An Archetypal Crucible

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As one of only a few astrologers in the western mystery school I am a member of, I am periodically asked to apply some aspect of astrology at the group’s annual West Coast retreat. One event particularly stands out for its compelling demonstrations of the power of astrological archetypes in human expression.

It was a workshop on Mercury in the elements. Most participants didn’t have a clue what their Mercury placement was, so it was identified for them when they signed up for their workshops. Following the requisite information on the elements, the planet Mercury and its expressions within the elements, I divided the participants into four groups by the element each person’s Mercury was in. With the workshop attendance around 65 people, distribution by element was fairly even, so the groups were a workable size.

Our meeting room couldn’t accommodate four breakout groups, so I announced that the only element I trusted to leave the room and come back when they were supposed to was Earth. This got a big laugh and proved to be true. The Mercury in earth folks huddled around the doorway just outside the room, finished first, and remained rooted there until summoned inside.

Each group was given two questions they were to discuss and report back to the larger group. The questions were: (1) What is the role of communication, and (2) what do you value most in others in communication? When we reassembled, the results were predictable—if you were an astrologer. Fire wanted to go first. Earth had a list of ordered bullet points. Air kept talking among themselves, adding to their list. Water stressed the feeling nature of communication.

Next they were put into two large groups of compatible elements. Fire met with Air and Earth met with Water. Their question was to determine the best way to resolve disputes. Conversations were pretty lively, even in the water/ earth group. It was easy to see that they were working well together, also reflected in their reports to the larger group. Energy was high and several people said how much fun they were having. Oh, how we rarely think to take an umbrella when the sun is shining.

Then came the inevitable. I asked them to get into groups with “the other element.” Fire and Earth were to meet together and Air with Water. Whereas in the two previous breakouts everyone went quickly and willingly into their groups, this time it was as if I were asking like poles of a magnet to touch. They would not assemble. I practically had to get a whip to drive them into their groups.

By the time they finally got together, the entire room was reduced to the emotional level of a kindergarten class. Water looked wounded. Air squirmed in their chairs, clearly bored. Fire folks were clearly irritated, and Earth visibly sulked. Whereas during the first two breakouts I may as well have gone for a swim for all anyone cared, this time I kept getting summoned for help. I had to keep focusing them on their task, which was again to discuss the best ways to resolve disputes.

When they reported back to the larger group they were like whining children complaining to mom about mean nasty kids. Air accused Water of wearing their hearts on their sleeves, grousing that this wasn’t group therapy. Water said Air was cold and rude and didn’t listen. Fire said Earth was so fixated on the rules of discussion that they couldn’t get to content. Earth wouldn’t say anything at all until one man with lower lip thrust out complained, “Fire wouldn’t let us talk.” Unlike the previous two groups of compatible elements, these forced pairings were so energetically perturbed with their discussion partners that couldn’t get to the assigned task.

As new understanding emerged for participants one man, a Sun/Mercury in Capricorn, shared with me, a Sun/ Mercury in Aries, his personal epiphany about me in front of the whole group. “Now I understand why you irritate the hell out of me and why at the same time I find myself strangely attracted to you.”

Here we were at this retreat because of our shared principles; but in this archetypal crucible, reduced to an elemental level of relating, we saw the joys and woes inherent in the range of expression of just one planet’s placement in the different elements. Experienced both so personally and in community, it was quite a lesson for all of us.

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