Pagan Portals: Power of the Elements
A Magical Approach to Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit
A magical practitioner, whether witch, druid, ritual magician or shaman must be aware that there are all manner of different currents and movements on the planet that affect us on a deeper magico-mystical level than we could ever imagine when we begin our voyage of discovery. And as I asked at the beginning of Traditional Witchcraft and the Path to the Mysteries, do we ever stop to think that the burst of energy that sets the pendulum swinging could be caused by the swirling molten layer under the Earth’s crust, creating the electro-magnetic field that surrounds the planet by the spinning outer crust around the solid part of the inner core? Do we recognise the continuous re-arranging of the Earth’s surface by tectonic plate movement; of the earthly debris from volcanoes that brings precious stones and minerals to the surface and the underground eruptions that causes giant tsunami to race around the globe. Or is our Elemental Earth just a quiet ramble in the countryside and a container of sand marking the Northern quarter in our magic Circle?
We may sit meditating by a rippling stream, watching the sunlight dance in the water as it trips over the stones and pebbles in its path – but do we allow our minds to explore the greater picture of where that crystal clear water comes from? Do we realise that this stream began its brief chapter of life being drawn up as vapour from the ocean and falling as rain on the hills and mountain sides, before flowing down into the river valley with enough power to bring rocks and stones tumbling in its wake? Do our magical energies focus on the stream; the rainfall on the mountain; or the ocean? Are we constantly aware of the force of that water-flow throughout the seasons – the spring floods; the summer drought; the clogging of the channel with autumn leaves and the frozen surface in winter. Or does our concept of Elemental Water begin and end with the symbolic bowl of tap water marking the Western quarter in our magic Circle?
Nothing on the planet can live without clean, breathable air, but a magical practitioner needs to think beyond soft summer breezes and rainbows after a spring shower. Air is the stuff from which tornadoes and hurricanes are made; it brings puffs of cumulus clouds or a billowing thunderhead some ten miles high; not to mention the thousands-of-feet-high dust storms that are created when a monsoon collides with dry air currents above it. Or is our Elemental Air merely the curling smoke from a perfumed joss stick marking the Eastern quarter in our magical workings?
Fire, even in its most modest form has the capacity for great destruction – a box of matches in the hands of a child, a fallen candle, or a carelessly discarded cigarette. On a grander and more epic scale, we are well acquainted by television coverage with devastating wildfire destroying anything that stands in its path; the eruption of a volcano; or the power of solar winds that reach out from the sun to interfere with electronic equipment here on Earth. Or is our contact with Elemental Fire restricted to a candle burning at the Southern quarter of our Circle?
In magical practice, these four elements still guard the four cardinal points of the Compass (or Circle) and it doesn’t matter in whose name, or in what form we summon them. When ‘Calling the Quarters’ for a Magic Circle it is usual to draw down the protection of the elements by summoning the …
Guardian of the Watchtowers of the North, South, East, West
The Power of the Element of Earth, Fire, Air, Water
The Guardian of the North, South, East, West
The Element of Earth, Fire, Air, Water
The Stations of the Gnomes, Salamanders, Sylphs, Undines
The last comes from the classical Paracelsusian perspective that there are four elemental categories: gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders, which correspond to the Classical elements of antiquity: earth, water, air and fire. Aether (quintessence) was not assigned an elemental and represents the realm of spirit. For those of ritual magic persuasion the Call would be for the archangels from the Hebrew tradition:
North = Earth = Uriel
South = Fire = Michael
East = Air = Raphael
West = Water = Gabriel
And there is a very good reason why we do this, as Kenneth Grant explained so well in Hecate’s Fountain:
It may be asked, why then do we not abandon the ancient symbols in favour of the formulae of nuclear physics and quantum mechanics? The answer is that the occultist understands that contact with these energies may be established more completely through symbols so ancient that they have had time to bury themselves in the vast storehouse of the racial subconsciousness. To such symbols the Forces respond swiftly and with incalculable fullness, whereas the pseudo-symbols manufactured in the laboratory possess no link with elements in the psyche to which they can appeal. The twisting and turning tunnels explored laboriously by science lead, only too often, away from the goal. The intellectual formulæ and symbols of mathematics have been evolved too recently to serve as direct conduits. For the Old Ones, such lines of communication are dead. The magician, therefore, uses the more direct paths which long ages have been mapped out in the shadowlands of the subconsciousness.
These ancient symbols are magical shorthand that cut across the aeons and connect us with the ‘Old Ones’ who are quite willing to pick up and communicate with those who ‘speak’ their language. Nevertheless, the idea for this book came from Coven member who was involved in the filming of an opera on a beach at low tide.
“As we were shooting the film, the tide was starting to come in quite quickly and every five minutes we had to move forward because the water was catching up with us. Standing there I could feel the immense power of the energy that was rising right behind me. The wind was picking up and I could sense the power of the water. It was incredible. All I wanted to do was stop shooting this stupid film and work some magic! It also made me think that I wanted to go and live right by the sea so I could experience this more often. It was so amazing.
“And then it made me think about the conversation we had the other day when you asked about ‘Calling the Quarters’ in the Circle. You said you thought I was more connected to Water and I said, No, Air. Well boy, did I feel connected to that water. I can feel it now. When I need to call upon Water I will dig inside of me for that feeling I had. I can connect to Air as well but I think you were right, I think I have a much stronger connection to Water for some reason. Perhaps because I miss it, being from Marseille in the south of France, but now that I am on this path I feel like I miss it even more.”
Here we have the realisation that although we are psychically connected to the same elements as our ancient Greek counterparts, the modern belief that in ‘each of us only one predominates’ is a long way from the truth. In ancient astrology, the triple groupings of the ‘Star Signs’ were more of a seasonal nature, so each season was given the qualities of a particular element. For example:
- Spring (wet becoming hot) – Air – Aries, Taurus, Gemini
- Summer (hot becoming dry) – Fire – Cancer, Leo, Virgo
- Autumn (dry becoming cold) – Earth – Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius
- Winter (cold becoming wet) – Water – Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces
All the fire signs are by their nature hot and dry. However, the addition of the elemental qualities of the seasons results in differences between the fire signs; Leo being the midsummer sign gets a double dose of hot and dry and is the pure fire sign. Aries being a Spring sign is wetter (hot & dry, hot & wet), and Sagittarius being an Autumnal sign is colder (hot & dry, cold & dry) – and in the Southern Hemisphere the seasonal cycle is, of course, reversed. Using the seasonal qualities also accounts for other differences in expression between signs of the same element.
The elements Earth, Air, Fire and Water were not literally viewed as things in this world, but as the building blocks in the composition of everything in Nature. Soil would be said to be formed of all elements but, in this case, with a preponderance of the element Earth so that it was perceived as being earthy. Likewise, Air contained Fire (heat), Water (Vapour) and Earth (particles) as well as, mainly Air. The philosopher Empedocles’ (c490-430BC) ideas became truly established in Greek physics and natural philosophy when the great philosophers Plato and Aristotle incorporated it into their theories concerning the physical universe.
“Empedocles might have watched a piece of wood burning. Something disintegrates. We hear it crackle and splutter. That is water. Something goes up in smoke. That is air. The fire we can see. Something also remains when the fire is extinguished. That is the ashes – or earth.” [Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder]
And to put these ideas in to a magical context, we discover that that each element has other facets influencing its purity or effectiveness. By using the Court Cards of our favourite Tarot Deck we can begin to identify what causes those peculiarities that make us say we don’t identify with our particular Star Sign. Leo, for example, is represented by Elemental Fire and is identified with the Knight (or King) of Wands but his ‘family’ is made up of the Princess (the Earthy part of Fire) and the Prince (the Airy part of Fire) of Wands … and the Queen of Wands (the Watery part of Fire).
Adrien, being an Aquarian and a professionally trained singer and dancer, is obviously more geared towards the Watery Part of Air, while I’m an untypical Piscean being wired for the Fiery Part of Water in my youth and the Earthy Part of Water in my later years. The current Magister of Coven of the Scales is a Leo and a former Fire Chief who obviously relates to Fire; while the Dame is a Virgo and a lawyer who associates with the Airy Part of Earth. As they get older and develop magically, it will be interesting to see whether these ‘parts’ are subject to change. And we often do find ourselves altering perspective as we go through life-changing situations during our time on this earth whereas our birth-sign remains the same until death.
And when a magical practitioner makes the sign of the equal-armed cross + at each cardinal point of the Compass, they are evoking the protection of the Elements – not using it in any Christian context. The equal-armed cross, also referred to as the square cross is another name for the Greek Cross when this is found in ancient cultures pre-dating Christianity.
Hopefully a picture is beginning to emerge concerning the exactitude necessary for a serious magical undertaking whether it be for spell-casting, banishing, divination or meditation. The famous magician’s directive – ‘Know Thyself!’ – is not just referring to spiritual self-analysis, it also exhorts us to understand exactly where we are placed in the magical and universal scheme of things.
Published by www.moon-books.net ISBN 978 1 78535 916 3 UK£6.99/US$10.95