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Cornerstones of the Psyche

The Four Elements
According to Western Tropical astrology's ancient "map of the soul" (as generally attributed to Ptolemy, 85-165 AD) - each of the 12 zodiac signs is assigned to 1 of 4 basic elements or "temperaments." These temperaments are represented by the 4 elements of Fire, Earth, Air, and Water. These 4 elements are the foundation cornerstone of Western astrology.

  • Fire - Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
  • Earth - Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
  • Air - Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
  • Water - Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces

Four Functions
According to Jung's "map of the soul" there are likewise 4 basic psychological functions (or "ways") with which we gather information for purposes of making decisions and/judgments. These 4 functions and/or modes are Intuitive, Sensation, Thinking, and Feeling. These 4 functions are likewise the original foundation cornerstone of Jungian depth psychology.

  • Intuitive
  • Sensation
  • Thinking
  • Feeling

The Boring History
As C.G. Jung points out in his Psychological Types, the idea of 4 basic elements or psychological temperaments was not new (for either Ptolemy or for Jung, himself). Jung points back to the ancient Greek physicians Empedocles, Hippocrates, (both 5th century BC), and then also Galen (129 to sometime after 210 AD).

The Greek physician Galen (physician of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and roughly a contemporary of astrology's Ptolemy) gave credit to the 5th Century BC Greek physician Hippocrates when identifying his 4 temperaments: Choleric, Melancholic, Sanguine, and Phlegmatic.

In Galen's On the Elements According to Hippocrates:

"it must be confidently demonstrated that fire, earth, air, and water are the primary elements common to all things... and in his book On the Nature of Man, Hippocrates is first to explain not merely that these are the elements of all the cosmos, but he is also the first one to determine the qualities of the elements - qualities according to which one thing acts on others and is affected."

It's likewise interesting to take note that in Plato's Republic, the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato (427 to 347 BC) identified 4 "faculties of the soul" based on the 4 elements: Imagination, Demonstration, Intelligence, and Opinion. In the Renaissance, the 16th century AD physician, alchemist, and astrologer Paracelsus more colorfully identified these 4 temperaments as the Salamander, Gnome, Sylph, and Nymph.

Ptolemy Jung Galen Plato Paracelsus
Fire Intuitive Choleric Imagination Salamander
Earth Sensation Melancholic Demonstration Gnome
Air Thinking Sanguine Intelligence Sylph
Water Feeling Phlegmatic Opinion Nymph

So far. So good. We've got the 4 elements of astrology and the 4 psychological types (or functions) of Jungian psychology. Both are at least loosely based on an ancient concept of 4 personality types. Should be a perfect fit. Right?

Nope, Not a Perfect Fit
No. It's not a perfect fit. In spite of my being a dyed-in-the-wool "Jungian" - when learning about astrology, I originally struggled for many years with the matching up of the 4 elements of astrology and the 4 types or functions of Jungian psychology. They seemed the same… they seemed different… they seemed the same… they seemed different… My internal battle raged on for years despite most other "archetypal" astrologers relating the two theories to one another.

Finally, much to my chagrin, I realized that part of my problem was due to an inadequate understanding of the astrological elements. At that point, Jung's use of the 4 functions became an invaluable tool in better clarifying how the 4 elements of Western Tropical astrology work.

Although, I must still (in all honest conscience) give you the cautionary proviso that while they (the elements and types) are not a "perfect" fit - they, nevertheless, are very close.

C.G. Jung's Four Types

Perception Function (the gathering of information) - Sensation and Intuitive

  • Sensation Type or Function (Element of Earth - Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn): A person whose main function is sensation (earth) trusts rational, objective information which is practical and can be observed and gathered directly through the five senses of sight, taste, hearing, direct, and taste. Jung: "people who restrict themselves to the simple perception of concrete reality."
  • Intuitive Type or Function (Element of Fire - Aries, Leo, Sagittarius): A person whose main function is intuition (fire) trusts non-rational information gathered through imagination, insight, and hunches. This person perceives situations in a global manner. They intuitively look toward the future, at possibilities, and for the "big picture." Jung: "intuitives... surrender themselves wholly to the lure of possibilities, and abandon every situation in which no further possibilities can scented." In Jung's Tavistock Lectures, he admits that this is the type that is most difficult to understand and describe. This is the type of person who can "see around corners."

Okay, you've gathered the information. What in the heck are you going to do with it?

Judgment Function (Deciding what to do with the info you've gathered) - Thinking and Feeling

  • Thinking Type or Function (Element of Air - Gemini, Libra, Aquarius): A person whose main function is thinking (air) makes rational, objective decisions based on hard, cold, logic and on logical connections. Jung: they are "oriented to what they think, and simply cannot adapt to a situation they cannot understand intellectually."
  • Feeling Type or Function (Element of Water - Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces): A person whose main function is feeling (water) makes non-rational, subjective decisions based on their sense of values, what is right and what is wrong. How will the decision effect them? How will the decision effect other people? Jung: "They merely ask themselves whether a thing feels pleasant or unpleasant, and orient themselves by their feeling impressions."

Jung quotes from Psychological Types.

So What's The Big Deal?
(or How Does This Work in Real Life?)

According to C.G. Jung, each of us "potentially" has all 4 of the psychological functions (or elements) - fire (intuitive), earth (sensation), air (thinking), water (feeling) - at our disposal.

However - in practice - one of the 4 functions (or elements) will end up becoming our most conscious, "dominant," and/or preferred function when dealing with the outside world. This favored, trusted function will be the function (or element) most under our conscious control. We are the most comfortable and at ease, when using this function in our day to day life. A 2nd function and perhaps 3rd function will help out our dominant function.

However, we will have a 4th, unused function. The 4th, unused function will become our "inferior" function. The 4th or inferior function, has been pushed and hidden away. This function goes underground. We are the least comfortable with this inferior function in our day to day life. This is the hidden, forgotten function that will - when we least expect it - leap out from the shadows and grab us.

Uninvited Guest
Perhaps... one of the more effective ways to explain how the 4 astrological elements and/or Jung's 4 psychological functions work in our lives is that of analogy and painting a symbolic picture that astrologer Richard Idemon called the "uninvited guest."

The "uninvited guest" is a theme common to many of the old folk tales, legends, and/or myths which speak out to us from antiquity. The story of the "uninvited guest" goes that there's a party or a celebration about to be held in honor of a king in his kingdom. The king has made sure that everyone in the kingdom is invited to the party, except for one certain person. This one uninvited person is (let's say) a wee bit "unpopular" with the other town folk. This unpopular person is most normally someone who is quite ugly, evil, and/or for some other reason disliked - such as a witch, a gnome, a troll.

As a result of being the only person in the kingdom not receiving an invitation - the witch, gnome, or troll is ticked off - and thus they end up stirring up all sorts of trouble in the kingdom! The uninvited guest shows up at the celebration, in spite of not receiving their invitation... and at the celebration, the uninvited guest generally places a horrible curse on the king and/or on the entire kingdom (sounds like a few of my college parties). The rest of the story is then centered around freeing and redeeming the kingdom from the horrible curse of the uninvited guest (still sounds like a few of my college parties).

What That Means
In this analogy, the king represents the superior or preferred function (element) of ego consciousness that we have chosen to honor and rely upon in our day to day life. We have chosen to get around in the world by using this preferred function. The "uninvited guest" represents the inferior or rejected function that we feel the least comfortable with and thus reject it as not being a part of who we are. The 4th function, the inferior function, has been pushed and hidden away. We are the least comfortable with this rejected function in our day to day life. This is the rejected function which has fallen into "shadow" or darkness. This is the function that will occasionally jump out from the shadows when we least expect it.

According to Jungian psychology (and in accordance with the ancient Greeks) our life task then becomes that of recollecting, redeeming, accepting, and loving the ugly, rejected, and uninvited 4th function (element) to order to bring about a sense of balance, wholeness, completeness, and meaning in our life.

Million Dollar Question
However... the million dollar question remains: Can a simple statistical correlation be shown between astrology's 4 elements and Jung's 4 psychological types or functions? I'll attempt to tackle that million dollar question in an upcoming article as we continue expanding our focus past the basic 4 functions.

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