Iron – The Element
Though the world entered the new millennium with bright hopes for a new and better future, possibly even an idyllic, peaceful Golden Age, strife and conflict are escalating. Never a day goes by without news of some act of savagery and destruction. The forces of disorder are proliferating, seeking to undermine stability and establish anarchy. Today violence has never been more indiscriminate. We are yet in the grip of the Iron Age, the gods of war remain insatiable and the shadow-warrior moves in our midst.
An ambivalent metal
It has been the destiny of iron more than any other metal to serve the forces of war and destruction, yet, like all the metals, it possesses a profound ambivalence. The intuitive response of ancient civilisations to this powerful substance emphasises its symbolic ambiguity. The Aztecs prized meteoric iron as a celestial and sacred metal falling from heaven as a gift from the gods, whilst the Egyptians equated it with the bones of Set, a destructive, diabolical divinity, worshipped by some, execrated by others, but universally feared. He embodied primeval power perverted to wicked ends and was perceived as a negative force in the cosmic and moral conflict between good and evil.
Ancient Chinese tradition sees iron and copper as polar opposites, iron being base, yang, masculine, a fire element and related to the colour red, while copper is noble, yin, feminine, a water element and related to the colour black. Other cosmologies perceived the same contention: hard, crude, rigid, dark iron when contrasted with soft, subtle, warm, shining copper, appearing as the dark or shadow aspect – “lord of darkness and night” – the perfidious purveyor of carnage and death, while copper represented brightness, light and love. In modern myth, Tolkien portrays a corresponding distinction between the loathsome, bestial, warlike orcs and the exquisite, gentle, spiritual elves, and likewise between Gandalf, the noble warrior wizard and Saruman, the black-hearted, fallen wizard. Darth Vader of Sky Wars, masked in steel, is the quintessential dark warrior, who, like Saruman, is a manifestation of malicious and misguided power. His laboured breathing is in keeping with the marked asthmatic tendency of Ferrum (invariably worse at midnight). The “Set-complex” of virtue corrupted, demonstrated by these two mythical beings, is symbolised in the inexorable corrosion and disintegration of iron over time to a ravaged travesty of its pristine form.
A vital metal
As the molten globe of the newly created Earth began to cool, the closely related elements, iron and nickel, gravitated to form the core of the planet. Here, their magnetic, ethereal energies radiate the masculine and feminine forces of Gaia. Iron is essential to the “life” of the planet. It is also vital to the life processes of all plants and animals. It is the core atom of haemoglobin, the respiratory pigment of mammals. In the human being it therefore holds centrestage, built into the blood, which together with the heart, expresses the very pulse and passion of the ego. Hence, Ferrum must be regarded as one of the most fundamental archetypes in the human psyche and its relationship to haemoglobin, blood and the fire of the ego confirms the ancient knowledge of its kinship with the colour red.
Red and the body
Physically, red signifies fever and this is common to the acute Ferrum state, but even more so for Ferrum’s “tissue salt”, Ferrum phosphoricum, a remedy as important as Aconite and Belladonna in treating fever. Organically, red indicates the blood, heart, circulation and blood vessels, and organs that are particularly rich in blood – the thyroid, lungs, liver, spleen, reproductive organs and muscles. Organ relationships, when pronounced, often provide insight into nature and temperament. Ferrum is above all splenic, sanguine and choleric.
Artwork showing an impact crater on a Martian landscape – the rocks’ orange colour is due to a high content of iron oxides
Red and the spleen
The spleen symbolises anger, indignation, irascibility and especially rancour and bitter resentment. A Ferrum knows well how to nurse a grudge and “vent his spleen”. True to the warrior code, the cause of such grievance is invariably a betrayal of trust, breach of loyalty or a slight to reputation. The lower Ferrum is incensed by the least opposition or challenge to his authority. He is always right and cannot tolerate contradiction or criticism which he can never forgive; the offender will either be ostracised or become the victim of reprisal. Their anger is inordinate – it is wrath, rage and fury – when the “blood is up” they “see red”!
Red and the blood
In the sanguine disposition, the blood runs fast and furious, accompanied by sparkling eyes, a buoyant, jaunty air and flushed countenance. Their manner is assured, confident and optimistic and if put to the test they are found indomitable and courageous. True to the medieval meaning of sanguine, if called upon, they are willing (sometimes eager) to shed blood, even their own. How could it be otherwise with iron, the element of blood and the implement of war? They are excitable, warm, romantic, ardent and animated, given to passions and enthusiasms. They believe, love and hate with passion. Without focus they decline into boredom.
Red and the lungs
Ferrum has a particular affinity for the lungs and has often been used successfully in the treatment of asthma, particularly when exercise-induced, and tuberculosis, especially the incipient stage in young people. This relationship to TB imparts to the archetype a restless, romantic, adventurous spirit that loves excitement, stimulation and challenge; an idealistic, often altruistic, need to bring about change either by reformation or revolution; and a sense of the imminence of death.