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

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Chapter 5 – Applications of the Elemental Cycle

A Personal Note about the Process

It is understood that the reader will not necessarily gain much from the list above without both having worked through the previous chapter and having some familiarity with the individual realms of application.  In order to gain a sense that the above relationships are not simply arbitrary, a few representative sample situations are dealt with in more detail in the next section.  For the moment, it should be mentioned that the above list directly reflects my own areas of interest and expertise, and as such represents a very limited set of potential areas in which the elemental cycle can be applied.  As we have worked extensively with the Earth element in the establishment of the elemental theory, it will now be appropriate to give something of a picture concerning the process by which the list above was generated.  Hopefully this will provide a feeling for the actual usage of the elemental cycle that can be directly related to the reader’s own life and experiences, not as a definitive statement of how the cycle should be used, but as a report from a preliminary explorer who is attempting to survey the whole territory from a necessarily limited vantage point.

In trying to apply the elemental cycle to a diverse range of topics, a particular pattern is immediately clear to me.  Already I have the question – not always consciously – in mind: “To what can I apply the elemental cycle?”  This is the Fire that begins the process.  Then, in my daily life, I encounter sensations and ideas, from reading books, from conversation, from surfing the internet, from sitting and thinking, from quietly gazing up at the trees outside my window, from my dreams and from the peripheral moments surrounding sleep. 

Sometimes a thought or sensation will trigger the question, “What if the elemental cycle applied to this?”  Occasionally this occurs as a sort of rote impulse that seems to stem from the part of myself which feels the need to get a thesis completed and therefore requires many examples of the cycle in action.  This type of impulse is a very Earth-like impulse, and feels weighty and laden with responsibility and the possibility for judgment (of myself by myself, and of myself by my own vision of the potential responses of others – i.e. projection).  When I follow through with the thought I often lack energy and creativity, and may not get very far, or I tease out a few associations between the topic and the elements but certain elements just don’t seem to fit.  This can sometimes lead me to frustration, and immediately calls up the fear “What if the elemental cycle is more limited than I would wish and claim it to be?”  This fear either pushes me to essentially force-fit the given topic into the elemental scheme or to abandon the topic for the time being.   Luckily this Earth-application of the cycle isn’t very common, nor is it the only way to approach its application.

More commonly, what seems to occur is the following.  Within my field of experience, just as a part of my normal activities, some particular aspect will contain a highlighted feeling-tone, as if it had a potential depth, or was calling out to be seen more directly.  If I place my attention on the particular feeling X – for example it may be the way my soul moves in response to a particular kind of glance from an interaction with a stranger – then often an association with one particular element suggests itself simultaneously as a feeling and as a thought, such as “This is Watery.”  In these types of situations, it is very distinctly not like the feeling that “I am applying the elemental cycle to X”, but rather that my work with the elemental cycle has sensitized me to the qualities of the individual elements, which then simply begin to show up in my environment almost like sensations in addition to showing up as ideas.  In other words, I feel like I perceive Water-ness as a part of my experience of X directly, just like when I see my friend Mark, I perceive, in addition to his facial features, voice, and normal sensory elements, something like his “Mark-ness” that cannot be linked solely to the normally recognized sensory channels such as touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound.  Rather, it is the feeling of Mark as a whole being, of his potential as well as his actuality 20.  The “Water-ness” of X is likewise present in my experience, as well as the thought “This is Watery.”

This experience is then naturally followed by the idea “What about the other elements, then?” and I begin a very conscious process of trying to at first identify the ‘topic’ that feels Watery, and then to work with the other elements to see how things fit together.  When the association between a topic and an element occurs in this way, the whole experience is much more like the asking of a question, and I can much more easily tolerate seemingly ‘different’ answers to the question of which element applies to the different parts of the topic without the fear of being incorrect.  Instead I am just trying out the feeling of different possible relations between the topic and the elements in a sort of flowing, undulating way. 

Sometimes the connections just flow right out, one after the other, in more or less complete fashion.  At other times, one element, or sometimes two, seem to resist ‘being Earthed’ and stuck to a particular part of the topic to the exclusion of other aspects.  The option to ‘force’ the application is always present, but it is very obvious when I do things that way, and I try to avoid this tendency to find the Earth too quickly.  In a stuck place, then, I might find that I have to completely re-think the whole topic from a polar perspective before the elements will ‘settle’ into place.  When I’m having difficulty with one or two of the elements, I therefore will explicitly ask such questions as “What if this part of the topic, which I thought was Water, is actually some other element?”  This takes me on an expansive journey where I can ultimately consider each major part of the topic from the perspective of each element, without necessarily connecting any two such associations together.  This sort of ‘trying things on for size’ approach can really open up the whole field, and on occasion has led me either to a whole new formulation of how the elements work with the topic, or has resulted in a reversal of the original way in which I was applying the elements, or even has allowed me to see that my original identification of what constituted the particular topic was either too narrow or too broad.  For example, it often has occurred that in thinking about a particular topic and the possible elemental relationships, I would be confronted with the fractal nature of the elemental cycle, in which the connection of one aspect of the topic to an element resulted in the recognition that the connection worked simultaneously on multiple scales.  In other words, if I saw how a certain experience was connected to the element Air, when looking for the Water element I might see it both in some smaller-scale, local event, and in a much larger scale, more peripheral or general event.  This might even occur on three or four levels at once, and each level suggests a valid application of the elemental cycle in a sort of co-incident spiraling of meaning.

Another useful technique that helps when I get stuck is to ask for someone else’s opinion – preferably someone with familiarity with the elemental cycle or expertise in the particular content area I’m working on, but even just speaking my thoughts aloud can help.  This is because the actual speaking of my own ideas to another about the topic requires an inner process of formulation that can often lead to more clarity around the nature of the particular sticking point, while the addition of the other person’s own ideas can be very helpful in reorienting my thinking around a completely different set of experiences and assumptions, completely irrespective of their ‘correctness’ in any sense.

Generally, most of the varied associations made with these techniques fly off into the periphery of awareness without leaving much impression, but usually one or two associations will ‘stick’ and suggest a potential fit.  Sometimes one association is so strong that it immediately constellates all the other elements into a unified experience of how the elemental cycle applies to the topic – these are the wonderful “Ah-ha!” moments which keep the work interesting and worth pursuing.  In other instances, the associations need further exploration before they yield the feeling of overall ‘rightness’, and sometimes such a feeling never comes, and the process has to be worked with again.

Finally, I use the wisdom suggested by the elemental cycle itself to better learn how to apply it in a given situation.  In particular, I will try to identify the facts concerning the phenomenon, and then connect them in some coherent way (or multiple ways).  This part is one that I have to ‘massage’ a bit, until the connections really seem to flow and not simply bump up one against another.  This is a point where I most commonly get stuck, and when this happens I will, upon going to sleep, imagine whatever sequence I have been able to ascertain in both a forward and backward direction at least three or four times with some level of detail.  Then I will quickly imagine the forward and reverse sequence with less detail, ending after thinking the sequence backwards, where I try to be inwardly silent, not letting any images come to consciousness.  Upon waking, I may have a completely new feeling about the topic, even if no clear insights came to me, or perhaps the feeling like I need to ‘rephrase’ my question and my approach to the topic.  Other times I awake sometime in the very early morning with new insights that take me deeper into the phenomenon and require that I rise and write them down.  I have the feeling like a valve was opened up somewhere which allows thoughts and images of a different quality to emerge.  The general sequence of working with the cycle in this way was suggested by Dennis Klocek, and although sometimes I have to repeat this sort of process for a number of days, it has served me well overall.

Verification of the particular relationship between a phenomenon and the elements is never absolute or complete in my experience.  Indeed, if it were possible to have only one ‘right’ interpretation of how the elements worked with some phenomenon, one of the major principles of the elemental cycle would be self-negated.  In other words, the elements are not primarily about any individual fact, but correspond to the continual transformations of phenomena according to archetypal patterns.  It is in the nature of an archetype to act both as a unifying, unchanging principle while at the same time manifesting in a great plurality of ways that are constantly changing.  Despite this, a sense of lawfulness can be achieved, and verification can be made through experimental methods that, following the standard processes of materialist science, provide predictions which can then be tested.  Needless to say, the experiments are in this case carried out simultaneously in the outer world and in within consciousness, and if the results are not in agreement with each other (as well as with the prediction), modifications are necessary.  Much more could be said about this particular aspect of the work, which involves what could be called meditation as well as the development of a new relationship with the outer world (ala Goethean phenomenology), but what is here indicated will suffice for this work; but following Charles Tart (Tart, 1972), we could indicate that in this situation a state-specific science is called for.


20: Back Rudolf Steiner identifies twelve senses, including the sensation of the Ego of the Other.

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