|Lesson Ten: The Air and Water Signs|
The elements of air and water create our second pair of psychological opposites. In Wilber's quadrant system these two elements concern collective truth. For the air signs, the truth is objective, 'out there' in the systems created in the external world, and for the water signs, the truth is subjective, a connection to the emotional undercurrents and feelings which belong to us all, 'in here'.
The air signs of Gemini, Libra and Aquarius are the most civilized, most social, detached, abstract, rational and, in fact, the most 'human' of all the signs of the zodiac because they all concern the mind and the intellect. The word 'zodiac' means 'circle of animals', and yet the air signs are symbolized by human or abstract figures, with the twins representing Gemini, the scales of justice representing Libra and the figure of the water bearer representing Aquarius. The air signs describe the left and right brain functions, the capacity to think in opposites and to weigh up opposites - a duality which is symbolized by the roman numeral II in Gemini, the two horizontal lines of Libra and the two wavy lines of Aquarius. The qualities of this element, which is positive and masculine, are valued in our culture and encouraged by our education system, which prizes and rewards the ability to think and communicate logically and rationally. Air signs are impersonal - they have the gift of detachment and objectivity and the gift of perspective. As signs of social interaction, they are articulate, natural negotiators, arbitrators and communicators, able to weigh up opposites and see both sides of the coin.
Audience: What's the shadow side of all that?
Clare: In general terms, we can say that the shadow for the air signs will be the element of water, the world of the emotions, which tend to be mysterious and rather murky, uncomfortable territory for air, since our emotions are so instinctive, subjective and non-verbal. Air signs tend to 'live in their heads' and are often out of touch with and embarrassed by emotions. In fact, they are often 'experts' when it comes to relationships. They can tell you a great deal about all the different theories of emotion and feelings, but this can often be a very clever defence against actually having to feel anything for themselves.
Audience: Presumably, it is not that the air signs can't feel - it is just that they can't express their feelings.
Clare: Yes, if you have enough planets in water then you will be in touch with the emotions and living with them all the time. If you don't have planets in water, the water function is still there, but is more likely to be operating autonomously, outside the control of the ego. So we are not saying: 'This person has no emotions,' which is absolutely not true. The fact is that the emotions are very primal and autonomous and powerful because the person isn't working with them on a daily level. So when a mood comes over that person, it can be quite overwhelming.
For example, I once worked with a client who had very strong air and no water, who was having difficulty with a relationship. She would say things like: 'He has been seeing another woman but I can quite understand and accept this because he is very emotionally needy and insecure and is afraid that if he loses me he will be alone.' This is a typical example of rationalization. It so happened that, owing to some powerful transits at the time, she found herself out in the street one night slashing the tires of her partner's car in an emotionally driven rage of revenge and pain which she was unable to relate to rationally or intellectually. This is an example of the water function taking its revenge on the control of the sophisticated, rational intellect. Once the feelings receded, and she was restored to her habitual rationality, my client was extremely embarrassed by her emotional outburst and said, 'I don't know what came over me.' This is exactly what it feels like when the shadow qualities are released: we are, literally, 'beside ourselves'. So you can see that the air signs are likely to avoid emotional situations because they can so easily be taken over by them, and will run away if there is any danger of things getting messy because, by their very nature, emotions are messy and, according to air, irrational.
One of the main difficulties for people with a strongly developed air function is that, although they are extremely skilful at weighing up situations analytically, and can see both sides of the coin in any argument, they can end up feeling completely paralysed by the process. The fact that they know everything about a situation, all the pros and cons, and have looked at it from every side and read all the books about it doesn't help them decide what to do. This is the drawback of objectivity.
Audience: That's so true!
Clare: The point about the objective, exterior truth of the air function is that, although it can tell you all about something, it can't tell you the actual value of anything, which exists in other parts of ourselves which the air function knows nothing about. It is the water function which tells us if something feels right or not, but this subjective emotional intelligence is something which, in our culture, we are often conditioned not to trust. For many people, learning to trust our subjective feelings and emotions can be one of the most important things we ever do.
Audience: My husband has many planets in air in his chart. He decided to buy a new computer. So he bought all the computer magazines and read up about all the options and investigated the whole subject for about six months, without making a decision. The strange thing about all this is that, eventually, he just went into the shop and bought the cheapest!
Clare: What an excellent example. First of all it sounds as if your husband approached the subject in a rational, intelligent way, analyzing all the pros and cons and, in fact, probably becoming an expert himself in the subject. However, none of this research told him what computer to buy - it just told him what was on the market and the various comparisons he could make. It sounds as if, at the moment he visited the shop, his feelings came to the surface, which were telling him that the computer wasn't emotionally important to him and therefore it wasn't worth spending more than necessary, something he obviously hadn't considered during his research phase!
The element of air in alchemy, portrayed in Michael Maier's Atalanta fugiens (1618). The caption for this image states: 'The wind has carried it in his belly.' This refers to air as the Mercurial prima materia, pregnant with the philosopher's stone or alchemical gold.
You see this phenomenon being played out on televised debate shows, with panels of people representing different views. No resolution or solution or progress emerges out of such debates, whose function seems to be mainly to clarify the opposing viewpoints, which is of value in itself but can easily go nowhere. There used to be a programme on television called The Moral Maze, where a group of respected academics and intellectuals would sit around a table each week and discuss important moral issues. One week the panel was asked to debate on the subject of whether or not the soul exists. The general consensus, of course, was that the soul did not exist because its existence had not been sufficiently proven according to the air signs' criteria of objective, collective truth. Another angle would be to suppose that the intellect can know nothing about the soul, and it is not uncommon for the air signs to talk articulately and intelligently about things they know nothing about.
The elements of earth and fire have their own ways of responding to the detached, objectivity of the air signs. The fire signs would get impatient and just leave air to carry on debating with itself, because fire is subjective and doesn't really care what other people think. Practical earth would not see the point of sitting around endlessly discussing concepts and theories. In fact, each element has its own particular way of thinking and acting and feeling.
Unlike the air signs, the water signs are non-verbal. The water signs tend to absorb the emotions and feelings behind what is being said rather than the words themselves. Water is extremely sensitive to atmosphere, picking up subtle feelings about places and people which are strongly felt but not so easy to verbalise. Water is receptive, like a sponge, and able to empathise or 'feel with' others. With no inherent shape or form of its own, water takes on the form of its container. At best, water is simply supportive and non-judgmental. If you are upset or in pain, water can offer support, no matter what you have done or why you are feeling that way. For this reason, people often unburden themselves on water people and cry on their shoulders, partly because, unlike air, they will not try to solve or rationalise the problem away, which is normally a way of ignoring and undervaluing the feelings.
Imagine, for example, that air and water go to a party together. As they walk into the room, air, who is interested in making social connections, might say: 'Great, there's so-and-so, whom I know, and there's so-and-so. I will introduce them to each other.' Water, on the other hand, might stand at the door and think, 'Hmm, this doesn't feel right. I'm not in the mood for this.' If this happens, then it doesn't matter who is in the room; they won't want to be there. Air and water have very different ways of processing information. Air will want to know what water's problem is and will ask for a rational explanation. At this point water feels overwhelmed because, as a mute, non-verbal element, it is difficult to put words to the feelings. Naturally, at this point air begins to feels frustrated and irritated. Water then feels deeply misunderstood because it needs to have the problem intuited out of them, and might retaliate by saying something like: 'You don't understand me. You're so cold!' This will probably be interpreted as an irrelevant statement by air, whereas it was intended by water as a way to protect their inner feelings. These kinds of difficulties happen all the time because we don't understand that other people process information and experiences in ways which are fundamentally different from us.
Johann Daniel Mylius, in Philosophia reformata (1622), portrays the element of water as protective and fecund. The dolphin, the creature of Apollo, rescues those who are in danger of drowning, while the woman on his back is the female Mercurius, the primal substance from which the alchemical gold is made.
Audience: Can I go back to the missing element? My partner is very watery and she doesn't have a single personal planet in air. How does that work?
Clare: Well, we are talking about checks and balances here, and I think what tends to happen if the emotions are much stronger than the intellect, is that there is difficulty gaining any kind of detachment or perspective. This can result in a kind of emotional chaos, or getting waterlogged, like drowning in one's emotions, which can be very frightening. I expect that you may well have an emphasis of planets in air signs and not much water?
Audience: That's right.
Clare: So we can understand why you are together. Because you will tend to hold the objective rational pole of the relationship, he may well carry the feelings for both of you.
Copyright ©2005 by Clare Martin.
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