Thinking about the Watchtowers...
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Article ID: 6665
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,899
Times Read: 7,463
Author: Wormwood Crow
Posted: August 17th. 2003
Times Viewed: 7,463
I discovered a catching editorial by Mike Nichols on his site The Witches' Sabbats, titled "Re-thinking the Watchtowers or 13 Reasons Air Should Be in the North." Nichols expressed his beliefs that the element of air is in the north in contrast to the popular interpretation that earth is in the north. Concluding that past information was deliberately tampered with in accord to ancient practices of keeping the truth safe with select members of a group, Nichols provides 13 reasons to endorse his position that air really should be in the north, and earth in the east, ending with a request that others defend the alternate popular path with air in the east with something more substantial than "But we've always done it this way."
Encountering this article online in the beginning of 2003, I really had to sit down and think about this one. Since I began practicing at 13, I always felt comfortable with earth in the north - especially since the mountains are directly to the north of my home. Yet, Nichols' arguments were all very cogently presented, and a mental battle was raging to figure this out. I had never really considered why I did it the way I did, and I could understand the opposing view, but I wasn't willing to assimilate this new information until I had come to realize why earth in the north seemed - well - right. (Cognitive dissonance can be such a trial.) After a few months meditating on the subject, the following are my reasons for sticking to my original gut instincts on what watchtowers go where. I base my arguments on flow of current energies rather than history and folklore, because my energy will propel my spells forward, not my history books. I attempted to follow Nichols' design of explanation point for point as best I could. Some positions I simply could not counter.
1) GLOBAL SCALE: This first argument is global, and based on my personal beliefs on the states of energies a person can draw on. Whether or not air was once invoked from the north is no longer relevant, since we now have more Pagans using the popular trend of earth in the north than were Pagans of the past using the (possible) air-in-north approach. Hence, the current active energy force being utilized in today's magick is earth-north, making it a more powerful force when conducting magicks, not to mention the practical application that when working with other circles, your elements match with everyone else.
2) PARALLEL CULTURES: Following suit comparing Wicca to Native American practices (and agreeing that this is not the best argument), a couple points should be made. Red hawks are symbols of the first moon of spring, which suggests air/sun association here. Also, when looking at the Lakota medicine wheel, the color white is north, symbolized by the white buffalo. Not seeing many buffalos fly, even mystical ones, I assume this represents earth, especially since buffalo would be an important source of food during the winter.
3) CIRCLE CASTING: As I've learned, when casting the magick circle prior to working, a person will begin in the east and continue around the circle deosil. A stop at each direction of the circle to invite the elements and what they represent to the caster on the journey is also done. So, beginning in the east, inviting the element air which will open us to the Ancients is first, followed by an invitation to fire in the south which encourages our faith in both ourselves and the Ancients, to the west to invite water and the guidance of the Ancients, then to the north to invite earth and the wisdom offered by the Ancients, and finally closing in the east again, with a prayer for connection (also an attribute of air) with the Ancients.
4) TIME: The element of earth is symbolized with the cauldron, in which we go to, to rest and regenerate, after our death. When applied to the circle of life's associations with the elements - east = birth, south = youth, west = mid- life, north = old age/death - it is clear that the element of earth is connected to the north.
5) SEASONAL: The four seasonal holidays (both equinoxes and solstices) have elemental attributes. Spring is associated with air, since the warm winds carrying seeds (and allergens) and sun bring plants to life again. Fire is connected with summer because of heat. Water in the west since the fall brings in gray skies with promises of big rains and snow. Earth is ascribed to the north and winter, since it is during this season that the earth rests, and so do the animals that hibernate and plants that lay dormant in the ground.
6) DIURNAL: When matching elements to the cardinal times of the day (midnight = north, sunrise = east, noon = south, sunset = west), the direction and placement of the sun at these times easily justifies air in the east. At dawn, the sun rises into the air, while the sun sets into the water at dusk. At noon, the sun is brightest and at midnight, the sun is on the opposite side of the earth "asleep."
7) SYMBOLISM: Alchemy explains the mountain as hollow; a cavern in which philosophers could contemplate - the furnace to ignite deep thought. The vertical axis for the body of the mountain is similar to the spine in the human body - the body belonging under symbols of the earth, the body being passive whereas passion is fiery and active, which is why earth and fire must be opposite to one another.
8) YIN/YANG: The Wicca circle is divided in four sections: earth, air, fire, and water. Each of these sections have yin/yang connections: earth & water = yin, fire & air = yang. The yin/yang symbol is divided in half, one half the beginning and end of the yin energies, and the other half, the beginning and end of yang energies. This yin/yang division represents both sides' power, and these are brought together by the High Priest and High Priestess. Yin and yang is two sides, not four, hence the passive powers of earth & water must be grouped on one half of the circle, and the active powers of air & fire must be grouped on the other half.
9) GENERATOR: This stems from the YIN/YANG argument, and deals with the group raising the cone of power in a circle. Moving or dancing in clockwise around the circle, the participants move through the yin/yang energies of the circle to raise power. To make this work, the poles must be opposite to one another, meaning that if a passive energy is on one side of the circle, an active energy must complement it on the opposite side of the circle: water/west opposite of air/east, and earth/north opposite of fire/south. In this manner, the passive half of the circle crosses over the active half as the active half crosses the passive, generating energy. If the circle is chopped into four segments of active, passive, active, passive, then the energy has no time to grow in either its own energy, or the complementary energy, before having to start over in its opposite, which causes the cone of power to collapse before one turn about the circle is complete.
10) ELEMENTAL AXIS: The horizontal line of the water/air axis represents to line of horizon for both these elements. The vertical axis of the earth/fire axis represents the line of direction these elements take: flames leap upward; trees and mountains grow up. Both the masculine and feminine energies are present in these axes, equal but opposite. Air merges with water, magickally and physically (the water cycle), and earth and fire share a cycle: mountains spew lava, forming new rock; fires burn forests enriching the soil for new plant life.
11) ALTAR TOOLS: First consideration is with altar direction. Most traditions place the altar either facing north or east. The altar is divided in three parts: left = passive, right = active, and center = balance. If the altar is facing north, the passive energy of water is on the left, and the active energy of air is on the right. If the altar is facing east, the passive energy of earth is on the left and the active energy of fire is on the right. Modern Witchcraft place significance of four elemental tools plus the pentagram placed in the center. The womb-shaped chalice and cauldron, and the phallic-shaped wand and athame. From a practical set-up standpoint, if the altar is facing north, you have the chalice on the left to signify water, and the wand on the right (easily grasped by the traditional power hand) on the right for air. If the altar faces east, the cauldron representing earth on the left, and the athame (easily grasped in the traditional power hand) on the right for fire. In all cases, the altar balance of feminine/masculine energy is maintained.
12) AXIS SYMBOLISM: When observing the Celtic cross, each arm is equidistant from the center, meaning each element, and corresponding symbolism, is equal to one another. The cross also shows that, while equal to one another, the elements on the same axis are complementary. This is not limited to a passive/active energy interpretation only, though that is what you would get if earth were in the north, and air in the east. Additionally, the meanings behind each set of elements are complementary, too. Fire, symbolizing passion and spirit, is the opposite of earth's symbols of body and wisdom. Water, symbolizing emotion and the subconscious, is opposite to air's thought and consciousness. But though the different arms may be opposing, the circle around the cross unites them all to create a whole, balanced force. (Note: Nichols brings to attention the importance that the cross is equal-armed. The Christian cross has the southern arm much longer, suggesting "Christianity's excess of 'fire' or zeal." And sometimes the northern arm is shortened, in what Nichols feels is a "dearth of 'air' or intellectual qualities," but I believe that is more related to Christianity's desire to suppress the urges of the body for the sake of the soul.)
13) ASTROLOGICAL: The calendar is divided into 8 holidays, each represented by a zodiac sign: Samhain/Scorpio/water, Yule/Capricorn/earth, Imbolc/Aquarius/air, Ostara/Aries/fire, Beltane/Taurus/earth, Litha/Cancer/water, Lammas/Leo/fire, and Mabon/Libra/air. When looking at the individual seasonal holidays themselves, they don't have corresponding elements - as with spring/Aries/fire or summer/Cancer/water - but when an observation of the whole calendar is made, two half-circles revealing the order of the elements are shown, though not in association with the right holidays. Starting with Samhain and moving forward to Yule, Imbolc, and finally Ostara, the order of water, earth, air and fire is uncovered. From Mabon moving backward to Lammas, Litha, and finally Beltane, the order air, fire, water, and earth is shown. Following the blueprint created by the stars, earth would have to be in the north preceding air in the east, as long as you accept that water is west and fire is south.
While I'm not the type to experiment with another formula in magick until I can accept it mentally, which caused my own practice to suffer while I debated Nichols' work, I do encourage others to try out the air-in-north approach, rather than jumping/staying on the "traditional" bandwagon. Modern Wicca is not that old, and if some changes prove beneficial in one's work, that avenue should certainly be employed. The above are simply the conclusions I came to concerning my own practice, and based on my own 9 years of practice.
I thank my spirit guides for their help and patience in allowing me to work this out. I also thank Mike Nichols for being another teacher on my magickal path for providing such good food for thought.
Location: Los Angeles, USA
Bio: Always searching out a new awakening by means of any teacher the Universe knows he needs at the time, Wormy C. looks forward to any commentary concerning this essay, and all insights and revelations others of like mind (and not so like mind!) have stumbled on over their years practicing, meditating, and learning from others.
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