The Elements and Quarters have been known for centuries to many cultures around the world. They are mentioned in many medieval texts on ceremonial magic. If Pagans used these definitions before the Middle-Ages it is not known with any accuracy. We do know that many ancient cultures used the Elements in religious ceremonies and magical spells and those groups with shamanic beliefs knew of and used the four directions or four quarters of the heavens in their rituals. Today, it is quite common for Pagans, solitary or in groups, to use the astral powers of the Elements and quarters in their work, religious or magical. Element is capitalized to differentiate it in the apprentice’s mind from the scientific use of the word.
The four Elements or Quarters used by Witches when they cast a circle are based on the four directions of the terrestrial plane. These Elements are called Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The fifth element, Spirit, defines the center of the sacred circle. In ritual and magic, these Elements are associated with the four directions of a consecrated circle, the four directions of the zodiac, and the four directions of the universe.
These Elements are not the same as the elements that scientists speak about. It is impossible to prove by scientific means that magical Elements exist, as they are astral and spiritual in nature. However, this does not invalidate their existence. The scientific community cannot produce a photo of an atom or an electron, yet they know these exist by the behavior of the substances around them. The same applies to the magical Elements. We know of their existence by t the results we get when working with them.
When Witches cast a circle, they define and seal the circumference of the circle first with our wand or athame and consecrated by water. Then, they call up the guardians of the four directions, beginning in the east and ending in the north. Depending upon the preference of the solitary Witch or a group, these quarters may be called watchtowers, the Rulers, Lords and Ladies, or Gods and Goddesses. Some use the titles and beings listed in old grimoires of ceremonial magicians. These astral beings are called Elementals, meaning they are connected with the Elements. They have their existence in the Elements and work with the powers of the Elements.
The Elements should be thought of as states of being. They have force and form that exists on an astral level rather than being physical. Each Element possesses particular characteristics, qualities, and magical purposes that set it apart from each of the other Elements. Sometimes, the Elements are referred to as kingdoms and have kings or rulers. They are both positive and negative energies associated with these Elements and Elementals.
Elementals can appear to the Witch in any form or shape that they wish. However, they usually will align themselves with the cultural description expected by the human calling upon them. Every country has its tales of elementals spirits. Although the names and descriptions may vary from country to country, the behavior and powers remain basically the same. Elementals take on the physical characteristics and appearance of the country or racial group with which they work. Therefore, someone who is Oriental in the background will no usually see an Elemental with African or Native American features. All Elementals have some human resemblance, with the Earth and Water creatures having the most human-like physical characteristics.
Elementals exist on the astral levels and are as real in their plane as humans are on the physical plane. They are seen primarily through the “inner eyes” or their presence is perceived by intuitive feelings, rather than seen by the physical eyes. Elementals are alive and able to see, hear, feel, touch, and talk although they do not act in the same manner as humans. They evolve and progress in their own special way, but never become human. Although they do not experience sickness as we know it, they can be injured or killed by violence.
Each Elemental exists and operates within its own Element, never venturing into the realms of the Elements. As living astral beings, Elementals can control their particular Element. They also are capable of molding that Element into a physical desire when properly approached by a magician and asked to cooperate. They can cooperate with the Elementals of the other Elements, but cannot use the powers of Elements other than their own.
Elementals will respond to harmonious and friendly thoughts, although they do not ordinarily involve themselves with humans. Some can be very small in size, while others are large. All Elements are capable of changing size at will. If provoked, they can be very mischievous, causing all kinds of problems and troubles.
Sometimes an Elemental will take up residence in a piece of jewelry, amulet, talisman, or statue. If the item is treated with love and respect, the Elemental will stay and bring good luck. We find this mentioned in old stories about the genie of the lamp or ring.
The following definitions and correspondences of the Elements are based primarily on texts of European ceremonial magic.
Earth: The Elementals of Earth are the Gnomes, Dwarves, Trolls, and certain kinds of Fairies (usually without wings). Although Gnomes and Dwarves are smaller than humans, they look very much like us. Trolls, however, look as if they are made of stone. The Fairies of this Element are the size of humans. These beings are attracted by powders, stones, and salt.
In ceremonial magic, the king or ruler of this Element is called Ghom, Ghob, or Gob, which may come from the words Goblin and Hobgoblin. Earth is associated with the physical plane and the sense of touch. It is represented by the Hindu Symbol Prithivi, a yellow square. In Wicca, Earth is associated with the North and the color dark green or black.
Among ritual tools, Earth is symbolized by the pentacle, images and statues, gems and stones, the salt, the cord magic. Symbolic images of Earth are the rocks and gems, mountains, soil, caves and mines. I connect the Pentacles suit in the tarot with the Earth Element. Ritual work with Earth can include surrendering self-will, prosperity, employment, stability, fertility, success, and partnerships. Earth is also connected with the astrological signs of Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn.
Air: The Elements of Air are the Sylphs, Zephyrs, and certain winged Fairies that inhabit the breezes and high mountains. Air Elementals are powerful beings that constantly change form. Their basic image is mysterious and wispy. These beings are attracted by oils and incenses.
In ceremonial magic, the king or ruler of this Element is called Paralda. Air is associated with the mental plane and processes, and the sense of smell. In the Hindu system, it is represented by Vayu, a blue circle. In Wicca, Air is associated with the East and the color Yellow. Among ritual tools, Air is symbolized by the wand and incense.
Symbolic images of Air are the sky, winds and breezes, clouds the breath, and all vibrations. I connect the Wands suit in tarot with the Air Element, although others believe it should be Swords, and the ritual tool should be the sword. Wands describe the mental actions of Air more appropriately than Swords, which represent physical action.
Ritual work with Air can include creative visualization, the seeking of knowledge and inspiration, psychic hearing, harmony, herbal wisdom, plant growth, ideas, revealing the truth, finding lost objects or people, and the training of any psychic abilities. Air is also connected with the astrological signs of Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius.
Fire: The Elements of Fire are Salamanders and Firedrakes, or small Fire dragons that inhabit the consciousness of all flames, large or small. Fire Elementals are usually quiet small, but can become enormous when a fire gets out of control or enlarges. They are the most mischievous and unpredictable of all Elementals These beings are attracted by candles, lamps, and fire in general.
The king or ruler is called Djin or Jinn, which may be a reference to the Arabian Elementals known as genies. Fire is associated with spiritual and physical sight. It is represented by the Hindu symbol Tijas, a red triangle. In Wiccan ritual tools, Fire is symbolized by the sword, athame, candles, the incense burner, and burned herbs or papers. Some Wiccan groups believe the wand should be its ritual tool.
Symbolic images of Fire are the sun, lightning, volcanoes, the rainbows, stars, and blood. I connect the Swords suit in tarot with the Element of Fire, as Fire is logically associated with physical energy rather than with Wands and mental energy. Ritual work with Fire can include changes, perception, illumination, love and passion, will power, destruction of barriers or problems healing, and purification. Fire also is connected with the astrological signs of Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius.
The Fire Element must be used with great care by the Witch and magician because it is the most difficult to control and manipulate. Apprentices should never work with the Fire Element alone.
Water: The Elementals of Water are Nymphs, Undines, Mer-folk, and certain tiny Fairies of the water plants. These beings can assume a very human-like image, even though they stay in or around water at all times. Folklore is full of tales of the Mer-folk and their interaction with humans. They are attracted by water, herbal solutions, and magical elixirs.
In ceremonial magic, Niksa or Necksa is the ruler of Water. The Element of Water is associated with the astral plane and the sense of taste. In the Hindu system it is represented by Apas, a silver crescent. In Wiccan, Water is associated with the West and the color blue. Among ritual tools, Water is symbolized by the chalice, cauldron, mirrors, and all water or liquid.
Symbolic images of Water are the ocean, lakes, rivers, wells, pools, rain, mist, and fog. I connect the cups suit in tarot with the Water Element. Ritual work with Water can include healing, emotions, communicating with spirit, purification, the subconscious mind, love and friendships, fertility, marriage, sleep and dreams, and the psychic. Water is also connected with the astrological signs of Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces.
Spirit:Although Spirit is the fifth Element it is seldom used, if at all, in magic. It is represented by the center of the circle and the color brilliant white. It has no rulers or beings other than the Goddess and the God. Ritual work with the Element of Spirit can include enlightenment, seeking the life’s path, understanding karma, and the unveiling of the ancient spiritual Mysteries.
The Celtic cultures were well aware of the Elements and the Elementals. Ancient Pagan Priests and Priestesses of the Celts always included the four Elements in some way in all rituals.
The old Scottish Gaelic term for the four directions was the Four Airts, or airs. This encompasses the Four Elements and the four winds as well. The Scottish Gaelic colors for these differed from the colors adopted by Witches from ceremonial magic. The Scottish ones were crimson for the East and dawn; white for the South and noon; gray for the West and twilight; and black for the North and midnight. The specific Scottish Gaelic words for the four directions were aiet for the East; deas for the South; iar for the West; and tuath for the North.
Other cultures used different colors to represent the four Elements. The Hindus used a yellow square for Earth, a silver crescent for Water, a blue circle for Air, a red triangle for Fire, and a black indigo ovoid for Spirit. In Enochain (or Qabalistic) magic, the Elements are referred to as
Castles: red is for East, white for South, green for West, and black for North.
China’s representations of the Elements are slightly different, since they have more than one designation for each Element. One set of Elements lists Black Warrior, White Tiger, Vermillion Bird, and Azure Dragon, while another set lists North, black, Water, Winter, West, White, Metal, Autumn; South, red Fire, Summer; East, green, Wood, Spring, and Center, yellow, Earth.
Native North American tribes also know and use the Elements in their ceremonies. The directional descriptions depend upon the tribe and its cultural teachings. One list gives East, yellow, eagle; South, red, mouse; West, black, bear; and North, white, buffalo. Among the Navajo the list is East, white; South, blue; West, yellow; and North, black, while the Cheyenne used red, yellow, white, and black instead. However Zuni list Air, yellow; Water, blue; Fire, red; Earth, white; and center as all colors.
In ancient Mexico we find still other descriptions of the Elements. The Mayan designation was East, red; South, yellow; West, black; and North, white. The other cultures of Mexico used North, red; Fire, West, yellow, Earth; South, blue, Air; East, green, Water; and again a center of all colors.
It is important to include symbols of all four Elements in every ritual so that the astral and spiritual energies will be balanced. An over-predominance of one Element will have an adverse effect on the ritual and the participants. Each Element will balance it opposite in the circle. Earth will balance Fire, keeping this volatile energy from causing chaos, just as Air balances Water.
All magic recognizes that the four Elements must be used to produce a satisfactory outcome from spell work. This means that without the use of the Elements, Witches or magicians cannot create their desire on the astral plane and have that desire manifest in this physical world. These Elements correspond to four distinctive types of astral energy that can be molded by magical techniques into a desired form. Ancient occult philosophers taught that all life is composed of these Elements, and, without them, could not exist. Therefore, no magical spell has the power to create unless you use all four Elements.
Events in human lives also should contain the equivalent of the four Elements, or chaos will reign. Earth represents the physical body and common sense. Air symbolizes the mental level and study, thought, and constant learning. Fire is the physical activity, while water represents the emotions. If a person studies, takes care of the physical responsibilities, and is empathetic with others, but does no physical activities to bring about a desired result that desire manifestation will be off center and not what one wanted.
You also look at the elements in terms of personal responsibilities. Earth is taking care of the physical body; Air is responsibility to a job; Fire is spiritual seeking; and Water is responsibility to family. If a person shirks responsibility to family and self, while totally centering on spiritual seeking, that person is out of balance.