higher realm. Thus we have the example of God admonishing poor Job through the voices of the whirlwind to gird up his loins and act like a man.
In the arcane treasure-house of the Puranas the Pravaha wind is described as the mystic and concealed Force that gives impulse to and regulates the course of the stars and planets. Its septenary nature is discussed in the Kurma and Linga Puranas in terms of seven principal winds, which are the basis of cosmic space and connected with Dhruva (the Pole Star), which, in turn, is connected with the production of phenomena through cosmic forces. Similarly, the Orphic hymns sing of Eros-Phanes evolving from the spiritual egg impregnated by the Aethereal winds. This idea corresponds to the description of the "Spirit of God moving in Ether" (brooding over the waters) as well as the electrifying nature of His coiling movement. The Kabalistic cosmogony places the wind in an equally lofty position, indicating how the Divine Substance emits the manifest Spirit, the Fiery Word, from whose triple nature emanate Air or Wind (the Father or Creative Element), followed by Water (the Mother), which proceeds from Air. The primary importance of wind in cosmogenesis is further underlined by the fact that in the first Mandala of the Rig Veda, of the first two hymns (ascribed to Rishi Madhucchandus Vishvamitra), the first is to Agni and the second to Vayu, who is asked to come to the ritual where soma has been prepared for him.
In vivid prose the Puranas describe how waters flood the globe and the world becomes enveloped in darkness during a solar pralaya. When the waters reach the realm of the Seven Rishis, the breath of Vishnu becomes a strong wind which blows until the clouds are dispersed and reabsorbed, leaving Hari to sleep upon the Oceans of Space. At the time of the greater elemental pralaya the waters again swallow the earth but are, in turn, swallowed by fire, until the whole of space is one flame. Then the wind seizes upon the rudimentary property of fire (which is the cause of light) and extinguishes it. Air, accompanied by Sound, is then extended everywhere, until Ether seizes upon its cohesion, which is its rudimentary property (experienced by man through the sense of touch) and brings about its destruction. Now Akasha pervades the whole of Space, having only the rudiments of Sound (the Word), which is finally devoured by the Origin of the Elements, causing the Host of Dhyan Chohans and Consciousness itself to be absorbed into Mahat, whose characteristic property is Buddhi. Beyond this threshold of reabsorption, Prakriti is pervaded by and merged with Purusha. As such, it seizes upon Mahat, which disappears, leaving both to be resolved back into the Supreme Oneness of Mahapralaya. This breathtaking metaphysic, perhaps more than any other description, suggests the qualities one might attribute to wind, from its most mundane to its most abstract level of being.
With further consideration of this process, several questions arise concerning cosmological order. The Divine Spirit is universally symbolized by the sun or fire, and yet the description of Mahapralaya suggests that it is extinguished by the wind. The Secret Doctrine speaks of Spirit as the sun or fire, the Divine Soul as the moon or water, and claims that symbolically, both are parents of the human soul or mind (pneuma), represented by the wind or breath. This accords with many ancient systems of thought. But H. P. Blavatsky warns against confusing the "Breath of Life" with the immortal Spirit. She says that they are as distinct from one another as prana and jiva are from Atman. Similarly, spirit and soul are not to be confused, for the latter emerges out of the substance-aspect of the former, as does Breath itself, which awakens and informs the soul. Here Breath is certainly the dynamic energy called prana. In the Vedas, Vayu is called the Master of Life and Inspirer of Breath (prana), represented in man by the vital and nervous energies that support the mental energies governed by Indra. In attempting to clarify the cosmological order, one may readily assume that the fire extinguished by the wind during the elemental pralaya is on a lower hierarchical level than the Divine Spirit. Less evident are the subtle relationships between Agni (the solar), Soma (the lunar), Vayu (whose active nature seems to suggest aspects of Fohat) and Indra (who is symbolically expressive of Mahat, brought down into the world through kama).
According to the wisdom of the Vedas, the chief gods (Agni, Vayu and Surya) are three occult degrees of fire. Invisible Fire manifests through the most ethereal substance by way of the cohesive linking power supplied by the fluidic fire of Vayu (air). The liquid fire of chaos (water), when permeated by the Father's fire, is the soma of which Vayu is invited to partake. In this Vayu is both the bearer and imbiber of the electrical spark of life. He is the disinterested force that blows and brings together and mixes, gradually separating the aspects of manifest life. Unlike Fohat, Vayu brings things together but does not give his name to the knots of formation that provide the basis for life on its many levels. Rather, he moves and eddies and circles. He brings endless shifts, recombinations and changes. He is like a blind force of adjustment, a steady breeze of karma flowing and howling around the world. He is often associated with Indra, the supporter of Mahatic energies in the world. The relationship is very close, and in some places the principle of Manas in man is actually related to the wind. But whereas Indra's career is powerfully linked with the Fall of Spirit into matter involving man, Vayu's character remains unscathed by the sacrificial results that plague Indra. As the wind, he may worry and torture, but he himself is not worried or tortured. He disseminates the seeds of intelligence in the world and blows away the useless chaff, but he does not tarry, even in the ghosts of their forms.
Ever on the move, the wind carries upon itself doctrines and doubt, frolic and fear. Within the angles of its curved passage the world appears at each point differently, but the curve itself soon disappears and no point along its course will ever be the same. As this is so in the macrocosm, so it is within man. At every level of his being the motion of the wind acts together with the other elements in what were known in ancient and medieval times as the humours. Even in contemporary times Tibetan medicine recognizes that the humours (or winds) in the body must function in harmonious mix with each other. On the physical level wind (as a humour) predominates in the pelvic area and is said to move through the skeleton. In youth the elements of bile and phlegm reign supreme, but with old age the wind prevails and eventually overwhelms the organism. The Buddhist Tantras teach that there are as many as eighty-four thousand recognized diseases that can occur from imbalances in the humours. Many of them result from the superseding of the light, oily and hot characteristics of the bile and the sticky, cool, heavy and gentle characteristics of phlegm, by the rough, hard, cold, subtle and motile nature of the wind. To the Elizabethans, tempering one's temperament had to do with bringing the humours into harmony by controlling or moderating one of them. Thus, the wind in man ultimately dissolves life and impels the soul to a higher state. When properly understood, one can work with this process, let go of ideas and passing forms when a change is needed, and realize that in the world there are no eternally safe havens, no permanent solutions.
In the Old Testament there is frequent mention of the wind in connection with the idea of karma. "They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind", says the book of Hosea. "The ungodly. . . are like the chaff which the wind driveth away", say the Psalms, Scripture and literature are replete with metaphors concerning breezes, gales, storms and winds of every sort. In Shakespeare adversity is often associated with tempests and happiness with calm seas and the "gentle breath of loving winds". Ariel's music allays the fury and passion of the wind with its "sweet air", and Gonzalo speaks of the "foul weather in us all". In his Metamorphosis, Ovid illustrates the common tendency to refer to the wind when speaking of situations possibly affecting one's fortune. He muses: "I should first have found out his feelings, by talking to him in a way that committed me to nothing: I should have tested the wind, with close-reefed sail, in case it should prove unfavourable, and then have voyaged safely over the sea, instead of allowing winds still untried to fill my canvas, as I have done now, with the result that I am being carried onto the rocks." Such sayings as "spitting against the wind" and going "into the teeth of the wind" have to do with standing up to adverse opinion or circumstances, whilst "getting wind of something", finding out "what's in the wind" or "casting prudence to the wind" suggest the element of chance and one's willingness to take advantage of it (hoping for a "windfall") or to trust its outcome. This trust may be nothing more than the passive acceptance of results following imprudent action, or it may spring from a transcendent burst of willingness to accept all that may come in order to be carried aloft on the wind-borne wing of Spirit. Shelley's exuberant "Ode to the West Wind" celebrates this divine carelessness with the plea
To control the wind is an art which few possess. Fewer still can control the fortunes of their lives. But there have always persisted stories about the special power certain Brahmins have had over the wind, and to this day Hindu priests perform rituals to bring on the monsoons with their blessings of rain. Jesus was said to have rebuked the wind and the raging water and to have made them calm. Emperor Constantine sentenced the philosopher Sopatrus to death for unchaining the winds and thus preventing grain ships from arriving in time to end a famine. In Homer's epic, Odysseus was given a bag of wind by Aeolus to speed him on his way home. His companions, suspecting treasure, opened the bag and released it while he was asleep under sail. Thus, they were beaten back by adverse breezes to the wind god's isle, only to learn that Aeolus would not favour them a second time but merely send them ruefully on their way. As a result of this missed chance, many years would pass before Odysseus could see the shores of Ithaca. From very ancient times the Greeks believed the wind could be controlled by playing a wind instrument. The god Pan marshalled and dispersed at will such great elemental hosts as to cause panic and pandemonium among observers, conditions which thus bore the label of his name.
Over the centuries man has learnt to harness the wind with ship sails and windmills of many different sorts. Wind power has driven myriad machines that pump, grind, drain and sail. The more primitive, like the aeromilos in southern Greece, were simple circular stone towers with apertures to catch the wind so that it would cycle around inside the structure with such speed as to lift the grain off the floor and whip it round the rough walls. The more complex bore sails whose rotating motion ran the gears within that pumped the water or ground the grain. At sea, when ships sported sails, the rule was that when the wind arrived, it was time to embark. Sir Francis Drake, in his direct Elizabethan English, expressed it succinctly to his queen: "The wind commands me away." To a square-rigged ship, usable winds mattered far more than mere distance. The longest way around often proved to be the shortest way home, for speed usually depended on scudding before these winds rather than moving in a direct route. With such winds the world's greatest trade routes were opened up and the continents were gradually knitted together. But winds like these have also changed the course of history, as in the case of the Persian fleet or when Kublai Khan's ships were swamped in A.D. 1281.
What the wind does not blow away, it steadily erodes. Pitted ruins and statues in the desert, bereft of recognizable shape, stand mute and humbled before its blast. Great crescent dunes inch their way along the wasteland: sand in flux, eddying and flowing like a living thing. Where the grass can grow, it wisely bends before the wind and clings to the shifting earth. In the heavens, wind currents flow unimpeded by such lowly things. Around the globe, jet streams course five to eleven miles up at as much as two hundred miles per hour. Carrying heat and energy, they drastically affect the weather and climate of the world and are a major influence upon atmospheric circulation. Curving in bands sixty miles wide, they do not start at any specific place, but are endless rivers of air, meandering, accelerating and slowing as they flow along in the upper troposphere or stratosphere. Around and beneath them, general winds stretch thousands of miles and follow semi-permanent directional patterns largely determined by the unequal heating of the atmosphere at different latitudes and altitudes and by the earth's rotation. Their distribution is closely related to atmospheric pressure.
In the Northern Hemisphere during summer the land is warmer (low pressure) than the sea (high-pressure cyclonic). In winter this is reversed, causing anti-cyclonic circulation over land masses, with low pressure predominating over the oceans. Generally, winds tend to blow parallel to 'contour lines', clockwise around 'mountains' of high pressure and counter-clockwise around 'valleys' of low pressure. In the Southern Hemisphere this entire pattern occurs in reverse, the Coriolis effect working in the opposite direction to that which it takes in the North. In both hemispheres where the contour lines are close together, a steep 'slope' from high to low pressure is indicated. It is there that the winds are stronger. In the middle latitudes, where the two great contour patterns approach one another along the low pressure belt of the doldrums, the pressure gradient is at its steepest. But here the Coriolis force deflects the wind vector from the gradient vector so that it does not merely fall with the pressure gradient but surges forward in the great jet streams that rush around the globe.
All of the earth's energy and heat comes from the fire of Surya, our sun. Warmed and enlivened by it, the earth gives off heat in convective bubbles which rise into the lower pressure aloft. As the pressure of the rising air decreases, the air cools with expansion and, if moisture is present, produces clouds reaching up to the troposphere. Thus, convective currents from the earth continually affect the fluctuating pressure and temperature of the air close to the earth, tempering and moulding the contour patterns of the winds. But in the stratosphere the temperature is not much affected by convection. It is controlled mainly by radiation, which fills the stratosphere with short-wave components of the solar energy that drives its gigantic circulation system. Stratospheric winds obey patterns of great mystery when viewed from the perspective of the earth. Layers of west winds are sandwiched between east winds flowing faster than the earth's rotation at the equator. To further deepen the puzzle, it has been discovered that the layers of equatorial stratosphere which show east winds one year experience west winds the following year. This strange cycle repeats itself over a period of twenty-six months. Further observation has shown that the easterly or westerly layers appear first at a very great height. Gradually, as the cycle continues, they work themselves downward, finally losing themselves near the tropical tropopause. Though the mystery of this pattern remains, one wonders whether the twenty-six-month cycle is linked with the activity of great sidereal winds, whose patterns shift in decimal units instead of divisions of twelve.
With winds so lofty, howling unheard in greater space and endlessly shifting around the earth, a fragment blown is indeed lost. In that sense, we live in a wind-swept world where the air fills us and blows through our minds continuously. New thoughts come, snippets from cast-off thoughts, and they fly away, unloosed from their pathetic moorings by forgetfulness. We loll in the phlegmatic breezes of the doldrums, only to be swept up in a local Boreas, a minor mistral, or to be spun off into the cyclonic tumult of a westerly blast.
How poignantly true are Matthew Arnold's lines for the majority of mankind. One can see that the bodily winds (humours) are mere reflections of greater currents affecting the mind and heart. Taking the analogy further, the types of global winds provide interesting contrasts. The trade winds are steady in direction and speed, whilst the migrating cyclones of winter westerlies cause an unsteadiness in winds, further affected by the interruption of land masses. When the wind direction alters seasonally as much as one hundred and eighty degrees, monsoon (from the Arabic word for 'season') cycles prevail like those affecting the east coast of Asia and India to the Arabian Sea. In the summer, air flows from southwest subtropical high-pressure areas towards the low-pressure zone over Asia, bringing the trade winds with them and the prayed-for rain. From the equatorial belt towards the two poles there are bands of easterly trades, bordered to the north and south by westerly winds. Around the poles easterlies prevail, complicated at the North Pole by the fact that the largest glaciated land mass on earth is not centered by the pole.
The promontory of the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau acts as a great thermal, a dynamic pivot affecting the entire monsoon pattern of the Northern Hemisphere throughout the year. The Tibetan plateau is almost snow-free in autumn, winter and spring, and so acts as a high-level radiational heat source. Pressure surfaces are raised there, diminishing the north-south temperature gradient and the strength of the subtropical jet stream to the south, all of which dramatically affect the weather over China, central Asia and the Middle East, while acting as a constant buffer to the Indian subcontinent below. If one imagines oneself as the earthly globe, surely the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau would be the place of one's heart. Storing the heat of divine solar Fire, the heart pours forth warming, ever rising air, which modifies the distributions of vital winds in lands all round it. The steepest gradient lies in the middle latitudes, where the opposing Coriolis forces of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres approach one another. This provides a dramatic analogue to the often turbulent relationship between the immortal man and his earthly vesture. Trade winds streaming along smoothly in one hemisphere may cross over this 'equator' and head off in exactly the opposite direction. The steep gradient itself encourages powerful winds, even jet streams, which may be impossible to beat against and may carry one down a fierce tunnel of varying passions. In these areas the 'head' gets embroiled in the concerns of the animal nature and the body obtrudes itself upon the thoughts and feelings, making one vulnerable to these cyclonic and often unpredictable currents. But like a good pilot, the wise man or woman can learn where the jet streams are. Keeping their ultimate destination firmly in mind, they can take advantage of the great speed of the jet streams. In Kali Yuga turbulence rules the world, but one can use that quickened movement to one's benefit and extend the breadth of awareness to incorporate greater and more inclusive patterns within one's moral and mental framework.
One could imagine moral, mental and emotional counterparts to every alteration of atmospheric pressure, every updraft and 'contour' fall of wind. Seasonal shifts and variations caused by land and sea provide rich analogies to the fluctuating conditions experienced by the human soul in a body. But the real secret, the vital lesson to be learnt, is concealed in the wind itself. If one wishes to understand the wind, one should listen to it and try to pick up the message it carries. The old idea that 'something is in the wind' is based upon a deeper truth, for its breeze comes from a distance far outstripping the petty gossip and cares of the world. One feels the wind and senses a greater communion. One soars with its voice and glimpses the world astride its wing. One begins to feel the pulse, intuit the Breath of Brahma coursing in its numberless fluctuations. Its sighing voice speaks of other worlds, lifting the mind to new and aerating currents of thought. Though it choke the lower man with the dust of tribulation, the Inner Man rises with its song and flows out to embrace space. Along "the rope of the wind" he experiences the disinterested power of karma and, looking down towards the earth, feels compassion for those who twist and strive in its eddies and whirls. To soar like this, to touch the feet of the Aeons and glide to the very threshold of pralaya, is to fulfil the raison d'être of the human odyssey on earth. The key to its mystery in all its myriad conditions is indeed written in the wind.