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Astrology Articles
Article Title: Sublimation and Air
Date Published: 6/1/1997
- by Stephanie  Clement
The Alchemical Process of Gaining Objectivity
How many of us have wanted to fly, dreamt about flying, and even ordered our lives so that we have the opportunity to soar, glide or fly with mechanical assistance? Humans are fascinated with the capability of flight. We catalog birds and organize entire societies around this activity. We elaborate mythological characters who can fly and who risk their lives to fly as high as possible. If we cannot literally fly, we climb the highest mountain peaks we can find, just for the pleasure of standing on the top.

On the other hand, how many of us at least occasionally entertain the fear of falling from some apparently great height? We experience vertigo when we approach the railing surrounding a high terrace or we dream about avalanches, failure of elevators and other unlikely mishaps in which we come crashing down, like Jack and Jill, who loved the idea of going up the hill (incidentally, a less than likely place to get water), but who are injured on the return trip. And Humpty Dumpty didn't do well at the "height" of his career.

Sublimatio is an elevating alchemical process in which an ascending action results in change to a higher form. Our very language suggests that such a change is desirous and beneficial. We all want "higher" grades, higher quality goods, higher minds, etc. And we all need to experience the temporary exaltation of rising above the confines of our earthly, concrete lives. Whereas Freud used the term sublimation to describe a voluntary act of will, Jung states that sublimatio is an alchemical mystery, indeed one to be appreciated but not forced. Freud's sublimation involves the modification of an instinctual impulse in order to conform to social demands. It is a process in which the Ego assists the Id in elevating its infantile desires to more socially attractive activities, thereby gaining both satisfaction for the inner psyche and acceptance from the outer world. Sublimatio is not mechanical in the sense that we cannot will it to occur. Any process which approximates the lightening of mass, the change to a gaseous state, or the powdering of a substance until it is light as air is of the nature of sublimatio in this sense.

It will be worth while to investigate a few of the qualities of such experiences. For example, one can achieve objectivity. If we are above the earth in an airplane, we can grasp the meaning of maps which show roads, highways and rivers in different kinds of lines. The view from thousands of feet above the ground is astonishingly clear; indeed, our eyes are actually made in such a way that we see most clearly when we are looking down. The metaphorical use of such events to describe the act of gaining objectivity is no surprise, as we "watch where we are going" both literally and figuratively on a moment-to-moment basis.

Objectivity can also involve the sophisticated mental activities developed through intellectual discipline. Rigorous study of a subject allows us to understand its meaning in great detail; we can also rise out of the subject in order to see its relation to the rest of our lives as well and this level of synthesis is a highly valued cognitive ability. Academic standards in most schools revolve around just such measurements of mental sophistication.

Another advantage of the process of sublimatio is detachment. We need from time to time to gain some distance from the activities which engross us; one way to detach is to "rise above" the subject. This is primarily a rational approach in which we get above the problem. The difficulty with detachment is that it can lead to an over-valuing of intellect and too little understanding of the physical aspects of a situation. When we talk about a lack of groundedness we are speaking of sublimatio in its less constructive phase.

Another facet of this element is abstraction. Human beings use words for concepts and ideas which have no physical counterparts, as well as for ideas which have not yet materialized. Human beings can hallucinate pictures and then draw them, or imagine highways and then produce engineering plans for their construction. We can "dream up" a dream house and then tell an architect how to prepare the plans. This ability to think abstractly places an emphasis on theory, not on practice, and on sublimatio, not coagulatio.

The physical reactions to the air element can be extreme. Too much air can lead to nervous exhaustion from the mental process. At the other extreme one can come to distrust people who think too much, as they don't seem to be in their bodies. In fact, we actually sense the lack of attachment in such individuals and find it uncomfortable. While we need air to breathe, we also need to come back to earth for stability.

The Tower Tarot card provides an example of the needs of the human organism. We need to build the tower to reach heavenward. We may be trying to see what is around us; we may be striving to control or at least harness the elements, as with a lightning rod. We may seek to be closer to the stars themselves. But if we rise too high and become too ungrounded, we risk falling back to earth precipitously. The Egyptian Tower card consists of a pyramid decapitated by lightning. A crowned and an uncrowned man fall from the height. Given that the pyramid is the most stable of solids, attached as it is to the earth with the largest base surface, its destruction by natural forces suggests that man, however elevated socially or intellectually, must ultimately answer to forces which respect us all as equals. The material success embodied in a pyramid we have raised is nothing compared to the force of nature and we must respect this power which surrounds us.

However, the alternate ascending and descending which occur naturally in psychological processes can offer us the opportunity to learn a great deal about nature and our relation to it. When we are bogged down in the mud of ordinary existence, we can benefit from flights of fancy which remind us of our transcendent function. When we are soaring without regard for ordinary cares, the ground can offer either support or high impact, whichever we need.

In dreams or fantasies, images of ascent can indicate a need to descend again to the earth. Modern man tends to escape into the air through imagination or with the help of drugs because the stresses of everyday life overtake him. However, each of us needs to return to earth periodically to obtain nourishment, as this is what we physical beings do. We cannot live on the air alone. We can take a lesson from monks who meditate on the loftiest of themes, but who also walk barefoot and wear course cloth. It is the balance which the alchemist always seeks, and it is the balance which affords us the glimpse of all-pervading goodness which we so desire.

We can speak of the greater and the lesser sublimatio as two phases of this air function. the lesser sublimatio is that of which we have been speaking - the ascent and descent which occur cyclically for all of us through thoughts, dreams, and fantasies. We rise to a certain height and then descend again to the earth, bringing back a greater appreciation for the complexity/simplicity of what we have. the greater sublimatio will occur at or near death and it is the ultimate dissociation to be experienced he final departure from The physical form.

In meditation or in psychosis we can leave the body on a temporary basis. We can avoid the petty realities of the material world for a time but we must eventually come back to take care of bodily functions. So we can glimpse the psychic world beyond the body. The final ascent at the time of death is one that leads to a fuller understanding of the value or no-value of the physical environment. Psychological literature is filled with near-death experiences in which people see fantastic light and speak with beings who are indescribable. That level of existence is without the hampering of a physical body and we can only look forward to what we will find. None of the descriptions of that realm are adequate for our physically limited minds.

Meditation and contemplation occasionally shift people into sublimatio experience that is similar to death experiences. Again, though, the descriptions of that experience are flat in comparison to the actual event; we have no words to adequately reveal the perceptions in that level of mind.

Sublimatio is a part of a greater alchemical cycle of circulatio in which we evaporate the substance to a gaseous form and resolidify it again, purer than before. This cycle can be repeated over and over in an alchemical process, eventually resulting in a purified lapis, or philosopher's stone. We can tend to glorify the sublimatio stage of the alchemical process because it allows us to temporarily escape the pain and limitation of the physical body; we need to balance it with other phases of the process in order to achieve wholeness.

Air Signs and Alchemical Process

The qualities of the mediator embody one expression of sublimatio. The mediator is able to step back from a situation and maintain objectivity for a period of time, thereby providing an environment in which a resolution can be found. Sublimatio implies that this position of objectivity is somehow "higher," and the imagery is that of flying, going up in a elevator, or climbing to the top of a mountain. Whatever the image, the mediator has some process for becoming and remaining objective. The individual also is able to experiment with things as they are perceived, thereby affording the opportunity to change the objective understanding of a situation.

The positive qualities of this level of sublimatio, as well as the less constructive ones, are embodied in the sign of Gemini. Indeed the duality of this mutable sign provides information about the process of sublimatio. The process involves Ascension for sure, but it needs the attendant return to the earth. The Gemini quality of flexibility allows one to "rise to the occasion" and also to "become grounded" gracefully, but only when the fullness of sublimatio is being engaged.

Libra, the cardinal air sign, can exemplify the balance of the two phases of sublimatio as they are enacted within the psyche. Libra will initiate the mental process that begins as sublimatio takes its place in the alchemical process. Within this creative process we are likely to find a refinement which is perceived as elegance. However, the idealistic side of Libra can glorify sublimatio as a process, creating difficulty in reacting effectively in other arenas of life. One can be so attracted to the glamor of the objective point of view that the nuts and bolts of daily living will seem rather dull. Yet Libra can balance individuality with partnership, objectivity with a more subjective appreciation, providing a harmonious outcome if one doesn't simply float away with oneself.

The third air sign, Aquarius, is in a sense the most directed of the three. The fixity of Aquarius, while not providing the earth element, will tend to add structure to its activities. Remember that the ancients gave rulership of Aquarius to Saturn, Lord of Structure. Here is a sign that is often identified by its detached approach to life. Aquarian individuals tend to think about global issues and grand causes, letting the details of one-to-one partnerships slide. When there is too great a focus on freedom, then relationships will indeed suffer. Freedom, then, is another risk involved with the process of sublimatio. We need to balance it with objectivity concerning what we need to do each day.

Aquarius does tend to have a consistent point of view, one which is a good deal more objective than, say, Scorpio, albeit the intellectual objectivity can be used to cover up a lack of understanding of feeling and even of perception. With the focus on mind, one tends to focus on conscious mind, neglecting the less comfortable material that will inevitably be stored in the unconscious. A conscious focus on intellect, or the thinking function, will result in unconscious attitudes concerning feeling, or vice versa. the Aquarian who can consider and evaluate his own inner psychic processes effectively will gain a powerful tool of communication and persuasion and will benefit from it.

Alchemically Sublimatio is the primary function of distillation. The process has two principal parts: first is the process of removing all impurities, resulting in obtaining the quintessence of the substance. We can note the quality, for example, of a liquor which has been carefully distilled. The other part of the process relates to the transformation of the material into spirit. (Jung, 1969, p. 116) A formerly dense material is changed into a spiritually subtle one; this is paralleled in the psyche with a change from dark, harsh thoughts to a lighter, more supple frame of mind.

By looking at the astrological air signs, we can identify three possibilities within the process of sublimatio. We find the active process of relating and balancing; we find the sustained effort of examining thoughts as they emerge and then becoming more objective about their emotional content; we also find the ability to mediate for the Self and for others, based on the ability to achieve the objective point of view.

Karma

The term Karma is associated with the results of one's actions. The Karma family is concerned with action, and in fact the energy of this family is focused in the limbs of the body. Speed and efficiency are two considerations for this type of energy, with the focus on how to accomplish a task and on its timing. In terms of western psychotherapeutic process, the Karma type is behavior modification: if it isn't working the way it is, then let's change it. There may be a tendency toward such change without considering the reasons which developed in the past, just as behavior modification focuses on present change and gives less attention to the root causes of a behavior.

Karma energy encourages us to create form. We create buildings and roads and even carefully designed "natural" spaces. We also create forms for our activities. How easy it is to be told, "You could benefit from some exercise," and to then quantify and qualify the experience of exercise so that it matches exactly with Jane Fonda's workout or Cheng Man-Ching's Tai Chi form. We love for our activities to have structure, and therefore presumably to have meaning.

This Karma energy is not always so neurotic. We do need and value form in the physical world and we could not function without it. We also need mental form which is organized around patterns of language symbols. The mental form is also capable of being organized within a system of "wholes" which depend less upon language perceptions and more upon intuitive, right brain processes of understanding. Without becoming overly Karma and detailing many ways in which we create and use form, I want to make the point that this energy is essential to our functioning in the physical realm with other people and things. It is because of the essential nature of this manipulative energy that it is so easily over-done and neurotic.

Karma energy is also active and exploratory and relates to childhood in this respect. If we look at the energies of Taurus and Gemini, we find the most positive expressions of Karma energy at the childhood level. We can investigate the physical environment directly by touching, tasting, experiencing in a primary way. We can also reach out through communication to experience others, to begin our systematic educational processes, and to move around a larger physical environment of the neighborhood. There is an emphasis on learning by doing, a positive approach to the world that we then carry forward into adulthood.

Problem solving for the Karma type is a process of trial and error. This energy will try anything, working toward a more perfect expression of an idea, and, if healthy, will not be stopped by the fear that a product will not come out whole or right. If the process is short-circuited by the need for speed, then the individual doesn't have enough time and space in which to fully engage in the inductive process. This is an area in which Westerners could learn a great deal, as we tend to believe we don't have enough time when actually we have all the time in the world for whatever we choose to do. If we allow ourselves time to ponder, solutions to problems will arise quite naturally.

In the discussion of Karma we can easily spot both earth and air qualities. For example, the physical realm exploration of the child is easily identified as earth, while the more abstract efforts to organize the world are related to the air element. The structure of things is earth, while the structure of ideas is more airy. We think of Saturn as the Lord of Karma, and Saturn traditionally rules both Capricorn and Aquarius. We can perceive two distinct expressions of Saturn and thus of Karma energy. Each of these expressions has within it a positive, sane expression and a less constructive, neurotic one.

One of the joys of this way of looking at the elements in astrology is that we can also perceive the very slight alterations which can move neurotic functioning to a more sane expression, one which is fulfilling and exciting for us to experience. Karma energy is good to look at in this respect, relating to "real" things as it does. It is easy to observe neurotic or obsessive behaviors in the way people manipulate the physical environment and we can appreciate the very slightly different process that could be identified as normal or acceptable.

The healing aspect of Karma, earth-air energy is that of harmony in motion with the world's motion. When we see that the Wheel of Karma moves only in a forward direction, and when we recognize that the opposite of this movement is not reversal, but rather stagnation, then we can relate to our desires differently. Saturn, the Lord of Time, will not allow us to go back, but only forward. The significance of time is an abstraction of the air aspect of Karma; our perception of ourselves as moving through time can also become a much more earthy, practical awareness.

Karma energy is what we use to become more effective in relating to the environment. We build better mousetraps and we learn better ways to communicate with the world and with ourselves. As we develop the skill of Karma earth-air energy, we find that things move without so much effort and we accomplish more in the same short time that we have always had. We will eventually find that the mousetrap itself is no longer necessary, as we will achieve harmony with the mouse also.

In terms of the relationship between the conscious and unconscious aspects of this energy, we can look at the ways in which ideas (air) emerge out of the physical realm (earth). As humans we began thousands of years ago with relatively little awareness of the world and of ourselves. We existed and we began to develop into thinking animals. At each step of the way in this process we grew out of the physical, earth experience, drew conclusions about what we found, and moved into a more fully conscious, abstract beingness. The developmental process from fully instinctual animal to more and more rational and intellectual man is one of developing greater consciousness.

At the present turning point in human history we are moving beyond the awareness of personal beingness into a transpersonal and holistic awareness. We relate, as astrologers, from the personal to the planetary, the solar, and the galactic level of experience. We begin to experience the joy of how all these levels work. Our ability to relate the physical to the abstract is one key to our transpersonal experience.


Copyright: Stephanie Clement


Other articles by Stephanie Clement:

Aries and the Masculine in Astrology   11/14/2002
Aspects and Mental Alchemy   11/14/2002
Conjunctions to the Midheaven   11/14/2002
Decanates   11/14/2002
Delineation of Conjunctions and Stellia   7/1/1997
Manilius' System of Dodecatemories (DWADS)   11/14/2002
Planet-Centered Astrology: Mars and His Moons, Phobos and Deimos   11/14/2002
Star of the Month: Christopher Reeve   6/1/1996
Venus: An Alchemical View   5/1/1997
Win or Lose?: Two George Foreman Fights Seen Astrologically   8/1/1997

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