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 7: Review and Summary Example: The Alchemy of the Image

Image and Process: Water

If all images could be reduced solely to signs, then our visual experience and its associated capacity for imagination would be reduced to particles of dust – a collection of separate identities linking images and facts.  Such identities are essentially static, with surfaces that actually constitute the thing itself.  One can see the tendency for literalism and absolutism in people who tend towards this level of Earth, alchemically understood.  Yet beyond the capacity of images to act as signals, they also contain something at a deeper level.

At the second level of the image, we can come to understand that the manifest sign does not simply exist as a singular, independent entity, but rather is embedded in a flowing context of meaning.  For example, in the symbol for Earth, we see a triangle.  But this triangle is pointing downwards, as if to say, “things come to a point, right… here.”  The sense of gravity is evident, and we can imagine the triangle tipping easily to either side; reliance upon facts qua Earth is a precarious position, where the slightest imbalance tends to force a collapse to one side or the other (for example, in literalism and fundamentalism of all sorts).  In order to avoid this fate, we must consciously connect the overt fact with other facts, to create a stream of meaning in which an individual fact is upheld by surrounding facts.  In this discovery we recognize that any individual sign bears the weight of its meaning by virtue of the surrounding system of signs in which it is embedded.

Exoterically speaking, we can call this level of the image the cipher.  As a cipher, an image is a cryptographic encoding of meaning – but the meaning isn’t only in the manifest form.  Rather, it exists by virtue of the fact that a particular process of encoding has occurred that allows the sign to take a particular form.  The form cannot exist without a preceding process.  In this sense, the Earth level of the sign is actually a residue or solidification of a series of related processes, which taken out of context looks like an individual, separate, and simple particular.  When seen as an Earth, a coded cipher looks like gibberish: “ifmmp.”  This is simply a series of seemingly separate, individual facts – letters – which bear no apparent relationship to one another.  The Water task is to identify the process by which the letters got there in the first place, the rule that connects the apparent individualities in a meaningful way to another set of facts.  In this case, the rule is “every letter is replaced by the next in the alphabet.”  Discovering this pattern allows the gibberish to take on meaning: “hello.”  The key to understanding images from a Water perspective is to identify the relationships between the various forms, until coherent movements or patterns of meaning start to become apparent.

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