I propose that the alchemical cycle of the four elements Earth, Water, Air and Fire provides a useful and exact analogue for the processes of transformation of a wide variety of types, and as such can be considered an archetype. The elemental cycle is a potent symbol for a transformative, qualitative language (logos) which has the potential to guide human consciousness towards lawful, holistic engagement with essentially any phenomenon. When worked consistently, the elemental cycle leads us beyond ‘everyday’ modes of cognition to what could be called Imaginative, Inspirative, and Intuitive modes cognition. In these modes, thinking no longer takes place ‘about’ a phenomenon, but ‘with’, ‘through’, and ‘within’ phenomena. The elemental cycle provides a content, a method, and self-regulating feedback mechanisms for working with transformation, and can help engender a consciousness that can fruitfully dialogue with the interiority of the world by making it explicit. Its power lies in its ability to act as a template and guide for the structuring of human consciousness; it is a tool which makes available a coherent, archetypal patterning which can help guide and transform a human consciousness in healthy and practical ways. By making available new modes of consciousness, it helps us learn to see ourselves and the world in ways that allow for greater creativity and flexibility when faced with difficult or problematic situations. At the same time it illuminates and connects us with phenomena – both outer and inner – that might otherwise pass our notice.
This essay comprises a detailed study of the nature of the elements and the elemental cycle, through which it is hoped the reader may gain a solid enough foundation to work experimentally with the elemental cycle independently if desired. Therefore, the cycle is introduced via a brief phenomenology of the individual elements, which are then connected, compared, and brought together to form a complete picture of the cycle. The breadth of applicability of the cycle is then explored through a series of specific instances that also serve to illuminate the qualities of the cycle itself. A report on third-party work with the elemental cycle provides complementary and contrasting experiences, while an in-depth review and application of the cycle to the nature of images opens up the complexities and demonstrates the recursive, self-generating quality of the cycle. Lastly, an introductory series of practical steps and specific exercises, advice, and questions for each elemental stage is provided to help the reader use the cycle independently.