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 Meaning: Fire

We have discussed the image as sign, cipher, and symbol.  What exists beyond the level of the symbol, an analog to the Sun?  The pattern from gross to subtle continues with this new stage, the stage that is expressed alchemically through the element of Fire.  An understanding of the Fire element requires looking again at the previous three elements in a new way.  Just as the movement of Water led us naturally into Air, so a natural progression through the element Air leads one to ask of the image: “but what does it all mean?”

A minimal amount of meaning exists in the identity of a sign with its labeled content in Earth, but this meaning is like a single bit of data.  In Water, the cipher encodes a whole stream of meaning through a process that connects each bit to its neighbor, but this meaning is essentially an outer meaning.  The Air level opens up the image from its inside – but in doing so we discover that the image ‘out there’ was really a mirror in which we were gazing at the opening of our own insides; the meaning at this level exists on an inner plane.  Now in the Fire element, something remarkable happens to the constellation of meanings being toyed with in Air.  Rather than multiply into infinity, the Fire element burns away all the insubstantialities and leaves only the most subtle shell of meaning – a meaning that links all the various interpretations through an underlying archetype.  Thus we can speak of a universal meaning, in addition to the inner and outer, and factual.

At this level, the image takes on the quality of an actual being.  All of the data, flow, and insight of the previous levels becomes a manifestation of a primal, objective, and peripheral but real coherence that although inexpressible, is directly knowable by higher human faculties, particularly the transformed heart’s capacity for intuition.  Here, the image itself is experienced as if it were actually speaking.  In Air, the image itself becomes silent, which, in true Air polarity-style, creates the space which the viewer fills in with a variety of interpretations.  This is why the transition from Air to Fire involves the capacity we could call listening to the image.  The last reversal required in passing beyond the Air level is a shift in the location of the silence from outside to inside.  By shutting down the factory that produces one’s inner dialogue, the image is then allowed to present itself to the inner silent space created willfully in the viewer.  This is where it speaks its truth – and it is a truth that is inclusive of all the previous aspects of the image.  In fact, the experience at this level involves a perception of why all of the previous levels take the forms that they do.  They seem to all fit perfectly and necessarily into a coherent whole as logical manifestations of the archetype through successive layers.

Fire SymbolUsing our example of the elemental signs, we first see that the sign for Fire is an inverted sign for Earth: an upward pointing equilateral triangle.  What used to be pointing downwards to a singular manifest fact, has, in a progression through the elements, been inverted.  Now it points upwards towards a singular unmanifest archetype, which doesn’t exist itself on the earth as a particular form, but rather is the underlying principle of the particular’s ongoing formation.  Just as the signs for Water and Air share a boundary, so too the signs for Earth and Fire share an inner space.  But while the inner space of the Earth sign is filled with a mass of dense facts, the space in the Fire sign is filled with the potential for meaning.  The main quality of Fire is that of transformation, and the Fire is in effect a transformed Earth, where all that was subject to gravity is rendered into something new via the forces of levity.  But at the same time, the Earth is also a transformed Fire.  How can this be?  It is only now, having worked through Earth, Water, Air, and Fire separately, that we can see something of the Fire, the archetype, lying behind the elemental signs as a whole, which will help to answer this question.

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