I’ve written a lot about the seven classical planets and celestial/cosmic witchcraft. I think it’s time to bring things a bit more down to earth, though!
This is a new two-part series! It will focus on the natural elements as understood by the Western Magical Tradition.
In today’s article, I’ll be explaining a bit about the history of these concepts and how I see them. I hope you find this interesting and informative!
Thinking About the Elements
Elements are one of the first concepts I learned when beginning a journey into witchcraft.
But! How do we view the elements as concepts? Lets consider how they relate to us and the whole universe. Here’s my views!
Some believe the elements are simply words for natural phenomena. In other words, Fire is fire - the burning of a campfire or candle, or another flame. Water would always be something like a stream, the ocean or other liquid. I don’t see it this way. They’re far more complex than that!
The four elements stem the observations of ancient philosophers. These thinkers guessed that these substances were the building blocks of physical reality. Of course, they were wrong! In reality, atoms comprise matter. Matter and energy, then, make up the physical universe.
We could associate four classical elements with the four states of matter. These are solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. They’d correspond to earth, water, air, and fire in turn. This is a very simplified view, though!
These concepts were fundamental to the ancients. A wealth of lore has developed around them. They have grown into complex metaphors for aspects of the human condition. The physical manifestations of the elements have become potent symbols.
They represent various mental and emotional phenomena. Symbols are important in witchcraft. The way I see it, all tools of the Craft are symbols used to connect with larger forces that work within the universe.
The elements themselves, and their attributions, are in fact, somewhat arbitrary. This means that each of us will have a different idea of what each element represents!
There’s nothing wrong with this, though. The point is to use them as symbols. What they symbolize to you is your own business!
Qualifying the Elements
In the Western Magical Tradition, there are four core (classical) elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.
Some traditions do posit a fifth element called the quintessence, also known as Spirit or Aether. This fifth element stands apart from the other four, as it doesn’t behave in the same way.
I’ll be focusing on these four, not on the quintessence. Spirit as an element is a very large topic best suited for its own series of articles.
Alchemical thinkers have placed these four into categories. . They’re quite useful for understanding the system.
Each element is either “hot” or “cold,” as well as either “dry,” or “wet.”
This doesn’t describe the physical qualities of the phenomena in question. Rather, these terms are metaphors. They refer to the roles taken by the concepts each element embodies.
Hot and Cold Elements
Hot elements are active in human existence.
They stand for concepts that penetrate and alter the world around them. An outdated way of putting this would be to describe them as “masculine.” This comes from historical stereotypes about gender. I tend to use the term “active” to describe hot elements. That’s Fire and Air.
Cold elements are passive and receptive.
They represent concepts from which we draw nourishment. They are the structure or substance that forms our mental landscape. The hot elements tend to be the essence or organizing principle.
Cold elements are often stereotyped as “feminine.“ They are Water and Earth, both of which play a nourishing role in human existence.
Wet and Dry Elements
Dryness as a concept within the Western Magical Tradition refers to a fixed state. In other words, the dry elements are things that don’t often change. These elements are full of stability.
The key feature of a dry element is lack of intense motion. We can depend on the stable parts of our existence, represented by these elements.
The dry elements are Fire and Earth. It may seem strange to call fire stable, but it is a reliable source of warmth to us. It represents a constant feature of human life.
When we speak of wet elements, we mean the two elements that aren’t fixed. In other words, elements that flow ,change and transform. It is the concepts associated with these elements that drive the changes. They are reliable, but only insofar as change, itself, is something to rely on!
The wet elements are Air and Water. Both are natural features that shift and flow through our lives. The inclusion of Air as a wet element shows that these are metaphorical, not literal terms.
Much more could be said about how people have described the elements throughout time. The above image shows the alchemical view of how the elements can combine to create secondary principles.
As you might guess, “fixed” and “volatile” here stand for what we’ve been calling “passive” and “active.” If you want to know more about these further topics, I recommend Robert Bartlett’s book, True Alchemy.
The entire concept of the elements is a metaphor, though. It’s a metaphor that can work for you. It can help with your Craft, and help you connect with the universe. I’ll be posting the next article tomorrow! In that, I’ll be discussing each element in detail.
Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four Putins lived together in harmony. Then, everthing changed when the Fire Putin attacked. Only the Putintar, master of all four Putins, could stop them. But when Russia needed him most, he vanished
Professor (Flitwick… probably): “Good afternoon class! Today we will be learning how to manipulate the elements. Before we begin, it is important to understand each element and how it relates to the others. Now who can tell me the 4 basic elements?”
Professor: “Very good. Now…”
Gryffindor: “Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony.
Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.”
Ravenclaw: “Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished.”
*students: “what is happening?”*
Slytherin: “A hundred years passed and my brother and I discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang.”
Hufflepuff: “And although his airbending skills are great, he has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone.”
The 4 students in unison: “But I believe Aang can save the world.”
Professor: “Well done! You are the first group of students to recite it perfectly. I liked how all of you said the last line together. 10 points to each house. Simply wonderful.”
“It is the tradition to have four houses, but in this case, I wanted them to correspond roughly to the four elements. So Gryffindor is fire, Ravenclaw is air, Hufflepuff is earth, and Slytherin is water … it was this idea of harmony and balance, that you had four necessary components and by integrating them you would make a very strong place.” — J.K. Rowling
Air + Fire = Air is intrigued with Fire, and they in turn fan the flames to create more Fire. Ie; they provide motivation and inspiration. Too much air though, fire is extinguish.Air does not need Fire.
Water + Earth = Water is soothing to Earth, and nourishes it. Earth paves the way for Water. Beware of Water being too clingy and dependent—they will drown the Earth.
Fire + Earth = They need each other, they can also destroy each other. Fire can scorch the Earth, but can give them much needed warmth/sparks. Earth can put out Fire, but makes sure they don’t self-destruct in a blazing inferno.
Air + Water = Air and Water is always in union. Like H20. They naturally work well together, but sometimes they blend together so effortlessly…that it could get boring. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. Water is always grounded, while Air travels freely. Like when it rains, Water falls to the ground. There is always a chance Water may be left behind.
Earth + Air = Air does nothing to Earth. Their presence do not affect them.Earth may slow Air down, but that’s basically it. However, they are still the ground and sky. Heaven and Earth. They are total opposites, sometimes they would attract, but other times it would end in disaster.
Fire + Water = Fire overwhelms Water, and vice versa. Water takes out Fire, Fire turns Water to steam. The only way this relationship would work is if there is moderation. They would clash, but like Earth and Air, have a chance to work. Like Yin and Yang.)