When I wrote this article in 1994, my goal was to inspire fellow astrologers to think of the four elements on a grander scale, and how mythology, story, and symbol connect to the four elements of fire, water, air, and earth.
The Mountain Astrologer
Dec. – Jan. 1994, Page 81
ASTROLOGY AND ALCHEMY
A way to create order out of chaos is to divide the cosmos into four elements: fire, water, air, and earth. These four elements also correspond to four directions and colors: water is west (black), fire is south (red), air is east (yellow), and earth is north (white.) The four colors also represent the four races of humanity. These four elements are found in many magical and spiritual systems such as the four elements of astrology, the four suits of the Tarot deck, and the four elements of the alchemical schools of Medieval Europe and ancient Egypt. The magic of alchemy is to transform our base selves into gold, radiant and rare.
The element water is the nurturing, feminine element that represents emotions, spiritual belief, faith, and love. In astrology, the water signs are Pisces, Cancer, and Scorpio. Water is the essence of life, the sea of fertility, the amniotic fluid of the womb, and the womb of the ocean mother from whom all life emerged. According to the ancient Chinese, water is the most powerful element for it can flow around any obstacle in its path without changing essence. The quest for the fountain of youth, Jonah in the belly of the whale, Noah and the ark, and the waters of the holy grail are examples of water myths in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions.
The exciting, masculine element fire represents the will, drive, destiny, and spirit in action. In astrology, the fire signs are Sagittarius, Aries, and Leo.Fire is the phallus ejaculating the seeds of creativity. Prometheus bound, Satan and his flames, and Apollo in his sun chariot are just a few of the many fire myths.
Water and fire have a larger symbolic significance. The mixture of fire and water is an alchemical balance of emotion put into action, or action stemming from strong emotion. One defines the other and creates the balanced polarity of yin (feminine) and yang (masculine), the harmonious blend of night and day, dark and light. As we breathe, our lungs expand, becoming most yang. When our lungs reach the most expanded place possible, we exhale and out lungs again become yin. This cycle continues, just as high noon evolves to midnight returns to noon. The interplay between masculine and feminine elements is the essence of life. Death occurs when yin and yang separate.
In alchemical script, the symbol for fire is a triangle and the symbol for water is an inverted triangle, and the symbol for fire is a triangle. Super-imposed, one upon the other, they create the six-pointed star of the cabalistic Hebrew mysteries, the Seal of Solomon (Sulyman).
The masculine element air represents the mind, mental activity, and intellect. In astrology, the air signs are Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius. The Tower of Babel, the winged messenger God Mercury (Greek Hermes), and the smoke of the peace pipe are air just a few of the many air myths and symbols. The power of communication is valued throughout history.
The fourth element is the stable, feminine earth which represents the material world, money, health, tangible goods, and the concrete reality of our mother earth that we walk upon daily. Because we are in a physical body, earth plane reality cannot be ignored. The minotaur of ancient Crete, the golden calf, Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders, Persephone in the Underworld, and the goose that laid the golden eggs are earth myths and stories.
Together air and earth have a male and female polarity just as fire and water are polarized. The mixture of air and earth is the alchemical balance of making ideas reality, and changing physical reality through ideas, values, thoughts, and beliefs. The legend of the sword in the stone is an archetypical example of this type of alchemy. Nowadays, research done by the Western medical community is focusing on the link between and physical health (earth) life outlook (air).
By working with the four elements in astrological horoscopes, we become part of the collective whole, what the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung called the collective unconscious, or the akashic record (the astral record of all that has ever been in existence). By using astrological tools, one is no longer in an isolated struggle for clarity. Instead, one is part of the greater whole as the ancient four elements blend to create a healing alchemy.