With slightly more spiritual energy in them, characters become characters of iron. This occurs when someone starts to value things other than simple pleasure. A character of iron has developed a sense of honour, which means that they have identified cowardice as an impurity and have sought to rid themselves of it.
A character of iron is tough. Iron is used here as a metaphor for that which endures. The nature of iron is to resist the wear and tear of the outside world. A man or woman of iron is one who takes a beating but keeps on moving forwards. An iron horse is another name for a steam train; an iron fist is what a boxer is said to possess if he regularly knocks out his opponents (or an iron jaw if he is hard to knock out himself).
Iron is yang energy applied to the raw physical.
Physical discipline marks out the character of iron. They are fit, strong, well-trained. Physical pain and deprivation do not trouble them. If anything, they raise the spirits of the man of iron, who knows that his capacity to endure it raises him above the other softcocks.
The spirit of iron was represented in antiquity by Mars, from where we derive the term ‘martial’. Mars was the Roman God of War, the physical expression of the masculine. Usually, Mars was only invoked in the presence of men. This means that if your character of iron is female, you will have to do more thinking to make her believable.
More esoterically, characters of iron are about order in the physical realm. Not only have they imposed order upon their own bodies, but they are also willing and able to impose order upon the physical world. The essence of iron is the kind of physical dominance possessed by an alpha chimpanzee or gorilla – the sort that makes weaker characters avert their gaze.
Iron became popular on account of that it was capable of keeping a hard, sharp edge. This hardness is characteristic. Whereas the softness of the characters of lead and tin sees them give way in stressful situations, the characters of iron hold fast. Being sharp, they are more dynamic than other characters. As such, a character of iron is particularly useful for getting a story started.
In the same way that iron is useful on account of that it can be made into tools, characters of iron are useful in the sense that they can achieve things. Characters of lead are too lazy and characters of tin too hedonistic. This means that characters of lead and tin tend to get order imposed on them by characters of iron (at least physically).
The archetypal profession of the character of iron is soldiering. The art of soldiering is all about making oneself hard like iron, and bearing tools made of iron to destroy one’s enemies. In practice, there are many types of men in the armies of history, but the men of iron constitute the most successful among them. The others are either too precious or too dull to truly excel in combat.
In your story world, a character of iron could also be a bouncer, a police officer or a professional sportsman. Anything where the prime objective is the imposition of physical order upon chaotic elements is the realm of the character of iron.
In principle, there’s no reason why a character of iron in your story can’t be female. In fact, the rarity of it might make for an especially interesting character, one that was less cliched than a male warrior. Red Sonja of the Robert E. Howard tales might be the best example of this.
Commensurate with their higher level of spiritual refinement, characters of iron have immense physical courage. A true character of iron will not back down from any threat or physical challenge. Like the Gurkhas of Nepal, this physical courage comes from a heightened sense that physical death is not the worst possible thing. The merely brutal men are more likely to come from the passionate realm of tin than the disciplined realm of iron.
There is a flipside, however. Iron is brittle, and it will break instead of bending. Whereas the character of silver is just as happy moving backwards as forwards, the character of iron tends to be stubborn and bull-headed. This is a good quality when they’re receiving a cavalry charge, but it’s a bad quality in peacetime, when it tends to lead to unnecessary fights and arguments.
In a sense, iron represents the archetypal primal masculine – the warrior and the hunter. It reached its apogee in the ancient world with the invention of iron weaponry, which easily defeated weapons and armour made of softer metals (let alone wooden spears and bone clubs). Iron is that which penetrates and pulverises. It dominates physically, but in turn it gets dominated mentally and spiritually.
Other characters might look down on the character of iron out of the belief that that they are vicious. The characters of iron don’t have the sense of chivalry possessed by the characters of copper, much less the sophisticated moral sentiments of the three highest elements. Consequently, their readiness for physical conflict makes them appear threatening to the others.
It’s true that characters of iron can have a pronounced dark side. Their physical superiority gives them the opportunity to get away with a variety of acts of cruelty, brutality and savagery. Although they are at their best in the fire of war, when the guns fall silent the head tends to become noisy. The effect of trauma on a character of iron can come to mean that they devolve into a character of tin or lead, and come to express dark energies.
The most sinister side of the characters of iron is perhaps expressed sexually. The man of iron is the typical rapist, rape being very much the order of things in a state of nature. The man of iron despoils women as much as he despoils the countryside. He might not be as impulsive as characters of tin and lead, but neither is he motivated by a desire to end the suffering of all sentient beings.
The character of iron is capable of great cruelty on account of what is known to Elementalists as the Conceit of Iron. This the name given to the fact that the character of iron tends to be physically dominant, and that it’s easily possible for them to confuse this physical dominance for the Will of God (i.e. to mistake their ability to force something on others with their right to do so). If a character in your story suffers from this conceit they are capable of anything.
On the other hand, characters of iron are capable of their own great virtues. Few are as loyal as the character of iron, for better or ill. A true man of iron, feeling no physical fear, can sit happily in a foxhole under artillery fire, knowing that such an environment would destroy all of the softer characters. Other characters might be able to outsmart them, but they can’t simply scare them off with a direct assault.
The real value of the character of iron is that the space they win through their courage creates an opportunity for others to grow, and perhaps then to achieve some of the higher positions on the spiritual spectrum. Following this, it may be that your character of iron is an elderly warrior, or a chivalrous one with a bit of copper in them.
This article is from Viktor Hellman’s The Alchemy of Character Development, the sixth book in VJM Publishing’s Writing With Psychology series. This book will show you how to use alchemy to create deep, realistic and engaging characters for your creative fiction.
If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2019 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 and the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 are also available.