Alchemy, Air, and Breathing Freely

On our way to understanding the nature of Alchemy, our journey through the Elements has revealed many aspects of fire, water and earth. Now that it’s clear that alchemy cannot happen without a dynamic interaction of all four elements, we’ll explore the nature of the last, the most subtle and elusive one – Air.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines air as: 1. the invisible gaseous substance surrounding the earth…2. an impression of a quality or manner given by someone or something.“She answered with a faint air of boredom”

Air is light, yet according to, while fire is technically the lightest of the elements, its composition is basically just hot air!

Beyond temperature, humidity and pollution, we use many Air Quality references. We call people who talk a lot without much substance windbags or full of hot air. We use phrases such as air head and head in the clouds, to describe people we judge to be impractical or ungrounded, air-fairy for those who may have an other-worldly focus, and ‘sky-high’ to describe the intoxicated. We also use atmospheric terms to describe physical conditions like altitude sickness and barometric pressure headaches – our state of mind may be either clear or foggy, and our manner breezy or stormy. One’s affections may blow hot and cold, and we may ultimately find that our ‘answer is blowin’ in the wind’.

The element of Air is associated with the intellect, communication style, thoughts and beliefs, and like the wind, how we move ourselves around through life. Air also suggests that formless place above it all that’s called Heaven. Air allows us to contemplate, think things through and to act consciously.

In the process of creating pottery, air is first carefully removed, and later intentionally relied on! If we’re going to fire a piece in the kiln, before we even begin to form the shape we must wedge the clay. Wedging is the process of repeatedly kneading, cutting, pressing and kneading some more until all the hidden pockets of air have been removed. This is important, because in the kiln, if trapped air heats up, it causes an explosion! That’s destructive not only to the piece that caused it, but also to other items in the kiln.

On the other end of the process, freely circulating air is necessary for the final mug or bowl to dry evenly before it goes into the kiln. In other words, in the early stages of pottery, trapped air can be destructive, while free flowing air is necessary to facilitate a successful result.

It’s similar in life. Most of us have pockets of buried memories and opinions. When we bring those deep seated beliefs into a discussion or situation that gets heated, sometimes we ‘explode’. That can be damaging to us and to the people closest to us too. When we do healing work and explore those embedded ideas and beliefs, we bring them out and examine them. Then we can acknowledge and freely choose the

ideas we want to keep working with, and release the ones that no longer serve us. This gives us lots of space to breathe deeply, circulate, engage in conversation and exchange ideas. It’s also possible then to allow others to express opinions that may seem outrageous without getting ourselves hot and bothered!

Finding that kind of freedom opens up a whole new world!

The Austrian philosopher, social reformer, esotericist and Waldorf School founder Rudolph Steiner identified a person with an airy temperament as sanguine.

“In the sanguine [personality] the nervous system and astral body predominate. The astral body’s inner liveliness animates the other members, and makes the external form…mobile, expressive, changeable. We see the astral body’s inner liveliness manifested in …a slender form …in a light, springy step. Even subtler external traits…a certain sense to the constant and varied flow of images, sensations, and ideas. – RudolphSteinerArchives:TheFour Temperaments

As with the elements (fire, water, earth, air), the four temperaments (choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic, and sanguine) are most effective when kept in balance. Ideally we’re free to use them all! When, like the airy sanguine, we’re light, mobile and expressive, we’re also liberated. We’re not stagnant and stuck, we can explore and try things on, see if they fit, and let them go when they don’t. We can change jobs, hairstyles, routines, partners. And, as when we clean out our closets we can breathe deeply, revel in the new space, and begin to make choices about how to use it.

We can explore our memories and decisions and choose to forgive.

“Because forgiveness is like this: A room can be dank because you have closed the windows, you’ve closed the curtains. But the sun is shining outside, the air is fresh outside. In order to get that fresh air, you have to get up and open the window and draw the curtains apart.” – Desmond Tutu

We can appreciate and support a healthy environment.

“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

We can feel connected not only with the people around us, but also with our ancestors and our own past selves.

“I am never alone wherever I am. The air itself supplies me with a century of love. When I breathe in, I am breathing in the laughter, tears, victories, passions, thoughts, memories, existence, joys, moments, and the hues of the sunlight on many tones of skin; I am breathing in the same air that was exhaled by many before me. The air that bore them life. And so how can I ever say that I am alone?” – C. JoyBell C. contemporary writer

We can express ourselves in the arts.

“Music, the mosaic of the air.” – Henry Marvell, English poet & politician 1621-78

And we can dream!

“Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air. They are where they should be, Now put the foundations under them.” – Henry David Thoreau

At The Voice of Clay, where we’re Committed to Encouraging Conscious Living, we offer opportunities for you to learn, practice, and live consciously. The modality featured with our blog on Air is Breathwork! Please explore the website and find the healing, meditative and creative activities that will most excite you!

shannon Burke