The Four Pillars of Being

In my work, the cornerstone of everything I do is based around the Four Pillars of Being.  They are at the same time both magical and mundane.  Mystical and practical.  Inspired and everyday.  This is because they are in everything, everywhere.  Sounds like a big claim?  Well read on, and judge for yourself.

What are the Four Pillars?

The four pillars are the four core aspects of being.  There are archetypal energies associated with each pillar – which you may recognise from reading Caroline Myss’ work (Sacred Contracts) or that of Moore & Gillette (King, Lover, Warrior, Magician).

The four pillars cover the following core areas:

  1. Action - the first pillar is related to the physical realm and ‘doing’.  It covers our physical bodies, what we ‘do’, how we spend our time.  When you focus on your health, on getting anything ‘done’, on making changes to your house or anything else in the physical realm, then you are focusing in the area of the first pillar.
    First Pillar Archetypes: Victim, Warrior
  2. Emotions and Values - the second pillar is related to the way that we feel, and covers the things we value.  It also deals with our creativity and how we connect with and communicate with others – our relationships (eg. family, friends, romantic).
    Second Pillar Archetypes: Prostitute, Lover
  3. Thoughts - the third pillar is focused on with how we think and our belief systems.  It is less about knowledge (which is more first pillar as it deals with the physical realm) and more about wisdom, which is what you do with that knowledge.  It is also associated with any illusions or blind-spots that we may have about ourselves and others.
    Third Pillar Archetypes: Saboteur, Magician
  4. Empowerment/Sovereignty  - this is associated with your spirit, your will, your soul and breathing life or power into who you are and your goals.  It is your control room, from where all other three pillars are co-ordinated from and come together.
    Fourth Pillar Archetypes:  Child, Sovereign

How the Four Pillars work

Many hundreds of years ago, the famous philosopher Descartes said “I think, therefore I am”. In my view, he was one quarter right. If he had said “I think, I feel, I act, I empower, therefore I am” – now then, then I would have agreed with him – because these are the four core aspects that make us who we are.

The Four Pillars of Being are the four cornerstones of being human, of living on this planet.  Anywhere you find something divided into or grouped into four, you will most likely find an aspect of one of each of the pillars in each of the four.  This holds true wherever you look – from religion, philosophy, pop culture, astrology, colour through to science.

Like the four legs of a table, these four pillars ‘hold you up’.  If one or more of the four pillars is weak, or not taken into account, then the table will be weak and/or might even fall over!

The Four Pillars in action

Here’s some examples of where we see the four pillars:

Survival Archetypes

In her book, Sacred Contracts, Caroline Myss refers to four archetypes – the victim, prostitute, saboteur and child – as our four principal energy companions or four survival archetypes.  This is because they are fundamental to your core being, they speak to your essence, to what it takes for you to ‘survive’ in this lifetime. And more than that, for those of you who believe in reincarnation, these four archetypal patterns stay with us from lifetime to lifetime.

Balinese Hinduism

In her book, Eat, Love, Pray, author Elizabeth Gilbert talks of the spiritual lessons she learned from the Hindu Medicine man – ‘Ketut’ – Here is a brief excerpt from her book which talks to how the Balinese explain the four pillars:

Ketut went on to explain that the Balinese believe we are each accompanied at birth by four invisible brothers, who come into the world with us and protect us throughout our lives………..The brothers inhabit the four virtues a person needs in order to be safe and happy in life: intelligence, friendship, strength and (I love this one) poetry. The brothers can be called upon in any critical situation for rescue and assistance……..[Ketut] instructed me to ask for the help of my bothers throughout my life, whenever I need them. He says I don’t need to be formal when I speak to them, the way we are formal when we pray to God. I’m allowed to speak to my brothers with familiar affection, because ‘It just your family!’.

The Four Balinese Brothers are:  intelligence – which links to the third pillar, thought; friendship – which links to the second pillar, emotion; strength – which in this context links to the first pillar, action;  and poetry – which links to the fourth pillar – spirit – our creative centre.

The Four Pillars in other religions

You can see the four pillars in many other religions.  I have written earlier about the four pillars and Buddhism.  You can see the four pillars in various aspects of Christianity – for example, in the four gospels (or verions) of Jesus’ life in the bible.  Each of these examines a different aspect of Jesus’ life – each one corresponding to one of the pillars.

Looking to ancient religions – in Egypt, the God Horus was said to rule the Living (or life) and he is said to have had Four Sons. These Four Sons are said to be the ‘rudders of heaven’ guiding us through life and also interestingly, into death.  Each of these corresponds with one of the four pillars.

In China – one of their creation myths speaks of Four Gods who were created by a mythical empress (Nu Kwa) and each given one of the four quarters of the earth – North, South, East and West. These four Gods included the Azure Dragon – who represented warrior energy and action. The Red Bird or Phoenix which represented suffering and Emotions. The White Tiger which represented wisdom and the Tortoise which in China is said to have divine attributes and represents the fourth Pillar of empowerment and spirituality.

The Four Pillars in Pop Culture

An example which Caroline Myss gives in her book Sacred Contracts, is that of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz.  You’ll recall that she meets up with three travelling companions.  The Lion – who is looking for courage to do things (first pillar).  The Tinman who is looking for a heart (to feel).  And the ScareCrow who so well embodies the aspect of illusion connected with the third pillar, and is looking for a brain (to think).  Dorothy herself brings all three pillars together, and is learning to grow from a child into being ‘soverign’ of her own life, thus embodying the fourth pillar.

In Harry Potter – there are four houses.  Gryffindor – which embodies bravery, daring and chivalry – all first pillar attributes.  Hufflepuff is all about fair play, loyalty – and is very much focused around what you ‘value’ – which is very second house.  Ravenclaw – value intelligence and knowledge, which is very third pillar.  And the final house is Slytherin – which is all about ambition and cunning – the darker sides of power, but still very fourth house.

Other examples of the Four Pillars

I could go on and on about this – but as a general rule, wherever you see something that is divided into four distinct aspects, you will find the four pillars at play.  Here’s some more examples:

  • The four primary ‘colours’ that you put into your colour printer, from which every colour under the rainbow can be mixed.
  • The four elements in astrology.
  • The four sections of an Orchestra.
  • The four elementary atoms.
  • The four energetic bodies.
  • The four temperaments in Myers Briggs.

Why are the Four Pillars important?

Because they are everywhere.  Because they make up everything.  Because they help you to understand what is going on in any given situation, and how to respond to it.

There’s no point trying to solve a first pillar problem with a third pillar solution or vice versa. If someone has broken their arm – this is a physical issue, a first pillar issue, which requires first pillar solutions – rest, time to heal physically.  But if someone is suffering from a broken heart, they need to nourish themselves emotionally, spend time with friends, or in a good book – or even by finding something else to be passionate about.

The saying is – you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.  Similarly, you don’t fight fire with a gun – that won’t stop your house from burning down.  You can’t reason with someone who is highly emotional – they won’t hear you, because they aren’t in that space, they are in an emotional space.  And you can’t fight misinformation by hitting someone physically.

Understanding the four pillars helps you to understand how to deal with specific issues in your life, and also how to respond appropriately to those around you in a way that enables you to move forward constructively.

For more information on the four pillars, click here.

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