Many ancient philosophies used a set of archetypal classical elements to explain patterns in nature. In this context, the word element refers to a substance that is either a chemical compound or a mixture of chemical compounds, rather than a chemical element of modern physical science.
The Greek Classical Elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Aether) date from pre-Socratic times and persisted throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, deeply influencing European thought and culture. The concept of essentially the same five elements were similarly found in ancient India, where they formed a basis of analysis in both Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hinduism, particularly in an esoteric context, the four states-of-matter describe matter, and a fifth element to describe that which was beyond the material world (non-matter). Similar lists existed in ancient China and Japan. In Buddhism the four great elements, to which two others are sometimes added, are not viewed as substances, but as categories of sensory experience.