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 an Airy Way


When we take up the elemental cycle in an Air way, we suddenly leap out of the lateral connectedness of the Water into an expansive realm of infinite possibilities.  We apply the cycle to a phenomenon and experience not just an ordering of facts, nor an embeddedness of the facts in the flow of their mutual manifestation, but sense as well the possibility for something completely new with respect to our phenomenon.  We may be continuously led to new insights over a number of applications of the cycle, and find ourselves elated and joyous over how it expands our once limited view. 

At this level we consciously recognize that while it may be possible to apply the elemental cycle to a phenomenon so that some particular ordering of information results, it is also simultaneously possible for the order to be reversed and still remain completely appropriate or correct.  Rather than being either true or false, the working of the elemental mandala can reveal a number of simultaneous contexts which completely overlap and penetrate one another, yielding a complex, multilayered experience that can be bewildering.  At the same time, individual insights may occur with a momentary clarity and brightness that fill our consciousness to the exclusion of aught else – but then recedes into relative obscurity or confusion as a new context or complementary fact reveals itself.  We learn that higher truths can only be properly expressed as paradoxes, and that any singular statement of truth is a limitation still awaiting its transformation through the elements.

Working with the elemental mandala in an Air way yields the sense that every fact conceals some inner secret, a hidden connection penetrating through its very nature to contexts wider than we had ever imagined.  We can have the experience that heretofore our thinking and our vision had been limited almost entirely to the surface level of things, no matter how deeply we felt our own experiences to be.  We realize that the once mute faces presented to us by the outer shell of our experience now begin to speak, and if we but learned how to listen properly, we could hear that they have unceasingly been voicing their innermost truths to the world with every form, every motion, and every gesture.

Yet working with the cycle only up to the level of its Air nature can lead us into a sort of evaporated space, in which our consciousness loses its ability to hold onto anything solid because it is overwhelmed with the new vistas available to it – we can become interested in so many things that we find ourselves incapable of moving to the Fire level with any one thing in particular.  At its worst, this can lead to dilettantism, or a feeling that ‘anything goes’, which if followed to an extreme undermines our ability to recognize higher truths because we have not also worked to maintain a level of distinction corresponding to our level of insight.  At its best, however, working with the elemental mandala in accordance with its Airy nature can help our consciousness to become a clear vessel in which the words of the “hidden text” of the world – normally obscured by our everyday consciousness – can be read.  It really is as if the world contains a subtle text continually being written by the activities of a multitude of beings.  The consciousness engendered through successful work with the Air element can help us to calm our own inner scribe, whose writings (because they are so close to their source in our own “I-being”) blot out and obscure the more delicate weavings that are not our own.  Steiner calls this Inspiration (big “I”), in which we gain the capacity to experience the inner workings of other beings, to perceive something of their spiritual nature.  The root of the word is indicative of its Airy aspect and its relation to the breath, which is cross-culturally associated with the spirit: pneuma (Greek), prana (Sanskrit), chi (Chinese), ka (Egyptian),  Silap Inua (Inuit), Awen (Welsh), Olorun (Yoruba) etc.; all link the Air element to the spirit.

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