Having just read Jesus and the Goddess - due to my weakness for Gnostic interpretations of the world - I came across the distinction between the various initiatory levels. Specifically, the Psychic Initiation (baptism) and the Pneumatic initiation (here listed as crucifixion) - leading to the Fiery Initiation to true Gnosis - which I might define not as 'knowledge' of some specific thing, more an 'appreciation of the scale of the mystery'. This didn't entirely match a map I had used before...
Metachor, Bobby and I had discussed this stuff with other MLA members in a fascinating thread in the Old Forum (you have to join the MLA to read it all). Bobby did some illustrations, but we never quite tied it into a finished piece. Finally, here they are (you can see them larger over at Buddhafart).
Initiations often involve suffering or sacrifice, either physical or mental ordeals. Some (like hazing ceremonies) seem like just self-perpetuating group bonding (Hell's Angels, body piercers, etc).
Others relate to threshold crossing (weddings, bar-mitzvahs, funerals, circumcision, etc). Only a few seem directly related to consciousness and access to hidden knowledge.
I'll leave you to decide (or find out) if Masons, Witches or Magickians offer genuine insight through their initiations, or just membership of a club.
I liked this 'elements' model because I could relate it to many of these kinds of initiation - being stripped down, clean and simple, easily visualised - and yet it felt atmospheric and evocative to the imagination. The Elements already form an important part of the psychological knowledge stored in astrological studies, and the medaeval theory of the Humours. Arthur M Young has some interesting stuff to say on Elements and Maps, if you have 30 minutes to listen.
Three Degrees of Initiation and Four Elements.
As with mosbunall symbol systems the material may seem highly compressed, and can be unzipped and expanded almost indefinitely. The most interesting aspect of Colin Still's model, to me, was that it didn’t only refer to the four elements, but to the three transitional stages (a concept I found most useful).
Rainbow / Veil/ The Third Degree - Death or Simulated Death
Mist/ The Second Degree - Overcoming Confusion
Mud/Clay/ The First Degree - Purification
Traditionally people used an up/down model (earth/heaven), but I prefer to think in Bucky's terms of outward/inward. So spacetime compressed down to a material Earth plane, but we can always expand back out to encompass it all. This map can show both The Fall into matter, and The Initiations as a way of escape.
Light/Fire/Energy/Vision appears as the source in most religions. Next emerges The Word / The Great Thought / A Sound / OM (Air) and ‘being’ gets drawn from the Higher Paradise to the Lower (lesser) Paradise of Air...after passing through the veil...to manifest in a ‘Spiritual’ Body (Spiritus – Air - Pneuma - Breath). This ‘being’, tempted by desires and passions, descends through the confusion and purgatory of mist (mixture of air and water – muddled thinking) into a ‘Psychic’ Body (Water) of Time and Emotion. The 'being' travels over the River Lethe (forgetfulness of origins) and finally is dragged down by the mud and mire (between water and earth) - sometimes meeting spirits in the shape of hounds – and from that clay a physical body manifests (Earth), or if you prefer, a body gets ‘put on’ like a suit of clothes.
To escape from this mundane level the 1st Degree Initiation or ordeal involves katharsis (cleansing), Baptism (Xianity), or Purification - washing the mud off, crossing the River Styx, passing Cerberus - the Guardian of the Threshold in the form of a 3-headed dog - seeing beyond the animal body, etc.
We emerge into the Psychic Realm of Water...an awareness of time and mystery (clairvoyance, prediction, memories, etc). Many people remain in that faith-based realm of Soul.
The 2nd Degree involves seeking gropingly through mist, steam or fog (mixtures of water and air - emotional, non-rational, thinking) – but the theme of being lost or confused also relates to mazes and wandering in the wilderness. One has to confront the Dragon of desire, the tempter; the Sirens of memories and alluring thoughts and fantasies; the Monsters of doubt and fear. The help you may receive comes in the form of the transmission of words of inspiration, (Xian) Confirmation.
If you overcome the monsters and temptations, and do not fall back – then you can emerge into the clear calm air of space, and rational thought - The Word and the spirit (Latin: spiritus=breath, inspiration, etc) and pneuma (Greek: wind) – the lower paradise or Elysium - and maybe hang out with the angels (whoever you perceive them as).
One further step remains. One further Initiation. To go from Air to Fire, from the Lower to the Celestial Paradise, you have to ‘cross the rainbow bridge’, to pass through the Ring of Fire or The Veil or the Ring-Pass-Not, in different traditions. The Third Degree’s ordeal involves a Simulated Death, or a series of labours that must be endured...a final illusion to overcome.
This final state of pure energy gets described as Fire, Light and Energy - and in most traditions the descriptions involve visual terms – Enlightenment – Vision – Revelation - Illumination, etc.
So I have given you the basic map. Of course, it works on many levels – and people may quibble about how Air can be both thought and spirit. Sombunall of us think of rational thought as being directly opposed to ‘spiritual’ matters, but if you look at religion (and particularly Catholic or Charismatic or New Age stuff) you can see that all those kind of beliefs belong to the Soul – Emotions – Impressions - Psyche and the generally non-rational ‘sensitive chaos’ of Water. Air represents ‘mind’ and 'spirit' in their higher sense...exchange of ideas, inspiration, transmission – the calm detachment we see in (say) The Dalai Lama.
In Colin Still’s book he sets out this map, and then explains how (subliminally) these themes are expressed in Shakespeare’s The Tempest – and hopes to indicate its relationship to the old Mystery Traditions, in which some characters fail the tests (and fall back) and some pass.
This brief summary does not begin to do the map justice, of course. I mentioned the traditional ‘river-crossings’ because in (say) the Greek Myths mosbunall of us revolve from Earth to Water and then are tempted back to Earth, etc. and get stuck in that uninspired cycle. I found a really interesting take on this - relating it to Egyptian Initiations, and completing the cycle. Go to this page, and scroll to the bottom...
Whenever you attempt to combine all systems into one unified system you may expose anomalies. The associations do not always match. You may consider the same map useful within one lifetime, or as a reincarnational map, or as a guide to myths and legends and Joseph Campbell's monomyth, or as a way of understanding Initiatory levels. Still, I hope that, whatever you use it for, you will find this simple elemental map evocative and useful.