The Importance of Fire and Water
The ongoing (as this is written) stand-off between the Branch Davidians near Waco, TX and the agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms plus the bomb under the World Trade Center in New York have reinforced the importance of the principles of fire and water. I think that everything in astrology symbolizes psychological states and that our four elements as “higher order abstractions” are among our most useful concepts. Fire and water represent the beginning and end of astrology’s metaphorical description of evolving life. In my conceptual system, life initiates action out of an inner drive to be active. We may just want to express what we are and to do what we please, or we may want to do more than we have done before. We call this urge or desire “fire.” The resultant action puts us in contact with and produces experiences in the physical world of earth. We then withdraw slightly, putting space (air) between ourselves and the physical experience to think about it. With the conscious side of the mind we try to understand our experience, talk about it and accept it. Finally, with water, we assimilate the experience. The unconscious side of the mind develops habits which will handle similar future experiences and we are ready for a new fire outreach.
Astrology’s twelve sides of life describe three stages of this four-part journey through the elements. With the first set of four elements, we learn to deal with our personal needs. In the second set, we learn to relate to others in face-to-face interactions, seeking balance that recognizes both our own rights and the rights of others. In the third set, we learn to play a role in the transpersonal area of life, to accept or create a belief system which will determine our value-hierarchy, our goals, etc., to cope with the LAW, and to be part of larger frameworks; our society, humanity, nature, life, and the cosmos.
As our readers know, I think that each of these twelve sides of life is symbolized by at least one planet, by a house of the horoscope, by a sign of the zodiac, and by numerous more minor factors such as nodes and dwads. For 20,000 years or more, humans have used the patterns in the sky as their map and compass, to find their way in space; as their clock and calendar, to locate their place in time; and as their key to meaning, to understand themselves and the world. Astrology grew “like Topsy,” as humans watched the sky and related its patterns to what was happening on earth. Since what was happening on earth involved details, not every observer was able to accurately deduce the principles which lay behind the manifest details. Even today, many astrologers think first of possible details rather than first of principles. But it is only when we understand the principles that we can really effectively use astrology to change the details in our lives.
The myths associated with Zeus (the Greek version of Jupiter) provide an excellent example of the lack of clarity about principles in much of astrology. At one time, Jupiter was thought to be associated with Leo, the sign of sex for procreation (among many other possible details). His sexual appetites were insatiable; his life a never-ending series of affairs. Astrologers today still associate Jupiter with excess but they also recognize its connection to religion and philosophy. The Sun is now more accurately assigned to the area of sex for both passion and procreation. Three of our twelve sides of life are associated with the principle of fire: Mars, Aries, and the first house of the horoscope; the Sun, Leo, and the fifth house; and Jupiter, Sagittarius, and the ninth house. All indicate the potential for enthusiasm, eagerness, vitality, energy, a sense of drama, spontaneity, creativity, ardor, passion, intense emotions expressed outwardly. If they are not tempered by other parts of the nature, they all can also be impatient, rash, arrogant, headstrong, too impulsive, overconfident, excessive, etc.
Water is the other emotional element, but in contrast to the basic instinct of fire to express one’s inner feelings and desires immediately and outwardly, water’s basic instinct is to preserve, to hold on and hold in, to protect one’s feelings and anything else which is construed as part of one’s security. Water may cling to food, to a home, to a person, to personal feelings, to an ideal, to a belief, to whatever is associated with security. Individuals with an emphasis on water who lack a sense of security, who lack faith in themselves, other people or a higher Power, can be very dependent, totally self-absorbed and focused on their personal needs. Individuals with a water emphasis who have adequate faith may be highly protective and nurturing of others. The water “letters” of the alphabet of astrology include the Moon, Cancer and the fourth house; Pluto, Scorpio and the eighth house; and Neptune, Pisces, and the twelfth house. The last is most likely to be sensitive to the needs of others, sometimes to the point of self-sacrifice.
Earth and air are important. Earth can be practical and productive. Air can be intelligent and logical. But fire and water are the passion which drives life and which can also destroy it.
I do not use the terms “male” and “female” because they get us too enmeshed in cultural stereotypes. But readers will recognize that fire is the stereotype of maleness—confident, active, strong, and creative. Water is the stereotype of femaleness—relatively passive, emotionally sensitive and vulnerable, dependent and/or nurturing.
Of course, every person has all twelve potentials—it is just a matter of emphasis. And, obviously, we need it all. Too much of anything can produce problems, though excesses in the emotional elements tend to produce more serious problems. There are natural conflicts between the different elements but they also need each other. Too much fire produces a Charles Stewart, the man in Massachusetts who killed his wife for her insurance, fingered a black man in a police line-up, and committed suicide when his shocked and heart-broken brother informed on him. Too much water produces an abasive passive-dependent person who seems to be apologizing for living. An emphasis on the eighth side of life is sometimes an exception. It can indicate a fighter since it is a “fixed” part of life with a strong will. But unless it is mixed with fire, the result is more like a cornered rat than a samurai warrior. Another way to describe fire and water is to contrast the feeling of individuality which is a major component of fire with the feeling of connectedness which is a major part of water. Water, the unconscious side of the mind, is part of and open to what Jung called the collective unconscious. There are no barriers, no separation. Consequently, there is also total vulnerability unless we also have some kind of faith. The first two fire sides of life represent faith in oneself as warrior for personal rights (Mars) and as king (the Sun). The third fire expression should be faith in a higher Power (the Priest) but we can put our faith in anything—in a job, in money, in a mate, in knowledge, or in oneself. Charles Stewart had Jupiter in its own sign in the first house accompanied by Mars and the Sun: the three fire planets in a fire house in a fire sign. He manifested it as “I am God, my will is Absolute, I have the right to do whatever I want.”
Humans need all twelve sides of life. We need enough self- confidence to defend ourselves if we are attacked (Mars). We need enough self-esteem to love and accept love on a personal level and to procreate children if we are so inclined (the Sun). We need faith in something to provide a clear value-hierarchy for choices, to set goals, to give meaning to life. And that larger faith is only really helpful if it is in something beyond humans so that when we have done the best we can, we can “let go” the normal desire of fire for personal control and can trust that “other.” These are all fire principles. They are also a crucial part of our recuperative power. Norman Cousins discovered the power of laughter which is especially associated with Jupiter and its sign and house. In my experience, illnesses and accidents are always associated with some form of blocked fire. New research with very high alpha brain waves shows that they are present when healers are doing healing, when people are experiencing healing, and when people feel excited, enthusiastic, fully alive. These are fire states!
So a really strongly fire person may be an inspired leader, or a compelling actress, or a persuasive salesperson, or a great teacher, or a devoted parent. Or she or he may be a bully, an imperial snob, a person who has to put others down in order to build up self-esteem, a compulsive gambler (risk-taker) in any of many ways, one who cannot report anything without exaggerating it. Or, if the fire is blocked by fear, by guilt, by need for approval from others, by extreme personal expectations and standards which are unattainable, the individual may be chronically ill, subject to repeated surgeries or accidents, or just very depressed. There is clear evidence that depression is associated with an impaired immune system.
What is it that tips the scale toward the positive expressions of fire? It may partly be the practicality of earth and the intelligent logic of air but it is mostly the empathy of water. Earth and air may simply make a strongly fire person into a more effective predator. But when we have experienced the oneness of life, we stop hurting others because to do so is hurting ourselves.
The world’s current glorification of competition at the expense of cooperation represents an over-emphasis on fire (plus letter ten of our alphabet) at the expense of water and, to some extent, air which is attracted to equality and shared activity. A recent commentary on current conditions in England illustrates the issue. Since Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives came into power, crime has tripled—not just in poor areas but in the middle-class heartland. Critics say that the “market” approach to life is being applied in every area of life, not just in economics. Thatcher was quoted in an interview as saying “There is no such thing as society. There are only individual men and women and their families.” The response of one commentator was “If society doesn’t care about people, why should people care about society?” People have lost faith in the government, in the police, and in the future. Conservatives lash back that they are trying to restore “moral values.” Some say that people in power have lost the idea of duty while ordinary people have lost their loyalty.
What has clearly been lost is the capacity for empathy. England and, to an even higher degree, the U.S. have emphasized individuality as the supreme value. Serbia, the war lords of Somalia, Savimbi in Angola, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and many others show us the almost unbelievable extremes which are possible when empathy is lost. Japan and the countries of west Europe are certainly not perfect role models, but to a greater degree than England and the U.S. they have practiced cooperation between government, business, and labor. We need a balance between our fire and our water. We need to make them complementary so they work together. But we can not assume that all combinations of the two will have “good” results. In fact, individuals with strong fire-water mixtures in their charts are often subject to strong mood swings between the euphoria of fire when positive emotions are being experienced and expressed and the depression of water when insecurity takes over, blocking the expression of feelings or action. Or such fire-water people may be “explosive” as the water side of the nature holds in the emotions until they build up enough strength to produce a fire- cracker release.
The Winter 1993 Asteroid-World is mostly devoted to the bomb under the World Trade Center in New York and to the stand-off near Waco, TX between the Branch Davidians and the ATF agents. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the principles of fire and water are important as we try to understand what is happening. Water symbolizes the cohesive emotions which unite families and/or religious or ethnic groups. It is the primary element of the emotional security which can come through bonding with others. Fire is a primary key to the confidence which is an important part of the capacity for charismatic leadership. Unfortunately, it is common for leaders to intensify the bonding of a group and at the same time to strengthen their own power over the group by emphasizing an attitude of “us versus them.” A focus on what is shared by the group and different from the rest of the world is a blend of the unifying power of water and the fire drive for unique individuality. But the blend can have drastic consequences if the empathy is limited to the in-group, if the group becomes really isolated and alienated from other people. If the group leader is basically hostile, fearful, and/or power-driven, the group can become quite paranoid. We can end with Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Sheik Rahman, Imam of the mosque where Salameh and Ayad worshiped. We can end with bombs and open warfare. We need to become more inclusive! Blavatsky said that “the only sin is belief in separation.”
The first of our twelve sides of life is also the first fire “letter” of our alphabet. Mars, Aries, and the first house are the major keys to open competition and war. Competitive business is now exalted in much of the world. Competitive sports are glorified and watched on TV by millions. And the “small” wars in the world cannot be counted even using both hands. The free out- thrust of fire is exciting. It brings an adrenalin rush. Even as late as World War I, some soldiers who survived could reminisce about their experiences as an emotional high point when they were fully, intensely alive. In my interpretation, they were expressing all three of the fire sides of life: Mars in the battle, Sun since the fight was justified as carried out for their loved ones at home, and Jupiter since the fight was also for a still larger shared ideal—saving the world for democracy. But increasingly, wars have become totally destructive of civilians, including women and children.
We can see the deadly mixture of fire principles when we see the Bosnian women who have been raped by Serbian soldiers. Sex is initially connected to the Sun, Leo and the fifth house though sex for shared pleasure is also part of letter eight—Pluto, Scorpio, and the eighth house. When the pleasure is one-sided or the sexual act is carried out purely as an assertion of power, the principles are being distorted, misused. As indicated above, this is only possible when empathy is lacking. Of course, this is not new. Planet, sign, and/or house mixtures of the fire principle can be excessive and destructive as described above in the case of Charles Stewart. In the ancient world (and still in less developed countries) the king or other ruler (the Sun) could take any woman he wanted for his own sexual pleasure. The scepter is clearly a phallic symbol. Priests (Jupiter) in the ancient world maintained women in many of the temples to serve their sexual desires. Sexual “orgies” were often a part of religious rites. It is the same life (fire) principle whether it expresses as the power to run a sword through an enemy, as the sexual orgasm, or as the excitement of new knowledge which enlightens one.
Most religions have sensed the relationship and have sought to direct this vital life force which we call fire. Some religions have included alcohol, drugs, and sexual activity as primary parts of their rites. (Alcohol and drugs are more associated with the last water side of life. It is also searching for the Absolute but in more passive ways than fire, through mystical union. Jupiter is still considered a co-ruler of Pisces.) Some religions have demanded total sexual abstinence of their devotees. The rationale has sometimes been that sex is sinful and prevents us from being united with God. Some Hindus believe that if the semen is retained in the body it will awaken the Kundalini, a spiritual force which will lead to union with the Absolute. This implies a recognition that the life force can be directed into either sexual or spiritual experiences but it includes a belief that the life force is limited so is only adequate for one form of expression. This is not true of moderate levels of action where the more we do, the more we can do. But there are some human limits. Athletes (Mars) who engage in extreme physical exertions do sometimes lose their sexual potency (Sun). For example, some women athletes may stop menstruating.
The obvious, and practical, reason for religious leaders to downplay sex is that if people become too obsessed with the sexual expression of the life force, they will not move on to learn to value the last of the fire sides of life—the search for Truth and a connection with a Higher Power. In the light of our society’s obsession, it does look as if a lot of people have given up their aggression (Mars); they have not discovered the excitement of new knowledge (Jupiter), or other forms of Sun creativity; so the only fire left in their lives comes from the orgasm.
Life isn’t an “either-or.” It is an “and.” We need all twelve of our sides of life, but there are many different ways to manifest each of them. Mars can be expressed in vigorous physical activity. It doesn’t have to be competitive or we can compete with our own past skills. One of my clients was an excellent tennis player who had strong Libra in her chart which she expressed as a desire for cooperation rather than competition. She didn’t like to “put people down.” She found that by playing doubles, she could again play competitive tennis because she was fighting for the “team.”
We can express our Sun and can be a star in many different ways. Love can include sex but it is much more than sex. With Jupiter, we can rejoice in new understanding of ourselves, of each other, and of life, and we can delight in sharing our knowledge with others. We can do any of these fire activities in ways that express our water empathy for others. In seeking to heal others, so long as we know that we are just a channel for the cosmic force, we are also healed in the process.
The Chinese call it “Chi.” The Hindus call it “Prana.” The Tibetans call it “Tumo.” Indians in the U.S. northeast called it “Orinda,” or “Wakan.” Native healers everywhere rouse it with strenuous dancing, drumming, and chanting. Alexandra David-Neel described the test of a Tibetan’s fitness for initiation which used to be the ability to break the ice in a frozen lake, dip a sheet into the icy water, wrap it around one’s naked body, and dry it out with body heat. A former army officer once told me about an experience which he had in China soon after World War II. He was exploring in a remote back part of the country, looking for a “Holy Man” he had heard about. He came upon the man standing in a field covered several feet deep in snow. The elderly man looked at the American as if he understood what he was searching for. Then he dropped the blanket which had been wrapped around him and stood naked in the snow. The snow started to melt until it was completely gone in a circle around the Holy Man that was 8 to 10 feet in diameter.
Find something that excites you. Charge your batteries by letting the life force rejuvenate you and all that your life touches. That is the great blend of fire and water.