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

Areas of Potential

The elemental cycle, like any tool, has areas in which it excels and areas for which other tools are better suited.  Although the potential domains in which the elemental cycle can be applied are quite broad, the actual utility for such applications varies.  It seems that the major strength of the elemental cycle is in its capacity as a guide for consciousness.  It can act as a basic structuring agent, a scaffolding around which attention can be woven into different modes of interaction with the potential contents of the world which are only made manifest with the right organ of perception.  It can act both as a magnifying glass and telescope for consciousness, helping bring to light potentially ignored avenues of thought and experience, i.e. it can illuminate new facts about our world and ourselves.  It can also serve as the focal point for meditations, acting as content for experience in itself.  All of these aspects act to pave the way for and facilitate the transformation of consciousness according to a robust, healthy, holistic model provided through the archetype of the elemental mandala.

The potential utility of any application of the elemental cycle thus occurs on the basis of the extent to which – and the way in which – it engenders the following:  an expansion and refinement of self-awareness, a freedom in thinking from personal historical limitations, a flexibility and resilience of soul states, a widened palette of ‘objective feelings’, and a strengthening of the capacity for willed attention.  Work with the elemental cycle addresses all of these areas, and can be ‘tuned’ to any individuals particular personality, habits, and potentials.  Because the elemental cycle is naturally iterative, consistently and rhythmically applied attention is rewarded with constant feedback which helps to actively regulate the work itself, providing both mitigation for excessive reliance upon any single element and impulses towards compensation through active inclusion of the harmonizing qualities of all the other elements.  In other words, the elemental cycle can be a guide for its own unfolding – it serves as its own primer.  All it needs is the initial seed (the Earth) and attention (the Fire).  Putting the Fire under the Earth begins the alchemical cooking process, while the elemental cycle itself serves as a sort of rotundum hermetica, a sealed vessel made of our own willed attention upon the archetypal principles at work in the elemental cycle, within which our attention evolves.

Based on the above considerations, the elemental cycle can be very fruitfully applied by individuals as a tool for self-illumination and self-transformation.  In this case the content (the Earth) placed into the vessel of the elemental cycle is some aspect of one’s personality or behavior that is identified as in need of transformation.  It almost doesn’t matter what this content is, as long as it is self-reflective, as the fractal nature of the cycle will naturally help the practitioner become aware of both deeper and broader issues to which the original Earth is connected, while the iterative nature will lead to direct exploration of these. 

Of course, the nature of the elemental cycle is not transparent; nor is it opaque.  Rather, it is a turbid medium whose clarity is reflected by the quality of the attention brought to bear on it.  For this reason, it can be quite useful to have someone already versed in some of the more subtle aspects of the elemental cycle as a guide.  In other words, the elemental cycle can be a powerful addition to any therapeutic repertoire.  The cycle can be used both actively and passively; actively if taken as an overt tool for use by the client under the guidance of the therapist or counselor, passively if used exclusively by the therapist as a tool to help bring to light and regulate aspects of the client’s transformative potentials.  Used therapeutically, the scaling abilities of the elemental cycle can help structure anything from a single interaction to the entire course of therapy, and can be applied directly in the therapeutic situation or can be used solely as a reflective tool by either or both the client and therapist.  Its deep connection to processes and substances easily experienced in the natural world provide an easy entrance into the basic concepts and provide a rich continuous reference as we cannot escape the elements in our environment, particularly once we are aware of them in a new way.

As an extension of the potential therapeutic usefulness of the elemental cycle, one of the areas in which it can be applied with direct and quick results is that of communication.  This is one area in which the elemental cycle has had explicit previous development in the work of Dennis Klocek.  He has used the cycle to develop a template for different modes or styles of communication; additionally he shows how communication can be elevated when we work with the elemental cycle as a tool to structure communication habits.  Klocek has successfully worked with the elemental cycle in this capacity (and many others) for a number of years in a variety of workshops given through his organization, the Coros Institute 30, a few of which I have been fortunate to attend.  On the basis of the dialogue work with Klocek, I have been inspired to explore the elemental cycle in its relationship with communication further; an overview and the results of these explorations forms the content of the next chapter.

More than just a psychological tool, the elemental cycle can be linked directly to the work of spiritual transformation detailed in the relatively unknown but radically important work of Rudolf Steiner.  In this respect, the elemental cycle relates deeply to a healthy process of spiritual growth, acting as a guide for the formation of organs of spiritual perception, which nurture the previously mentioned capacities for Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition.  The elemental cycle can be an invaluable guide through spiritual evolution, making sense of, holistically contextualizing, and helping directly steer processes of spiritual growth and associated experiences.

The elemental cycle has also been used as a central tool for guiding the artistic process, most notably in the work of Frank Chester.  Frank has worked for years with the elemental cycle in his art, which is unique in that it directly bridges the realms of art, science, and the spirit, much like traditional sacred geometry, except that Frank is creating completely new forms.  In an interview with Mr. Chester on the subject, he indicated that the elemental cycle was like “the divine designer’s way of developing natural forms” and that he used the elemental cycle as an active meditation to support his artistic work, but that it literally “helps in everything”.  His work, the early part of which is profiled in some detail on Dennis Klocek’s Goethean Studies website 31, indicates that the holistic balance between form, process, openness and meaning brought through work with the elemental cycle can be very useful for artistic creation.  The results yield art that does not arise from the level of the persona, but works across the subject-object boundary according to the archetypal qualities of the elements.  Frank is now exploring the healing power of art on this basis.

Despite the strength of the elemental cycle’s individual and personal applications, it has also shown itself to be very useful when applied to phenomenological studies, such as with climate variability, biodynamic agriculture, and ecology.  Dennis Klocek has used the principles of the elemental cycle to explore the links between soils, plants, and weather, as well as in his original work in long-term accurate climate predictions 32.  The work of Nigel Hoffmann details the elemental ‘modes’ of consciousness while successively applying them in a Goethean study of place, and related work is being done by Craig Holdrege and the Nature Institute 33 in a number of areas. 

We can even discover the elements at work in the most abstract and detailed of scientific realms.  I will give only one example here, from the strange realm of quantum physics.  In a very recent article of April 2, 2008 from (Cartwright, 2008) concerning the unexpected discovery of ‘superinsulators’ (materials in which resistance to electron flow is infinite), we can see a very pronounced working of the Air element on a number of levels. The article details the discovery of the ‘reverse’ side of a superconductor in thin films of titanium nitride near absolute zero – but in a magnetic field.  Whereas this material is normally a superconductor as this low temperature – i.e. it has absolutely zero resistance to the flow of current – with the addition of the magnetic field it can completely reverse its behavior, displaying instead an infinite resistance to the flow of current.  This behavior is “quite an unexpected and beautiful example of this: a superinsulator on the boundary between the ordinary insulator and the superconducting ground state”, declares Stephen Julian, a low-temperature physicist at the University of Toronto, Canada (Cartwright, 2008).  If this seems gibberish, only note that in the same material we find a manifestation of the absolute extremes for electrical conductivity: zero resistance and infinite resistance.  This is a physical embodiment of the enantiodromic principle of Air, in which some quality can go so far that it flips into its opposite.  Note also the keywords, ‘unexpected’ and ‘boundary’ – both descriptive of Air. 

Delving further, we can read that the actual reason behind the strange flipping phenomenon has to do with a polarity.  Superconductivity is possible because electrons bind together in pairs (known as Cooper pairs) which then all act as a single quantum entity (this is expressive of the Water element, where self-connection is completely maximized in this case).  The breaking of this connection into a polarity is what creates the opposite effect: superinsulation.  The article states that

“When a superconducting material is flattened into a granular film, however, the entity [all the Cooper pairs] becomes partitioned.  Strong disorder forces the Cooper pairs into isolated ‘puddles’ separated by insulating regions known as Josephson junctions, and individual Cooper pairs can only pass between puddles by quantum tunneling.” (Cartwright, 2008) 

Disorder is a primary feature of Air, where previous relationships (in this case the Watery connection between electrons in a Cooper pairing) becomes broken.  This is different than the having-yet-to-be-connected isolation that would be more appropriate of the Earth element; i.e. one would not expect to find the superinsulatory quality in materials that were not also capable of hosting Cooper pairs (and thus being superconductors).  This is exactly what we find: “A superinsulator cannot appear at all without the existence of superconductivity in the same film”, explains Valerii Vinokour of Argonne National Laboratory, one of the original members of the team which made the discovery. “That is why we refer to the superinsulator as the reverse side of superconductivity.” (Cartwright, 2008)

For those that can stomach more, the details are quite interesting; in order to explain superinsulation, the team of physicists suggests that “the roles of charge and magnetic flux become mirrored. In the superconducting phase, a magnetic field penetrates the material in quanta called vortices, which rotate in alternate directions. The Cooper pairs are free to circulate the vortices by tunnelling between puddles. But in the superinsulating phase, the roles of charge and vortices are swapped. Vortices circulate bound pairs of opposite charge, which prevents a current from flowing.” (Cartwright, 2008)  We see again that this particular phenomenon is completely dominated by the Air element in the ‘mirroring’ and ‘swapping’ of the roles of electric and magnetic aspects (already two forces of physics linked by a deep polarity), and in the quantum ‘vortices’, which rotate in ‘alternate directions’.  Basically a reversal occurs: instead of stable magnetic vortices and freely moving electric Cooper pairs (as in a superconducting material), superinsulation results from magnetic vortices which freely move around the split-up, Cooper pairs, each half of which is now locked together with a positive ion, completely disallowing current-flow.  This is an example of the Air element showing itself quite objectively through a physical situation.  Other examples from the realm of physics could easily be endlessly discussed.  The point of this example is to show how the qualities of the elements can appear even at the lowest boundary of our physical knowledge.

In short, the elemental cycle can be of great value in the development of a holistic science.  The ability for the elements to have fruitful applications both in the inner worlds and the outer world is a signature of its archetypal nature and objectivity.


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