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 6 – Into the World: Dialogue and the Elemental Cycle

Experiences and Applications

Apart from individual work with the elemental cycle, I have had the opportunity to work directly with the elements in a number of ‘experimental’ group situations.  In addition to attending a seminar for this purpose with Dennis Klocek, I have been involved in working with the techniques in a small group setting that met for a number of weeks.  I have also been able to work with elemental communication in a professional setting through two separate series of weekly faculty meetings in a Waldorf High School, one lasting 3 sessions and another lasting 6 sessions.  Lastly I have also presented an introduction to elemental communication to the community at JFK University in a short workshop.  Below I will briefly describe the basic processes followed in each situation, which provide a few practical examples of how to bring the elemental cycle and communication into various group settings.

Seminar with Dennis Klocek:

Over the course of a weekend participants – most of which had basic familiarity with the elemental cycle – were asked to work with the process of storytelling as a metaphor and stage upon which communication at the various levels could occur.  The following took place essentially in one long session, with a break or two when needed.  After an introduction to the elemental cycle we began in pairs with an artistic image that had a number of people, such as Renoir’s Ball at the Moulin de la Galette, or Luncheon of the Boating Party or Rembrandt’s The Little Children Being Brought to Jesus (“The Hundred Guilder Print”).  We then were tasked with making a metaphorical story about a figure we individually chose from the image according to the elemental cycle: Earth – Setting, Water – Squeeze, Air – Crisis, Fire – Resolve.

Alchemical Elements and StorytellingFor Earth we introduced the characters by stating the facts about them, trying to use natural metaphors as we did so.  A good Earth narrative has a particular detail or ‘hook’ that, although seemingly just another detail, has a central importance only revealed later.  We attempted to write only a few sentences for the Earth level.  After writing these sentences, we each shared the details with our partner, who was tasked only with being clear about the details, and who could only ask clarifying questions.  We were not allowed to respond to the questions, but were instead supposed to pay attention to the feeling of what it was like to receive the questions.

For Water we wrote a few sentences (individually) indicating a basic ‘situation’ that develops between characters.  We created a context into which the Earth facts were placed, forming a plot that lead towards some sort of crisis.  In Water, it is clear that things must change, but it is as yet unclear how this might occur.  After completing the Water sentences, the other person was tasked with asking Water questions 35 that explore the linking of the details, the implicit logic, and the flow of events, such as “How did the protagonist get to this point?”, “What makes you think that…”, or “What evidence do you have that…?”  The person to whom the questions were addressed was not allowed to respond; rather they were supposed to pay attention to what it felt like as they listened.

For Air we experienced our own crisis moment: we were told that now we had to combine our story together with our partner’s.  We had to write a new sentence that expressed a crisis moment that came out of the melding of the two stories.  In Air the characters met with a situation which leads them into a seemingly impossible situation, where old facts that used to be important become secondary and unexpected twists may reveal new aspects.  Working together with our partner in this way required a back-and-forth exploratory communication.

For Fire we had to write a single sentence that resolved the crisis and brought the drama of the Water level to a close.  Once we had come up with a resolution, we had to come up with a single sentence that encompassed the whole drama from Earth to Fire.  This was the ‘elevator pitch’ that could somehow communicate the essence of the whole story in a single sentence.  Everyone joined back into a large group and we presented our pitches.  After this we then moved into a session of ‘questions only’, where the only rule for the group was that anything spoken must take the form of a question.

Communication can become sticky quite fast if we are not careful, but the story format provides a quick, contained, and relatively ‘safe’ way to create an ‘artificial’ situation in which to test out the movement between the different elements.  Although personal attachments to individual characters and stories were certainly formed, they gave just enough of a basis upon which participants could ‘taste’ each element in the context of communication.  An introduction to the elements in communication such as this can be used in groups who have little to no background with the elements or who do not already know each other.

Small exploratory group work:

The success of Klocek’s seminar prompted a few of the participants to try and work with the elements in a small group setting on an ongoing basis.  Over the course of about 8 weeks a group of 4-6 of us met informally to explore with and discuss the elemental cycle.  We revisited the major techniques from the seminar and also experimented with variations.  Using the story format again provided an interesting insight: even though we all now had an intellectual understanding of what kinds of feelings and emotions we had when working with each individual element, this in no way mitigated the actual experiencing of the same qualities when we repeated the exercise.  This seemed important because this meant that there was something truly persistent about the different qualities of soul present around the exercises for each element, and that this effect was true for everyone who did the actual exercises.  It was quite easy to identify the major aspects of what it felt like to experience each element as a result of the exercises, but it also seemed like there was quite an opportunity for subtlety in the way that each element could arise out of any specific communication.  These initial results were promising, and it seemed further exploration was called for.

Faculty Meetings – First Series:

As a teacher at a Waldorf High School at the time, I had an opportunity to try to bring the basic techniques of working with communication to the faculty there.  We were already having weekly meetings, which contained a 15-20 minute section set aside for artistic activities or other, non-agenda related items; I was allotted three of these sessions to introduce the work.  I was eager to present the basic picture of the elements and how they applied to communication styles, because in a setting where a small group (~10 people) meets to deal with difficult, pressing, boring, and weighty items on a regular basis, skilled communication is perhaps the single most essential tool for encouraging efficient work while also fostering morale and participation.  It seemed to me that it was when a group such as this was unable to move through all the different elements that trouble arose, making tempers flare, exacerbating power issues, and lowering morale.

A few days before the first session I handed out a few pages explaining the very basic aspects of the elemental cycle.  Not everyone was able to read the packet, so during the first session I had to extend my introduction. Below is a chart indicating both the original plan and a revised plan for the sequence of events. 

Original Plan

Semi-Revised Plan
(After first session)

Session One – 20 minutes

5 min: Intro

2 min: Partner up in pairs.  With your partner, choose the same 2 figures in the image.

3 min: Individually, write 1-2 sentences Earth narrative

4 min: Individually, write 2-3 sentences Water squeeze

3 min: Take turns “Discussing” the other’s story – the writer is not allowed to respond

3 min: Take turns “Conversing” about the other’s story – writer still can’t respond

Session One – 20 minutes

5 min: Intro

2 min: Partner up in pairs.  With your partner, choose the same 2 figures in the image.

5 min: Individually, write 1-2 sentences Earth narrative

6 min: Individually, write 2-3 sentences Water squeeze

2 min: Take turns reading your story to your partner

Session Two – 20 min:

2 min: Individually choose a new figure in the image.

13 min: The “re-write”: Together with your partner, merge your stories into a single one, adding one or both of the new figures chosen (a crisis emerges).  You may drop an original figure if you wish.  Come to a resolution in your story.

5 min: Individually write one sentence pitch


Session Two – 25 min:

2 min: Take turns (re)reading your story to your partner

3 min: Take turns “Discussing” the other’s story – the writer is not allowed to respond

3 min: Take turns “Conversing” about the other’s story – writer still can’t respond

2 min: Individually choose a new figure in the image.

12 min: The “re-write”: Together with your partner, merge your stories into a single one, adding one or both of the new figures chosen (a crisis emerges).  You may drop an original figure if you wish.  Come to a resolution in your story.

3 min: Individually write one sentence “pitch”


Session Three – 20 min:

5 min: Read pitches

10 min: Questions Only


Session Three – 20 min:

5 min: Read pitches

10 min: Questions Only

5 min: unstructured/more Questions Only/feedback


Needless to say, practically presenting and working with elemental exercises in only three short sessions is a very difficult task, but overall the results were encouraging and feedback was positive.  Three sessions of 30 minutes each seemed a better solution, as it would give just a little bit more breathing room for the exercises, but it was possible to work with it in the above format.  Although ‘just following the instructions’ can produce the range of experiences related to the elemental cycle and communication, adding a quick example for each stage seemed necessary.

Faculty Meetings – Second Series:

A year later I was given another opportunity to bring the elemental cycle to the same faculty.  This time a completely different format was taken.  For our ‘artistic’ activity at this time our group was practicing a unique form of movement called eurythmy, in which sounds are given expression through particular gestures and movement patterns.  For this reason, instead of using storytelling as a way to work with the elemental cycle I decided to let the eurythmy provide the initial content around which the elemental cycle would be introduced.  The High School Coordinator, also a trained eurythmist and somewhat familiar with the elements, came up with a series of forms that she felt would be appropriate for the task.  The first session was just the introduction of the eurythmy forms themselves, and the elemental cycle was brought in during the second session.  Below are my records of the processes carried out and some observations about the work.  This, admittedly, may not be of much interest to the general reader but gives a more detailed picture of how the elemental cycle can be utilized in an actual situation as well as giving a little insight into some of the problems and insights encountered.

  1. First Meeting – 30 minutes.
    1. Process:
      1. Eurythmy forms.
    2. Notes: The faculty did not know that the second meeting would not be eurythmy, but would instead be the alchemical process.  They went along with the eurythmy and had a good time.  The eurythmy naturally laid itself out into a nice four-step pattern on multiple levels.
  2. Second Meeting – 30 minutes.
    1. Process:
      1. Introduction to the alchemical process of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire.  Brief explanation of each level.  Sample application of process to the eurythmy forms.  Faculty come up with their own sequence that applies to the eurythmy on their own.  Discuss and share results.  At the end I gave each faculty member a handout explaining in more detail the alchemical process, its relationship to dialogue work, and a selection of Klocek’s “Metaphors, a Dialogue with the Spirit”.
    2. Notes:  Faculty receptive to the overall process.  They were able to come up with new ways to apply EWAF to the eurythmy.  This meeting was done in an “Earth” style: it was primarily the communication of information to the faculty members about the process itself.
  3. Third Meeting – 30 minutes.
    1. Process:
      1. New Eurythmy form. (See below).
      2. Standing in circle.  Moving into center, back to periphery, with words from Blake:
        “To see a World in a Grain of Sand
        And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
        Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
        And Eternity in an hour.”
    2. Notes:
      1. Again all receptive to eurythmy.  The particular eurythmy form was chosen by our HS coordinator and eurythmist because it fit into a “Water” mood.
  4. Fourth Meeting – 30 minutes (ended up at about 35)
    1. Process:
      1. Review of EWAF process, written on board (E). Representation of the process as: Facts, Process, Polarity, Whole. The fifth element, consciousness (the Witness) is introduced. The work is explained as the strengthening of the fifth element via an ordered sequencing of exercises undertaken with intent. Two basic motions are introduced: gravity and levity, and their effect on the movement from one element to another.
      2. I introduced the idea of the “Water question”, giving a picture of the mood behind it. I mentioned that there are levels within levels to the process, and one can be on the Earth side of Water, or the Air side, etc. The archetypes are recursive and can be applied universally like a fractal.
      3. I noted that at the Earth level there really aren’t any questions per se, only statements. A question that is really a statement is an “Earth question”. A genuine question is always at least in the Water realm, even when it is asking for or demanding facts, because it requires that the asker not answer their own question until a response has been given. Even if they are ‘predicting’ and counting on a certain answer, their soul cannot be entirely rigid, but must remain open at some level to the possibility of receiving an answer they didn’t expect. It is in fact the relationship of the soul to the question in this way that will determine “where” a given question is on the cycle (if it is in Earth it is really a statement, if in Water it is a real question but can still – and probably will – be used to bolster preconceived notions and biases, if in Air it means the soul is truly listening to the other and the lower ego is quieted, and if in Fire it is communicating directly with the other in empathy).
      4. I mentioned the idea of “mud” (bringing Earth into Water – a gravity process) and noted how, without taking on the alchemical inner work in some form, when any two or more people are forced together out of some ‘external’ circumstance, viz. Faculty Meetings, mud is often the default level of communication.
      5. I handed out an alchemical picture (from Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens, below) and asked them to apply EWAF to the picture, one sentence or phrase for each level. (E)

Blind Man Following Nature

      1. Then they got into groups of two and explained to the other person their particular sequence, without giving any supporting arguments – just communicating the basic idea. (W)
      2. The partner’s task was then to ask a ‘discussion’ question: “Why do you think that?” “Show me the evidence that supports your claim.”(W) The original person is not allowed to respond to these questions, but they are asked to reflect on their internal response to these questions, and to record them on a piece of paper using key words or phrases. (W/A) The questioner is asked to note their internal response when asking the questions. (W/A) viii. Roles are switched and repeated. (A)
    1. Notes:
      1. This meeting was primarily a Water meeting, in that faculty were asked to enter into communication with another individual about an idea they had generated. The role of discussion was primary, and the idea was to give them a situation in which it was safe to witness the effect on themselves of being in various Water modes.
      2. The overall process went very well. There was a comment about how going through the process from Earth to Water to Air to Fire was only one way (the alchemical tradition), and that there were other ways of moving from the “Earth” directly to “Fire”. I mentioned that sometimes going directly from E to F may result in a fire experience that doesn’t really produce a ‘refined seed’ that can be the basis for a new cycle at a higher level. Going lawfully through each stage is a process of refinement that invests something (consciousness) into the final fire experience so that the result is a purified seed that can bring a continuing impulse for further working. I also noted that in the alternative events that take one from Earth ‘directly’ to Fire, that if one really looked into it there would likely be a full sequencing with some elements emphasized more than others, with perhaps some of the preparation being done implicitly beforehand, etc.
      3. 35 minutes was just enough time to get through the intro and do the exercise until the point of switching roles at the very end. Had there been no ‘discussion’ about the pictures I was bringing it would have been right on time.
  1. Fifth Meeting – 30 minutes.
    1. Process:
      1. Eurythmy forms:
        1. Warmup with all in circle, moving counterclockwise over the circle in a curvy form: inwards of the original circle line (eee – 7th), then back outwards over the original circle line (oooo – fundamental) and back over the original circle line, in a full clockwise curly-que, landing back on the original circle line (aaaah – 3rd).
        2. Then the Cassini curves: everyone moving in ellipse, then a dip inwards on the long side, then into lemniscates, then into two little circles.
      2. Work towards Conversation (AIR):
        1. I had them try and analyze the eurythmy in groups of two using EWAF/facts-process-polarity-whole template, in particular trying to pay attention to the Air realm. We then shared our insights with the group.
        2. Then I gave them the following instructions: Think of a time when you realized that there was a part of your personality that was somehow problematic. Perhaps it was hurting someone around you, perhaps it was keeping you from achieving your goals or from becoming the person you want to be. Express in a written sentence this aspect of yourself.
        3. I then told them that they would need to pair up again and that one person in the group would read their statement to the other person. <pregnant pause> I explained that the other person should just listen, and then ask them Air questions about the event. I then explained further that Air questions are questions that are designed to tease out the subtleties of another’s point of view so you can really enter into what it is like for them without bringing your own emotional baggage into the situation. No advice can be given, no responses other than those of an interested, sympathetic (not sappy) friend. The idea is to create a space in which it is easy for the other person to express delicate, subtle ideas and feelings without having a fear that they will be squeezed for their “Water” or dissected into “Earth”, but will just be allowed to live, floating in the atmosphere created between you.
        4. I didn’t give them the following examples right out, but just described the feeling of an Air question. Then if they got stuck or couldn’t figure out how to ask an Air question, I gave them some examples like: “What did that feel like for you when you realized this part of yourself was there?” or “Can you tell me more about what this realization meant for you?” or “How were you able to come to terms with this part of yourself?”
    2. Notes:
      1. This is a difficult type of meeting, because it requires a transition into a mode not normally experienced in everyday situations, and particularly not artificially created ones where attendance is expected. I felt I could do this ‘trust exercise’ because of the foundations laid in the previous meetings.
      2. When going back to regular faculty meeting, we say a verse together, and on this day everyone started exactly at the same time with no cue and no hesitation – very different than usual.
  2. Sixth Meeting – 30 minutes.
    1. Process:
      1. This is a Fire meeting: context, whole, transformation, impulse, higher reflection.
      2. What is the point of this work? At first we need to give ourselves an opportunity to get familiar with the process, this is the point of the previous three meetings. It may seem somewhat artificial because it is artificial in the beginning – until you internalize it and make the pictures start to live and move in your soul (Water), they will remain abstract (Earth). The basic practice of applying the process must occur on a fairly regular basis – you can then start to contact the archetypes, the organizing principles, behind the definite events you are observing, until you become friendly with them, at which point they start to speak back to you. We can learn to check our initial feelings against the actual archetypes themselves by tuning our listening instrument to the frequencies of the speaking of the archetypes themselves.
      3. The direction I want to go with this process is to utilize it to work at two levels: the individual, and the group. They happen simultaneously. How does this work? By getting a feeling for the process and the infinite number of ways in which it can manifest, we can learn to see how we affect ourselves and those around us. We can sensitize ourselves to the situations that exist, and experiment with different ways of dealing with these situations within the context of the alchemical process. Where is our discussion now? What is its motion? It is in a levity process? Gravity? What is the need of the group at the moment?
      4. We will start with an experience we all had last week when some pointed questions were asked, basically to the effect: what is the point of the work? Everyone had some kind of inner response to that event. Take a moment to recall what it felt like. What was the mood of your soul? Now ask yourself, what was the mood of your soul before the event and what did the moment in which it shifted feel like? Could you characterize it with a metaphor?
      5. Upon sufficient reflection, it will be seen that there will be a moment that occurs in your soul where something definitely changes… a moment where you first recognized that ‘something was changing’ or even reversing. Expand this moment in your consciousness.
      6. Share and discuss.

After the sixth meeting a certain closure had been reached, and the time allotted to work with the elemental cycle was up.  The overall results of the process were quite encouraging, and the feedback from faculty members was positive.  During the weekly faculty meetings in which we did the above exercises, and for a number of weeks after, a very different air permeated our meetings, and it was clear that the elemental work had sensitized people both to differences in communication and to techniques for mitigating the normal patterns that keep communication from flowing effectively.  The slow return of old patterns shows that the elemental cycle – with respect to communication – is not a one-shot, quick-fix technique, but requires some sustained energy.  This is to be expected, because the way in which we communicate is a deeply embedded part of ourselves, and is not easily modifiable.  At the same time, it is just this deep link which makes work in this area both satisfying and important in the long run.

JFKU Consciousness Café:

During my time as a student at JFK University in the Consciousness Studies Program, I had the opportunity to present the elemental cycle to the public in a ‘Consciousness Café’ event, in which I was allotted two hours.  After an extensive introduction (about 45 minutes) to my work with the elemental cycle, its potential, background, and applications to communication (most of which is now included in Chapter 4 of this document), I had the participants break up into pairs.  I asked them to think of a short personal story from their life, not as intense or dramatic as “I’m about to get a divorce and here’s why” and not as superficial as “I went to the store to get some bread.”  With this story, which has definite personal attachment without being too anxiety provoking, the following instructions were given:

  1. EXERCISES: (The content is an excuse for the process.  The attention is what is important.)
    1. Earth:
      1. Person A tells story to person B: 3 min
      2. Switch: 3 min
      3. Each writes down the other's story from memory: 3 min
      4. A reads B’s story to B: 1 min
      5. B writes how it feels to have his/her own story read back to him/her: 2 min
      6. B reads A’s story to A: 1 min
      7. A writes how it feels: 2 min
    2. Water:
      1. A (not reading, but from memory) re-tells A’s own story to B: 2 min
      2. B asks Water questions to A: 2 min
      3. A, not responding to questions, writes how it feels: 2 min
      4. Switch roles (i-iii): 2 + 2 + 2 min
    3. Air:
      1. A tells B's story verbally from memory: 3 min
      2. A then asks Air questions of B: 2 min
      3. B, not responding to questions, writes how it feels: 2 min
      4. Switch roles (i-iii): 3 + 2 + 2 min
    4. Fire:
      1. Open dialogue between A and B, no rules: 5 min
      2. Back to group:
        1. Sharing of results: 10 min
        2. Intro to group dialogue: 3 min
        3. Questions only: 5 min

The overall results of the process were encouraging (see the next section below).  It seemed that the elemental cycle could be introduced in a wide variety of ways, but that practical exercises or applications were essential to supplement any intellectual understanding. 


35: Back See the section below on Practical Communication Through the Elements for more examples of Water questions.

Top | Next: Chapter 6: Into the World, Dialogue and the Elemental Cycle: Responses to the Elemental Cycle

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