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editorials | poetry & writing | Feasts of Fire

Five Elements the Pagan Periodic Table:
What it Means to Me
by D. Sylvian of the Sibylline Order and Ancient Ways

Everyone's seen the endless correspondence charts in the back of nearly every Pagan book, detailing what goes with what element from animal to color to brand of toothpaste. It's easy to memorize directions, symbols, and the like. However, if that's as close to the Elements as you get, you're missing out.

The reason the Four and their sibling/parent, Spirit, are so popular is that they can be applied to so many magical operations. Magical intentions can be delegated to elements, which gives you a handy way to add accessories to your spells.

Example: A love spell involves the emotions, as does the Element Water, so you could incorporate watery symbolism into your spell-- the color blue, seashells, ocean sounds, herbs like jasmine and stones like amethyst. Of course it gets complicated; if you're looking for more passion and sex, your love spell would go under Fire, so you'd use red and carnelian and so forth. But you get the picture.

The Minor Arcana of the Tarot are divided into elemental associations as well, though there is as always some debate as to what suit should go with what. Air and Fire, Staves and Swords are assigned differently in every deck. The same goes for ritual tools; some traditions claim the athame as a tool of Air, some of Fire. I personally go for Fire, as the athame is a forged tool and represents my will. I don't use a wand, at least not lately. Air is my weakest Element anyway.

What does that mean? Well, if you haven't done much attuning with the Elements you may not know that most people are "made up of" more of one or two Elements than the others. Think about the people you know-- the hothead, the intellectual, the compulsive cryer. You can get into astrological symbolism as well; I am a double Scorpio with a Pisces Moon, which means a triple dose of Water. I have practically no Air in my chart anywhere, which helps explain why I dropped out of college, although not going to class probably had something to do with it too.

Now think about yourself. Start with your Sun sign, and if you know them add in your Ascendant and Moon. Give you any insight? Every thing on Earth, especially people, is made up of a mixture of the Elements in different proportions. Just thinking about the way you behave on a day-to-day basis can shed some light on your own Elemental makeup.

Why is this useful? Well, first of all, it can give you some idea of what parts of you-- mental and spiritual-- could use some strengthening. Wicca is a religion of balance, and a surplus of any Element can make you obnoxious to be around. If you're incredibly emotional and bawl at the drop of a hat, you may want to attune more with the intellectual and logical qualities of Air to help you get through the day without causing a scene.

Secondly, knowing what Elements you work best with can give a lot of strength to your magical work. Just because we strive for balance doesn't mean we can't take advantage of our strengths; we just don't want them to control us. If Fire gets your mojo workin', utilize Fire energy in your most important ritual and spellwork. The energy will feel the most natural to you and you'll get the best results. Try different Elements for less vital operations. Although most magical purposes have specific Elemental correspondences, you can tweak just about anything to suit your needs. For instance, instead of using Air energy to help you write a paper, using Fire energy to bring forth your most creative instincts.

Below I've listed some information about each Element, assuming you already know the colors and stones and animals. I've included what kinds of magic each "rules" over, what sort of activities you can incorporate into your rituals to utilize each Element's energy, the way each Element "feels" when I work with it, and ways you can gain a better appreciation of each one. I don't go into Spirit because, to me, Spirit and Deity are essentially the same thing; the center and circumference of the Circle.

For a book that delves deeper into the magical properties of the Elements, as well as meditations and such to attune with each one, I recommend Edain McCoy's Making Magick.

Earth is the densest Element, and obviously the one closest to the physical world as we experience it. Its energy is usually pretty gentle, but there is a deep underlying strength within; think of the great monoliths, the Andes, the planet Herself. They usually don't make a lot of noise or fuss, but there's no denying their power. The Earth holds us up, gives us food, is our home.

Magically Earth is said to govern matters of the home, including prosperity of all kinds. Want a job? Ask the Earth. Need a house? Ask the Earth. Want to get pregnant? Ask the Earth. Want to win the lottery? Don't press your luck. Fertility is the name of the game; Earth brings the solution to our basic human needs up from the dark soil and showers them down from the trees. In our culture most of the dead are still buried in Her arms; Earth is a quiet embrace, but an eternal one.

Earth people tend to be fairly stubborn, set in their ways like a hundred-year-old oak tree. They can also be very maternal, the sort who bake cookies and want everyone to be well fed and have seconds besides. They are usually calm in a storm. A boulder sitting atop a hill may resist change for centuries, but that one rainfall too many will start it rolling and there's no stopping it. Earth people do the same. They tend to take in strays, to sort of adopt others who can't get it together and are attracted to the stability and stillness of Earth.

You can spot those who are lacking in Earth quite easily-- they can't sit still for anything. Ferret-on-a double-espresso. People who are locked inside their heads, number crunchers, spastic types who fly into emotional collapse every time a new long distance gimmick comes out-- these are folks dreadfully in need of grounding, and that's the job of Earth. Too much Earth and you're dealing with a pig-headed, back-in-the-good-old-days person who is so firmly rooted in her body she can't even see pictures in the clouds.

Ways to get in touch with Earth

Find a quiet spot in a park, forest, or your yard and lay down in the grass. Close your eyes and feel the coolness of the grass, the give of the soil. If you open your mind far enough you can feel the curve of the Earth beneath you-- it's pretty amazing. Work with stones and crystals in your rituals Play in the mud Sit with your back to a tree and see if it talks to you (it will, if you're quiet enough)

If you're ever in Texas, hike Enchanted Rock. It's a gigantic granite mound rising out of the scrubby ground, and it literally sings with energy. Take up gardening, or just get a houseplant and see if you can keep it alive. All plants are creatures of Earth, even cactuses, and they can all tell you something about growth and gradual change.

Drumming is an Earthbound activity, as is dancing; the two go together very nicely, so I suggest finding a drum circle to go to and letting your percussive instincts free. If all else fails turn over an empty butter tub and bang on it. Some of the cheapest beginner drums come from giant water bottles. Practice regular grounding exercises. My personal favorite involves visualizing myself as a tree, with roots extending from my legs and branches from my head. In this meditative state you can draw up energy from the Earth to stabilize your mental and emotional selves, which is wonderful in times of stress-- eventually you will be able to ground in only a few seconds, just by calling the image of a tree around you, rather like a shield.

Visit a snake. They have the most grounded energy of any animal I've met yet. Snakes very rarely hurry to do anything except eat, and their attitude seems to be "If I can't swallow it and it can't swallow me, it's not important." Since they have very poor sight a lot of their sensation is through vibration and touch, which are both very Earthy. Snakes are also Fire animals (transformation, shedding of the skin, et cetera), but having one roam around your head will ground the hell out of you (unless you have snake-ophobia, in which case don't bother).

Air is supposed to be closest to the astral world, as well as the realms of pure thought, which gives it its intellectual properties. Air is with us from our first breath to our last, and any idiot knows you can't live without it (although the citizens of Houston come damn close).

Aside from its lofty mental associations, Air also governs the areas of communication and travel. It's an Element that's hard to get a handle on if you don't have it in spades, and I think it may be the least popular of the Four. Air energy is in constant motion, dancing in and out of the waking world, and if you're a very grounded person you may have trouble working with it without getting irritated. The advantages to using Air energy, however, are manifold: Air means speed, clarity, focused attention and purpose. Picture an arrow loosed from a bow, and you'll get an idea of how well magic travels in Air -- a straight shot with no dilly-dallying, unless it gets kidnapped by faeries.

You'll know you need more Air in your life if intellectual pursuits give you hives; if college drove you near insanity (except for the beer) and if watching CNN is the equivalent to Chinese water torture. An Air person has little trouble meditating, but someone who has a surplus of Air in their life may be totally scattered, flaky even, unable to stay still. Too little Air may mean you pass out if you have to speak before a crowd, but too much may mean you never shut up. If your Air mojo is working properly, you will attain laser-sharp concentration at need, but be able to move from one idea to another without your brain exploding.

Ways to Get in Touch with Air

Find something new to study, something that will involve a lot of reading. This won't put you in touch with Air itself, but you'll learn something of the focused energy that Air can help you with.

Fly in a plane somewhere and sit in a window seat. When I was young I used to watch the cloud cover below the plane and imagine I was God admiring my own creation. I guess I've always been weird.

Stand someplace lofty, even if it's just a hill, and hold your arms out into the wind. Let Air flow through and around you, and see if it talks.

Visit a butterfly center and see how many will land on you.

Climb as high up in a tree as you can and close your eyes; listen to the wind through the leaves and feel it as well. Fly a kite.

Fire is the most intense Element, the one whose effects are most obvious; it moves quickly, consumes everything it can, and leaves behind what seems like ruin. That's its Mystery; Fire is the great Creator, but its methods are extreme. Kali Ma comes immediately to stress-- eventually the universe to death and then start fresh tomorrow.

Fire energy, to me, is seductive and deceptive. It's the easiest to work with in that you'll see results right away and they'll be powerful ones, so many people jump into Fire-related rituals hoping to cause some tummult. Unfortunately that's exactly what they get, as Fire is difficult to control, especially if you don't respect its essential nature. You sort of have to point it in the proper direction and say, "Smite 'em, boy!" Then get out of the way and make sure the path of your intention was absolutely clear of anything that might turn Fire away from its goal (a breach of ethics, a lack of focus, a bad hair day-- anything you didn't plan carefully can make Fire magic go awry). Fire is a harsh teacher but a good one.

Fire people are the ones who walk into a room and instantly either alienate or bespell everyone. They attract extremes; people love them or hate them, and sometimes both in equal measure. They're sensual, fiercely loyal, and very aware of their own power. (See the Scorpio connection? That's why so many of us are pyromaniacs) You'll always know people with a Fire overdose, though-- they'll screw or stomp on anything that moves, and their lives tend to fall apart rather spectacularly at the seams in regular intervals. A lack of Fire is just as obvious; a person with no energy, no drive, no sex life, who willfully or ignorantly betray others and never get anything done. Couch potatoes.

Ways to Get in Touch With Fire

In a perfect world, everyone with a Fire deficiency could hop on a plane and go to Hawaii. You might at least consider watching a documentary about it, though-- observe how lava destroys, but the ground left behind is richly fertile and gives birth to tropical islands and the legends of Pele. You can also see the way Fire seeks conflict; Pele was forever at war with her sister the ocean, and when the two meet there's a war. Get off your butt and move! I suggest ecstatic dance, or something with a lot of hip gyrations. Fire lives at the base of your spine and in all the nether regions, so wake them up. Dress in something provocative, or better yet nothing at all, and put on something with a driving beat. Even better than dancing, try sex. Guaranteed to light your balefire whether it's alone, in twos, or in groups. (Please don't forget the condoms, though-- nothing puts out Fire like a good-old-fashioned terminal illness) Try some fire-gazing. The flame of a candle will put you in trance alarmingly fast, and the things you can see in flames are amazing. Fire can be a direct path from your inner self to your waking self; it's a very primal Element, and the inner self loves primal, which is why sex magic works as well as it does. Take up a martial art and beat the shit out of something in a constructive and controlled manner. You'll find the martial arts can help you manage anger, which is very Fiery in and of itself, and it will also enable you to walk down a dark street knowing you're the biggest badass around. Being the biggest badass is a very Fire-related activity. Make a pact with yourself to banish a negative habit or attribute of your personality. Burn it out of your life, as transformation is the essence of Fire, and you will learn the value of creative destruction. Just try not to get put away for arson if you can help it; I'd feel terrible.

Water, too, is about change, but its energy is much gentler. Whereas Fire consumes, Water erodes slowly, over time, piece by piece. It washes away all the harsh edges around life and brings cleansing, healing, and rest. Life emerged from Water and always returns to it one way or another.

That's not to say Water always moves slowly; anyone who's ever been caught in a thunderstorm, under a waterfall, or in a flash flood would scoff at that notion. Water, like Earth, has a high tolerance for pressure before the dam breaks. Once it's in motion, however, it's hard to stop, which is the reason magic involving Water energy is so difficult to deflect. Just try to stop the tide.

Water in the atmosphere moves in a cycle, from ground to sky and back to ground, so it's deeply connected with the Moon and anything else with a circular life cycle. Cerridwen's cauldron of rebirth springs to mind -- all life goes into it and comes out anew. Water is that clean, refreshed smell and feeling just after a storm and the cool quiet glare of moonlight on snow.

Water people feel things very deeply and are capable of hiding them very well. They tend to be very compassionate and secretive, and the Moon's influence gives them a heightened sensitivity to psychic phenomena. They're pretty calm folks, but when their emotional outbursts occur, they're the stuff of legend. An overload of Water energy will make you a weepy, sappy, Terms of Endearment type who can't figure out where you stop and other people start. People with too much Water have bad boundaries and often wear themselves out taking care of other people's emotional needs. People with a lack of Water are often psychically blocked, have no compassion, and can be generally nasty in the way they deal with others. They tend to keep distance between themselves and others and often do that through down-and-dirty bitchiness.

Ways to Get in Touch with Water

Go swimming. I'm not talking about vigorous laps around the gym pool; I'm talking about swimming the way you did when you were a kid and your grandparents took you to Lake Winniwhatever and you wore those funny-looking floaty things on your arms. Just drift. Splash. Go underwater and open your eyes if you dare. Play that game where someone says something underwater and everyone has to guess what it was. Float on your back and imagine you're a bit of flotsam on your way to Bali. Read your Tarot cards, cast your Runes, meditate, do lots of ritual. Anything psychic or Goddess-related is Water-related. Gaze at the Full Moon's reflection in a lake or a bowl of water. Call your mother and when she talks, actually listen to her. Sit on the beach and listen to the sounds of the surf; smell the salt air and pick up shells. Try not to get stung by a jellyfish. Start drinking your eight glasses of Water a day. The benefits are legion. Start a journal and write in it faithfully. Get some fish. Don't kill them.

A Word About the Quarters
Why do most Wiccans place the Elements where they do in the Circle? I advise everyone to think this question over. Decide what makes sense to you. If you're comfortable with the traditional method, ask yourself why. You might try mixing things up a little for a while and see if some other layout strikes your fancy. Consider your geographical region, your personal deities and their accompanying culture, your own associations with the Elements. That's another advantage of the flexibility of Pagan faiths;you can change just about anything (except maybe the Rede) as long as your reasoning is sound. As long as you don't shove your opinions down other people's throats, you'll find they'll be receptive to trying things your way or at least giving the matter some consideration in their own practice. Beware of anyone who tries to make you do something for the sole reason that it's "how it's always been done." Tradition is great, but there should be purpose behind tradition.

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