The four elements are particularly useful in understanding the essential nature of any individual's psychological make-up. In order to approach this subject, let us here limit ourselves to a discussion of the element of the Sun sign only; for the element of the Sun sign is usually the dominant element in considering the overall psychology of the person. This is so because the Sun sign's element reveals the attunement of one's basic vitality and power of self-projection, as well as the realm of experience that the person lives in every day and the fundamental quality of his or her consciousness. (More than one element in a particular chart can be regarded as powerfully active, however, as we will discuss in a later chapter.)
The Sun sign element shows many things: it reveals "where you're coming from." In other words, it reveals where your consciousness is rooted, to what realm of experience you are attuned, and from what field of activity and being you derive your power. The Sim sign element also shows what is "real" to the individual, for it is the unconscious assumption of what is particularly real and what isn't that determines how the person will focus his energy. As an example, the air signs live in the abstract realm of thought, and a thought for them is just as real (indeed more real, as evidenced from their behavior) as any material object. The water signs live in their feelings, and it is their emotional state that determines their behavior more than anything else. The fire signs live in a state of highly excited, inspired activity; and maintaining that state of being is crucial for the fire signs to stay healthy and happy. The earth signs are grounded in the material world. The material world and its considerations for survival and production are considered much more real than any other aspect of life.
Another way of expressing this same differentiation is to say that the element of one's Sun sign reveals the basic inner force motivating everything we do. The air signs are motivated by their intellectual concepts, the water signs by their deepest emotional yearnings, the fire signs by their inspirations and aspirations, and the earth signs by their material needs. If only psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors of various sorts would learn this basic classification of personality types, they would take a great step forward in their efforts to unravel the endlessly complex forces at work in human motivation and behavior.
The element of the Sun sign also gives us insight into how any individual sees life (i.e., the quality of their overall perception) and what expectations they have of life experience. In his Encyclopedia of Psychological Astrology, C.E.O. Carter has concisely expressed the psychological bias of each element in words that are worth repeating here. For the fire signs, he says that the self is felt as a "projection of the Life-Principle into Nature and acting upon it" and that these signs seek "experiences of a positive kind in the field of action." For the water signs, the self, projected into nature, is conceived as "likely to suffer and need protection." He points out that the water signs help to preserve life by "entering into the feelings of others" and that this ability to tune in on others' feelings can be a "helpful guardian or a cunning enemy."
The earth signs, according to Carter, see nature as a "field for the manifestation of life" and, through their instinctive attune-ment to the material world, they are able to help sustain life through the utilization and mastery of natural processes. For the air signs, nature is perceived as "something to be understood, as well as utilized, the understanding being the condition for complete and correct utilization." The airy mental principle is used therefore to improve life by giving one a perspective on spontaneous natural processes. The complementary nature of the air and earth principles is symbolized clearly by the joint rulership of Venus, Mercury and Saturn over the signs of these two elements.
When approached on the level of energy attunement alone, we come across some rather startling insights into the nature of the Sun sign element. Throughout his biography Born to Heal, the man called Mr. A whom we mentioned earlier repeatedly refers to the need that each of us has to "feed" his or her energy field. If we neglect to recharge our basic Sun sign energy (as well as the energies indicated by the elemental placement of the other planets and ascendent), we find ourselves becoming depleted, irritable, and more vulnerable to physical and psychological disturbances. We can accomplish this feeding in a number of ways: through intensive relationship (which we will deal with later), through tuning in consciously to the required energies, or through specific types of activities and involvements in everyday life. The Sun sign element represents the most important requirement for refueling since that is the primary energy that we are constantly depleting. In Born to Heal, Mr. A is quoted repeatedly concerning the serious consequences of allowing ourselves to become devitalized of our necessary element fuel.
We have all heard of a person being "out of his element," in other words someone dealing with a realm of activity which is alien to his true nature. For example, an airy person trying to deny his intellectual needs and make his living as a laborer would likely be out of his element. If this person didn't compensate by engaging in social or intellectual activities when he was off work, he would gradually exhaust himself because his air element would not be getting recharged. In other words, the element of one's Sun sign is the fuel that you need to feel alive! It is the source of our basic vitality and the power which enables us to revitalize ourselves in order to cope with the stresses and demands of daily life. Although theoretically one could compensate for spending the majority of one's time in a type of work that was "out of his element," any individual must find a type of work that is truly of his element if that vocation is going to be fulfilling over a long period of years.
In a general way, we can recharge our batteries by involving ourselves in activities that supply us with the necessary fuel. The water signs therefore need dealings with other watery people or intense emotional involvement with whatever they are doing. These people cannot be detached from their experience, so it is important that they choose activities and work that allow them a full scope for their emotional expression. The fire signs require involvement with other fiery people, with promotional, inspired goals and aspirations, or with a type of work that is physically demanding and active. The earth signs need to take on material duties and obligations, for the challenges of coping with the world at large stimulate their best energies and feed their need to ex press themselves through practical accomplishment. They may also recharge themselves by dealing closely with other earthy types of people. The air signs feel the need for regular relationship with other people of like mind, for social involvements that allow them a channel for the expression of their ideas, or for a type of work that gives them intellectual freedom and stimulation.
One can also consciously tune in on the required energy by cultivating close physical contact with that element; for, in a real way, the earth signs get their energy from the earth, the air signs get their power from the air, the water signs from the flow of watery feelings or from contact with water itself, and the fire signs from the Sun and physical activity. Anyone who doubts the truth of this statement has obviously not experienced its reality in his own life. Clairvoyants with especially refined perception have told me that they could see the rootedness in the earth of a Taurus, the rock-like groundedness of a Capricorn, a smooth flow of feeling sensitivity like a waterfall in Cancers, the sudden change of polarity similar to electrical storms in Aquarius, and so forth. One can therefore take advantage of contact with one's Sun sign element for the purpose of rejuvenation and recuperation from the devitalizing impact of life's demands.
In order to do this, the earth signs naturally need to get their feet in the mud once in a while, to get close to nature, and to tune in on the power of growth in trees and plants. To give an example of this, I once knew a double Taurus person who had no knowledge of astrology but who had found that she gained the greatest peace and tranquility by going to a nearby river to play in the mud for hours. The air signs need clean, thin, highly electric air for their recuperation, a quality of atmosphere that is never found in our cities or humid plains or agricultural valleys. This type of air is available particularly in the mountains, where it is not only clean but also rather dry and crisp. An Aquarius doctor friend of mine says that he believes that the best altitutde for air signs is at least one half mile above sea level, and he himself lives at such an altitude for that reason.
The water signs usually feel that living too far from a river, lake, or ocean is like living in a sterile desert. They are at their best psychically and emotionally when they have the opportunity to either immerse themselves in flowing water regularly or at the very least to be in the presence of water. Some readers may recall that Edgar Cayce, the great American clairvoyant, found that his psychic faculties operated more effectively when he lived near water, a fact which led to his moving near the ocean to Virginia Beach. Cayce's Sun was in Pisces, and his psychic readings are replete with references to the beneficial effects of being near water for psychic or metaphysical work.
The fire signs need to be outdoors in the sunshine, soaking in the radiant fire from the sun. They also need to remain physically active in order to tap into their fiery energy. A fire sign who has to remain cooped up for very long or who does not have the opportunity for vigorous physical movement soon begins to feel like he's dying. This is the reason that a debilitating illness or accident for the fire signs so often has such serious psychological consequences. Many readers have probably noticed that all the fire signs seem to have their peak energy while the sun is up, whereas they don't know what to do with themselves after dark. This fire energy can also be stored up during the summer months, to be used later during colder weather. I remember one Leo woman telling me that she was never sick during winter if she had been out in the sun a great deal the previous summer. However, during one summer, she had to remain indoors virtually all the time due to her work; and the following winter found her constantly ill.
Psychologist Ralph Metzner is one of the few in his field who has studied the elements as they relate to personality types. While at Stanford University, Metzner designed small encounter sessions between people of various element combinations. After some experience with these experiments and after studying the astrological correlations with the elements in some depth, Metzner concluded tht the four elements symbolize types of people who "metabolize experience at different rates" and in different ways. These different approaches to experience lead these four types of people to deal with conflicts or obstacles in their lives in different ways. The air signs tend to rise above conflict and to float around it. Although they may later resent the person who put the prob lem in their path, they will at the time rarely fail to deal with it gracefully. The water signs also detest all form of conflict (with the exception of some Scorpios). They tend to flow around it, under it, over it, or — if all else fails — to slowly wear away the person or thing in their path. Scorpio, however, often seeks out challenges and problems, subliminally realizing that such challenges call forth their greatest strength and resources. Still, Scorpio most of the time will maintain a pregnant silence, not wanting to cause unnecessary conflict.
The earth signs, being rather solid by nature, tend to disdain conflict, prefering to slowly absorb the brunt of the problem. However, if they are driven back against a wall, they are capable of hitting the obstacle hard with full force. This is particularly true of Taurus, the fixed earth, who will never seek out conflicts but who is capable of surprising power and anger if pushed too far. The fire signs tend to overpower obstacles, to burn them up, or to scare them away through show of force. They rarely display behavior that could be termed tactful. Lois H. Sargent, in her excellent book on chart comparisons How to Handle Your Human Relations, gives great importance to the elements as a means of understanding how different people approach problem-solving. She writes that the fire signs respond to situations with intensity, "desiring direct action in the solving of problems, and tending more to impulse than deliberation. The earth types are motivated by the desire for practical, useful results. They usually have sound common sense, whether they use it or not. The air sign people like to reason things out and generally think before they act. The water sign types are impressionable, sensitive, and intuitive. They incline to wait on circumstances for guidance in solving problems."
An understanding of the elements can, as we have seen, contribute to self-knowledge in many ways, showing us how we can best live with ourselves, fulfill our needs, and revitalize our energy field. The elements also give us an indication of how we can advantageously control and channel our energies. The medieval physician-astrologer Paracelsus, a man whom Jung considered a forerunner to modern psychologists, attributed a specific nature spirit to each of the elements. These spirits, or their variations, are found throughout mythology worldwide and symbolize graphically how the elements operate. This is not the place to dwell on the question of how "real" such spirits are, but a brief reference to the writings of Paracelsus here sheds light on how we can work with these forces. The undines were considered the spirits of water, and Paracelsus stated that they must be controlled by firmness. Hence, we can learn that watery people need to be firm with themselves and also that firmness is often the best way to deal with this type of person, especially when their emotions are out of control. The spirits of the air were said to be the sylphs, and they could be controlled through constancy. It is clear that a defininte, consistent approach to life is something that the air signs could well cultivate. Making a commitment with determined resolution is difficult for the air signs, but it is an important step in their evolution.
The spirits of the fire are the salamanders, and they can be controlled chiefly through placidity. In other words, the fire signs can curb the extreme uses of their energy by consciously cultivating a tranquil, placid state of contentment. If the fire signs can learn this art of calmly accepting life in the here and now, they would avoid a great deal of stress and wasted energy. The earth spirits are the gnomes, which are to be controlled by cheerful generosity. Obviously, cheerful generosity is not a quality commonly found in the earth signs, and it is therefore something they can all benefit from learning. And, I might add, the greatest strength and radiance of the earth signs shines forth when they have assimilated this quality into their nature.
This is not the place to go into great detail on the function of the elements in various healing arts, but it is worth mentioning in order to give a different perspective on the living reality of these forces. In fact, it is by direct experience with the flow of the elements, such as one can find through their use in the healing arts, that we can most obviously perceive their power and impact at every level of life. I have already mentioned how Mr. A used the basic life forces in his healing work, and readers should refer to Born to Heal for more extensive treatment of his ideas. Dr. Stone's work has also been referred to, and a full treatment of his therapeutic system called "Polarity Therapy" would take many volumes. More than any other Western physician, Dr. Stone has outlined a complete science of the four elements in a way that makes these forces accessible to treatment when they become unbalanced. Although Dr. Stone has written a number of books* most of them are too technical for the layman. He does, however, have a couple volumes that are fairly easy for anyone to understand, Energy: The Vital Principle in the Healing Art being the most thorough explanation of the elements. (See Appendix C for a more complete explanation of Polarity Therapy and its relation to astrology.)
Many of Dr. Stone's ideas were derived from Indian Ayurvedic Medicine, a very ancient system of healing based entirely on the relationship of the elements to foods, weather, exercise, medicines, and various types of activities. Chinese acupuncture is another type of healing art based on the theory of elements, and anyone getting a treatment of this type can experience the reality of extremely potent energy flow, as the specific points are stimulated in order to free the specific energy current (or "meridian") that was blocked or imbalanced. Those who study Hatha Yoga will also encounter the theory of the elements and their correlations with specific energy centers (or "chakras") found along the spine, and those who practice this yoga consistently can experience the reality of the elements in their own life with great immediacy. Dr. William Davidson, whose Lectures on Medical Astrology are well worth reading, was a homeopathic physician who lectured extensively about the importance of the elements. In his published lectures one may find mention of various physiological problems that come about due to an emphasis on a particular element in the natal chart.
All of these therapeutic systems are based upon a similar idea: that the elements are the vital forces that enliven us at every level. As the 19th Century American herbalist Samuel Thomson wrote:
*Dr. Stone's writings are now collected into three books. Health Building details a complete health program, including exercise and diet. Polarity Therapy: The Complete Collected Hbrks are available in a two-volume set totaling 576 pages, complete with hundreds of charts and diagrams. Volume I is the best introduction to Polarity Therapy for the new student. Write the publisher of this book for information and current prices.
All bodies are composed of four elements — Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The healthy state consists in the proper balance and distribution of these four elements, and disease is their derangement.
The Medieval-Renaissance theory of the four humors (choler or yellow bile, blood, phlegm, and black bile) was based on a similar notion and related to the elements of astrology. The theory was that when these four humours were mixed in exactly the right proportions in an individual, he would be healthy and have a well-balanced personality. A slight predominance of one humour or element (which we all have, according to our natal charts) was considered to affect not only a man's physical characteristics but also his complexion and temperament. The remnants of these old beliefs are still found in pur language, for the very word complexion means "entwined together" and the word temperament is derived from the Latin temperamentum, meaning "a mixing in proportions."
These ancient concepts were ridiculed by most scientists and physicians until recently, when the rediscovery of oriental healing methods and the renaissance of herbal and homeopathic methods have forced the open-minded members of these groups to take another look at long neglected ideas. If indeed we are composed of these four basic energies, it makes sense to relate treatment of specific ailments to the element attunement of the individual. One modern physician who has begun to delve into this subject is Dr. Aubrey T. Westlake, M.D., the author of The Pattern of Health. In his book, Dr. Westlake states that "disease in its origin is not material," but rather that it results from an interference with the free and unimpeded flow of the basic life energies, with a consequent "damming block, cutting off, alteration and distortion" of the energies. Only then, he writes, do certain conditions of deficiency, imbalance, overgrowth, etc. arise, and we call them disease. Dr. Westlake calls the elements the "formative ethers" and says that "the free flow and harmonious and balanced interaction of all these forces constitutes what we have called the state of health or wholeness." In words closely paralleling those of Dr. Stone's writings, Dr. Westlake continues:
Never before did we know so much about disease and pathological conditions — and so little about health and wholeness. Modern Medicine is indeed in a vicious circle, and there is no escape so long as we continue to think in purely materialistic terms. To escape from the impasse it is essential to begin to recognize that there are in fact forces which lie behind the manifestations of matter.
What does all this have to do with astrology? It is simply that, through the use of astrology with a proper understanding of the workings of the basic energies (or elements), we can ascertain which elements are excessive, lacking, or imbalanced or which ones are likely to be the source of problems, physically and mentally. As Dr. Westlake writes:
Here for the first time we have the possibility of a true preventative medicine, as we can now detect these deviations from the norm before they have manifested physically, at which early stage they are eminently treatable, or become set in a pattern which we know as pathological disease, when they are not.
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