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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Four Elements: Earth, Fire, Water, Air – CREDO CV

I had a visit recently from a well-known Christian theologian and scholar, a dear friend, and I happened to mention the repetition of motifs between the Old and the New Testaments, in the Bible. For instance, the three sons of Noah: Ham for the Hamites, the blacks; Shem, the Semites, for the Jews; and Japheth, the Japhethites for the rest of us. (The yellow and red folks were not yet encountered.)

These were obviously eponyms, as are the Three Magi or Kings or Wise Men, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, who come to Bethlehem to present the newborn Jesus with gifts of myrrh, frankincense, and gold. Both groups represent humanity symbolically.

Even more remarkable is the Old Testament coincidence of the vision of Ezekiel I:10 mentioning the sequence of the man, the lion, the ox, and the eagle. These happen to be the astrological icons of the four fixed signs and their elements: air, Aquarius (man); fire, Leo (lion); earth, Taurus (ox, bull); and water, Scorpio (eagle). In the wheel of the zodiac, these four signs form the fixed cross of those four elements. These are repeated in the cardinal and mutable quaternities, making up the twelve signs of the zodiac. Each of these four is expressed through one of the three modalities (cardinal, mutable, or fixed) of each element, like the Hindu gunas. Water, for instance, can be fixed ice, mutable liquid, or cardinal vapor. Jung, himself, puzzled over the symbolic import of three and four. Astrology holds that answer for me. Three answers the question HOW? Four answers the question WHAT? Four is the number of the manifest world. Squares and cubes can be measured.

At this point, it should be noted that having only four elements, when today there are over a hundred, was not a sign of ignorance but a description of profound archetypal and symbolic process, as today in Jung’s four functions.

In the New Testament, they reappear as the icons for the four Gospels!
Matthew – Aquarius (man), air; the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Mark – Leon (lion), fire; the actions of Jesus Christ.
Luke – Taurus (bull), earth; the natural earthly life of Jesus         Christ.
John – Scorpio (eagle), water; the mystical, esoteric aspect of       Jesus Christ.

Those of you familiar with art will recognize these icons in medieval manuscripts, and if you have been to Venice, you will have seen St. Mark’s Cathedral and the raised statue of the lion.

Marie-Louise von Franz pointed out that in medieval monasteries the monks would meditate and discuss certain parables and sayings of Jesus from each of these four points of view. My own CREDO LX, “The Global Return of the Prodigal Son,” is an example, come to think of it, of applying the motif politically.

Jung’s Four Functions of the psyche follow the same pattern:
Intuition – water, the direct, nonrational expression of Self,
      opposite to
Sensation – earth, the practical expression

Thinking – air, the intellectual expression
      opposite to
Feeling – fire, the personal opinion expression

We must remember that we each have all four functions, but one tends to dominate and acts as the superior one, while the inferior one may operate even unconsciously.

Once, in a workshop, I put a china cup in the middle of the circled group. I asked them to write down their observations in single words. They had three minutes, and I used a stopwatch. The results were astonishing! The sensation people described its composition and uses, the thinking people, its origins and symbolic references. The feeling people described their personal opinion of its aesthetic qualities, positive or negative, but the intuitives, without exception, wrote down words that when read out could not by themselves conjure up a cup!!

I even humorously would assign the four elements to biographies of Jung: M-L von Franz’s intellectual Jung: His Myth in Our Time air; Barbara Hannah’s earthy Jung: His Life and Work; Laurens van der Post’s mystical Jung and the Story of Our Timewater; and Deirdre Bair’s comprehensive book outlining his life’s actions, Jung, a Biography fire. There are now many biographies, but each will fall into one of these categories, depending on the superior and auxiliary functions of the author.
Phew! That’s more than enough and I hope not too much!


1 comment:

Roslyn Ross said...

Insightful as always. Ros