the elements

The Elements

In most systems of magical working you will find mentioned the four (or sometimes five) Elements, often in conjunction with their directions or, as they are known in magic, quarters of the Universe or cardinal points. Together and separately they are extremely powerful sources of energy and can give a tremendous boost to your spell making.

The four Elements are energies, and manifestations of energy, that make up the entire Universe. They also influence our personalities and therefore what we do. Magical working calls to each Elemental kingdom and its ruler to protect each cardinal point and its properties. Each Element has an intrinsic power and is known for having certain qualities, natures, moods and magical purposes. Each also has positive and negative traits.

The four Elements are Earth, Air, Fire and Water and you may well find that you work best using one of them in particular. People drawn to candle magic, for instance, are using mainly the Element of Fire, while those who work with incense are using Air with a fair smattering of Earth in the herbs and resins.

 

4_alchemical_symbols_elements_by_zeldaboyz-d4370wh

The fifth Element is that of Spirit which is the ‘binding principle’ behind everything. Sometimes known as Aether, it is, on the whole, intangible, yet is that which makes everything happen. You are both its representative and its channel, so in using the other Elements in magical working you have a responsibility to act wisely and well.

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Training in using the elemental cycle has a number of benefits.

Working with the elemental cycle can:

  1. Help you sort through and process difficult personal issues
  2. Help you illuminate and better engage with your specific and unique inner processes
  3. Provide a coherent and well-grounded template that you can apply to any research question
  4. Reveal your hidden assumptions, habitual patterns, and default modes of consciousness
  5. Help you transform your consciousness to be more grounded, connected, capable, and resilient
  6. Give you avenues for proactive engagement with a variety of situations
  7. Reawaken your sense of the mystery of your own depths
  8. Reconnect you with the amazing world you live in but rarely perceive
  9. Help you study effectively

Introduction to the Elements

Below is a very brief description of each element along with its associated qualities.  On the next page starts a guided example that will help you experience these qualities directly for yourself.  The triangle images are symbolic representations of each element that can give you a visual identifier to refer to when thinking of an element.

Earth –

The Earth element is the base, factual level of the phenomenon.  It is the ‘obvious’.  It is the data of the sensory experience of the phenomenon.  It is any aspect about which definitive statements can be made, such as “It is red”, or “it happened at 4:30”, or “It makes me feel queasy.”  These are all facts; they can be recorded as statements, A, B, C.  The Earth level of the phenomenon can therefore be “true” or “false”, “correct” or “incorrect”.  The Earth element seems unambiguous: it just is what it is, and every fact seems more or independent from every other fact.

Water –

The Water element brings the facts of the Earth into relationship.  No fact is stable, or exists in isolation.  Rather, every fact is a precipitate that falls out of the interweaving contexts of its immediate environment in time, space, and mind, just like a crystal of salt precipitates out of a solution when the water evaporates.  Water is what is changing, what is moving from B to C and has already moved from A to B.  It is the immediate past and immediate future of the phenomenon.  It is the tendency for the phenomenon to change the way it appears over time.  Water is the way the phenomenon relates to other aspects of itself and other phenomenon; facts connect to other facts to create a stream of evolving meaning.  In the Water realm, the truth of one fact leads naturally to the truth of another, related fact.

Air –

In the Air element, the movements and changes of the phenomenon are found to exist between sets of polarities, whether opposites, complements, or reciprocals.  The movement from A to B to C is understood as existing somewhere along the polarity of the scale A to Z.  The facts are no longer static, nor are they simply related to other facts.  Now the facts of the Earth level of the phenomenon are experienced as if inverted or reversed.  In Air we have the experience “what if?”, and we see the phenomenon from one or more of the polar points of view.  We recognize that once we get to Z, we go back to A – and moving the other way, A moves into Z, and in the end A and Z aren’t quite so far away from each other as we may have thought.  Air is the space around the phenomenon, what arises when we make the apparent solidity of its Earth nature become as invisible and mobile as the air itself.  In Air, the phenomenon presents aspects of itself that are simultaneously one way and another way.  Facts might be both “true” and “false” at the same time, and the context of the Water level expands to include so many additional aspects that it is like there is no real context at all, or that everything is contextually relevant.  We may get very confused, and lose track of what seemed to be stable facts from the Earth level when we reach the Air level of the phenomenon.

Fire –

The Fire element resolves the tendency towards dissipation of our understanding at the Air level into a coherent, meaningful, encompassing whole.  It burns away all the extraneous fluff and gives us a glimpse of some aspect of the phenomenon that makes us say “Ah-ha!” to ourselves.  We feel now that we have some real understanding of the phenomenon that was previously unavailable to us; we have an insight.  The facts from the Earth level, the movements of the Water level, the reversals of the Air level now all fit together simultaneously as an ordered whole in a way that makes ‘sense’ to us.  We recognize that in fact the Fire insight was present all along, embedded at each level like a secret waiting to be discovered.  We may feel like the insight came from outside of us, as if the world is speaking to us in a language that we are just beginning to learn.

How To Use the Elemental Cycle

The following presents only one way of working with the elemental cycle.  As you become more familiar with its subtleties, new ways of working will become apparent.  There is no single ‘best’ way to use or understand the elements, but the following can give you a foundation for further work:

First, very briefly:

Choose a phenomenon and express your phenomenon as a question (see appendix 1, number 2 for sample questions).  Write this question down.  Then use the questions appropriate to each element as described below, beginning with Earth, to explore your phenomenon.

Record your feelings, thoughts, and any insights or ‘answers’.  Repeat the asking of the questions from Earth to Fire in a rhythm that seems natural.

Then, in More Detail:

  1. (Fire) Choose a particular phenomenon of any kind around which you have a question, or with which you feel a need for transformation, or an area which you have identified as needing your attention for one reason or another (again, see a sample list of potential questions in Appendix 1, number 2).  Try to formulate this phenomenon or issue as a concise question, which you should write down in a small journal designed for work with the elemental cycle.  Don’t worry that you have the ‘right’ question – the elemental cycle includes helping you recognize when to shift your question.
  2. (Earth) Concentrate on your chosen phenomenon.  Try to notice as many of its details as you can.  The idea is to get as clear as possible about the basic facts of the situation.  Spend between 5 and 15 minutes identifying as many facts about your phenomenon that you can, using the following questions as a guide. You don’t have to actually answer each and every question (this is true for each element) – if you feel there are too many questions, let your intuition guide you to one or two, focus on those for a while, and change if needed (see appendix 1, number 3).
    1. Ask:  What are the facts?  What is different?  What is unique?  What could everyone else agree upon?  What stands out?  What seems constant?  What can I count on?  What is irrefutable?  What are the pieces?  What categories do the pieces fit into?  What feels like a heavy weight, like a solid stone, or like gravity with respect to this phenomenon?
    2. Write down the facts that you notice. Also record how you felt as you did this exercise. Did you feel stifled, sure, apprehensive, robust… etc.?
  3. (Water) Do not proceed directly to Water, but try you take at least a short break where you are not thinking about your phenomenon at all.  Then approach your phenomenon again, this time with the purpose of seeing if there are any patterns to what you noticed in the Earth level.  It can be helpful to try and remember as many of your Earth facts as you can.  Once you can’t remember any more facts, re-read your written record.  Then spend between 5 and 15 minutes working with the following questions as a guide.
    1. Ask: What is changing?  Do any of the facts connect to each other?  Do the facts manifest in a sequence?  Are there parts which at first appear different but upon reflection have some similarity or are like each other?  What is the immediate context of the facts?  What patterns do I notice?  Are there any rhythms or cycles?  What are the processes that give rise to the individual facts?  Is there a specific context that makes the phenomenon more (or less) pronounced or apparent?  How is one aspect turning into another, seemingly different aspect?  What about my phenomenon makes me feel like I am floating along, caught in the waves, drowning, or repeating the same thing over and over?
    2. Describe in your journal the impressions, insights, feelings, and any images that arise when you consider the Water level of your phenomenon.
  4. (Air) After a break of no less than 5 minutes and no more than a day or two, try to move to the Air level.  Your goal is to expand your awareness of the polarities of the circumstances, and to lessen your reliance upon the overt facts or entrenched aspects of your phenomenon.  Briefly remember your Earth facts.  Then recall their immediate context and movements.  Then spend between 5 and 15 minutes working with the following questions as a guide.
    1. Ask: What is reversing?  Where do I go if I extrapolate the movements I identified in the Water level to their extremes?  What is the overall range of manifestation of the major aspects of the phenomenon?  That is, what are its limits?  Where does the phenomenon seem to ‘run out’ or dissolve?  What parts do I seem to be unable to focus or concentrate upon?  If I could imagine the opposite of one part or the whole phenomenon, what would it be?  How would I feel if this reversal actually occurred?  What about this phenomenon makes me feel like I am losing my moorings completely, like my knowing runs out, like there is no truth, or like every part is equally important or unimportant?
    2. Describe in your journal the impressions, insights, feelings, and any images that arise when you consider the Air level of your phenomenon.
  5. (Fire) After a break of no less than 5 minutes but no more than a day or two, return to your phenomenon.  After very briefly recalling the facts, feeling their embeddedness in flowing processes, and their simultaneous polarities, place yourself in a mood of open questioning, where you do not expect any answers.  You cannot make yourself experience the Fire level, but can only increase the likelihood of its appearing to you by getting yourself out of the way of its manifesting.  Rhythmically moving from Earth to Air will prepare you for the Fire level, and the entrance into the Fire level may occur at any time or while doing any of the other exercises.  Your goal at this stage is to silence yourself inwardly after working from Earth to Air in an open, listening, ready state of quiet enthusiasm for your phenomenon without expectation, need, or fear.  The following questions will help you recognize when a Fire moment occurs or has the potential to occur.
    1. Ask: What is the whole?  What lies within or behind the phenomenon that allows the seemingly conflicting aspects of the Air level to coexist in a harmony, in a way that is not mutually destructive, but rather is mutually enhancing?  Do I have a new insight that makes better sense of all the previous levels?  Is there some subtle aspect of the phenomenon that once seemed insignificant but now seems like the key to the whole thing?  Do I have the feeling of participating in something larger than myself?  Do I suddenly notice how this phenomenon shows up in places I never expected or noticed before?  Do I have the experience that the phenomenon is speaking to me through other, seemingly unrelated aspects of my life and experience?  Do I feel transformed in some way?
    2. If a Fire moment does not seem to occur, do not worry – this is expected; it will occur when you are ready.  To become ready, you must establish a rhythm of working from Earth to Water to Air.  This is best if done every day for about a week for ‘medium-juicy’ questions.  More difficult or deep phenomenon may require years of work before any answer appears.  In the mean time, describe in your journal any impressions, insights, feelings, and images that arise when considering the Fire questions above.  This is the place where you may be led to a new question.  In fact, your Fire moment may consist of the realization that you need to ask a different question.  Pay particular attention to this possibility by asking your original question again at the end of the Air exercise.  Then let your question go and return to daily life.
    3. If a Fire moment does occur, describe in your journal any insights, feelings, images, and experiences.  Try to encapsulate your experience or insight into a statement.  Sit with your insight for a while.  Then try to formulate a new question about your phenomenon based on your Fire experience.  This becomes the seed – the new Earth – for a higher level of working with your phenomenon.  You can begin the elemental cycle again from the newfound vantage point of your modified question.

User-Friendly List of Questions

 

Earth –

– What are the facts?

– What is different?

– What is unique?

– What could everyone else agree upon?

– What stands out?

– What seems constant?

– What can I count on?

– What is irrefutable?

– What are the pieces?

– What categories do the pieces fit into?

– What feels like a heavy weight, like a solid stone, or like gravity with respect to this phenomenon?

Water –

– What is changing?

– Do any of the facts connect to each other?

– Do the facts manifest in a sequence?

– Are there different parts or areas which are self-similar?

– What is the immediate context of the facts?

– What patterns do I notice?

– Are there any rhythms or cycles?

– What are the processes that give rise to the individual facts?

– Is there a specific context that makes the phenomenon more apparent or realized?

– How is one aspect turning into another, seemingly different aspect?

– What about my phenomenon makes me feel like I am floating along, caught in the waves, drowning, or repeating the same thing over and over?

Air –

– What is reversing?

– Where do I go if I extrapolate the movements I identified in the Water level to their extremes?

– What is the overall range of manifestation of the major aspects of the phenomenon?

– That is, what are its limits?

– Where does the phenomenon seem to ‘run out’ or dissolve? – What parts do I seem to be unable to focus or concentrate upon?

– If I could imagine the opposite of one part or the whole phenomenon, what would it be?

– How would I feel if this actually happened?

– What about this phenomenon makes me feel like I am losing my moorings completely, like my knowing runs out, like there is no truth, or like every part is equally important or unimportant?

Fire –

– What is the whole?

– What lies within or behind the phenomenon that allows the seemingly conflicting aspects of the Air level to coexist in a harmony, in a way that is not mutually destructive, but rather is mutually enhancing?

– Do I have a new insight that makes better sense of all the previous levels?

– Is there some subtle aspect of the phenomenon that once seemed insignificant but now seems like the key to the whole thing?

– Do I have the feeling of participating in something larger than myself?

– Do I suddenly notice how this phenomenon shows up in places I never expected or noticed before?

– Do I have the experience that the phenomenon is speaking to me through other, seemingly unrelated aspects of my life and experience? Do I feel transformed in some way?

You don’t need to know everything about the elemental cycle to use it effectively.  Simply rhythmically paying attention according to the principles laid out below will serve to lead you towards a more complete understanding of how the cycle works and how you can use it.

There are as many ways of using the cycle as there are individuals, and no way is necessarily better or worse than any other.  Like anything in life, you get out what you put into it.  My goal is to help you streamline what you ‘’put in” so that you maximize your potential return.

 For more information on HOW to use the elements go to the original website: http://elements.spiritalchemy.com/intro.html