Working with Symbolic Images

January 19, 2021
By Dennis Klocek 5 min read


Alchemically, learning requires that there be a  process of soul breathing , that is the capacity to form accurate inner pictures that we can follow as they change inside of us.  The process of finding and then refining inner pictures is a form of breathing that can be cultivated into imagination.

Exercise: Earth – Naming each element of the picture

Looking at any artwork that is about  persons involved in an activity, make a list of the objects in the picture. Then make a list of figures in the picture. Reflect on any difference between your inner mood while involved in making the two lists. Record anything you notice.

Observe a figure and make a list of the elements of it’s costume, then describe the posture of the figure. Is there any difference in your inner mood making these two lists?  

Look at a figure in the picture, then place your own body in the position of the figure in the picture. Has it changed your viewpoint of what the figure is involved with to strike a pose like that figure? 

With tracing paper trace the outline of a figure  by starting at the head and trying to accurately outline the figure down to one of the feet. The outline separates the figure from the ground. This is alchemically the earth experience.  Write a little about this and share it with a partner. 


What is change? Questioning basic assumptions about the earth relationships of elements in a system always leads to change. We could ask, are the earth elements in the system separate things or are they participating with each other? If so, how do they participate?  What does it mean to participate?  These questions are alchemically water, they speak of the mood of change. 

Exercise: Water – Describing the action of a figure

To study water we will work with gesture. The gesture protocol will be to diminish the time spent drawing starting with three minutes and reducing the time allowed for each drawing until the drawing takes ten seconds or less. With gesture drawing the main line of the figure often cuts inside the figure from the outline. A good way to work is to draw a quick oval for the head and then swing a line down from this that seems to follow the posture and position of the figure. This line is the gesture line.  By reducing the time spent on each drawing the flow of a water like consciousness shows us hidden forces in the image. Through gesture drawing we can find the main dynamic line of a figure. The main line is the rhythmic force hidden in the figure. 

 Still using tracing paper, repeat the gesture process until you are satisfied that you have distilled out the main dynamic line.  Next, draw the main dynamic line freehand but accent the motion of the line and do not concern yourself so much with duplicating the exactness of the figure. Keep repeating the gesture until you can feel inwardly that you can remember the motion of the line without looking at the figure. This is water consciousness. Then draw the gesture in the air without a pencil. Form an inner picture of the figure made of the motion of the gesture line.  This leads the mind to air consciousness.


Alchemically the shift from water to air involves the process of  transformation. In transformation there is an element of reversal that takes any form into a polar state. In drawing dark shades into light, an outline becomes an inner contour line.  In air consciousness the figure and ground elements of an image begin to interact. This polar interactive state involves the power of the field properties of transformation. In a field all elements are seen to interact rather than a single element standing out by itself. The activity of the field is the signature of the transformational process of air.  Being relaxed in the presence of great transformation is the heart of alchemy. 

Exercise: Air – Exploring the reverse

To begin with, take the gesture line from the last study and see if any of the other lines in the figure  resemble the gesture line. they may be smaller or larger or even reversed. If you can find a few lines that are harmonically related to the gesture line make a field drawing of all of them. This can more easily be done in the following way. 

Turn the figure that you have been working with upside down and trace the gestural harmonies discovered in the water consciousness. All harmonic lines in a figure constitute a field of forces that make up the image.  Working inwardly see if you can form an inner picture which has fidelity to the feeling of the whole web of lines in the figure  when you are looking at it, rather than picking out details with your eyes.  Then try to imagine all of the lines moving in relationship to each other. Write  a little about this experience and share it with a partner. Focus on shifts of moods  or the arising of sudden insights. 


Fire consciousness reveals how each individual element is related to all of the other elements.

Exercise: Fire – Surrendering to the other

Look at one of the figure you have been working with in the picture and feel in your imagination that you are looking out of your eyes at it, that you are touching it with little hands coming out of your eyes. 

 Next, decide to slip out of yourself and enter into the figure through the hands of your eyes. In your imagination feel inwardly that your body is taking on the position of the figure. When you can experience imaginatively being with or “in”  the figure decide to come back to yourself as the observer. See yourself in your imagination coming back into your own body.

See if you can determine inwardly just when you have surrendered to the figure and just when you are the observer.  This process is soul breathing. It is a fire practice in which we can learn to experience the other through a process of surrender in which we maintain our individuality throughout the experience of the surrender.  Write about how it feels to shift between participant and observer. Share this with a partner.  

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Dennis Klocek

Dennis Klocek, MFA, is co-founder of the Coros Institute, an internationally renowned lecturer, and teacher. He is the author of nine books, including the newly released Colors of the Soul; Esoteric Physiology and also Sacred Agriculture: The Alchemy of Biodynamics. He regularly shares his alchemical, spiritual, and scientific insights at

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