The Elements and the Quarters
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Posted: April 6th. 2014
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The Elements and the Quarters
The Greek-Sicilian philosopher Empedocles first recognized the four elements (“roots” he called them) around 450 BC. He argued that everything was made of these four basic elements: Earth and Air, Fire and Water. Aristotle later associated each of the four elements with a pair of the four “sensible qualities”: hot and cold, wet and dry. (Note that there are more than just four of these sensible qualities; they include all the fundamental qualities communicated to us by our senses.) Nothing may be both hot and cold, or both wet and dry, so the only possible combinations of any two sensible qualities are (1) hot and wet, (2) hot and dry, (3) cold and wet, and (4) cold and dry. It is obvious that Fire is both hot and dry, while Water is both cold and wet, the qualities opposite of Fire. Earth is cold and dry in Aristotle's evaluation, while Air is hot and wet. The following diagram shows the classical association between the four elements and their attendant qualities.
The primary quality of each element is the one that is deosil (clockwise) from it in the diagram. The quality that is widdershins (counter-clockwise) from the element is the secondary quality of the element. So Earth for example is primarily dry and secondarily cold, according to Aristotle, while Fire is hot and then dry, Air is wet and then hot, and Water is cold and then wet. The qualities of wet and dry are necessarily placed in opposition on the diagram as are the qualities of hot and cold, because these opposites cannot exist in combination. In consequence of this opposition of the sensible qualities, the elements of Fire and Water also occupy opposite positions as do the elements of Earth and Air. This results in the elements being aligned with the cardinal directions as shown in the diagram, wherein Earth is North, Fire is East, Air is South, and Water is West. These cardinal directions are called the Quarters of the Circle.
This article will present these associations above along with other arguments why the elements must be assigned with Fire in the east and not the south, Air in the south and not the east, and why the the quarters to which the elements are aligned must be the same for both the north and south global hemispheres. The reader is asked to consider these arguments and compare them to the arguments given for other alignments of the elements, and then to choose for themselves what seems most reasonable and most intuitively true.
The great Circle of the World is the ring of energy that completely surrounds us at the far horizon of our experience, where the Earth below us and the Sky above us join together in an eternal embrace. Wherever we are in this world, we are fixed forever within this ring of elemental energies, inexorably bound to its very core, its center, its heart. Wherever we are in this world...think upon that and remember it. The Circle of the World moves with us wherever we are in this world, because it is a spiritual reality, not merely a physical one. The Greeks viewed the fifth element as Aether, a divine substance from which they thought heavenly bodies were made, it not seeming fit to them that those heavenly bodies be made of mundane elements. The Hindus identify the fifth element as Akasha, from which we get the Akashic Record. In Neo-Paganism and Wicca, we commonly call the fifth element Spirit. We ourselves, we conscious energy beings, embody that Spirit at the Center of the Circle of the World.
The Quarters of the Circle of the World are readily identifiable. The north and south quarters mark the extensions of the Earth's rotational axis into the Sky. In the north, the stars circle widdershins (against the clock, or leftward) around a still point in the Sky. (At this time, this north celestial pole is occupied by the star Polaris, but it moves around due to the precession of the equinox.) In the south is another still point in the Sky, around which the stars circle deosil (with the clock, or rightward) . The north and south quarters are inextricably bound, they are like each other and unlike the east and west quarters. In the east, the Sun and Moon and all the stars and planets rise (ascend) from the Earth into the Sky. In the west, the Sun and Moon and all the stars and planets set (descend) from the Sky into the Earth. The four quarters then represent two distinct dichotomies. The still points that mark the north and south quarters identify them as static; that is, they are states of being, they are defined by what they are. The constant motions of the east and wet quarters identify them as kinetic; that is they are active powers of change and transition from one state to the other, they are defined by what they do. North and south are absolute and object, but east and west are transient and subjective; we can point toward them but never at them. All these identifications of the quarters are globally fixed by the rotation of the Earth and are unchanging with anyone's location anywhere on the planet.
Some believe that the elements and quarters must be aligned differently in the southern hemisphere than in the north, which would be most reasonable if Fire belonged in the south instead of the east. The only reason for placing Fire in the south is because the equator is warmer than the pole, so Fire is south, but only in the northern hemisphere; in the southern hemisphere, Fire would have to be placed in the north. And in the equatorial tropics, who knows what happens to Fire. The whole system is absurd and based upon a childish understanding of the element of Fire. But this problem is eliminated if Fire is placed in the east and not in the south, and if the associations between all the elements and their quarters are globally true and not in any way regional. The alignments of the elements and the quarters are not seasonal or regional; they involve the energies of the world, the energies of life and magic. The quarters of the Circle of the World are fixed in place relative to its center—which is us; and so are the elements assigned to each of them. Even if we were to stand at the north or south rotational pole of the Earth, the quarters would remain the same. Our perspective on them would be odd, but their defining traits would remain unchanged, as would also the alignment of the elements with them. And that alignment, once again, is Earth to the north, Fire to the east, Air to the south, Water to the west and Spirit at the center.
Earth and Air occupy the north and south quarters respectively because they represent states of being. They are different in essential character from Fire and Water. Elemental Earth is the substance of which the Earth—the planet itself—is made. And elemental Air is the substance of which the Sky is made. The Earth and the Sky are places, they are realms and states of being. These two realms merit some exploration and understanding.
We live on the Earth but not in the Earth. Earth is impenetrable and impervious to light and that is a very important and distinguishing feature of the element. It means that we may know what is on the surface of the Earth but not what is below that surface and inside the Earth. The vast bulk of the Earth is hidden and secret. Earth is mystery. Imagine that you live in the Earth rather than on it, and I do not mean in a cavern under the Earth, no. If we live in a cavern under the Earth then we live in Air, not Earth. But if we lived in the Earth, we would live alone in solitude with only Earth around us. If we moved, the ground would close behind us as we filled it with the ground we removed from ahead of us. We would have no location and in the enclosing darkness we would have no distinguishable shape or size. Can you even imagine such a realm of being? Oh yes, you most certainly can, for you live in such a realm. It is the Realm of the Mind. It has neither size nor shape nor location, and it is a realm of solitude and mystery. I know the activities of my own mind but of no other. I experience thoughts and emotions, desires and dreams, memories and imaginations that no-one shares with me; they are mine alone. And in my mind, I too am utterly alone. No-one else may go there. This isolated and secret Realm of the Mind is precisely what the Earth itself teaches us and what the element of Earth teaches us. But we experience two realms of being, not just the hidden Realm of the Mind but also the shared Realm of the World. So let us discuss the element of Air.
While the Earth is hidden and secret, the Sky is open and shared. It is filled with light and everything we know in this world is revealed in that light, visible and manifest to us all: the trees and grasses, rivers and lakes, hills and valleys, mountains and oceans, clouds and ancient stars. Everything in our world dwells in some level of the Sky. We don't think of ourselves as Sky-dwellers, but think about it. What is all around us? What separates from everything else? What do we breathe with every breath we take? Oh yes. We are creatures of the Sky, bottom feeders in the oceans of the Air. This realm of light and form is accessible to us all, shared by us all. All our interactions with each other happen here, in the shared Realm of the World that the Sky and the element of Air represent.
We know both of these realms. They are the two realms in which all our experiences have their origin, the two vastly distinct realms in which we live out our existences. Earth occupies the north quarter where the stars circle widdershins and Air occupies the south quarter where the stars circle deosil. This is based upon a set of correspondences and associations which appear to be intuitive in nature; I have been unable to establish any reasoned basis for these associations, but I too feel intuitively that they are accurate and valid. They are as follow:
Feminine- (Earth and Water) = Left = Widdershins (Leftward Spin) = Inward = Downward (as Water) = Realm of the Mind = Spiritual Reality
Masculine+ (Air and Fire) ___ = Right = deosil (Rightward Spin) __ = Outward = Upward (as Fire) ____ = Realm of the World = Physical Reality
The two elemental energies of Fire and Water are certainly more fluid and volatile than are the elemental energies of Earth and Air. By comparison, Earth is far more rigid and immutable (fixed) , while Air is much more tenuous and subtle. These energies of east and west, however, are quite characteristic in nature too. The energy of Fire is radiant, moving outward and upward (ascending) , where the energy of Water is absorbent, moving inward and downward (descending) . The energy of Fire reaches upward from the Earth into the Sky like lava bursting from a volcano, like flames shooting into the night. The energy of Water settles downward from the Sky onto the Earth like rainfall and snowfall, like rivers winding down to the sea. Because of the fundamental kinetic energies of these elements, we can clearly see why Fire has its home in the east where the Sky—the Sun and Moon, the stars and planets, etc.—is always arising from the Earth, like flame. And Water has its home in the west where the Sky is always setting into the Earth.
If Earth represents the Realm of the Mind and Air the Realm of the World, then Fire is the power that transforms objects hidden in the Mind into objects visible in the World, and Water is the power that transforms objects visible in the World into objects hidden in the Mind. What does this mean? Our choices, for an example, are hidden in our Mind, but our actions, based on those choices, are visible in the World. That ability to choose and act is a power of Fire within us. It is the elemental energy of Fire that transforms the potentials inherent in each present moment into the realities of the next moment, thereby giving birth to the future from the past. And the transformations of Water? All our knowledge about the world is derived from our experiences, but only the experiences we remember become usable knowledge. That ability to experience and remember is a power of Water. When we experience, we are interacting with all the other conscious energy beings of the world around us. Like Water, we absorb information from and about the world, we take the world into our mind as consciousness and memory. Thus we transform the visible world into hidden consciousness, memory, knowledge; and as the world is changed by our actions, so are we also changed by our experiences. This cycle of change born from Fire and Water (action and experience) is more than a useful metaphor; it is the very reality of which time is only the measure, and it is the fundamental engine that drives cosmic evolution. Science sees all this only as objects interacting through fundamental forces, with energy in its many forms doing the work and bringing about the changes. But science is unable to grasp and quantify a basic truth that you and I may intuitively know: That Energy is Mind viewed from the outside and Mind is Energy viewed from the inside. This truth is the basis of all our magic;it is to say “As above, so below.”
The Poet's View. Science has shown that the Earth rotates on its axis in a widdershins direction (west to east) as viewed from the north pole. This rotation causes objects in the Sky to appear to move in a deosil direction (east to west) above us. But what we see from the perspective of our experience is the poet's view; the objects of the Sky rise in the east, cross overhead, and set in the west. All this motion can be viewed as a current, much like the electrical current passing through a wire. Masculine energy (Fire and Air) is positive and feminine energy (Earth and Water) is negative. Energies of like-polarity repel while energies of opposite-polarity attract. Because Fire and Air are both masculine, the rising of Fire into the Sky pushes the Sky westward away from Fire. At the same time, the feminine energy of Water attracts the Air toward the west. The feminine energy of Water falling onto the Earth in the west pushes the Earth eastward away from Water (the direction in which it actually rotates) . And the masculine energy of Fire attracts the Earth toward the east at the same time. These factors combine to create the “current” shown in this illustration which looks south from the north celestial pole.
The ruler of Fire is the Sun, the Lord of Light. All stars are embodiments of Fire whose elemental energy is equivalent to the force of Light and electro-magnetism (as well as the strong and weak nuclear forces) . The ruler of Water is the Moon, the Queen of Tides. The elemental energy of Water is equivalent to the force of gravity. Fire is radiant and expansive, while Water is absorbent and contractive.
This illustration of the Thirteen Elements introduces the complete set of elemental energies that comprise the horizonal ring of energies we call the Circle of the World. Spirit is one and indivisible at the center, but the four elements of the outer ring each have three aspects, a central energy that is pure as well as left- and right-hand aspects that indicate the merging of their energies with those primary elements adjacent to them around the circle. These twelve outer elements may be envisioned as the face of a clock, numbered from one to twelve. One o'clock for example is the deosil (or right-handed) aspect of Earth, which is Magma. Magma is “Earth becoming Fire”. The elements are detailed below along with their position in the circle.
Ash. Fire Becoming Earth (the left hand of Fire) @ 2 o'clock
Flame. Pure Fire Energy (essential Fire) @ 3 o'clock
Smoke. Fire Becoming Air (the right hand of Fire) @ 4 o'clock
Bolt (Lightning) . Air Becoming Fire (the left hand of Air) @ 5 o'clock
Wind. Pure Air Energy (essential Air) @ 6 o'clock
Rain. Air Becoming Water (the right hand of Air) @ 7 o'clock
Mist (Fog, Vapor) . Water Becoming Air (the left hand of Water) @ 8 o'clock
Fluid (River, Sea) . Pure Water Energy (essential Water) @ 9 o'clock
Ice. Water Becoming Earth (the right hand of Water) @ 10 o'clock
Mud. Earth Becoming Water (the left hand of Earth) @ 11 o'clock
Stone (Crystal) . Pure Earth Energy (essential Earth) @ 12 o'clock
Magma (Lava) . Earth Becoming Fire (the right hand of Earth) @ 1 o'clock
Spirit (Seed, Unity) . Pure Undifferentiated Being @ Center, Core, Heart
The right hand (deosil) path represents the natural flow of energies in transition. Earth becomes Fire (Magma) , Fire becomes Air (Smoke) , Air becomes Water (Rain) , and Water becomes Earth (Ice) once again. But the left hand (widdershins) path is also valid. Water falls from Sky to Earth yes, but we know it also rises from the Earth into the Sky as water vapor (mist and clouds) . Lightning bolts symbolize Fire shooting down from the Sky to the Earth, as do “shooting stars” (meteors) . There are similarly occasions when an action (Fire) transforms objects of the World (Air) into objects of the Mind (Earth) , such as when the action of hormones or other chemicals in the body affect one's state of mind with no associated a priori experience. This is an example of a left hand path phenomenon, combining the energies of Bolt and Ash. Some practitioners will find the concept of the thirteen elements useful while others will recognize and use only the primary elements, but I present them here for your further consideration.
I realize that I am challenging a basic component of our understanding of ritual magic, and I ask that you accept that I would not be doing this if the explanations of the elements and their quarters that I have been given during my training and years of practice had been satisfactory unto themselves. But instead, they initiated in me a search for better and truer explanation, and a more effective ritual practice, the end result of which has been, after years of study and research, the information I present in this article. It is not meant to condemn any existing system that others may choose to retain, but only to present an alternative understanding of the elements and their quarters that I consider better than what I received and that I therefore offer for your consideration and evaluation. Some of you will be uninterested in changing the system you have been taught and have used for years and others will simply not consider this whole issue of such importance as to warrant any consideration, but it is my hope that a few of you will find a better concept here, an understanding of elements and quarters, and even deeper things, that resonates within you and answers questions that have bothered you as they so long bothered me.
As to what I have said herein about Mind and Energy, it is a thing whose truth I believe many of you already understand, but I add these scientific facts from my studies of cosmology and the teachings of the Essynian Mysteries. In the very first instant of the Big Bang birth of our universe, there was absolutely nothing in all of the cosmos save the pure energy of creation, and everything that now is, everything that ever has been, and everything that ever will be in this universe of ours traces its ultimate origin to that pure energy from the dawn of time. So, are we energy beings? Oh yes, we truly are energy beings. And science can only tell us the fact of it while never understanding what it really means. We are “luminous beings”, each and every one of us—from the tiniest quarks to the most massive stars; we are all conscious beings who interact in this world through experience and Will, and we are all luminous energy beings. As the Hindus say, “Tat tvam asi!” (That Thou Art!) .
Wiki article on classical elements (and the sensible qualities)
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