I am trying to describe consciousness from a magic elementalist perspective. I've dug through a ridiculous amount of pages of occult alchemical lore without success. My goal is to learn if students and/or practitioners described the human soul/consciousness with respect to elemental energies.

My world has many tie-ins to the occult and alchemical genres, and so I am trying to define the soul with respect to them. My question is: in the logic of alchemical practice, what reasonably associates/describes human decision making concepts with elemental attributes?

Clarification: I am looking for some existing thought(references) that attempts to roadmap this out.

  • $\begingroup$ I believe I've made your question more clear with my edit (you can roll it back if you disagree). However, a brief Google search reveals considerable discussion of "the alchemy of consciousness." To help us out, what about that concept doesn't meet your needs? Thanks. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2018 at 1:56
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH yeah that wording works too. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Nov 8, 2018 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ Have you ever read Spare, or Hine? I find their view of the mind quite satisfactory. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2018 at 12:43

4 Answers 4



Alchemy is a soteriological practice, a means by which we attain salvation. Decision making is centered around the alchemical logic of elemental energies that are conducive or not conducive to achieving union with one's full potential; through transmutation of the soul to a higher paradigm of consciousness into a new mode of being wherein you mesh with the deeper, humbling and all-pervading true alchemical "gold".

The alchemical element most strongly associated with consciousness, is aether, void or quintessence. Aether permeates all matter, but rather than providing a medium through which light travels or the basis for alchemical medicine as with medieval quintessence, aether is more properly conceived as the instantiation of mind in any information-bearing system. That is, even a rock or a thermometer, to borrow from philosopher David Chalmer's panpsychism, can be said to be conscious (or participating in mind / aether) to differing degrees.

Thus the logic of alchemical practice is driven by combination of aether/void with the fire, earth, air and water elementals (perhaps these could be represented as personality traits, specific virtues or general approaches/schools addressing the alchemical praxis of mind). The aim, as above, is soteriological, to transmute phenomenological existence itself to an expanded plane of awareness wherein one can be said to have dissolved into the universal aether.

Alchemical lore

Zosimos of Panopolis was a late 3rd century AD Gnostic alchemist from Roman Egypt. The Visions of Zosimos wrote:

There are two sciences and two wisdoms, that of the Egyptians and that of the Hebrews, which latter is confirmed by divine justice. The science and wisdom of the most excellent dominate the one and the other. Both originate in olden times. Their origin is without a king, autonomous and immaterial; it is not concerned with material and corruptible bodies, it operates, without submitting to strange influences, supported by prayer and divine grace.

The symbol of chemistry is drawn from the creation by its adepts, who cleanse and save the divine soul bound in the elements, and who free the divine spirit from its mixture with the flesh.

As the sun is, so to speak, a flower of the fire and (simultaneously) the heavenly sun, the right eye of the world, so copper when it blooms—that is when it takes the color of gold, through purification—becomes a terrestrial sun, which is king of the earth, as the sun is king of heaven.

In your world, alchemy of mind is a contemplative/meditative practice where the alchemical vessel is imagined as Zosimos did; a visualised baptismal font where elemental tinctures combine as purifying divine waters of Hellenistic alchemy, transmuting and perfecting the Gnostic initiate into Godhead.

This would also be consistent with Jung's take on Zosimos alchemical treatises as allegories of self-destruction and rebirth, which Antonio D'Alonzo explains a lot better than I:

Jung gives a lot of space to Paracelsus' writings, to the ‘Mercury spirit' and to the symbolism of the tree. But the main figure at the center of Jungian interest is Zosimos of Panopolis (III-IV A.D.). Jung was fascinated by Zosimos' treaties because of their visionary features, the oneiric projections on the objectivity of the matter, perceived by alchemists as intrinsic substantiality and not as a mere result of the dynamics of the unconscious process of individuation. In the Mysterium Coniunctionis , the last work before his death, Jung seems to realize that the dialectic integration of the fourth term – matter – in the divine Trinitarian scheme expresses symbolically the Whole, yet it doesn't realize it concretely and only mentions its possibility. The concretization of the alchemic work is given only by the effective, viz. spiritual, unification between man and cosmos ( Unus Mundus , according to Dornean terminology). At the end Jung, in his constructive approach to alchemy, abandons the idea of overcoming the doctrinal boundary between the reassuring shore of psycho-analytical interpretation and the obscure karstic streams of initiatory operations. Despite his enormous erudition in the subject, he remains a psychologist, miles away from the followers of contemporary neo-gnosis. The task to widen the epistemological horizon of the Jungian research on alchemy has been carried on by two followers of his work, Marie Luise von Franz and Robert Grinell. The former connects the Jungian elaborations on the alchemic coniunction to the theory of synchronicity, referring to the heritage of the classic esoteric doctrine of micro-macrocosm, viz. the anthropo-cosmic dimension of the Whole. Grinell, on the other hand, focuses on the ‘alchemic' re-elaboration of the psychoid processes, defined as indissoluble interactions between spirit and matter; he excludes completely the possibility of a unilateral reading that doesn't take into consideration the coniuctio of the two words.

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    $\begingroup$ The thing I like about this answer is that so far its the only one to incorporate alchemical concepts as some of it sounds like quotes from some of the 'schools'. Though, completely misses answering the question. Ps I didn't downvote. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Nov 8, 2018 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ I find it odd that the only answer which does make sense from an alchemist point of view has been downvoted. Have my +1. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2018 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ @anon I've tried to expand on my answer, but I am still not entirely sure whether I have fully grasped the question. Please let me know if not $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2018 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ @ChairmanYang Laughs You have basically written the prologue to my question. To actually answer it you would need to actually relate the elements fire, water,etc to personality / decision making traits. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Nov 8, 2018 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ @anon I think the most important thing is that there are many ways you could do this: "perhaps these could be represented as personality traits, specific virtues or general approaches/schools addressing the alchemical praxis of mind". You could literally pick something off the internet. Without knowing more about the parameters of your world, and exactly how alchemy is interpreted in your story, it's difficult to propose a good fit. My answer is consistent with the question, insofar as relates to a philosophical tradition and spiritual roots of Hermetic alchemy (e.g. Zosimos of Panopolis) $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2018 at 14:58

If you are trying to define the mind in terms of water, air, fire and dirt, you aren't going to find anything better than the Insane Clown Posse videoclip for their song Miracles.

When alchemists used those elements' names to describe things in nature, it was an arbitrary choice. They could as well have used words like Thingamajib, Watchacallit, Wossname and Foobar.

Alchemists' elemental vocabulary is more elaborate than that, though. If you wish to describe the mind, use terms that are appropriate for the mind.

The human mind, like anything else in the universe, is a manifestation of Kia. There is little point in elaborating further what it is made of - rather, it is more useful to discuss where it is, or how and to what it is attuned at a given moment.

Peter J. Carroll elaborates in this in his book Liber Null & Psychonaut, in the section about the Alphabet of Desire.

These are the "elements" of the mind, from an emotional analysis point of view. Notice that this is a very poor analogy - proper explanation would be bigger than Carroll's book itself.

enter image description here

The upper six are the proper "elements". Consider the lower four as "modes".

From these symbols and a load of other alchemist symbols, many emotions, such as joy, releade, anger etc. are conveniently placed in a diagram:

enter image description here

The chaos ball at the center represents pure laughter.

An alchemist/psychonaut's work involves navigating through those emotions for various effects. For further reaeing, also consider Phil Hine's Condensed Chaos for an explanation on how this connects your mind to magic. Again, the proper explanation is as large as the book itself. Have a good read.

  • $\begingroup$ Totally off the rails when I meant elementalism (fire, water, wind, etc). But in an odd cryptically amazing twist of events, in the diagram, the symbols for the modes pain, pleasure, elation, depression are also the same alchemical symbols for fire, wind, water, earth which is much closer to what I am looking for. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Nov 8, 2018 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ @anon again, those element names are completely arbitrary. Alchemy sees each and every thing as being made of the same stuff, and when it says that something is related to the water element for instance, it doesn't mean literal water, nor any egregore of water. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2018 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ that's not true, that may be the outlook of A branch of alchemy but alchemy is an incredibly large, fractured and convoluted cluster of arcane concepts. While the primal elements are not homogenous across all versions, they are present in a great many. But you are sort of right when you say water doesn't literally mean water. It can literally mean water but generally abstractly references a fluidic state which is how I have abstractly seen it applied to the human conscious. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Nov 8, 2018 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ Looking closer you would probably have nailed the answer if you explained how the modes in the diagram interact with the elements, because that is literally the question. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Nov 8, 2018 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ @anon I'm not feeling like writing a 1024 pages essay today. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2018 at 16:50

One approach I have seen is that the human spirit is that which cannot be broken down, after all else has been dissolved. It is the thing which breaks the patterns of alchemy. That is how the Chinese concept of shen has been described to me. It is the human spirit that cannot be further divided.

A soul may appear to have elements of fire, or elements of metal, or whatnot, but it cannot be broken apart to reveal just the distilled fire or just the refined metal.

As for the best way to associate human decision making to your alchemy system, it depends on the alchemy system, of course. Personally, I find the Wu Xing (the Five Elements) from Chinese philosophy are very effective at breaking down the way humans make decisions and assigning elements to them. However, their system is rather different from the Four Element system which is common in Western alchemy.

By request, I can dig into how I think Wu Xing fits. Wu Xing is a very effective pattern to apply to many things, other than just thought processes. Accordingly it is very abstract. I adapted it to decision making to support a software development team I was part of at work. We had a customer whose needs changed so fluidly that not even agile techniques like Scrum could keep up. It was just the nature of the beast. Rather than try to force our customer to follow our approach, we developed this Wu Xing software development model. We found that the five elements of the Wu Xing are so intuitive that if we used them, our customer started to move in lockstep with us without us forcing them in any way. It just became the natural way to do business.

This is what we came up with:

Wu Xing

The human thought process naturally flows around the outside circle.

  • In the planning phase (water), the goal is to bring the energy levels down as low as possible. You want to be able to get a clear crisp view of what you are about to do before you put energy into it. When you are ready, seeds germinate and you enter...
  • The Growing phase (wood). Growing is your exploratory phase. You brainstorm in all sorts of directions all at once. You know what you goal is, but not where nor how to achieve it. This process continues until you downselect to...
  • One thought worth pursuing (fire). This is where you go off and implement things. The Chinese considered this to be an "upward" energy, like flames racing up a rope. The primary charactaristic of fire here is that it will burn itself out when it runs out of fuel, so it races along the path set forth in the growing phase. When it does, you enter....
  • Stabilizing (earth). In this phase, harmony is the name of the game. You're trying to bring everything into alignment gently. I've been watching too many baking shows, so I think of it like folding chocoalate into whipped egg white foam. You have to be gently. If you beat the chocolate into the foam (such as with a powered mixer), you'll pop all the air bubbles and you wont have a foam left. You have to listen to the environment, and make the product of your firey phase fit. Once that harmony is there, you can...
  • Stabilize (metal). This is the codificaiton phase. This is where you can do things like write specifications or iron out unit tests, or simply put words to the ideas you already had. When this step is done, you're ready to plan the next phase (water).

So, by this system, human thought consists of constantly walking around this cycle, developing ideas.

What made the system so fascinating to us is the interacting or "controlling" connections. What happens when two people interact using these patterns? Well it turns out there's some well defined behaviors that reach across the five elements. Water controls fire, fire controls metal, metal controls wood, wood controls earth, and earth controls water. We encouraged the correct interactions with the small words that appear next to each dashed line.

The beautiful pattern that forms is known as the grandfather/son relationship. To demonstrate it, let's start with a "hot" idea that's burning you up, and you have the idea that you need to gain control of it before it destroys you. Accordingly:

  • The original idea starts in the fire phase. You choose to start your new idea in the water phase, because water controls fire. The fire is going to go in the direction it will go. Think fighting forest fires. Rather than going after the fire directly, you go after its fuel, dousing it strategically to shape the fire. At some point this will force the original idea to try to harmonize with this environment, as its fuel is gone (original: fire->earth)
  • Now the relationship is reversed! Now the original idea is in the controlling position over the new idea (earth controls water). Now it can create dams and flows and shape the movement of the water. This can happen until you can no longer just sit still in the water phase, and need to generate new ideas to incorporate this harmonious position. (new: water->wood)
  • Now our new idea is back in control. It can generate so many new brainstorms that there's no way they can reach harmony. This forces the old idea to switch to metal to pen those ideas in a strong solid form (original: earth->metal).
  • Now the old idea is back in control again. It can garden and prune the brainstorm of the new idea until there is only one natural path, transitioning to fire. (new: wood->fire).
  • Now the new idea is the thing that's burning. It melts and shapes the codified ideas of the original idea like a blacksmith with a hammer. Soon the shaping is complete enough that the original idea has to plan how its going to do its next step. (original: metal->water)
  • ... now we have the same relationship we started with, except the roles are reversed. We can repeat this as long as needed.

What we found is that if you follow this pattern, the result is so easy to follow that people subconsciously tend to align themselves in this grandfater/son pattern. Thus, as far as "human decision making" goes, it should be an awefully useful pattern!

  • $\begingroup$ I am not looking to break down the soul into the elements I am looking to break human decision making with respect to the elements. It does not need to be a 100% breakdown as long as it takes a good stab quantifying decisions to elements. I didn't see what you were talking about in the wiki, so if you could elaborate more on how Wu Xing applies to this paradigm that would be great. This might be a good answer as I think you were on the brink of answering the question. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Nov 8, 2018 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ @anon I added some work I did in the past on the topic. It's a tricky topic to adapt only because the original Wu Xing is so incredibly useful that I almost feel bad showing my interpretation of it as confined to thinking (or in this case, software development) $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 8, 2018 at 16:39

The point of this is explaining a soul with just elements. Am I right? If not pls write quick in the comments.

The Soul is something not 'existing'. You cannot touch nor prove it's there. After all it's just a theorie that we have a soul (Maybe even in your world). The Soul isn't something made of elements of mass like earth, water or air. The only thing, that comes close is Energy.
Pure Energy is also not 'existing'. It's in the element fire (A fire is energy) and lightning (if that's a seperate element from fire).

You could say fire and lightning is energy in a form (heat and electric energy) and you need special abilities to clean or purify energy and build with that a soul or change one.
You could say pure energy is like a block and a soul is a block puzzle or a electrical diagram. Or you could say pure energy is like a colorful slime and the soul is a ball with a great lightshow.

I hope this helps or brings up new ideas :)

PS: If you explain it like that narrative nonsense, like 'the fire of the soul' gets a context.
PPS: You could also say that magic power is generated by your soul and if you overdue, you lose your mind and memories, or just die, or just loose your soul so you cannot use magic again. Thats up to your fantasy


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