Cultures throughout the world have expressed in their philosophies and mysticism the use of the elements to express the ideas of body, mind and soul. In the western world the elements most commonly used are Earth, Air, Fire and Water
It is in the writings of some of the ancient Greek philosopher that first mention is found in western culture of combining the four elements together to create matter. Aristotle’s writing have survived the best to bring us this tradition. Aristotle believed that all matter was made of a combination of the elements earth, air, fire, water and the invisible Aether. It is from Aristotle that this idea permeated into later medieval and Renaissance philosophy.
Aristotle wrote that the elements of earth, air, fire and water always want to return to their own element. Thus, a stone when dropped will fall to the earth. Fire rises up to return to the all enveloping fire above. Water flows downward as the realm of water lies below that of earth.
The elements of earth, air, fire and water were also used in ancient Greek medicine. Each element represents a part or system in the human body.
- Fire – in the digestive system and heat producing muscles.
- Air – the lungs, chest and thorax. Also, in the Vital Force that blood carries throughout the body.
- Water – Vital fluids of the body including the clear fluids like tears, phlegm and plasma
- Earth – Bones and joints
The Four Elements in Esoteric Systems
Alchemy uses the four elements as representative of the four basic concepts of alchemy, hot and moist and their opposites of cold and dry.
In astrology the signs of the zodiac are divided into four groups, each representing one of the four elements. Fire signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) give energy and vitality. Water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) sensitivity and emotion. Earth signs (Capricorn, Taurus, Virgo) practicality and stability. Air signs (Libra, Aquarius, Gemini) intelligence and reason.
The four elements also appear in Tarot. The elements are represented by the four suits of the Minor Arcana, Wands (fire/air), Cups (water), Swords (fire/air) and Pentacle (earth).
The four elements are also used in the Kabbala. In Kabbala Four Worlds or levels are described. The highest level is “Atziluth”. This is the Spiritual World and is associated with the element of Fire. The second is “Briah”. This is the world of the creative mind and is associated with the element of Water. The third world is “Yetzirah”, the World of Formation associated with the element of Air. Finally the fourth level is “Assiah” this is the World of Action. This is our physical world and so is of course associated with the element of Earth.
Use in Ritual
In Wicca and other earth centered traditions the four elements are used in ritual as the quarters are called. Some traditions call the elements the Watchtowers of the quarters, others refer to them as spirits, archetypes, guardians or even personify them as elementals.
Earth – The element of the north. The most feminine of elements as related to Mother Earth. Relates to rest and darkness but also growth and abundance. Due its feminine aspects Earth is the element of fertility and love spells. Also, of strength, stability and endurance.
Earth’s colors are brown, black and green. Symbols include mountains, stones and rocks. Ceremonial tools are salt, stones and the pentagram.
Earth music is found in the drum or the beating of the heart.
Earth magic is planting and growing plants or using crystals.
A low Earth person is confused and insecure while a high Earth person is steady and “down to earth”.
Air – The element of the East where the sun rises. Air is related to the soul and the breath. Spells using Air involve the soul, the mind and those seeking communication or wisdom. Its color is yellow. The music of Air is bells or the use of the flute.
Air Magic – Visualization which is important in all magical work. Mirror magic as in scrying with a mirror.
Fire – this is the element of the South. Fire is a distinctly masculine element. Fire can be destructive but it is also protective as it provides heat and light. Fire is associated with passion, desire and anger but also virility and action. Spells for using Fire include those for becoming a stronger person and for breaking off a relationship.
Incense, candles, lamps and of course fire are used to attract the element of Fire. Colors include white and red. Magical tools for Fire are candles and the athame.
Types of Fire magic – Bonfire to burn herbs or send a message. Candle magic using the color of candle to match the spell being cast. Sun magic to enhance new beginnings in love and health or to awaken powers.
A person with a low fire personality is cold and slow to act.
A high fire personality is bold, dramatic and passionate but can also be dangerous as their fire can destroy everything it its path.
Water- Is the element of the West. Water is a feminine element. Healing and purification spells use Water. The spirit of Water is attracted with a cup or bowl of water. The colors are blue and gray. The symbols of Water are wells, lakes, oceans and other places were water is clean and free. Tools used when working with Water are the cauldron, mirror and cup or goblet.
Water magic uses sand, shells, and seawater. Love spells will use Water.
Water is the element of intuition, insight and the womb.
A person with a low water personality is cold and calculating. A person who has a high water personality tends to be overly emotional and dramatic.
Element Use in Meditation
Too many practitioners relegate the Four Elements to only using them when doing a formal ritual. The elements are also important for use in meditation.
The elements all being part of nature the best place to meditate while using them is outside. However, this is not always possible so a symbol or part of the element can be brought inside where you can be comfortable.
Earth – best done where and when you can put your bare feet down on the earth to connect to it directly. When done inside a stone, a small container of earth or a small plant can be used instead.
Air – again best done outside in the fresh air. Try to find a spot where you can feel a breeze or at least the air seems to move. If unable to be outside a bell, a singing bowl or flute music can be used.
Fire – mediation with Fire is often around a campfire or other outdoor fire in the dark where the different colors and aspects of fire can be seen and heard. Inside a candle or small lamp can be used instead. Fire meditation is one of the more visual forms of meditation.
Water – If you can sit with your bare feet in a lake, stream or pool of water this is the best version of meditation using Water. If this is not possible just sitting near a source of water where you can sense its movement and feel the coolness of the water is the next best thing to do. Inside a small bowl or cup of water can be used.
Remember, however, that even when no symbol of an Element can be used or found that we all have within us all four of the Elements that can be used when needed.
Thank you for joining us for this discussion. The material presented is originally from Wands and Swords, a White Oak Grove CUUPS discussion with Allen Reed originally held on Match 5th, 2017. ©2017 Allen Reed
Sources of Information:
- explorable.com Ancient Physics History of Physics
- llewellyn.com/journal/article The Magic of Meditations