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.
Air emphasis: Clever, spaced out, communicative, cerebral, conceptual Air deficient: Doubts intelligence, struggles in academic institution, sedate in thinking/longs to prove intelligence, over rational, worried, high functioning intellectual
Fire emphasis: Self confident, impulsive, initiative, dominant, energetic, uncontrollable, independent Fire Deficient: Lethargic, lack confidence, reserved, underwhelmed, rational, guarded/ultra restless and disorderly, impatient, forceful, angry, confused
Earth emphasis: ultra restless and disorderly, impatient, forceful, angry, confused, the physical body is a temple Earth Deficient: Spaciness, disorderly, irresponsible, dependent, out of touch with basic living requirements, distant/overly cautious and serious, controlling, structured, anxious
Water emphasis: Receptive, fluid, hyper sensitive, emotionally focused, secretive, empathetic, withdrawing, solitary, idealistic Water Deficient: Inability to comprehend and identify feelings, disregards emotions, low emotional intelligence/extremely moody and unstable, represses emotions until violent outburst, unpredictable
I love working with the element air, it’s my personal favorite out of all the elements for a few different reasons that I won’t get into (I could make pages upon pages on why I love the wind but that isn’t what this is about) This post is about how to work more closely with the wind. Enjoy dearies!
Here are a few ideas on how to work with the element Air:
Conjure up the wind by singing a sweet melody from the heart (like your all time favorite songs), whistle, or use a singing bowl.
Go to a park or trail and walk around for as much as you would like and just feel the wind wrap around you. If leaves/flowers happen to fall upon you, collect them. NOTE: Make sure you do your research if you collect. Never pull or cut leaves/flowers unless you know what you are doing. Also, make sure you don’t collect anything that is harmful to your health.
Go to a park/field/backyard and practice yoga. Allow the wind to help form your body while the earth keeps you steady. Stretch, relax, breathe.
On a windy day go outside and just sit there. Close your eyes and feel the air. Breathe in and out deeply, let it fill your soul.
Burn a loose incense containing herbs that relate to air. (ex. lavender, lemongrass, pine, star anise, sage, etc) Meditate and connect to the element as the fragrance fills the room. You can burn an oil using essential oils for the same purpose. NOTE: Be careful burning anything; use a fireproof bowl, make sure it won’t fall, make sure the room is well ventilated, and most importantly, make sure you do your research. Do not burn herbs/oils that are harmful to your/others/and pets health.
Make a sigil that means “I am protected by the winds.” or something along the lines (Personally I am not a sigil maker but I see others make damn cool ones so I’m adding it, haha) Wear it on you wherever you’d like while you are out and about so your always protected.
Make a special air altar underneath a window, preferably facing East. Fill it with feathers, incenses, athame, a music player, your favorite books, colors of yellow and pale blues, whatever you’d like!
Paint, dance, read, draw, sing, play an instrument, etc, Be creative.
Learn. Do research. Gain as much knowledge about subjects you love.
Talk to the wind, communicate with it. Tell the air your problems, the joys you have felt, the pain you endured. No matter what, always your message is heard.
Research fairies. Most fairies are related to element of air but there are some that live within the other elements. Find the fairy folk who live in the clouds, in the winds, and fly with the birds; work with them if you would like. NOTE: Be careful with working with fairies as you would with any spirit. There are so many different kinds of posts on how to communicate with them so I will list sources. (This is a very small list of sources regarding fairies but ones that I found informative.)