Given the immediate experience of life would be essentially along the circle of elements, everything the psyche does and experiences, like thinking and feeling, would also essentially be along that circle. In other words, life as personal experience (psyche) would essentially happen along that circle.

In the model of elemental transformations in the zodiac from the star signs section, all star signs transform from outer to inner elements (except for the desired element). Inside is where one might suspect the psyche to be.


Could the argument be reversed, would an assumption that the psyche is inside imply the transitions of the zodiac? At least they are general in the sense that for each element they select the transition from the outer adjacent element via the element itself to the inner adjacent element.

So all transformations in life would be about learning in the broadest sense, end up inside, but with hopes also for outside, maybe even often as offspring, new life.

And the psyche would be closely related to e5.


  • The four tasks of Psyche in Apuleius' The Golden Ass are about elemental transformations of nominally the psyche.

    The four tasks are in the middle of the book, nested threefold into the outer story of Lucius as an ass, the fairy tale of Cupid and Psyche, and Psyche's visits to different deities for help, until she ends up at Venus who poses the four tasks to her.

    While the two outmost stories are based in part on well-known older myths and folk tales, and the ancient gods reflect their well-known natures, this appears not to be the case for Psyche's tasks. Instead it is more likely that Apuleius devised them himself or at least that they emerged around his time, as a way to convey certain new ideas.

    Only few of Apuleius' works have survived. One is On Plato and his Doctrine, a biography of Plato plus an outline of part of Plato's philosophy, another one is On the God of Socrates. He also translated Plato's Phaedo from Greek to Latin, where Socrates argues for the immortality of the soul on the evening before his death by hemlock.

    The word that Plato used for soul is psychê, literally ancient Greek for a butterfly, that mystical short-lived creature.


    A butterfly is often seen as either resting on a flower or else fluttering on to the next one, which reminds of the psyche, which often dwells a while on a topic, then "flutters" on to the next, often also in a rather random looking way.

    Apuleius lived in a very fruitful time in which many symbolic systems found a form to stay in for many centuries by melting Greek and Egyptian/African views into something new: Star signs got their attributed elements; in Stoicism the highest, lightest form of pneuma was called psychê; in alchemy the transition towards the philosopher's stone black-white-yellow-red is the same order of elements as apparently in Psyche's tasks; a mummy reminds of the chrysalis into which a caterpillar weaves itself and later emerges as a butterfly, a cocoon as sort of a vessel towards a higher life; leading back in time to silkworms, the changing colors of a mulberry and the great goddess, or forward to then upcoming religions like Christianity that feature the idea of an immortal soul, and so on.

    The original title of the book was Metamorphoseon Libri XI, which is likely why Apuleius might have devised the tasks of Psyche as elemental transformations of the soul and placed them at the very center of his masterpiece.
  • Myths may have carved out the cycle of elements more closely and in a more streamlined way than most other stories, as in myths originally only what felt ultimately important was worth the effort of remembering it by heart during life and transmitting it orally from one generation to the next. Myths around star signs, in particular, might even more specifically reflect only certain segments of the cycle of elements.
  • Observing something that happens outside (emo) can lead to insights into the workings of the world (eri), so the psyche would have operated along the circle of elements, emo → eri. Natural sciences would be a lot about this part of the cycle, relating essentially experiment (emo) and theory (eri).

    You could, for example, not learn much of what a cube is, unless it moves (emo) or if you move yourself and look at it from various angles or turn it in your hand (eri → emo). Just looking at a cube from a single perspective (ero) would not allow to learn much about a cube as a physical object with specific properties and symmetries, but could still change your mood (emi). Such a mood might still allow to learn something in the sense of later being able to recognize a cube if you encounter another one from a similar angle, but not much in a consciously analytical way, and arguably recognition might rather come indirectly from a transition emi → eri, from learning inside from different moods.

    Even though in the model of the star signs, transitions would in the end tend to go inside, in practice things would often involve both ways, for example, when looking at a cube from different sides, both moving it, eri → emo, and learning from its movements, emo → eri, in a close feedback loop.

    At emi much more may already be going on unconsciously than is obvious, there may already be a lot of comparing of different experiences (ero) happening in the background, which then eri could analyze by observing emi inside similarly to emo outside. And what eri would postulate, would again create an emotional reaction, and so on, to be ruminated.
  • How would the maybe more subtle view of dual female and male elements in the I Ching fit here? And generally into the astrological model of transformations in the Western zodiac? What about the Chinese zodiac, which probably emerged roughly around the year zero like similar systems in the West? Does it also mirror elemental transitions of the psyche? Or maybe something else? What about other zodiacs?
  • Is it true that the psyche is inside, that all would travel inside during life, or is that more of a Western view, not ultimately true? But maybe part of the truth if adding similar transitions "the other way" to balance it, or in some other ways?
  • In prehistory the psyche may not have been much able, yet, to distinguish what it can influence outside vs. inside: The world of the psyche would have first consisted only of the state outside, ero (dark/black/earth), the flow inside, emi (light/white/water), plus life, eri and emo (fire/red). Hence what could be thought inside and done outside would have been mixed into a single experience of daily life, while the outer state of the world and the inner flow of feelings seemed essentially given, predominantly beyond human control.

  • Colors do not fit perfectly in the prehistoric circle. Black fits well with earth and white fits well with water, but ero, as it is outside, would at first seem brighter than emi which is inside.

    But maybe this is again thinking too much in today's terms: The outside world might only seem bright due to light (fire) like from the sun, but in itself would be dark, as revealed at night. Similarly, inside the mind is not like inside a dark cave, but can be arbitrarily filled with light at day and night.

    Of course, the ability to first preserve and later on create fire would have made a great difference in those respects.

    Note that I switched the fire colors in the illustration so that the darker color (red) is closer to black and the lighter color (yellow) closer to white, actually as in alchemy.
  • Before agriculture, people essentially had to follow nature. Where to stay, where to find something to eat, was beyond human control. Similarly, the flow of feelings, dreams, visions was not something people could approach analytically at first. That probably came in time by telling stories, with mythology and other stories. Abstract concepts like love were first personified as deities like Aphrodite/Venus, only later things became more abstract, as in Greek philosophy.
  • Reading a text silently was apparently not usually done in antiquity. Texts were rather recited aloud, hence also texts often in rhymes to give them rhythm and melody. Thus in and out of what the psyche actively did were still somewhat mixed up into one: no thinking without speaking or acting.
  • The circle reminds of the Lakota "Medicine Wheel", as well as of other similar circles, including the Chinese one.
© 2002-now Alain Stalder