The Elements as Frame of Reference- Or Why I Don’t Invoke the Quarters

elements graphic

This week’s #2019GrimoireChallenge prompts include a focus on the elements and other energies that we work with on our respective paths. Having finished up some of the work through the elements in both my OBOD coursework and in my re-reading of The Earth Path, I’ve been thinking much about the elements and how I work with them in my own path.

By the elements of course, I mean Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. They are used widely in the sphere of the neo-pagan community and have come to be sort of a staple for most people’s magical / spiritual education. Everything from astrology, to herbs, crystals, tarot suits, and more are typically associated with an element. There are countless charts of correspondences that you can find in almost any Wiccan / pagan book. For that reason, I’m not going to list any of them here.

For me, however, they are much less a staple of my practice and more of a means of understanding. Like the literal elements make up all of the matter in our world, the four (or five, if you include Spirit) elements make up the myriad of energies we experience. A sunset at the beach includes fire, yes, because of the sun, but you also have water present, the sandy earth, the cool breeze blowing from across the waves. A thunderstorm has water, the rain; air obviously as it takes place in the sky and the clouds, and sound is an important factor; and fire because of the heat that lightning brings. All of these elements are present in any one moment if you’re able to open your awareness to them. I prefer to deal with the energy as a whole- the energy and spirit of the beach at sunset, the energy of the storm as it rages through our little marshland neighborhood. It feels more like a complete picture, and a more dynamic one than focusing just on a singular element. They don’t often exist exclusively in the natural world, so why would I treat them as such in my practice?

I use the elements as a frame of reference for things like divination or astrology. Water signs are emotive and intuitive. Pentacles are associated with Earth and the qualities of stability and groundedness. In this way, they’re symbolic. They help to categorize energy and operate as a system of interpreting the cards, or the planetary alignments. I don’t however, use them often in spell work. I go for plants and crystals that fit my intention- and usually that’s an intuitive process of simply picking up items that seem to “feel right” for whatever I’m working on. Lavender doesn’t feel particularly related to the energies of air to me, but I’ll use it for cleansing or healing, or anything that needs a more gentle and soothing touch to it.

Because for me the elements are sort of a system of understanding, I also don’t partake of the very common practice of invoking them while setting up a circle for ritual space. In doing so, it’s usually assumed that you are calling upon those energies to enter the circle and balance it; so that they are all represented and working in harmony throughout your rite. Aren’t they already? If you’re in a natural space, you can see the fire as light from the sun, the earth beneath your feet, the moisture in the dewy grass, the air moving about you. Even indoors you can: fire- light and heat from your home, air blowing from said furnace or a fan, moisture in the air for water- perhaps literal water you brought into your circle, earth as the stone or wood or whatever floorboards beneath you. Heck, even your body has all of the elements. There’s a chant that goes “Earth my body, water my blood, air my breath, and fire my spirit…” So without even invoking those quarters, I see them as all already being present and already working in some relative harmony.

Because my circle is sacred protected space, and because I choose safe places to enact my rituals, I also don’t think I need to invoke the quarters as watchtowers or to guard my circle in anyway. I’m not worried about random people or random spiritual nonsense coming in and mucking up my rite; I’ve drawn a circle and picked a safe space for working.

I also don’t buy into the notion that invoking them helps to tune one in to the directional orientation of one’s location. If I’m setting up to do ritual in a place, I’ve gotten to know it before hand, and it’s likely a place I visit often. I do call for peace to the four directions, so I will have looked at a compass or something before starting to know where north, south, east, and west are too. Calling quarters for that reason seems, for me, a bit redundant and unnecessary.

That isn’t to say it doesn’t work for most people! By all means, if you really like calling the quarters and focusing on individual elements, go right ahead! But I do encourage you to try it once or twice: focusing on the big-picture energy of something in nature instead of a singular element, or creating a ritual where you don’t invoke the quarters. See what happens! One of the most important parts of a magical or spiritual practice is knowing what does/n’t work for you, and having an informed reason as to why.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

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