Air in the North
For my ‘A’ prompt with the Pagan Blog Project 2012, I wanted to write about Air in the North. This is something that I thought was pretty unique to me; among the other Pagans I know who use ritual circles, I am the only one who feels that the element of Air resides in the North.
Along the way, I’ve found that I am not the only one who uses non-traditional elemental association, theirs even different from mine, and sometimes vastly different from the traditional Earth=North/ Air=East/ Fire=South/Water=West. I don’t know what their reasons for the different associations, but none of them felt right to me. For a long time, I couldn’t tell you why Air belongs in the North, it just feels Right™.
A few years ago, I came across an article that talked about why a pretty good case to house Air in the North could be built. I don’t remember where the original article was (that was several computers ago), but in researching for this post, I found at article at eCauldron.net that featured some of the same reasons I remember reading, and had some new ones, too. The article is here:
I copied the reasonings that made the most sense to me, and wanted to offer my own commentary on them as well.
5. Seasonal: Many occultists associate the four seasons with the four cardinal points, as well. Hence, winter = north, spring = east, summer = south, and autumn = west. (To be precise, it is the solstice and equinox points which align with the cardinal points.) Again, in most folklore, winter is associated with air and wind, as the icy blasts that usher in the season. In spring, it is the earth which arrests our attention, with its sudden riot of blooms and greenery. Again, south relates to summer, the hottest season (fire), and west relates to autumn.
Of all the reasons, I think this makes the most sense to me. When I think ‘North’, I think of the North Wind ushering in colder weather. Having the four seasons, the four directions and the 2 solstices & equinoxes aligned that way (solstice, equinox, solstice, equinox) balances.
6. Diurnal: Occultists also often associate the cardinal points of a single day to the four compass points. Thus, midnight = north, sunrise = east, noon = south, and sunset = west. (Please note that we are talking about true midnight and true noon here, the points halfway between sunset and sunrise, and between sunrise and sunset, respectively.) These associate nicely with the seasonal attributes just discussed. It is easy to see why sunrise should equate to east, and sunset to west. And, once again, from the perspective of the British Isles, the sun rises over land (earth) and sets over the ocean (water). South is related to noon because it is the moment of greatest heat (fire). Leaving the ‘invisible’ element of air to be associated with the sun’s invisibility, at midnight.
This is a point that I hadn’t thought of, but it makes sense to me, especially the connection to the geographical orientation of Britain.
8. Yin/Yang: Many occultists believe that the four elements have yin/yang connections. Both air and fire are seen as masculine, while earth and water are seen as feminine. If air is associated with the north point of the magic circle, and earth is east, then one achieves a yin/yang alternation as one circumambulates the circle. As one passes the cardinal points of east, south, west, and north, one passes feminine, masculine, feminine, masculine energies. This alternating flux of plus/minus, push/pull, masculine/feminine, is the very pulse of the universe, considered of great importance by most occultists. That it was equally important to our ancestors is evidenced by standing stones in the British Isles. At sites like the Kennet Avenue of Braga, the tall, slender, masculine, phallic stones alternate precisely with the shorter, diamond-shaped yoni stones.
This is another reason why I put Air in the North; I see Earth and Water as obviously feminine elements while Air and Fire are clearly masculine. Having Earth in the North would not work – the cycle would be unbalanced – or split on the diagonal instead of equally in quarters. Air in the North as masculine energy balances across from Fire in the South (also masculine).
9. Generator: This argument flows out of the previous one. Practicing magicians often think of the magic circle as a kind of psychic generator. Witches in particular like to perform circle dances to ‘raise the cone of power’. Hand in hand, and alternating man and woman, they dance clockwise (deosil) around the circle, moving faster and faster until the power is released. This model has an uncanny resemblance to an electrical generator, as man and woman alternately pass each of the four ‘poles’ of the magic circle. These poles themselves must alternate between plus and minus if power is to be raised. This means that if the masculine fire is in the south, then the masculine air must be in the north. If the feminine water is in the west, then the feminine earth must be in the east. If any adjacent pair were switched, the generator would stop dead.
10. Masculine/Feminine Axis: When you look at a typical map, north (the cardinal direction) is at the top. Any north-south road is a vertical line, and any east-west road is a horizontal line. Likewise, a ‘map’ of a magic circle makes the vertical north-south axis masculine (with air and fire), while the horizontal east-west axis is feminine (earth and water). This makes logical sense. When we look at the horizon of the earth, we see a horizontal line. Water also seeks a horizontal plane. Feminine elements, considered ‘passive’, have a natural tendency to ‘lay down’. Fire, on the other hand, always assumes an erect or vertical position. Air, too, can rise upward, as earth and water cannot. Masculine elements, being ‘active’, have a natural tendency to ‘stand up’.
Yes! These last three points all kind of go hand in hand with similar themes – the balance that is maintained by alternating male/female. The attributes of the elements also affect my perception of them. Life grows within the Earth and Water. Those two elements are where Life resides. They need the complimentary energies of Fire and Air, heat and warmth, creativity and passion – but the Earth and the Water ARE life. Air has just never felt feminine to me.
I also associate life cycles with the elements – birth – east (sunrise, earth, fertility), childhood/youth – south (fiery passion of youth, exuberance of childhood), water – adulthood (reflecting maturity, change, fluidity) & air – old age (crone, winter, maturity, wisdom, death). Putting Air in the East just wouldn’t ‘work’.
Something else I thought was interesting was a note I found about the elemental associations in Australia:
- North = Fire (The equator is above us)
- West = Earth (WA is a large state, lots of land)
- East = Water (While all coasts have water – it seems the East coast is more “beachy” in culture)
- South = Air (Tasmania being detached from the mainland and the “roaring 40s” across Bass Straight) http://labyrinth.net.au/~obsidian/bos-oz.html
Being in the Northern Hemisphere, my associations are opposite.
All this said, I don’t want to give the impression that Air should or must be in the North. The associations that you use should be the ones that feel right to you (or that your tradition or path dictate). As I said, I have met and worked with practitioners who had different elemental associations (one friend has Fire in the East, I believe). Those associations work for her, and when I am in Circle with her and she is directing the group’s energy, I don’t have any trouble working with those associations. It’s just that when I cast a Circle, these are the associations that I use; that work for me. It’s been mentioned before, so I thought that I would explain why I have my associate Air with the North.
As a side note, I also came across a scientifically linked argument for Air in the East/Earth in the North from Lydia Marcassa Nettles Crabtree that I found the be quite interesting. I’m not entirely sure that I understand all of it, but it was very cool to see a ‘reason’ for those associations other than ‘tradition’.
If you have non-traditional associations, how do they differ, and why do you put your elements where you do?