First Thoughts on Esoteric Geology
by Rebsie Fairholm
The following is an excerpt from an essay which appeared in Lyra,
the Gareth Knight Journal, issue no.22, Imbolc 2016.
© Rebsie Fairholm. All rights reserved.
We live in a society in which magical interests are shunted off down the end of a polarised scale, with science and sensibility at the opposite end. Either you’re a rational, hard-headed sceptic or you’re wishy-washy, new-agey, credulous and gullible. One or the other! But this is entirely a false dichotomy. Science and magic are not polar opposites, they’re just different ways of approaching the same realities; they are mutually reaffirming and compatible. This wouldn’t be news to the likes of Isaac Newton, who considered his work on alchemy to be just as important as his work on physics, and the fact that his alchemy writings have been brushed aside or even suppressed by an embarrassed scientific community who think they know better is a failing of theirs, not his. Overlaying magical material on top of scientific material, I usually find that not only do they line up, but they feed into one another and create useful and enlightening perspectives, opening up new avenues to explore. The only downside is that these perspectives can get very elaborate and complicated very quickly, opening up multiple lines of study and leaving you struggling to get your head round it all in a coherent way. I don’t have an answer to this. So this brief attempt to begin formulating a magical perspective on the science of geology should be seen as just that: scratching the surface of something that is very deep and could lead anywhere. Indeed I started out to write an article on The Chemical Elements and the Lords of Form, but this is what I ended up with! A greatly simplified focus on one small area of the topic I started out with.
In our magical endeavours we often work with the Planetary Being and align ourselves with the tides and cycles of Nature. For the most part we focus on cycles that we regularly witness in their entirety: seasons of the year, or the life, death and rebirth of creatures and plants. We don’t focus so much on the cycles of rocks, even though they make up most of the substance of our planet and are there under our feet all the time. Indeed from our human perspective we tend to view rocks as symbols of stability, solidity and non-change. It is, however, just a matter of perspective, because rocks are in a continual cycle of change and rebirth which is every bit as dynamic as the turning seasons. It just escapes our notice because it’s a cycle which plays out over millions of years!
We all know that the Earth is extremely old and that human life is a mere pimple on its anatomy. It’s very hard to grasp the magnitude of this though, because our experience and intellect is too limited. It doesn’t help very much to say that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old because we can’t imagine that, so we have to use an analogy, and I can’t put it any better than the Open University tutorial which likens the age of the Earth to a toilet roll, with humans representing just the last few perforations on the last sheet! This is a humbling concept to grasp, which is no doubt why so many ‘young earthers’ and Bible literalists still refuse to accept it. It’s difficult to assert man’s God-given dominion over the Earth when faced with the reality that we’re barely a gnat’s fart in the cosmic scheme of things.
However, we’re here to make the best of what we are given. I’ve been thinking about the magical relevance of geology for a while, one impetus coming from Sue Watts-Cutler who wrote about feng shui and explained how different energies can relate to different types of underlying bedrock. This got me thinking, because I’d long been aware how different parts of the country have a completely different vibe from one another, even when the countryside doesn’t look that different. Could it be related to something as simple and unnoticeable as the underlying rocks?
Where I live in the Cotswolds, the landscape has a tremendously soft and comforting aura about it, which is one of the things that makes it such a nice place to live. The rock around here is a soft Middle Jurassic limestone with a golden honey colour, formed from layers of compressed sand and shells laid down on the bed of a tropical sea. At only 180 million years old, it’s a relatively young rock. The faery presences here tend to be warm and friendly and very much connected to ephemeral expressions of nature, such as trees and springs. If I go a mere 20 miles up the road to the Malvern Hills I experience a complete change of atmosphere. The Malverns feel like the ancient of ancients, and I’m aware of being in the presence of something incomprehensibly old; partly ancestral, partly something going beyond ancestors. The hills themselves are teeming with faery presences, but they’re of a completely different order to the Cotswold ones: very old, very powerful, sometimes quite abstract, and very well established – to the point where you have to approach them with extra care and respect, as although they’re not unfriendly they’re not necessarily aligned with the concerns of humans. The Malverns are geologically ancient too, formed along a fault where the older Precambrian rocks have been thrust up to lie on top of the newer rocks. At 4000 million years old, the dense grey granites of the Malverns are among the oldest rocks on earth, formed when the planet was in the first flush of creation. Going back to Essex where I spent my childhood, I always felt that the atmosphere there was a bit knobbly and I could never get quite comfortable with it; it’s powerful enough in little pockets where you find faery presences very able and willing to work with humanity, but you have to search around for them or look a bit deeper under the surface. That pretty much sums up the geology of the area too, which is devoid of any surface rocks apart from alluvial deposits of pebbles, so it’s all soil rather than stone – and you’d have to go some way down to find the underlying bedrock. Being mostly soil, the spiritual presences are often related to agriculture, and the only native stone you find on the surface are nodules of chert (flint): hard, bobbly lumps of quartz, which are very poor for building but brilliant for making practical tools.
The relationship between the geology of an area and the accompanying auras and presences is a lot more complex than these personal observations suggest, and numerous other factors come into it as well. For example, erosion of the limestone in the Cotswolds gives us an alkaline lime-rich soil, which supports a very different range of plant species from the Malverns with its acidic soil, and it’s hardly surprising to find that different faery beings are associated with different expressions of the green world. Faeries who dwell among shady ferns are not the same as those found in the grassy wildflower meadows. And of course local rock also determines the choice of building stone – and thus the physical appearance of human settlements in the area – which also has an effect on the aura of a place. But we’re not looking to get bogged down in complexities. It’s enough just to see that there is a relationship between the inner life a place and the underlying geology.
But while we can muse freely on the things we feel in particular places, and the ways we approach our inner plane contacts there, I aim to go a bit deeper into understanding them. As with all things magical, it’s best approached through symbol and imagination rather than by thinking about it too hard! So to help me grasp the esoteric side of geology I’m using an alchemical emblem from the Musaeum Hermeticum text of 1652 (see below). This image was pushed under my nose as soon as I started working on the topic, and provides us with a wealth of useful symbolism.
The emblem shows three androgynous figures seated on top of a mound holding symbol shields. Below their feet, the mound is open to show seven shadowy figures sitting within its hollow interior. At the very front is a well-shaft. The scene is encompassed by a circular border and four corners containing planetary and elemental symbolism. The numbers 3 and 7 abound in alchemical emblems, but this one is particularly relevant to the forces and forms involved in the creation of rocks, and can be used as a key to the inner worlds of geology. Of course that’s not what the originator of the emblem intended to convey: the science of geology didn’t even exist in 1652. But we’re not seeking to explore the emblem in its original context, which deals solely with alchemy and should only be interpreted in alchemical terms. We’re using it instead as a magical image, to bounce our imagination off it for the purpose of opening up inner worlds in a particular direction. This is a valid and powerful way to use alchemical emblems, as long as we understand the difference between the two approaches.
The original image is in black and white, but it’s a very useful magical exercise to print off an alchemical emblem onto watercolour paper and colour it in by hand. There is no shortage of ready-coloured alchemical emblems on the internet which have been done by others (Adam McLean is very good at these) but the real learning experience comes from doing it yourself and there’s really no substitute for it. The beauty of it is that there’s no right or wrong way to colour these emblems, and you can use different colour symbolism to create magical images for different purposes or to emphasise different aspects. In this instance I’ve made a hand-coloured version which emphasises the geological symbolism. The four elements at the corners have their traditional esoteric quarter colours while the main image in the middle uses the colours of Malkuth, citrine, olive, russet and black, to demonstrate that the symbolism in this part of the image belongs to the realm of earthly expression.
When I began delving into this topic, I started out by looking at some fairly pure and abstract esoteric concepts – the actions of the Lords of Form – and trying to apply them to an aspect of physical science, namely the periodic table of chemical elements. But I quickly found my focus becoming more narrow and specialised, and realised that I needed to consider the role of the Earth itself in all this – because the pure spiritual impulses of Lords of Form have to manifest through the processes of Earth, with all its great muddle of imperfections. I’m going to leave aside the chemical elements for the moment, because although they are extremely relevant and important, they also make things immensely complicated, and thus impractical to work with esoterically unless you focus on a small bit at a time. So for now I’m mostly going to forget about what the rocks are made of, and just look at the interplay of forces and forms which makes up their ‘life cycle’.
We’re all familiar with the idea that the Earth has a very hot interior consisting of magma, or molten rock, and that the surface is a relatively thin crust of separate ‘plates’ which move around and bump into each other periodically. The seemingly solid and unchanging ground beneath our feet is really whirling with dynamic change and flux, even if it’s happening too slowly or too far down for us to be aware of it. Contrary to popular belief, the very centre of the Earth is solid, not molten, with liquid magma flowing all around it. The heat in the centre of the Earth is a product of continuous nuclear reactions from the decay of unstable radioactive elements. A scary thought perhaps, but really an example of how the radioactive elements do serve an essential cosmic purpose, and are not just nasty dangerous things for humans to misuse. Without this ferocious nuclear furnace at the Earth’s core, there would have been no creation of the landscape on the surface, and no ongoing cycle of regeneration and renewal.
Because the nuclear reactions within the Earth are ongoing, the core doesn’t cool down. It’s been blazing away down there ever since the planet was formed. But radioactive elements are not infinite; they create these intense temperatures by spitting out neutrons which gradually erode their atomic weight until they become different elements. Uranium, one of the radioactive elements in the core, will eventually spit out so much of its atomic nucleus that it turns into lead. Once it becomes lead, it is stable and doesn’t decay any further. There is real food for thought here for alchemists; lead really is a fundamental base metal which represents a benchmark for atomic stability.
Although the core contains these radioactive elements, most of the Earth’s centre is actually made of iron – which is also one of the most abundant elements in the Earth’s crust. This too gives us food for thought, because iron is another of the important magical metals and has centuries of folklore and superstition attached to it, often relating to its powers of protection or defence. One of the most intriguing esoteric puzzles for me is the long-standing tradition that the Faery race abhors iron. This doesn’t really make any sense, given the abundance of iron throughout the Earth’s fabric and its importance in regulating the magnetic fields which protect the planet and enable life to thrive. How can faeries be averse to it when they’re so closely associated with all things earthy? I suspect there is a riddle of some kind at play here, and the prohibition is not to be taken literally but as a signpost to something much more subtle.
Alchemical emblem from the Musaeum Hermeticum, first published in 1652. I have hand-coloured it to emphasise the geological symbolism rather than the alchemical.
Around the edges are the four elements in their traditional symbols and colours, representing the archetypal elements throughout Creation. Between them is a sphere made from two crescents, each of which contains the seven planets and is a mirrored opposite of the other (to emphasise this, I coloured the ‘below sun’ silver and the ‘below moon’ gold, in opposition to what is above). They show us that the planetary influences are working in an above and below relationship, as the stars in the heavens and the stars within the earth.
The central image in the emblem is a group of three somewhat androgynous figures seated on a rocky mound, each with a tree behind them. These figures are forces of Nature acting within the realm of Earth, which in geological terms means Heat, Pressure, and Time/Space. They are the three driving forces for all that happens below. On their shields can be seen the upright green triangle of Sedimentary rocks, the inverted orange triangle of Igneous rocks, and the combined triangles which represent Metamorphic rock and the creation of something different through the balance of the other two forces.
Below the mound are the seven figures representing the crystal systems, or archetypal crystal forms. They also align with the seven planets and the seven planetary metals. Their forms are shadowy and normally hidden from sight, but we can see that the one in the centre is playing a lyre.
At the front of this scene is a well, representing an entrance to the realm of something else much deeper, in this instance the red hot iron at the core of the Earth. Note that although the well has a winch mechanism above it, there is no rope!