Alchemy – Moving to Another Stage

Old stone staircase view looing pPart of the process of the Great work requires movement from one stage to anothers. The many processes that can be applied to any stage are eventually exhausted. What does this mean for psycho-spiritual alchemy? It means that the difficulty or problem which you have defined to work on will be continually refined and redefined as you apply these processes. As this goes on, if done effectively, the needs and issues of  your psychological and spiritual life evolve. The original issue may be completely resolved or determine to now now longer be an issue, an irrelevant relic of a transformed self.

At each stage the alchemist is subjected to an increasingly intense purification, which is followed by a union with the fire of that stage (alchemical marriage), a rebirth of a new sense of self. At each stage the fire is twice as intense as the preceding fire. And that new sense of self must be sacrificed once again in order to move onward and upward to the next stage. Those unfamiliar with alchemy often  make a mistake about this. They believe that starting with your darkness, the blackening stage of nigredo, will be the most horrendous part of the journey, and that everything thereafter will be a walk in the park. Nothing could be furher from the truth.

When we move in to albedo, there is more clarity and many issues may have improved, but now even more is required. All the processes are once again brought to bear on refining the self and things become more demandedLike a video game that gets faster, harder and more intense as you rise in levels, in alchemy, moving from one level to another means that the purification needs to be deeper, calling on more of our willingness to surrender to our transformation. It will will require increasing amounts of energy as symbolized by the four fold fire ball.  The new fire of albedo is a white hot fire. Then on to the burning intensity of citrinitas, the stage of insight and blinding realisation. And then finally we come in to the red fire of rubedo, the hottest fire yet, which is the stage of bringing all this new insight, new material, into being – actual being. This is when you manifest your dreams, which is the supreme hard work, and tests you more than any of the previous stages.

Red flames

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Caturday Thoughts – Small grain xiǎo mǎn 小满 May 21st

xiǎo mǎn

May 21st

The seeds of summer crops begin to become plump, but are not yet ripe.


The traditional Chinese lunar calendar divides the year into 24 solar terms. Grain Buds, (Chinese: 小满), the 8th solar term of a year, begins on May 21 this year, and ends on June 6. It means that the seeds from the grain are becoming full but are not ripe.

In China, the 24 solar terms were created thousands of years ago to guide agricultural production. But the solar term culture is still useful today to guide people’s lives through special foods, cultural ceremonies, gardening and even healthy living tips that correspond with each solar term. Let’s see what we can do during the “Grain Buds” period.

A good season for eating fish

During the Grain Buds period, the summer harvest is about to begin. A saying about rain during this time mentions, “A heavy rainfall makes the river full.” Because of the great increase in rainfall, rivers are full of water, which makes fish and shrimp big and fat. This is a good time to eat fish and shrimp. It is also harvest season for fishermen.

A Chinese farmer proverb says, “Mulberries become black during the Grain Buds period.” Thus it is a good season to eat mulberries.

There is another proverb that says, “Three fresh plants come into the market: cucumber, cherries and garlic shoots.”

 There is another proverb that says, “Three fresh plants come into the market: cucumber, cherries and garlic shoots.”

Eating herb of common sow thistle

Grain Buds is a season for eating the herb of the common sow thistle, which is one of the earliest edible potherbs in China.

It tastes a little bitter and tart, but also sweet. It has the function of cooling the blood and detoxifying the body. It can be made into different types of dishes. People in Ningxia like to eat it blended with salt, vinegar, peppers or garlic. It tastes savory and helps people feel refreshed. Some people boil the herb with water and then squeeze out the juice, which can be used to make soup.

Tips on health preserving in Grain Buds

High temperatures and humidity are common during the Grain Buds period. The increase in temperature over this season may also give rise to nettle rash, rheumatism, sweat spots, eczema and other skin diseases.

It is also important to exercise to keep healthy during the hot summer days. Walking, jogging and practicing tai chi is popular.

This time is a good period of the quick growth of flowers. It is also a season when plant diseases and pests are at an all-time high, which makes growing flowers even more critical.

Flower trimming and clipping is important. And a systematic fertilized water system should be carried out. Flowers need a lot of water and extra care to ensure the plants remain healthy. Weeding should be done as they grow quickly and have to be extirpated in order to keep the soil loose and from competing with the flowers for nutrients.

Silkworm rearing is a traditional byproduct for people in regions south of the Yangtze River. During the Grain Buds season, silkworms have cocooned. People begin to cook cocoons and prepare the spinning wheel for reeling silk.

People in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces regard this season as the birthday of the silkworm deity. Those who engage in the silk industry thank the deity by offering sacrifices and staging performances. They pray to the deity for blessings and a boom season for the silk business.

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More Rooms, More Feng Shui Decisions

The way the house is set up at the front is a very large room which is ostensibly a bedroom, I would expect the master bedroom. Size is the only indication, however, as the tiny closet us the same size as the little bedroom behind it. It is on the other side of the attic staircase. It’s paint is also peeling and there are plenty of cracks in the walls under the windows. There will be a lot of prep work before painting but in the meantime we must find a color that will harmonize the Feng Shui energies. There are no additional factors in the room except for the boxes for the fiber optic cable and the wireless router. In terms of direction; its front faces north, the side wall faces east and the outside corner points northeast. By the compass the wall next to the stairs is still in the north sector, but much of the front and side walls are in the northeast sector and the inside closet wall is in the east. Shoulds I have three wall colors? You rarely see this addressed anywhere.

Some other considerations include the use of the room, the natural light it receives and the life area the direction governs. Since it is on the street side of the house, even though it should be the “master” bedroom I would never have it as a bedroom. In past posts I have kvetched about the neighbor’s propensity for porch floodlights that make the block seem like a prison yard. I don’t want to have to hang WWII blackout curtains to be able to sleep. Neither do I want to have to use earplugs to block out traffic noise. So this room will be dedicated to storage and work. I have a lovely heavy wooden work table that will go in there for use with crafts, DIY projects, sewing repairs and painting (once I get the free time to paint). Also, I have emulated my Mormon friends for years and kept a supply of food, water and emergency items on hand. The times that practice has helped me out have been many, the topic probably deserves a post of it’s own. So my “Mormon stash” as I call it, will be set up in there, too.

Another reason this room is good for food storage is the fact that this room gets the least sun of any. In the winter the sun has moved around so that only a little indirect light reaches the room in the morning. In the summer the neighbor’s house blocks and additional sun. At no time does sun shine directly in. So in spite of the fact it faces east on one side it is a naturally cool room. It also has good air circulation with windows facing two direction. The low light does have to be factored into the color selection though.

As to the life sector of this direction, since most of the room is northeast it is spiritual growth and self-cultivation. Doesn’t seem to match a storeroom/work room very well. But painting, sewing and working on crafts probably count as self culivation. In both  Christian  and Buddhist monasteries, the mindful performance of everyday work is considered a path to spiritual growth, so it’s perhaps more appropraite than it seems. Also since it’s cool in summer it makes sense for me to useit for yoga too. That settled, we must choose the colors.

Since the stairwell wall is still in north and also backs the furnace ducts I think I will use the same blue as the entry area. Once again, before I paint, I check the color psychology. Different shades, tints, and hues of blue have different meanings. For example, dark blue can be seen as elegant, rich, sophisticated, intelligent, and old-fashioned, royal blue can represent superiority, and light blue can mean honesty and trustworthiness. Considered a highly corporate color, blue is often associated with intelligence, stability, unity, and conservatism. Blue can be strong and steadfast or light and friendly. Blue is used to symbolize piety and sincerity in heraldry. As the color of the spirit, it invokes rest and can cause the body to produce chemicals that are calming and exude feelings of tranquility. Blue helps to slow human metabolism, is cooling in nature, and helps with balance and self-expression. Blue is also an appetite suppressant. So blue fits both psychologically and Feng Shui wise. There are plenty of light shades to choose from to keep the room from being too dark. And I suppose if blue is an appetite suppressant it will help keep me from snacking on my “Mormon stash” while I work there, so it’s ann added bonus.

But that’s only one wall! Most of the rest of the room belongs to the earth phase. What colorsdo I need to strengthen earth? Water muddies earth in the destructive cycle. Will the effect of that blue wall bleed over? I don’t believe for a second that natural energies and influences have razor sharp delinations. What colors do I use for the other, northeast walls to keep things in balance? The colors for earth are beige, pale yellows and earthy colors. This is not my favorite range of colors in a man made environment.  I do like earth tones in places like te Painted Desert in the southwest United States. I have found some looking in the online color selector that seem to come close to this look, so I think I can work with it and enhance the room Feng Shui without the color getting under my skin.

Sunset in Painted Desertsmall tree in foregroud

By John Fowler (Flickr: Another White Pocket Sunset) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Sunset Meditation – Vespers

Sunset Meditation - VespersVespers is the sunset evening prayer service in the many denominations liturgies of the canonical hours. The word comes from the Greek ἑσπέρα (“hespera”) and the Latin vesper, meaning “evening”. It is also referred to in the Anglican tradition as evensong. The term is also used in some Protestant denominations to describe evening services. Vespers, takes place as dusk begins to fall. Its purpose is to take a moment to give thanks for the day just past and makes an evening sacrifice of praise to God (Psalm 141:1). In the Catholic church the climax of Vespers is the Magnificat, the great thanksgiving song of the Church. 

In medieval times most work ended at sunset. Field work, gardening and work which required good light could ot be done after the sun had gone down. Depending on the time of year, Vespers  were said in late afternoon to early evening. At bedtime in the monasteries there were devotions in the sleeping quarters (lessons, chapter of faults, abbot’s blessing), which developed into Compline. Lay people often practiced bedtime prayer as well.

Today most people are still working or stuck in commuting at the time of Vespers. The race home, picking up takeaway food on the way or if lucky to have food at home, having little time to unwind and relax before eating. I am fortunate to be done with all that because the hours for Vespers are one of my favorite times of day and I have the luxury of quiet time before fixing dinner for myself and the cats. In fact I wrote much of this post as the afternoon moved into Vespers time.

I am not the only one who finds the Vespers hour compelling. Many artists potrayed this time when chuch bells tolled. The Vesper Bell by Friedrich Dürck, Mikhail Botkin’s Vespers in the Church of St. Francis of Assisi (1861) and Vespers by American Artist Edward Lamson Henry, are wonderful examples. (Sorry, all illustrations copyrighted but you can see them on line) Of course composers were inspiredby Vespers. There is Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers for example. The Magnificat has been set to music by J S Bach, Vivaldi and Bruckner. And then there are the poets. Although even as a small child I doubt Christopher Robin went to bed as early as Vespers that is what Milne titled the poem he wrote about his son. I think Vespers was more familiar in the twentieth century than Compline, as it is still part of Anglican services and does have an end of day feel to it.


A.A. Milne

Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.God bless Mummy. I know that’s right.
Wasn’t it fun in the bath to-night?
The cold’s so cold, and the hot’s so hot.
Oh! God bless Daddy – I quite forgot.If I open my fingers a little bit more,
I can see Nanny’s dressing-gown on the door.
It’s a beautiful blue, but it hasn’t a hood.
Oh! God bless Nanny and make her good.Mine has a hood, and I lie in bed,
And pull the hood right over my head,
And I shut my eyes, and I curl up small,
And nobody knows that I’m there at all.Oh! Thank you, God, for a lovely day.
And what was the other I had to say?
I said “Bless Daddy,” so what can it be?
Oh! Now I remember it. God bless Me.
Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

This one is a little more modern and adult. As a gardener I appreciate this little heart to heart, imagining the gardener coming in tired and sweaty to reflect on the day and the state of the plants. I can really relate to his sort of Vespers.


In your extended absence, you permit me 
use of earth, anticipating
some return on investment. I must report 
failure in my assignment, principally 
regarding the tomato plants.
I think I should not be encouraged to grow 
tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold 
the heavy rains, the cold nights that come 
so often here, while other regions get 
twelve weeks of summer. All this 
belongs to you: on the other hand, 
I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots 
like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart 
broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly 
multiplying in the rows. I doubt
you have a heart, in our understanding of 
that term. You who do not discriminate 
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence, 
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know 
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the red leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible 
for these vines.

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Caturday Thoughts – Paddling Film Fest, Rehab Headaches and Other Miscellany

When I went down to Rockfish Gap Outfitters to get a more readable compass than the tiny one in the center of my luo pan, before starting my feng shui, they had a sign out front advertising a paddling film fest for which they had tickets. It was to be held at one of the local microbreweries, Basic City, the following Wednesday evening. Now Basic City is one of the breweries on my card I got St Patrick’s day, and it’s less than two miles from home. Wednesday evening would be otherwise just another same thing different day evening. So I asked the clerk how much a ticket was.  Just five dollars!! A whole evening of films for five bucks! Have you gone to a movie theater lately? The nationwaide average is just over nine dollars. In Washington DC two tickets will cost you $26.00.

Not only that, but most movie chains don’t serve any beer, much less microbrews. So I went. I must be on a roll of some kind since the weather turned, first going to YJ’s Tae Kwon Do exhibition and now this. I had a great time. The beer was really good, although I limited myself to three flavors and three pints. I met some great people very happy to invite me to join their paddling clubs. The films were really high quality productions and diverse in presentation.  You can see if it will be touring near you here and you can see the film lineup at the website here.

There was one short that was an interesting suprise, The Wild President. No, not Teddy Roosevelt or Andrew Jackson or Ulysses Grant. It was Jimmy Carter! It turns out he had quite a history of white water canoeing and was instrumental in protecting many of Georgia’s rivers. I found two other shorts really special. Freedom and Don’s Canoe. Freedom is about a paraplegic man who found freedom in kayak fishing. Don’s Canoe is about a Banff, Canada outdoorsman and his building of a canoe using traditional methods. I always love watching a true craftman at work. Take eight minutes and watch it on Vimeo here. It will lower your blood pressure and leave you feeling at peace.

I think my favorite film was Dugout. Two Brits go to the Equadorian rain forest, live with the indigenous people and are taught to make a dugout canoe from choosing the right tree to hauling the finished canoe through the jungle to a launch point. These men gave a whole new meaning to “get out of your comfort zone”. Sadly, in following up to learn a little more, I discovered that there is now an oil drilling camp in the placed they lived and their teacher and his family have had to move away. Not only is this an adventure film but a record of a pristine rain forest and the life of the people who lived there that is gone forever.

Getting to go to the film fest was a nice diversion from the report back from the engineers. The foundation and the foundation of the fireplace are in good shape. The bad news is the long term moisture problem in the crawlspace has damaged a number of the joists which will need repair and I know it will be costly. This is because that crawlspace is such an expetive deleted awkward place to work. The repair is actually fairly straightforward, it’s called sistering, and it’s merely treating the damaged sections to prevent further damage and fastening another section of joist next to it overlapping the damage. Of course, after all the plumbing and other work is done, I will do further moisture mitigation, but there is no point in installing a vapor barrier that will get torn up by the men trying to work down there.

Van Houtte Spiraea covered in white blossomsThere were few blooms on the lilac bush this year, maybe when it is dug up and moved to the back yard it will do better, althougth lilacs do have a productive lifespan. It’s sitting in the path of the excavation for the water and sewer mains so it has to come up regardless. On the other hand, the Van Houtte spirea did there snow in summer thing and were beautiful until h thunderstorm the other night beat them up with tiny hail. They still look beautiful to me but there is a lot of white confetti on the ground underneath them. I thought none of the irises would bloom but in the last few days stalks have shot up on a couple of them at least. My comfrey has come back inspite of being mowed flat by the lawn man while I was with the chimney sweep. But I seem to have lost my camphor southernwood. They were fine back at the end of February. I think the yo-yo weather may have gotten them. In compensation the rose next to the blackberries put up two canes as tall as they are. Last summer it died back to the ground, as did all my other roses. This is the only one which recovered. I am thinking of taking soil samples down to Virginia Tech to test for toxins and fungus and such in the soil.

Closeup of blackberries blossom with bee feedingAs for the blackberries, this year I will finally get quite a few. The little pink blossoms have started to open and I’d better dig the screening out of the storage before they turn into berries or the birds will have them. Right now they are only for the bees, who must be hard up. The camellias are still tight buds buth there were several bees and wasps buzzing around them as if trying to figure out why they weren’t open. They will be soon, and there will be quite a few. I hope that will make the bees happier. The cats have been happier with all the windows open to sit in and bug, bird and squirrel activity at it’s peak. And I am pretty happy for the first time in a while, not the least because warm weather is finally here.

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Feng Shui for an Old House

I am so looking forward to banishing the peeling paint in every room and the dead, dirty off white walls that are the standard rental shade. You can do that in your own house, have color. Cat color vision is limited, they don’t care really, but I do. First I’ll have to strip off seventy years of paint or I’ll get the same peeling the landlord’s minions got after doing zero prep and cleaning. Depending on the room or the wall I can see as many as five or six layers. Thank heaven for the development of low VOC strippers. There was a “no lead paint” statement in my rental paperwork, just the same, I am not sanding. The rule in things like lead paint and asbestos is, if is is contained and covered it’s safe enough and you don’t disturb it. The walls are literally bumpy and uneven with all the bad paint jobs over the years and I want it nice and smooth. I have no idea what was in the 1948 paint but I am taking no chances. It’s all coming off with the most environmentally friendly stripper I can find and then going to a hazmat disposal.

For it’s replacement I am going to try and harmonize the colors with the principles of Feng Shui. You might believe Feng Shui is mumbo jumbo but even if you believe otherwise, there is still a lot out there about Feng Shui that is mumbo jumbo.  For one thing Feng Shui advice is like getting an opinion from the IRS. Ask ten IRS employees a tax question and you often get ten answers. The same is true of Feng Shui advice. Some follow color rules rigidly, others don’t. Many match colors with the type of room or element without considering the elements of the persons involved. Room color in harmony with the elements might mean you have colors in your rooms you hate. This defeats the purpose when seeking harmony and a serene and healthy home. Trying to refresh my memory I went on line. After reading so much information that contradicted or confused the issue I decided to pull my books out of the storage and get my luo pan and charts and do a proper, from scratch Feng Shui analysis of the house. I ran down to Rockfish gap outfitters Friday moring and got a compass I could read more easily and set to work taking the directional readings.

Let’s start with the living room. It’s really a good one to illustrate what is involved. The front door faces north by the compass. It’s toward the northeast end of the range and I always thought my house faceed northeast. This is why a comapss reading is essential. It was actually a series of readings both in the front yard, in fron of the door on the stoop, just inside the door and in several places in the house. The average of the readings gives the facing directionof the entry, in my case north. Now the far wall of the living room is in the western direction, and the corner points northwest so the living room encompasses threedirections. Water is the phase or element of north, the door and entry area and the bes colors are black and blue. Black walls are probably not the best choice. Metal is the phase of west and northwest and the best colors are white and grey. However, also in the living room, on the far side, is the fireplace and the big brick chimney which dominates both it and the so-called dining room behind. This is obviously the element of fire, whose colors are red, orange, and strong yellow. Many lists include pink and purple but these are not basic colors and there are other concepts involved with using them. 

It’s also important to remember the elements move in cycles. There is the creative or generative cycle, in which wood feeds fire, for example. Then there is the destructive or overcoming cycle. In medicine the cycles are further elaborated but in Feng Shui these are the important ones. So my living room has three main elements which must be balanced and this affects my color choices and how I apply them. There is red, yellow or orange for fire, white and grey for the northwest and west and the metal phase and blue or black for te water at te entry. Obviously white walls would work in the whole room, that’s what’s already there. However, I am sick to death of white walls. So that’s out. And with all that red brick I am not going to use any fire colors!

That would seem to leave only grey for the main walls of the living room. I actually like the color grey, and not just with cat fur. I designed an office for my old boss in shades of grey that the IT guys that came in to set up the computers and peripherals claimed “Wow, this is cool!”. Before I paint my whole living room, however, I check the color psychology of grey. Ostensibly gray is a cool, neutral, and balanced color. It is also supposed to be both emotionless and moody (obviously contradictory) , typically associated with dinginess and dullness while at the same time said to be formal and sophisticated. It is also supposed to be draining and debilitating, since the meaning is connected to depression and loneliness.  At the same time it is considered a good color to stimuate clarity of though, logical thinking and productivity.

Swirling design of dark gray and brick red pavingSo much contradiction! And will grey look good next to the red brick of the fireplace? That’s another consideration.  Looking for photos in Morguefile I found that someone thought the two colors looked good together but I don’t want walls that dark. In the generative cycle there is no direct action between metal and fire but in the destructive cycle fire melts metal.  In simpler terms, the fire energy, both literal and elemental diminishes or works against the base energy of the room.

There is a further complication. As you come in the front doorthere is a small entry space and the the door and stairs to the attic. For reasons we will cover in another post this is not the best Feng Shui and bloody awkward! The wall that runs along the living room behind which are the stars is also home to the thermostat  and large air intake grill of the furnace. Yes, that’s right, more fire!

While many people using western style Feng Shui stick strictly to the bagua map which assigns life areas to physical directions I rearely see structural features being included in the calculation unless they are obvious producers of bad qi. I don’t consider my furnace a “bad element” in this climate, I can tell you. Still, these features belong to fire and should be considered in the mix.  Also, the room is naturally dark because of the way the house is oriented to the course of the sun. We only get direct light at the end of the day from late spring to early fall. So I want wall colors that would lighten the room as well as fitting the feng shui.

After due consideration I will probably pick out a lighter grey for the living room walls. Room color is helpful but not always critical. Think of all the people forced to dwell in white walled apartments who are having perfectly healthy, successful lives. My favorite color is blue which is the color of north and water. In the generative cycle metal collects water, a positive thing. I will probably look for a greyish blue tint for that staircase wall and use the water color as a balance for the fire of the furnace connection. Having both directional energies in one room is strong, the fire element keeps it from being overpowering but is also pretty strong itself. So a bit of water will help balance them both and create a harmonious room.  I am a fan of bi-color rooms so it will also agree wit my aesthetic sense.

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The Four Elements – The Alchemy of Balance

Empedocles, in his Tetrasomia,  was the first to propose four elements, fire, earth, air, and water, which he called the four “roots” (ῥιζὤματα, rhizōmata), and Plato seems to have been the first to use the term “element (στοιχεῖον, stoicheion)” in reference to them. These were the ideas of philosophers rather than experimental scientists in the modern system. Still, the writings of Aristotle perpetuated this system for almost two thousand years and because of this the classic four elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water played an integral role in alchemy. The concept of elements could be said to have given rise to one of the most fundamental ideas of later alchemy. This was the principle that the properties of a substance depend on what it is made of. This in turn led to the concept that altering the properties could transform the substance, the basis of the operations of alchemy.

Michael Sendivogius (1566–1636) was a Polish alchemist, philosopher, and medical doctor. As with many akchemists he worked on the practical side and developed ways of purification and creation of various acids, metals and other chemical compounds. He discovered that air is not a single substance and contains a life-giving substance, 170 years before the scientific identification of oxygen. His writings reveal the way the alchemists viewed the Four Elements. “There are four common elements and each has at its center another deeper element which makes it what it is. These are the four pillars of the world. They were in the beginning evolved and molded out of chaos by the hand of the Creator; and it is their contrary action which keeps up the harmony and equilibrium of the mundane machinery of the universe; it is they, which through the virtue of celestial influences, produce all things above and beneath the earth.” The “deeper element” is the archetype and “chaos” is of course the the Prima Materia.

To the alchemists, the Four Elements are those fundamental archetypes within matter and are symbolic of their metaphysical qualities. According to Empedocles, Fire and Air are “outwardly reaching” elements, reaching up and out, whereas Earth and Water turn inward and downward. In his view, and that of later alchemists, the elements are not only material substances but also spiritual essences. As archetypes, the elements must be experienced to be understood. Empedocles associated each element with a god, as a way to express this. “Hera rules the fruitful earth,” he wrote. “Hades the central fire, Zeus the luminescent air, and Persephone the mollifying water.”

Aristotle (350 BC) further developed the theories of Empedocles by explaining them in terms of their qualities. In his view, the elements arose from the interplay of the ideal (or archetypal) properties of hotness and coldness, and dryness and wetness. Fire (dry and hot) and Water (wet and cold) are polar opposites, as are Earth (dry and cold) and Air (wet and hot). Wet and dry are the primary qualities. Wet (moistness) is the quality of fluidity or flexibility, which allows a thing to adapt to its external conditions, whereas Dry (dryness) is the quality of rigidity, which allows a thing to define its own shape and bounds. As a consequence Wet things tend to be volatile and expansive, since they can fill spaces in their surroundings, whereas Dry things are fixed and structured, since they define their own form. Aristotle predicted that one material could be transformed into another by altering the mix of its archetypal elements and their qualities.

The symbols used by the alchemists for the elements show their archetypal origins. The symbol for Fire is an upward-pointing triangle. Fire with its hot and dry qualities is the most volatile element and seeks to ascend. Water is a downward-pointing triangle, since Water with its cold and moist qualities seeks to condense or descend. Fire and Water are the two purest elements. Air and Earth are considered to be more material versions of them. Thus, the symbol for Air is the upward-pointing triangle of Fire with a horizontal line through it. Air is hot and seeks to ascend, but itis also moist, and the moist  component blocks the full ascent of the Fire principle, which is  indicated by the horizontal line. Thus Air is suspended in time and space, caught between the extremes of the Above and the Below. Earth is the downward-pointing triangle of Water with a horizontal line through it. Earth is cold and seeks to descend, but its dry component blocks the full descent of the Water principle, which is again indicated by the horizontal line. Thus Earth is also suspended in time and space. It is what the alchemists would call the least volatile or most fixed of the elements.

Another Greek philosopher, Hippocrates (400 BC), added his own twist to the theory of the elements by applying them to human psychology. He viewed the elements as bodily fluids he called “humors”. In Hippocrates’ system, Fire is associated with the choleric humor of yellow bile, which is carried in cholesterol as a bi-product of digestion and energy transformation in the body. Aristotle would say the Choleric force is hot and dry. Choleric people therefore tend to be energetic, active, moving, “on-fire”, and enthusiastic. Water is associated with the phlegmatic humor of phlegm, which is found in the clear fluids of the body carried by the lymphatic system and secreted by the mucus membranes. The phlegmatic person is cold and wet in Aristotle’s terms and is often moody and brooding. They tend to let their feelings guide them.  

1638 Frontispiece of Burton's Anatomy of MelancholyAir is associated with the Sanguine humor of the blood, which distributes oxygen throughout the tissues of the body. The word “sanguine” refers to a ruddy complexion in which the blood flows close to the skin. Interestingly, Hippocrates had no idea that the blood distributes “air” through the body, yet he made the connection using ancient esoteric doctrines and his own intuition. Sanguine people tend to be very changeable, sometimes a little irritable yet basically optimistic. They were hough to have high of personal integrity. According to Aristotle, such people are hot and wet in their elemental qualities. Earth is associated with the melancholic humor of black bile, which probably refers to waste products associated with digestion such as the stools, from which useful energy has been removed leaving only the dregs of matter behind. Melancholic people tend to be apathetic, passive, sluggish and stubborn. Since Earth is the principle of structure and materialization, the melancholic humor is dominant in the person who focuses on physical reality and tends to be rigid and skeptical. Aristotle’s terms, such people are cool and dry.

It is easy to see Carl Jung’s theory of personality types is derived from the humors of Hippocrates. The four basic Jungian types are each associated with a humor: feeling (Fire, Choleric), thinking (Water, Phlegmatic), intuition (Air, Sanguine), and sensation (Earth, Melancholic). By combining the polarities of introversion (a person focused on inner feelings and thoughts) and extroversion (a person focused on outer relationships and external objects), Jung developed eight personality types. We also see evidence of the four humors in the personality variables in the popular Meyers-Briggs test and in  the Luscher Color personality profile. In this system the Fire color red is has the qualities of excitement, activity and self- confidence, and the Water color blue is associated with relaxation, satisfaction and self-moderation. The Air color yellow has qualities of free-thinking, change, and self-development. Finally, the Earth color green is associated with solidity, persistence, and self-respect.

Balancing the Elements

Jung saw the Four Elements as archetypes existing in the collective unconscious and thus present in everyone. Jung considered Fire and Air the active, masculine elements and Water and Earth the passive, feminine elements. In alchemy, as in psychology, the goal is to develop a balance of the elements within the individual.  Even Empedocles noted that those who have near equal proportions of the Four Elements are more intelligent and have the truest perceptions of reality. Personal transformation is dependent upon balancing the elements within the psyche, and the deeper relationships of the elements (whether they oppose or complement one another) determine whether we are basically happy and balanced or develop neuroses, phobias, and other psychological disturbances.

All the elements originated by impressing the qualities of hot and cold, moist and dry on the First Matter, and one element could be changed into another by altering these qualities. When the qualities of moist and cold are imposed on the First Matter, the element Water results. If we boil Water, it is changed into Air (steam) by the replacement of cold wth hot. According to Jung, when two opposing elements encounter each other in the personality or are brought to the surface in a situation, there are three possibilities: 1) they may generate psychic energy; 2) they may neutralize each other; or 3) they may combine or unite. In alchemy and psychology, the third case is the desired one, for the union of opposite elements is the Conjunction of Opposites (Coniunctio Oppositorum), the creation of a higher unity and transcendence of the conflicting polarities.  



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