This is article No 7 in a series of early articles that I have called my ‘book blog’ series. These articles were originally written for incorporation into a book project which was to be called ‘Mandala of Love: Consciousness, Ethics and Society’, which I abandoned in favour of publishing on this website.
A prime expression of the mandala archetype, and a good way for us to embark upon an exploration of mandala imagery, is the arrangement of the four classical physical elements, Earth, Air, Water, and Fire, into a four-fold pattern, which resembles the four directions of the compass rose. In Western thought, Fire and Earth, are often found opposed as the north and south quadrants, while Water and Air are opposed in the western and eastern directions respectively. In this mandala of the physical elements, the unifying element, Ether, is often included. Ether, which symbolises the space of Consciousness in which the four classical physical elements arise, takes the central position as the quintessence.
Words are Symbols
Carl Jung had a very keen understanding of the way in which all language is symbolic – that all words are symbols. In particular, he understood that in the pre-modern world-view the concrete physical world was (and is) felt to be, not just symbolically, but actually, connected with inner psychological and spiritual principles. Hence the four elements, which we still find in belief systems around the world from North America to Tibet, are usually associated with ancient and deeply insightful systems of psychological and spiritual thought. In these systems of thought, physical elements are either associated with personality types, or have recognised symbolic associations with psychological and spiritual principles, or components of the creative process. Continue reading