Alchemical Cycle Logo Master's Thesis:
The Elements as an Archetype of Transformation:
An Exploration of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire

| Table of Contents | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Appendix A | Appendix B | Appendix C | References | Bibliography

Chapter 4 - The Theory of the Elements, cont.

The Elements as Mandala

Using the Elemental Mandala in a Watery Way

WaterfallIf we avoid the tendency to use the elemental cycle primarily in an Earth way, but allow ourselves to use it according to its Watery nature, we find it to be a much more flexible tool.  Rather than simply disclosing in a factual way its elemental structure, the cycle serves to connect us to the underlying flow of the inner processes of the world.  When used in this way, we move beyond simple classification and allow our consciousness to actually participate in the becoming of the universe.  We then feel ourselves to be not observers looking at the elemental nature of the contents of the world, but rather feel ourselves to be inextricably mingled with the very processes out of which the elemental identifications precipitate into our consciousness in the first place.  In this sense, we learn not simply to live in the individual moments of the world, but to dwell within the flow of evolution as life-long partners who recognize that the journey is not different than the arrival. 

Using the elemental mandala in a Water way unmoors our consciousness from the overt classification of the Earth level and sets us afloat on the interweaving streams of continuous evolution.  When applying the elemental cycle to a given phenomenon, we recognize that our results may not necessarily be simply correct or incorrect.  In fact, rather than simply feeling like our chosen phenomenon just ‘doesn’t fit’ into the cycle, we recognize that even an incorrect application of the cycle is useful, because it places our consciousness at the level of the becoming of the events rather than at the level of their instantiated facts.  Alchemically, we have not allowed the fire of our attention to wane, but have kept it at an even heat, allowing the facts to mix and flow together, allowing entirely new patterns to emerge.  At this level, we see that the obvious truths of the Earth level are in fact not quite so cut-and-dry as we might have suspected – each logical relation is tempered by their connections to other logical relations, and a whole weaving web of potential begins to manifest itself to our consciousness.  In such a state, a single fact can no longer have independent worth, but has value only by virtue of its relative placement within the whole stream of facts which surround it.  When we place our attention on some phenomenon in a Water mode (which requires, in accordance with the element’s nature, a rhythmic application) we become privy to aspects of the phenomenon which are not available to logical thinking alone.  Even though the laws of logic still apply, we cannot rely upon them for new discoveries, but must learn to move our consciousness with the flow of becoming(s) around and within the phenomenon, for it is out of this Watery realm which the overt sensible aspects precipitate and become part of the world to which the object-based logic of the Earth element applies.

Ala Hoffman’s sculptural mode of thinking, applying the elemental cycle becomes a lot like forming something out of clay: we continuously mold and shape our consciousness around our chosen phenomenon with the elemental tools, looking as much at the procession of our thoughts as at their contents.  Working with elemental mandala in a Water way frees consciousness from pure reliance upon the facts of consciousness and allows the stream of consciousness to exist as a phenomenon in its own right.  In this way the imaginative capacity of consciousness is released and encouraged.  If worked with regularly, using the elemental cycle in a Water mode leads our personal imagination (small ‘i’) towards what Rudolf Steiner calls Imagination (big “I”), in which we are able to perceive as inner moving pictures the formative processes at work in the universe.  Like a higher octave of normal imagination,  this state is one in which our emotions, into which our consciousness normally dreams itself, are purified of their personal content, leaving us with the capacity to perceive in a feeling – non-emotional – way the objective relations hidden within our environment.  With this Imaginative capacity we can have, in the language inherited from alchemy, the experience of ‘feeling the movements of the World Soul’, in which our own inner life is elevated to the wider objectivity of the palate of patternings available to the becoming of the world itself.  This is the type of consciousness that Goethe was working on developing through his extensive work with morphology.  His discovery of the intermaxillary bone in the human skull (upon which the supposed lack of such a bone in the human the dogma of his day pinned a major difference between man and the apes) was a result of the technique he called ‘exact sensorial imagination’.  Goethe repeatedly observed his chosen phenomenon across a wide variety of situations, building up a sense for the underlying developmental sequences and movements of (in the case of the intermaxillary bone) the vertebral column.  Even though the intermaxillary bone was not to be found in the adult human skull, Goethe knew that the laws of the morphology of the vertebrae required such a bone to be a part of the developmental sequence.  The bone was subsequently found – it is a bone which fuses in early development to the upper jaw – but his ability to perceive the becoming of the human vertebrae as opposed to what everyone else at the time was able to observe (the finished, already having become vertebrae) was possible because of his development of this type of Watery consciousness.

If we only apply the elemental cycle at the Water level, we may have the feeling that such application can be accomplished endlessly, but that we aren’t actually getting anywhere as a result – we simply make the rounds from sea to cloud to rain to river to sea over and over again.  Using the elemental mandala thus can become a repetitive mode of consciousness that, although not locked to any particular detail or interpretation, is unable to find real inspiration.  We may even find ourselves dreaming into our phenomenon, floating with it as it morphs and changes without any real purpose or goal, and it may seem like the elemental mandala doesn’t do anything – it just flows alongside the phenomena, which may become ‘waterlogged’ as a result.

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