The Elements as an Archetype of Transformation:
An Exploration of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire
The ultimate goal of this study is twofold: to discover and reveal the nature, vicissitudes, and applications of the elemental cycle, while providing at the same time a way for the reader to learn the language of the elements that does not solely rely upon the treatment given here, but instead relies upon the reader accepting the invitation to explore the topic directly through their own life experience with the help of examples and thoughts indicated in the text. In order to accomplish this, it will be useful to begin not with a detailed listing of the phenomenological experiences that I have personally had with the elements and their mandalic nature, but with an overview of some of the results of this process. Therefore, we will work in the beginning to form a solid conceptual foundation that can later be put to use.
As we shall see more clearly later, the elements form a cycle; a choice must be made to begin somewhere, and the most accessible beginning point is in a basic treatment of the elements and their cycle in a conceptual manner. This being the case, a reader who is not already familiar with the material presented here might feel some amount of arbitrariness to the presentation of the concepts and their ordering that may give rise to feelings of confusion and frustration. The reader is asked to read fully through the entire document, as what appear at first to be confusing or even insignificant details may upon a second reading make much more sense once the overall picture can be gained (this is one way in which the cyclic nature shows itself).
In trying to access the qualities and nature of each element, it is useful to take up the alchemical practice of forming exact metaphors whose source is external to us. In this way we can take what appears to our senses directly and find correlations with the more subtle aspects of phenomena which may not themselves be directly sensible. This is one way to approach a phenomenon from a Goethean perspective, and is designed to slowly and methodically make obvious and mitigate any predispositions of thought that we may initially bring to the subject at hand. This method requires that we be able to distinguish the difference between an overt sensible content and the underlying source of that content. For example the alchemical concept of Mercury is not strictly limited to the sensible substance we identify as mercury, but indicates (among other things) the relative tendency for any given substance to relate to and mix with another substance. Thus an alchemist might speak of how a sugar, for example, is able to dissolve in a liquid solution because of the sugar’s Mercuric nature, whereas a substance like tin must first be put through a number of processes because its Mercuric nature is hidden more deeply within the substance and must be coaxed into manifestation. The elements of the elemental cycle too, can be seen in this way; i.e. metaphorically. Therefore when a sensible physical substance such as earth is meant, no capitalization will be used; when the non-sensible element of Earth is meant, capitalization will be used (although our planet Earth, being a proper noun, is also capitalized, but the distinction should be clear by context). With this in mind, let us begin with the element of Earth.