From January 18th 2002, an article on the nature of the 4 Elements.
ACTIVE, STABLE AND REACTIVE ELEMENTS
“Everything that has been created came into being through the effects of the Elements “
– Franz Bardon, ‘Initiation into Hermetics’
Greetings my friends ! In this series of articles we will be looking at astrology and finding ways in which we can use it in our work with hermetics, the work of Self – crafting. It is my hope and aim to bring to you a deeper awareness of the subtle interconnections which exist between these two fields of study, whether you are new to astrology and hermetics, or a hardcore professional.
Astrology is not about predicting the future, and magic is not about the acquisition of power ; both are ultimately concerned with the transformation of grosser qualities into a purified or most refined quintessence. In order to do that, we must first identify what we have to work with, the whole cloth from which we will cut our robes. This is the step one work of introspection which Franz Bardon writes about in ‘Initiation into Hermetics’.
The task of fusing astrological and hermetic lore is made easier by the fact that they thankfully make use of the same mythic threads – the symbolic and transcendent language of the Elements.
Franz Bardon only alludes to the qualities of the Elements in his writings, preferring instead to let the student make their own discoveries and attributions; his list of qualities in the first step is vague for this reason. Each of us has our own perspective and part of the real magic of initiation is rediscovering the Elements at work. True illumination comes from within us. However, nearly 50 years have passed since IIH was first published, and many students have required further guidance at these steps because they lack a basic knowledge of the Elements and how they work. In this article, I would like to take a deeper look into the workshop of the Elements, clarifying and enlarging upon what Franz has already said, without repeating too much.
This work is offered to you with the hope that you will take it and use it as a springboard for your own meditations, they are guidelines only, and are taken from my personal notes.
The Elements are literally the energy substance of the Universe. They are the fundamental building blocks of creation and, though we humans only categorize them into 4 main groupings, through their infinite interactions they can be seen to give rise to all that is. As such, we cannot fully describe them in all their majesty but we can penetrate to their essence, and once we have gained an understanding of this, we can recognise them in all their infinite manifestations.
The Elements are literally everywhere. They manifest in all 3 bodies through the Akasha, the 5th element from which they originate, but it is in the workings of the astral materia that the Elements find their chief expression as the qualities of our character or personality.
Essentially, the 4 Elements and the essence of their characteristics are :
- FIRE: The drive to express Life. (Energy, enthusiasm and power).
- AIR: Thought and intellect. (Reason, objectivity, and wisdom).
- WATER: Feeling and empathy. (Compassion, sensitivity and love).
- EARTH: Preservation, practicality and pragmatism. (Common sense, ability to utilize the material and physical).
There is a correlation between the Elements and the various bodies, but this is really only useful for the student who seeks to understand the energy substance in question, for as stated previously the Elements are everywhere. The correlations given below are not absolute ones, there are no Elemental absolutes! Rather, I offer them as a way of describing the density of the Elements:-
- FIRE: The ‘I Am’ (our creative individuality, essential life essence or meaning).
- AIR: The Mental Body (our eternal Spirit, the Divine Thought behind and within our Astral ).
- WATER: The Astral Body (our emotional nature and personality, the desire nature).
- EARTH: The Physical Body ( the concentrated manifestation or condensation of all 3 finer bodies).
Further, and finally, the Elements can be understood as states of materialization:-
- FIRE: Light, the original pulse of Creation and raw potential.
- AIR: Gaseous, the ethereal state of pure formlessness.
- WATER: Liquid, the fluid state of primal (or inner) forms.
- EARTH: Solids, the materialized condensed matter (outer forms).
Bardon gives further attributions of the Elements in his writings which are extremely useful for magicians to meditate on. I will be looking at each of these Elements separately in a moment, but first, I’d like to introduce one more little complication!
One of the problems with working out the soul mirror of IIH is in assigning the qualities we uncover in our personality to a specific Elemental group. Often, there is an uncertainty over whether to assign a quality like laziness to Water or Earth, for example. If you encounter such a difficulty, don’t panic! You will not be struck down by a bolt of the ‘correct’ Element if you make a mistake! Make your best guess and later you will discover whether or not it was the right one for you to make. It is much more important that you uncover as many traits as possible and place them in the correct quantity grouping than the correct quality grouping i.e. whether it affects you more or less is much more important for initiation purposes.
That said, here are a few things which will help you to pin that elusive quality down. Bear in mind, that it is very normal practice for a quality or trait to manifest through more than 1 Element; for example, it is possible to be “Quick to Anger ” through both the Fire and Air Elements – with Fire it is impulsive and direct and arises from a lack of empathy, and with Air it arises through such things as judgemental thinking and a “know it all” attitude. You will know, which applies to you, if you listen to your conscience.
Try also to be as specific as possible with your introspection, saying “Angered when confronted with injustice”, rather than just “angry!!!”. This gives you more of a laser focus on what Elemental complexes are involved, and when, an often overlooked but crucial factor when it comes to the step 2 work of actually dealing with the biggest, baddest, ugliest bugs in our black mirror. If you know when the giant cockroach comes out of its hidey-hole, you can be waiting with a hammer! But cockroaches need love too!
If all of that doesn’t help you, try this : each of the 4 Elements has 3 ‘moods’ or modes of expression. An Element can be in any 1 of these 3 states. It can be :-
- Stable, or
Thus, there is an Active Fire, an Active Air, a Reactive Earth, a Stable Fire etc, which gives us 12 primary expressions of Elemental energy to work with, rather than just 4, and this makes it easier to perceive them at work. These 12 primary patterns, are the 12 signs of the zodiac used in astrology.
Now before you start tearing your hair out, thinking I am asking you to INCREASE you initiation workload by adding 8 more Elements to every step, Gods help you !!!, take it easy, I recommend you use these groupings only to fine tune your understanding of the 4 fundamental Elements of Fire, Air, Water and Earth by placing them under a more powerful microscope than that given in IIH.
We will now look at each of these Elements in turn under this magnification.
Fire is the Element that is directly associated with the essence of the life force, the universal chi or Reiki, which flows through all creation. Fire people are therefore animated and infused with an exuberant energy (the ‘vital energy’ Bardon speaks of is not the Fire Element but carries an emphasis of Fire ). This Element was identified by the psychologist C. G. Jung (who used astrology to assist in the psychoanalytical process) as the dynamic core of psychic energy, and this is truest in the sense of clairvoyance, or far-sight. Fire is the primordial Light. Light is the source of all life, it carries energy and power. The zodiac, like creation and its myths, begins with Fire in its Active state. In the zodiac and in the Earth Zone, Active Fire is embodied by Aries and its 30 main Intelligences.
Active Fire is bold, courageous, restless and burns its energy fiercely. It is self assertive and carries out of its origin as the source of creation an urge toward dynamic action aimed at new experiences. It is propelled by great energy and force and is connected with the planet Mars, the God of War. Within the physical and emotional bodies Aries energy links to the Root chakra, the base of the spine, the energy of survival, sexuality, and strength. In the tarot we see an image of the evolved Aries in the Magician, the first of the major arcana, a symbol of the enlightened Will exercising mastery over the Elements of Fire, Earth , Air and Water .
When Active, Fire is a pioneering energy, the direct impulse of the Creation when it gave the command FIAT LUX, ” Let there be Light”. Active Fire is the energy we embody in our infancy , in the weeks following our birth, when we view every experience as new and embrace them with absolute trust and wonder. Strong Active Fire impulses bring about qualities of the personality such as independent, bold, courageous, assertive, fiery, inspirational, direct, and decisive. Through the imbalanced or wounded aspects Aries can be egotistical, impulsive, selfish, impatient, aggressive, and lacking subtlety and focus. Because its essence is raw power it represents an energy that must be tempered. Yet, in the northern hemisphere Active Fire is most in evidence in nature during the first spring weeks, when the colours return to the world, and newborn lambs are playing in fields, so it is also innocent and delightfully pure and new.
Stable Fire is embodied cosmically in the stellar, and most directly for us by the Sun. Stable Fire is radiant, beautiful, ever pouring forth of its fiery essence, it is warming, life enhancing, and creative, and is embodied in the zodiac and in the Earth Zone as the 30 Leo Intelligences.
Stable Elements are Elements which have a concentrated mass of the Element in question. This mass is either centrifugal (constantly sucking more of the Element towards a centre) or centripetal (pouring an energy out from a centre), depending on the Fluid polarity. Stable Fire is naturally self expressive and so the concentrated storehouse of Fire Element is normally projected outwards, manifesting in human behaviour as such qualities as leadership magnetism, regality, majesticism, creativity, the urge for procreativity, self-confidence, fame, generosity, warm-heartedness, drama and heroism. Arrogance, pride, vanity and extravagance are among the flip side here. In the northern hemisphere (where western astrology developed its significance) Stable Fire is strongest in nature in the peak of summer, and has many of its qualities embodied in the cat kingdom, for its symbol is a Lion. The strength of Hercules, who tamed the lion in his soul, is legendary. Stable Fire personalities discover that their true strength has nothing to do with popularity or fame, but that it comes from the recognition that we are all stars, embodied in human form. The human heart is eternal, it goes on, because it is a part of the Creation, and must return.
Reactive Fire is more attuned to that ‘psychic core’ alluded to by Jung because it taps into the essence of Fires teachings, the mythic archetypes or images within the Akasha, which we human beings know as ideals, myths and beliefs. Reactive Elements are like spirals of Fire reaching into the future, over the edge of the known horizon, it is thus adventurous, prophetic, tactless, unrestrained, explorative, idealistic, romantic, optimistic, good humoured, believing and aspiring. It is that part of Fire which reaches up and out without rest until extinction. Reactive Elements are constantly changing, that is their mode of expression, and since the Fire Element is so directly attuned to the life essence or force, Reactive Fire must experience constant change in order to feel alive. There must always be a new horizon for it to explore, a new shape to assume. Routine, confinement and banality are extinction for Reactive Fire.
In the zodiac, Sagittarius embodies Reactive Fire in the form of a centaur, half man, half horse, often seen carrying a bow and arrow. This symbol addresses the qualities of Reactive Fire very well. It is connected with Jupiter and with humanities athletic, religious and philosophical dimensions. In nature, Reactive Fire is the time when autumn turns into winter.
Air is limitless and free. It cannot be grasped, possessed, or even truly quantified. Like the sky it is an infinite property, and was perceived in ancient times to be the home of the gods. This was an ancient tradition, because the ancient wise-ones were magicians and astrologers and the power of the gods was always linked to particular planets which were named after them. People of Air are renowned for their intellectual abilities and social charm because they mix well with others and enjoy the stimulation of conversation. The Air qualities reflect mostly intellectual and social characteristics and are therefore often properties of the Mental Body, which like Air is also highly mutable, changing its form according to its focus.
Active Air is equilibrating and harmonizing. It moves between polarities and mediates between them, and is thus a balancing and partnering force. Active Air is karmic balance, justice and cosmic harmony , the relationship between self and other, (hence all motivations towards partnership) even-handed, harmonious, artistic, diplomatic, peacekeeping, and impartial. Because it is so light, but motivated to be active, it hovers between action and inaction and is thus suspension, embodied in the Scales of Libra, the Scales of Maat. Active Air , as it hovers in suspension, is vulnerable to exertion from two forces, gravity (the inner personal importance of a thing) , and pressure ( stress from external influences), and when either are applied, Active Air alters the balance accordingly. It is therefore also manifest in human qualities as indecisiveness, mental paralysis (both gravity and pressure applied simultaneously!), over-compromise, appeasement, and judgement.
Active Air is connected with Venus and is most evident in nature during the seasons when autumn is initiated and a balance is struck in nature after the harvest time (which came immediately before under Reactive Earth).
Stable Air is confusing for a lot of people, and for the rational mind specifically, which has trouble coping with the eccentricities of this Elements behaviour. Stable Elements, as previously stated, are storehouses of their Elements, collecting infinite energy into a centre or spinning it out from one; in this respect, a good symbol for Stable Air, if we can put aside our human judgements of such a thing as destructive, is the twister or tornado. Not only does it behave in the manner previously described, but it is also highly unpredictable in its movement, which is also characteristic of Stable Air.
The Stable Air qualities we human beings express include humanitarianism, innovation, group consciousness, progressiveness, eccentricity and weirdness, altruistic serving of others, visionary qualities, rebelliousness, aloof detachment, emotional superficiality (can I say ‘Vulcan-ism’?), individualistic freedom and extremism . Stable Air also rules over the airwaves, the transmission of images and sounds along invisible lines through the ether, and thus also has a connection to the collective (universal) consciousness, the well of divine inspiration.
It is represented in astrology by the sign Aquarius and by the 30 Intelligences of Aquarius in Bardon’s PME. In ancient times Saturn ruled over this sign and its sigils would need to be drawn in black, like those of Capricorn, but its rulership is changing hands to Uranus in these times, and that is why they must be drawn in violet. In nature, Stable Air manifests most directly during the last winter months, when the power of the Earth undergoes a new awakening, before the sleeping seeds shoot anew.
Reactive Air is like the playful spirit of a gentle refreshing wind on a summers day – mentally agile, versatile, inquisitive, flowing, gossipy (anyone who ever truly heard the voice of the wind knows it tells many tales!), conversational, friendly to all, adaptable, light hearted and airy, busy with many ideas, volatile, studious and talkative, superficial, joyous, chaotic (lacking in structure), often excitable and mentally over stimulated, changeable, nervous, restless and inconsistent.
Reactive Air is connected to the stage of growth when we as children have mastered the ability to grasp and wield objects, and begin relating one object to another, learning to make mental comparisons. At this stage we begin externalizing our energy to the mental body and develop communication, walking and speech. We learn to label things, to name and identify them, and to move from one place to another by force of will. Reactive Air is Gemini in the zodiac, the Twins. It has trouble settling in any one place and flits around mentally, and so also astrally and physically.
In nature Gemini is the height of flower season, and the period just before summer begins, when natures diverse and multitudinous colourful joys explode all around us. Mythically and also magically, there is a connection here with Janus, the Roman god of doorways, depicted as having two faces, one signifying past wisdom and the other future knowledge, and with Hermes, the Winged Messenger of the Gods , who brought the teaching of language and mathematics to mankind and was also the communicator or deliverer of The Emerald Tablet from which Hermetic Science (magic) as we know it evolved.
Water is the essence of emotion and the cooling, healing qualities of feeling, empathy and sensitivity. The Elements can also be grouped into 2 groups of 2 – Fire and Air are self expressive Elements, whereas Water and Earth are self containing Elements. They represent human qualities that are more receptive, insular, and passive. Water is deeply emotional, reflective, empathic and in tune with the invisible and subtle, with hidden mood undercurrents and the feeling nature. It is the polar opposite of Fire and is Magnetic as opposed to Electric, collecting and flowing downwards rather than projecting and radiating outwards.
Active Water is like a river flowing to the sea, it is Water in action, flowing around and over-under things rather than attempting to remove them. It is protective, defensive, flooded (emotional deluges cause catastrophic dampness and extinguish warmth and light), cautious, emotionally sensitive (especially with regard to psychic and emotional vulnerability), filial, parental, nurturing, tenacious, history conscious i.e. memory retentive, intuitive, unwilling to let go, timid, reclusive and hermit-like. Like the Moon which connects with the Active Water Element most directly, it has a highly reflective and Magnetic nature which is also both highly rhythmic and serves as a repository for past cycles. It is that part of Water which remembers and in this cognition, moves from instinct.
In the zodiac, Active Water is embodied in Cancer, the Crab, which is also symbolized in earlier cultures as the World Turtle, a Mother Goddess who carries and nurtures the entire cosmos. In nature, Active Water’s healing effect can be seen and felt as summer begins and during the first weeks after the Sun reaches its zenith in the sky overhead, the annual ‘Summer of Love’.
Stable Water is deep and still. Its reflectiveness runs deeper than that of Active Water (and deeper than any other Element), because of its stillness. It is dark, full of mystery, the unknown, and suspicion. Like all Stable Elements, Stable Water collects and projects a storehouse or pool of its Element, and for this reason its human qualities include intensity, passion, great depths of feeling, desire, regenerative power, psychic and magical power, magnetism, penetrating perceptiveness, lusts, devotion, callousness and mercilessness, vengefulness, stubbornness, jealousy, suspicion, self destruction and self loathing, determined and persistent will or effort, and transformation.
In the zodiac, Stable Water is embodied by Scorpio, the Scorpion and the Eagle. The Eagle symbolizes the transformed and purified Stable Water, which has had all the impurities removed and thus reflects the Divine Light from within its depths – qualities such as undying loyalty, love until and beyond death, and deep inner knowing. The sign itself has many occulted mysteries.
In nature Stable Water is the time when the finger of winter strokes death across the autumn lands (Samhain or Halloween), freezing the process of growth and leading to a transformation. It is connected with both Mars and Pluto, the latter being the Lord of the Underworld, the former, God of War. This shows an occult connection between Stable Water and Active Fire, and many of their qualities can be interchanged, for instance, both are intense and passionate energies; the difference is in their basic substance – the intensity and passion of Active Fire is more from the head, than from the emotional or astral body.
Reactive Water is an ocean of feelings, moving in tides, containing many hidden or unconscious things. It is the most fluid manifestation of the Elements and changes its astral or emotional shape depending on the influences placed upon it. Its Magnetism is keyed to be ultra sensitive to external stimuli, and thus it is the most easily influenced mode of Water.
Reactive Water is present in human personalities as compassion, deep empathy, psychic sensitivity and vulnerability, emotional receptivity, soul yearnings, healing power (the spiral of astral energy projected outwards centripetally, whereas the deep psychic impressionability of Reactive Water flows from its centrifugal movement), illusion weaving, fantasy, surrealism, dreaminess, self sacrifice and martyrdom, gentleness, oneness, escapism and delusion, gullibility, hyper-sensitivity, dissipating behaviours and sluggishness, and both lonely isolation and meditative seclusion.
In the zodiac and in evocation Pisces is the sign of Reactive Water. The duality of Reactive Water is symbolized as 2 fishes wrapped around one another. The last Great Cycle was a Reactive Water one (“I will make you fishers of men”) , the one we are currently transiting into is characterized by the Stable Air element already described. Both Jupiter (or Zeus in Greek myth) and Neptune (the God of the Sea) are the planets connected with Reactive Water.
In nature Reactive Water is the time of winters decay into a new spring, when the ice begins to melt, and water re-activates the seed of life.
Earth stabilizes, solidifies, materializes, grounds and supports. It is that part of the YHVH, the Tetrapolar magnet, which binds the universe together. It is ElectroMagnetic, propagating and self preserving in nature. As Bardon tells us , through its solidifying effect, it brings all the other Elements together and gives them a unique concrete form, but through its limiting effect “space, measure, weight and time have come into being.” Because the Earth Element came into being through the reciprocal action of the other 3, it contains them all and it is this which gives us the prime Earth principle of omnipresence.
Earth in human expression utilizes the material and physical world, being practical, reliable, steady, solid, sure, methodical, patient and self disciplined.
Active Earth is Earth energy projected outwards to achieve a result, it wants to get things done, manifest a permanent effect or climb the highest mountains in a determined way. It is disciplined, governmental, organized, structured, persistent, wise, responsible, reliable, industrious, conscientious, enduring the harshest material conditions, practical, achieving, pessimistic, overly conventional, ambitious or traditional, rigid, materialistic, over-conservative and callous. It possesses a built in capacity for realizing what is practically possible and the time and effort required to materialize it.
In the zodiac and the Earth Zone, Capricorn is the Active Earth representative. It is the mountain goat which clambers up the path of life taking each obstacle as it comes but never forgetting the goal is at the top.
In nature, winters heart is the time of Active Earth. After the northern hemispheres winter solstice the Earth must endure and resist death in order to be reborn next spring, and during this time, she is at her most resilient and hardy.
Stable Earth is rock solid. It is strong, secure, tough, resistant, dependable, steady, building slow but sure, possessive, unyielding, acquisitive, self indulgent, stuck, greedy and materialistic, retentive and stubborn to change its ways, thoroughly practical and always ready with common sense. Physical sensation in human beings is the chief point of expression for Stable Earth qualities, because this Element is tactile and draws its strength directly from the physical world via contact with nature, touching, eating and drinking.
Venus is the planet most associated with Stable Earth, for She is the ruler of Taurus, the Bull. This animal, along with relatives like the Ox, Bison and Buffalo, embodies Stable Earth.
In the cycle of nature in the northern hemisphere Stable Earth comes when spring has returned and the power of Mother Nature is at her height once more.
Reactive Earth is like fluid matter, mud, or molten rock. It is in a state of purification and refinement. Its symbol in astrology is therefore a Virgin, which represents this quest for purity at the heart of Reactive Earth. Human qualities manifested through Reactive Earth include detailed analysis, scientific method, perfectionism, scepticism, helpfulness, worry and hypochondria, dutiful respect, humility and humble acts of service, fine discrimination, objectivity, criticality, meticulousness, hygiene and cleanliness, pettiness and experiential innocence.
In nature Reactive Earth is the golden harvest time, land ripened with fields of corn and wheat. The soil is tilled and ploughed and the harvest is shared among all. Reactive Earth loves evidence, fine details, perfection, reason and logic, and can be very critical and fussy.
Hopefully this short dip into the Elements has inspired you to make your own connections, and to see new ways in which you can work with them. It only touches the surface of what you can discover about them. One of the mysteries is that all you need to know is already within you – we human beings are microcosmic reflections of the macrocosm, we are embodiments of all 4 elements, expressing through all 3 modalities, each of them having 2 polarities, yet from 1 it All comes!
Find the One, and the rest is as easy as 1,2,3,….