Understanding the Four Elements

In most Wiccan traditions, the four elements are called at some point and in some form during a ritual or other working. Whether one calls to guardians of the watchtowers, archangels or the elements themselves, the purpose is the same. You are establishing an environment in which to perform your workings. The elements are part of the fundamental processes of the Universe.

In recent times, it was considered by the mainstream that the ancient belief that everything was constructed from four basic elements (Air, Fire, Earth and Water) was ‘quaint’ and yet totally incorrect. There are dozens of elements on the period table. The mere idea of there being only four is outmoded and ridiculous right? Wrong. Apart from their spiritual significance, which we will come to in a moment, they represent the three states of matter and the energy needed to move them between those states.

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    • Solid – Element of Earth. Imagine this as a block of ice. It is hard. Solid. You can kick it.
    • Liquid – Element of Water. As the ice melts, it becomes water. Liquid and able to take on the shape of whatever vessel holds it.
    • Gas – Element of Air. If you heat the water, you get steam. Fast moving molecules whizzing about full of energy.
    • Energy – Element of Fire. The heat that causes the ice to become water, water to become air. Removing the heat source reverses the process. The more heat, the more energy. Less heat, less energy.

      So even in the physical, material world we live in today, these basic elemental principles still exist and still hold sway over the air we breath, the clothes we wear and the lives we lead. The spiritual nature of these four elements and their position has been an integral part of pagan and wicca traditions since their inception. We see them in the tools we use:

    • The Athame, Knife or Sword – Represents the male element of Air.
    • The Wand – Represents the male element of Fire.

Note the shape of both of these. No prizes for guessing which male organ they represent.

      •  The Cup or Chalice – Represents the female element of Water.
      • The Pentagram or Disk – Represents the female element of Earth.

They are expressed in the Tarot in very much the same form. In the Qabalah, they appear as the 2nd and 3rd Sepiroth (Air and Water) representing the King and Queen (Or Aleister Crowley’s Whore of Babylon and the Beast) and the 4th (or 6th) and 10th Sephiroth as the Prince and Princess. The Qabalah also represents them as the four worlds – Emanation or Archetype (Air), Creation (Fire), Formation (Water) and Manifestation (Earth).

They represent our physical body also:

    • Air – Our thoughts, our brain. The ability to have a sense of self. Our connection to the Godhead.
    • Fire – Our passion and ideas. The ability to make decisions.
    • Water – Our emotions. The blood supply. The ability to be moved by something.
    • Earth – Our senses. The Muscle and Bone. The ability to manifest our desires.

Their order is important also. Many assume that they were placed in their positions (East for Air, South for Fire, Water for West and North for Earth) because geographically that was where they were found in Northern Europe. The strongest winds blew from the East. The sun was always in the southern segment of the sky (because of the latitude), to the West lay the Atlantic, which extended to the edge of the World, and to the North lay the mountains, hard and unyielding.

But there is more to it than that. Air represents the environment of thought. Fire, the spark of an idea. Water the formation of that idea into something that can manifest, and finally Earth – the ultimate creation of the idea itself.

So the elements are welcomed into ritual for many reasons. Not the least of which is that without them, no working can be successful. Even if they are not called by name or by correspondence, an idea must have an environment in which to form. It must have a means of coming to fruition, and of producing a desired result. In any working, be it a business meeting or a protection spell these elements are always with us, and it is for that reason we welcome them into ritual.

So remember, as you go through your ritual, not just to welcome the elements at the beginning of the ritual and thank them at the end, but to recognize and acknowledge their presence as the working takes place.

  • Air – As you begin your working
  • Fire – As you state the purpose of the ritual
  • Water – As you chant and begin the process of manifestation
  • Earth – As you end the ritual and anticipate it’s successful outcome.


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