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Thoughts, Theories, and Questions on the Elemental Correspondences
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Author: The Shadow Knight
Posted: March 9th. 2008
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The ideas for this essay came from a discussion between a few friends and me. Within this discussion I began to question where we get the elemental correspondences from and why they are set where they are.
Why do we correspond the elements to these directions? Who set the elements in these correspondences? What experiments did they use?
Has what they used to set the correspondences changed? Did they note that there would be changes and has this information been forgotten or lost over the eons?
These are just some of the questions I have had. The most frequent and immediate answer I get to the first couple of questions is: “because that is the way it has always been done”.
I say it is time we as a magical community start questioning tradition. I say it is time we go back and revisit the ancients and rerun their experiments with more modern techniques and equipment to see if what they found still holds water or if we need to adjust our thinking to new evidence.
Yes the ancients may have been correct in what they found for their time, but we have evolved and devolved in the occult sciences many times over the centuries. So it stands to reason that what held as true in those times may not true in these times.
There are many variables that have changed over the centuries that we need to take into account. So it is time we reevaluate what tradition has said was true and come up with a new ever-evolving magical practice.
(Yes, I know this essay seems to be somewhere between a rant and the ramblings of a mad man.)
What follows are some of my thoughts and theories.
Elemental correspondences work on different levels and have varying degrees of efficiency. Basically if it works for you then go with it.
No matter which direction you assign to an element it will work for all the elements are in each direction at all times. That being said, certain elements will be more dominate depending on different variables.
I think that the variables go in a descending order of spheres of influence: Personal, local, regional, and astronomical.
Personal: You influence what elements work best for you in which direction due to training, knowledge, intuition, and the environment that you make for yourself. I think it mostly is due to the environment that you make for yourself. We change our environment to suit our personal needs.
For example, I own my own home, and for aesthetics in my back yard, I have a large water feature on the east side and a fire pit to the south side, a faux wind mill to the west and my house is to the north. Now given this, I have influenced a change from the traditionally taught elemental correspondences.
So in my back yard the correspondences would be: Earth=north, water=east, south=fire, wind=west. Hence I flipped water and wind.
Now could the other factors have influenced my decision? Yes maybe, but when I put these things in I just thought they looked good in these places.
Local: Probably influenced by the beliefs of the indigenous peoples of that area as they have put their influences on a particular place for a longer period of time then current local culture.
Regional: This could be influenced by the geographical location. The regional influences are dependant upon the natural lay of the land. Someone on the east coast of the U.S. may place water in the east, for that is where the biggest abundance of water is in reference to their location, and wind in the west, for that is the direction of the prevailing winds.
Astrological/Astronomical: I think this may be one of the weaker local influences but may be one of the most important in the greater scheme of things. These correspondences will change over time as our position in relation to the rest of the universe changes.
For any magic work that you want to have a long term lasting effect (I am talking decades and centuries here), you need to take into account the astronomical/astrological sphere of influence.
The astronomical/astrological sphere of influence is also where we get the timing of when it is best to work different types of spells. The astronomical/astrological sphere of influence does have some effect on the lower magics but not as much as the personal, local, and regional spheres. I think that it may have a more profound effect on the ceremonial and higher magics.
One of the things a friend of mine and I have been looking into related to the astrological influences is the procession of the equinoxes and how that may change where the traditional placement of the elemental correspondences should be in reference to the astrological sphere of influence.
I have only recently started studying some the traditional occult sciences, i.e. Hermeticism, Kabbalah, the Golden Dawn, Thelema, and Theosophy. I have found that most Neo-Pagan ceremonial and magical practices are based in these older magical systems, especially Wicca, seeing how most of the more notable authors within these occult sciences were either contemporaries of Gerald Gardner whom he corresponded and worked with or those he did correspond and work with were students of these authors. So I have been on a quest to find the root of these elemental correspondences.
I have enlisted the help of one of my friends, Tim Walley, who is well versed in some of these magical systems, and his wide resources. Now I have him curious as to how the elemental correspondences came about and he is writing an essay of his own to explain what he found. I hope he publishes his essay (It was very enlightening!).
So from this point on, I may make references to his essay [The Elements And Their Arrangements (A Ritual Explanation)
By Frater Etz Hayim (Tim Walley), 3=8 C.O.L.D] and his sources.
To quote him: “From what I have found, I believe that the elements have been placed the way they are, based on each culture and belief system from times past, on their teachings, myths and legends concerning the Night sky and how it relates to their geographical, location, political and daily life. I do think that based on that, the elements are going to be arranged differently based on which belief or magical system you use and what is taught in those systems concerning Astrology. Currently, most magical societies and Neo-pagan groups use the arrangement based on the Golden Dawn.”
From what he explains in his essay these elemental arrangements are based on the teachings of Hermeticism. He goes on to state that the elemental alignments differ between different planes.
On the lower physical and ritual planes the standard traditional correspondences are the same, but on the higher, astral and mental/spiritual planes the correspondences are different. These differences are based in different aspects of astrology and these differences are expressed in different levels of rituals within different magical systems.
In his essay, he references material from Israel Regardie, the Golden Tablets of Hermes, and Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition by Chic and Tabatha Cicero to name a few. It is very well thought out and put in terms that most people who have a basic understanding of the occult sciences can understand.
His essay has helped explained to me where our elemental correspondences have come from.
Now my question is, does the procession of the equinoxes play into this? If yes, then how does it work in? If no, then did the ancients over look this, or just rule it out as a factor?
Within the theory of the procession of the equinoxes, if our position in correlation with the cardinal directions to the signs of the zodiac is not fixed (I am not a student of astrology, and have never given much thought to the positions of the zodiac signs so my understanding is a little limited and may be off base) then that would mean that, over time, our cardinal directions would change in reference to the signs of the zodiac.
With this in mind, do our cardinal directions move into signs of the same element or do they change to signs of other elements? Did the ancients take this into account and we have lost of forgot this knowledge, or did they not take it into account due to the fact that they didn’t know about it, or didn’t care because it had no real relevance to them?
Iraq and the Middle East
I have some thoughts and theories on the elemental correspondences here in Iraq and why western style magics do not fully work over here. I have been discussing these thoughts and theories with a few friends who are experienced within the occult and different magical systems.
My theory as to what is wrong here in the Middle East is that there is an unbalance in the elements.
In this region, the element of fire is overbearingly dominant and the element of water virtually non-existent. The element of water governs empathy, emotions, cleansing while the element of Fire governs passion, desire, courage, creative and destructive action, so on and so forth.
Passion without emotion is a dangerous thing, and so is courage without empathy. The people here exhibit these qualities regularly. They either do not care, due to a lack of emotion and empathy, or they are overly passionate and courageous without emotion and empathy to regulate their passions and desires.
This theory came about due to my experiments to correspond the elements to a direction for this regional sphere of influence. I discovered that the element of Fire is so dominate that it pretty much drowns out all the other elements.
The elements of Earth and Wind are there but are strongly tied and bound to Fire.
During my search for the element of Water, I found it to be feeble and submissive to the other elements. In some areas it is a little stronger then others, but these areas, such as the few rivers and oasis, seem to just be little knots. What strength the element does have is concentrated as if to demonstrate a stubborn effort that it does still exist.
In the winter months, the elemental sphere of water is a little stronger and the elemental sphere of fire is a little weaker. But the elemental sphere of fire is still the dominant sphere.
The elemental sphere of earth also gains in strength during the winter half of the year and is a close competitor for dominance. With the elemental spheres of fire and earth coming more into a balance, it gives the elemental sphere of water a chance to find its natural equilibrium with the other elemental spheres. The elemental sphere of air seems to stay at a constant middle ground.
This theory is just based on a few simple experiments I have performed and my feelings and thoughts on the subject. I have not done any in-depth research or experimentation yet. I have yet to be able to assign a direction to any of the elements in this regional sphere of influence besides my personal sphere of influence here on my FOB in Iraq, which I influenced based on traditional teachings of elemental correspondences.
One of my experiments consists of the use of a version of elemental wands that a friend of mine has published on a few web sites. But whereas his are based on the teachings of the Golden Dawn, mine are adapted to my belief system.
To create the wands, I took the cuttings of a variety of eucalyptus tree found here in Iraq (the locals were trimming the lower branches of the trees and I took some of the limbs that were cut off and thanked the trees that they came from) of roughly the same size. I ritually cleansed them, and then marked them with elemental symbols.
I thought long and hard as to what symbols I was going to use. I poured over every book I have trying to find symbols that corresponded to the different elements, but did not correspond to a direction. I pondered the alchemical symbols, but I am unfamiliar with the many aspects of them. I pondered the astrological symbols but did not want the wands ruled by the astrological sphere of influence.
Then it hit me. I would use very primitive symbols, for they were the most pure.
I remembered some pictures I had that my kids had drawn for me over the last year or so. I had my kids draw what they thought of when they thought of the different elements (Yes I have started them on thinking in the magical and have started training them on simple basic concepts. I believe that kids are more open and in tune with the natural world).
My youngest one is four and his drawings are the simplest -- -though most of the time it is hard to tell what is what! My 8-yr old’s were simple but more defined, and my 10-yr-old drew Pokémon figures for the elemental types. So I went with a combination of my younger two.
For earth, my youngest drew a splotch of brown for dirt, with spikes of green for grass and what looked like a tree. My 8-yr-old drew a rock and a tree. So I went with a rock and a tree as the easiest to carve.
For fire, my youngest drew red spikes coming off of black sticks which, I think is suppose to be a campfire, and my 8-yr-old drew a camp fire; so I carved a flame.
For water, my 4-yr-old drew a blue splotch and my 8-yr-old drew a pond with waves in the water; so I carved these wave symbols.
For wind, my 4-yr-old just drew black lines across a page and my 8-yr-old also drew lines across a page but with some swirls and a few leaves; so I carved these lines with swirls.
Why did I go into detail on this? I wanted you to know where I was coming from with the symbols. Next, I treated them for the period of one complete moon cycle in the following order:
For the one designated for earth, I buried it. Water, I placed it in a full bottle of water. For wind, I tied it dangling from the eve of my roof on the windy side of the building I live in and for fire, I passed it through the flame of a candle twice a day.
Now for the actual experiment:
I cleansed an area and prepared the area for a circle, but instead of invoking the elements, I took each wand individually and meditated with it at each of the cardinal points to try and see which point it felt like it belonged.
The wand of fire seemed as though it belonged in every point, whereas the wand of water felt as though it was completely out of place at every point.
The wand of earth felt as though it could go either north or west and the wand of air felt as though it could go north, east or west.
Though the wands of Earth and Air felt that they could go in these places, it was a weak feeling… kind of like they were saying, “Yeah, I can do the job but it is not what I prefer”.
I have run this experiment twice… once on the full moon and once on the new moon to see if I found any difference; there was none.
After discussing this with one of my friends and throwing ideas back and forth, we have also came up with another cause as to why magic and western style Pagan groups do not work as well over here. It has to do with the regional sphere of influence.
This region is very ancient and there are many layers upon layers of old ancient magics and traditions embedded in this regional sphere of influence, both material and astral. Many of the different ancient civilizations and cultures had their own traditions and magics.
Many of these civilizations and cultures were enemies and warred with each other and thus their magics also war with each other. So now with a new infusion of magical traditions being practiced over here these old embedded magics are being stirred up.
Those who do not try to fight the flow will sense these embedded magics and astral entities on the edge their personal spheres of influence, as if they are just curious onlookers.
Those who try and fight against the flow of this regional sphere of influence will feel resistance, at best, and astral and magical attacks or worse if they continue to fight against it.
You can actually see the effect of this on those who are sensitive and are untrained in basic magical defense such as, shielding, balancing, and cleansing. It wears away at their energies, and those new to a magical path seem to be highly susceptible to this also. The reason for this I think is because they try things before they are ready and it opens them up to these powerful forces that have been here for eons.
One last question: Could we be on the verge of a new age of magical thought and enlightenment… or is it just me?
The Shadow Knight
Location: Manila, Arkansas
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