The Elemental Cross: An Alternative to the Pentacle
Article ID: 10983
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: September 3rd. 2006
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The elemental cross is a little-used (or little-referenced) symbol in popular Pagan literature. One usually finds the pentacle in use—for devotion, quarter-calls, altar equipage, magic, and decoration—at the cost of any other symbol. Thus it was with surprise that I first heard the idea that the elemental cross might fulfill a sacred purpose in Pagan practice. In Essential Wicca, authors Paul Tuitéan and Estelle Daniels suggest the elemental cross might replace the invoking and banishing pentagrams in quarter-call use, with each spoke representing a different element. The symbolism made sense; I liked it.
I was also reminded of a favorite book in which the elemental cross was featured prominently. In Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, the elemental cross is a “sign of power.” Why, I now ask, would she choose this shape? Certainly it is more accessible to the general public than is the pentacle, and perhaps there is mythological significance that I have forgotten, but could the reason be more intrinsic to the shape? Perhaps its elementary structure gives it universal appeal, or its layered yet flexible meanings make it so common cross-culture. Whether out of love for Cooper’s story or for some other reason, the elemental cross remained a powerful symbol in my memory. Drawn to it as others are to certain deities, I selected it as my personal sacred symbol.
This sign is composed of an equal-armed cross, arms terminated by the surrounding circle; thus it resembles a wheel with four spokes. The circle and cross are often two of the first symbols drawn by children of all cultures. The circle is perhaps our most basic symbol, representative of the sun and the eternal nature of life. Circles unite thoughts on paper and people in ceremony. The equal-armed cross represents four seasons, four directions, four archangels, four winds, and four quarters to many neo-Pagans. Many things come in fours, and the equal-armed cross is very naturally a significant symbol.
The combined symbol, too, is very natural. It appeared in rock carvings and in the earliest systems of writing—including those used by the Egyptians, Etruscans, Hittites, and more. It today symbolizes both the planet Earth and the element earth. Often is also represents the Sun. Other meanings, past and present, include thunder, power, energy, head, respect, king, control, highest power, gloria (Christian halo) , Fortuna, land, globe, stardust, copper alloy, solar halo, and radar station. In American, British, Swedish, and French hobo sign systems, the symbol means here live generous people. In Vodun, a cross within a circle is a soul in flight. The many names given to this symbol include wheel cross, sun cross (or solar cross) , Odin’s cross, gamma cross, Roman Catholic cross, consecration cross, inauguration cross, sunwheel, elemental cross, Gnostic cross, and medicine wheel.
Nothing is void of God;
He Himself fills His work. ~Seneca
My chosen deities are the Sun and the Earth, the creators of life who are seen and felt daily. As the sun cross, my sacred symbol represents the rays and halo of our lifegiving star; such a halo is even found on the head of Jesus in medieval Christian art. The symbol is awash with imperceptible orange and red flames whose warmth caresses the skin and penetrates the earth. As the earth cross, it is our home, with the four cardinal directions emblazoned on it. It is our planet, our mother, our other lifegiver. It has a damp, fecund scent and is covered with rotting leaves and tangled vines. The elemental cross is thus a sign of divinity, of life, of fertility, of growth, and of love.
All human beings are interconnected,
one with all other elements in creation. ~Henry Reed
As the elemental cross, the symbol represents the four physical elements. I do not count spirit as separate from the other four and so do not need the pentacle’s fiveness. Medieval alchemists may have understood the four points of the cross to represent earth, air, fire, and water, while the intersection of the vertical and horizontal represented their “fifth element.” The outer circle of the elemental cross has the potential to represent how spirit surrounds and connects the other elements. As a representative of the four or five basic elements, the elemental cross also, in a way, represents the entire universe. With all matter in existence mapped onto an unpretentious sign, that universe becomes a simpler, more understandable, and less intimidating place. Infinity fits into the palm of a hand. I call quarters with the elemental cross.
All that we did, all that we said or sang
Must come from contact with the soil . . . . ~William Butler Yeats
Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view,
That stand upon the threshold of the new. ~Edmund Waller
I am very fond also as the elemental cross’s function as an earth cross, or symbol for that specific element. I consider the earth element the most “elemental,” from which the other elements, by way of atoms and molecules, are made. In the beginning, earth supported the oceans, spat forth the atmosphere, and provided that which fire burned. An altar tile inscribed with this symbol can represent earth in the tile-chalice-athame-wand correspondences as does the pentacle-inscribed tile in common practice, and it works well to ground energies. As the altar pentacle sometimes also functions as a gateway by which deities may enter the Circle, so does the elemental cross. The horizontal represents the material, and the vertical represents the spiritual. Their intersection is a crossroads between the world of spirits and the world of the living. The circle to a modern neo-Pagan signifies a place that is not a place, removed from ordinary life. Thus the equal-armed cross and circle denote a door to other realms and states of being. My altar plate approximates the shape of the elemental cross.
Wheel of the Year
To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven. ~Ecclesiastes 3:1
As the wheel cross, the turning of the spokes represents the perpetual turning of the four seasons, each connected to and blending into the others but standing alone in its own time. It is the four important Sabbats; which four might vary from person to person, but for me, are the solstices and equinoxes. It is life cycles, moon cycles, day and night, a ticking clock. It denotes an understanding of change and of the necessity for death. The swastika is thought to be related to this cross; it emphasizes turning.
If written and spoken word are so powerful while they are so often composed of arbitrary syllables and shapes, how much more powerful are wordless symbols that do not depend on language for meaning? A symbol is meaningful by its very existence; it needs no explanation. At a deeper level of understanding, a symbol no longer represents but is. With the correct intent, the elemental cross drawn on a piece of paper actually becomes the elements, the sun, a doorway, or a year’s cycle. The truth is visually seen and spiritually understood. Whether for powerful magic, meditation, or study, the elemental cross is available to all who wish to consider what meanings it already holds for them.
“Calling on the Gods: The Embodied Aesthetic of Haitian Vodou.” (10 July 2006) .
CatAnna. “Sacred Symbols.” (13 July 2006) .
Cooper, Susan. The Dark is Rising. New York: Atheneum, 1973.
Emick, Jennifer. “The Secret Language of Symbols.” (13 July 2006) .
Emick, Jennifer. “Solar Cross.” (13 July 2006) .
“Symbol 29.1.” (13 July 2006) .
Tuitéan, Paul and Estelle Daniels. Essential Wicca. Freedom, California: Crossing Press, 2001.
Wikipedia. “Sun cross.” (13 July 2006) .
Wikipedia. “Cross.” (13 July 2006) .
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