Something I’ve noticed is that when you start browsing Pagan books, the great majority of them are ‘Pagan 101’ – what is is/means to be Pagan, how Pagans practice their faith, etc. I am a researcher by nature, and tend to be drawn to books on spirituality and on Pagan paths in particular. It’s been disappointing to see the same material rehashed over and over and over again: what Sabbats are, correspondences, dedication rituals and how to ‘be’ pagan – the very basics. Oh sure, it’s a little different; re-branded or spiffed up and published under a new name or path, but so much of it is the same basic, beginner material that you can find all over the place.
I’ve been thinking about why that is; why so many books are ‘beginner’ style books for Pagan spirituality, and have come to several observations. First, I think that a lot of Pagan practice is ‘first generation’. People are dissatisfied with mainstream spirituality and they go exploring. Because there are so many different styles of Paganism, it’s hard to ‘pick one’, and so each style or path has its own interpretation of the Path. Additionally, there are different ‘branches’ of Paganism: Wiccan, Heathen, Asatru, Druidic, Dianic… the list goes on, each with their own specific way of doing things.
Secondly, as information and technology have increased access to information, the sheer volume of beginner Pagans has increased to the point that such a volume of beginner material is necessary. Since there are so many first generation Pagans, there isn’t a large population of people who have practiced long enough to move beyond basics. Although I know many who have been in practice for decades, a great many of those have switched paths or gone eclectic or solitary for lengths of time, and developed their own traditions, rituals and styles of practice and don’t feel the need to publish it publicly. Add to that the general consensus that Pagans don’t like to be told ‘what to do’ or ‘how to worship’, finding an open group to practice with can be extremely challenging, which leaves many/most new Pagans solitary.
Thirdly, of those who have practiced for extensive periods of time, they don’t feel the need to indoctrinate their children into their faith, allowing the children to find their own paths, as it were. Without that indoctrination, children who grow up Pagan may or may not feel the need to pursue their own spiritual path. I know several adults who were raised by Pagan parents and although they may be interested on the fringe, most tend not to practice actively, at least among the people I know in this situation. Obviously, that’s not true across the board, so no slight intended if you’re a third or fourth generation practicing Pagan. These are just my observations, and I’d be interested in hearing yours.
Though I understand these as logical explanations, and accept whatever other possible explanations there may be, they don’t mitigate the fact that the majority of Pagan-centered books available are beginner-level books. For those who have been practicing long enough to have personalized their faith and practice, investing in new books can be disappointing because even seemingly promising books end up containing only a little bit of new information. While I certainly do not claim any authority, I thought I would share some of the ways that I have found helped me to move beyond ‘Pagan 101’ and into a more deeply personal and meaningful practice.
One method I found to circumvent getting trapped in the newbie books has been to move outside of strictly Pagan-themed books and into history, philosophy and world religion books. (Side note: My path isn’t deity-centered, so if yours is, the same types of methods for researching and deepening your knowledge about your pantheon or deities applies.) Beyond a certain point, even the most devout reconstructionist Pagan practitioner is just making stuff up to fill in the gaps in whatever factual/historical recorded information they have managed to piece together. From that viewpoint, their opinion on how you should practice is no more authoritative than yours. Additionally, many strictly Pagan-themed books tend to be European in origin, which means that they may be making recommendations for alignments and correspondences for a different hemisphere, climate or botanical availability than where you;re practicing your path. I am a firm believer is adapting my practice to suit my environment and many nature or earth-based paths focus on that connectivity almost exclusively. It seems silly to try to find herbs or wood to work with that you wouldn’t have any personal connection with because you’ve never seen, touched or smelled it!
If your path is earth-based; hedge-witches, kitchen-witches, and the like, and herb-crafting is a big part of your practice, then you’ll only find a handful of information in your typical Pagan-themed herbal companions. Look into books on gardening – learn native flora and what grows best when. Growing your own herbs, flowers and plants can make them so much more effective when you need them to work and the connection that you have to your garden and materials is a big part of making your path come alive. Continue your education; learn about using plants as medicine, how to distill essential oils, and anything else that strikes your fancy from sources that aren’t strictly Pagan-oriented. If the only information you;re lacking is the magical correspondence, those are easy to find online. If food is your bag, then the same applies; research cooking and recipes; experiment with flavors and use herbs and ingredients that you grow yourself.
I’d also suggest researching folk magic – hoo-doo and root-work, Santeria, Native American religions and other types of old, earthy magic. Many of those types of religions can be hard to find information on, but it’s worth it when you do. If your ancestors come from those religions, then even more so. My personal task over the last year or so is considering how ancient holidays could be modernized. I have posts about Lupercalia and Matronalia, and will be doing similar posts this year. I may not get them ‘right’, but it’s been a fun experiment, and adds value to my practice.
Another way to find more meaning in your practice is just that – practice. If you are a new practitioner, especially if you’re coming out of a religion where Pagan things are taboo, then you may be reluctant to actually do the things that you’re reading about. Even if you’ve ‘been Pagan’ for a long time, but don’t practice, moving beyond the basics means getting your feet wet – sometimes literally (if ritual cleansing is part of your practice). If you haven’t found anything in what you’ve read that appeals to you, make something up! There’s no right or wrong way to do an Esbat or Sabbat Ritual; there’s no right of wrong way to perform a candle spell, or sage your house, or create an altar. Don’t be afraid to try something, whether it’s all written out for you or you make it up yourself. If it has meaning for you, then it works. I view my path as an ever-winding road, with new things to learn and try around every corner, and I’ve been practicing for twenty five years. Some things I’ve tried flopped entirely, some things worked for a time or were interesting to try out, but ultimately didn’t stick, while others have become a regular, essential part of my practice. our spiritual practice should add meaning and value to your life, even if it’s a simple ritual like lighting a candle and incense with your morning coffee.
My final tip for moving into a more mature practice is to connect with the Pagan Community. Not just online, but in person. If your local community hosts Pagan Pride Day, or has a ‘Pagans Night Out’ or other meet-up, make an effort to go. If you have children, look for (or organize!) a Pagan Playdate or Pagan Game Night. There’s a group in the Houston area of TX that hosts an Interfaith Tea & Game Night, and there are organizations like Celebration of Womanhood and Women Of Magic And Nature (WOMAN) that host retreats for Pagan women each year. Meeting the incredibly varied group of women at WOMAN for the last 2 years has been such a great way for me to learn and explore different paths and practice dynamics and has added to deepening the meaning and value in my own practice. Plus, it’s just plain nice to be around other people who have similar (even if very different) beliefs.
How have you moved beyond Pagan 101?
This picture was posted on Old Ways Facebook page this morning, and I have been thinking about it all day.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been off-and-on actively going to a group meditation practice at a local Buddhist Temple. Last year, the community decided to center more on the native Vietnamese community and so the English-speaking Buddhist community moved to another location. I’ve been meaning to get over there since they moved, and just have not been able to get myself together and join the group in the new location… until last week. I was finally able to go, and I hate to say it, but I was severely out of practice. I was fidgety, and distracted. There was ambient noise that was very ‘loud’, and I just had a really hard time falling into a meditative trance. I don’t remember it being that hard – it wasn’t when I was in good practice. So that’s one thing I really want to get back into on a more regular basis – group meditation.
I also have been neglecting teaching/leading/encouraging the kids in their meditation practice. A couple of years ago, I made meditation jars with the kids. There are literally tons of tutorials on Pinterest, but we used mason jars, water-based hair gel, water, food coloring, glitter and gorilla glue (to seal the jars) for ours. The kids’ jars calm after being shaken in about 7 minutes and mine takes closer to 14. The more gel, the longer the jar takes to clear. If your kids are new to meditation, you can use smaller jars, or less gel so that they clear a bit faster. I was thinking that making several with different calm times (5 min./10 min./20 min. etc.) would be a cool way to expand the time the kids meditate for.
Imaginations by Carolyn Clarke also suggests teaching children to lay down, relaxed, with an eye mask (lavender? chamomile?) to aid them in letting go, and also to block distracting visual stimuli. My boys lay on their stomachs with chin on hands when they use their jars usually, though they have used them at their desks as well. We also sit criss-cross-apple-sauce style with knees touching and eyes closed on occasion, but that’s more often when we need to re-connect with each other. As a connectivity tool, meditation is an amazing alternative to ‘time out’. Some see that as a ‘non violent’ method of discipline (and being raised in a house/religion that insisted that spanking was the only/best way, I saw time out that way for a long time. Even though I used it sparingly, it still wasn’t ‘comfortable’, but I lacked the tools to do anything else when mine were very small).
With age and experience comes wisdom, and now I liken the ‘time out’ method as similar to the practice of ‘shunning’ that some religions endorse as a corrective method. Having experienced that several times myself, I now see the practice (both of them), as somewhat extreme. I feel that children need to be held a little closer in times of trial, rather than exiled. Rather than isolating an immature child to think for themselves and draw what conclusions they may, drawing them closer and having some time to reconnect physically and spiritually, without the burden of conversation, for a bit eases the way into a productive conversation where redirection can be effective. It’s very difficult to touch someone you love and maintain anger and irritation – the physical connection somehow short-circuits the negative emotion. I need to take my own advice more! So that’s something I also want to work on – meditation practice with the kids and physically connecting with them instead of distance when I am frustrated with them.
Another thing I have started doing is copying and printing the kid crafts that we do and add them to the kids’ Shadow Books. There’s not a huge population of Pagans who have grown up this way, and as a parent, I often have a hard time finding ‘traditional but modern’ new crafts or esbat/sabbat-specific activities. I figure by documenting the things we do, they will have their own ‘tradition’ handed down to them to use with their children if they so desire. My path is pretty eclectic, and constantly adding new elements as I learn them, or modifying old ones. It’s also neat to have a record of my path as it progresses. I used to be really diligent about filing my papers into the correct Shadow Books (binders) and have gotten lazy about that, too. I started re-arranging my shelves and cabinet the other day, so I want to finish that as well.
How about you? Have you tried meditation with your kids? Any tips or tricks you’d like to share?
This past weekend was the Houston Pagan Conference in The Woodlands, TX. It is the first Pagan Conference held in Houston in over 30 years. If the last (or previous) conferences were anything like this one, I can’t imagine how the local Community could have let it go! It was really great – I had a wonderful time. I went with my Circle co-Leader and her family.
Why host or attend a Pagan Conference? Sense of community, strengthening bonds, supporting pagan vendors, exposure to new ideas, or new interpretation of old ideas… all are excellent reasons to attend (or host if you can make that happen). For me personally, I really enjoyed being surrounded by such a fascinating mix of people with common beliefs. I grew up in a religion that hosted 3 big conventions each year, and making new friends and seeing old ones again who don’t live close enough for regular visits was always fun. Though I don’t miss those long days confined to a seat, I have missed the camaraderie and sense of community that exists in them.
Another difference in my childhood experiences was the freedom of choice. Whereas the environment I grew up in dictated that you were in your seat, paying attention unless there was a break (lunchtime) in the program, the feeling of being able to attend or not attend a session, or having the freedom to choose between this option or that option that were happening at the same time, was liberating and made the entire experience more enjoyable.
The theme of this conference was ‘Magic and the Divine’. The featured quote was by Rumi, who has many interesting quotes:
‘I looked in temples, churches and mosques, but I found the Divine within my heart.’
I think that’s an appropriate feeling for the theme of the speakers, and for the essence of pagan spirituality at its core. Most of the speakers that I heard held true to that theme in one way or another.
Rev. Ellen Cooper Davis spoke about hierophany – those moments that happen in your life when you feel an intense or unique moment of connection to the otherworld. Some might call it ‘the ‘manifestation of the Divine’.
In the works of the religious historian Mircea Eliade (March 13, 1907 – April 22, 1986), hierophany is referenced as an alternative to the more restrictive term “theophany” (an appearance of a god). Eliade argues that religion is based on a sharp distinction between the sacred (God, gods, mythical ancestors, etc.) and the profane. According to Eliade, for traditional man, myths describe “breakthroughs of the sacred (or the ‘supernatural’) into the World” – that is, hierophanies.
In the hierophanies recorded in myth, the sacred appears in the form of ideal models (the actions and commandments of gods, heroes, etc.). By manifesting itself as ideal models, the sacred gives the world value, direction, and purpose: “The manifestation of the sacred ontologically founds the world”. According to this view, all things need to imitate or conform to the sacred models established by hierophanies in order to have true reality: to traditional man, things “acquire their reality, their identity, only to the extent of their participation in a transcendent reality” – Wikipedia
Rev. Ellen mentioned things like a moment of sunlight breaking through on a cloudy day, or a bird landing in your path and looking directly at you before flying away. She also showed this video of starlings over a lake. The look on the girl’s face at the end of the video is exactly that of hierophany.
Rick Fairchild, Tribal Coordinator for the US and Canada of Spiral Scouts International, was one of the speakers as well. One of the things I remember him saying was that ‘our kids’ have a place in the scouting world. I know that’s true for the S*SI group in our area. It’s brand new, and my husband and I are the soon-to-be Leaders. Our group is in the Deep South, small-minded, extra-conservative Christian environment, so the core of our group is secular. But those of us who are Pagan will have tasks and activities for our children in a group context with other children that are unique because the structure of the organization as a whole was designed for a Pagan worldview. Rick talked about bringing the Spiral Scouts Circles and Hearths of Texas together for events in the future – I would LOVE for that to be something that our kids get to experience. Just as the adult Pagan Community needs to see their brothers and sisters in a group context (be that in Teaching or Ritual Circle or at a Conference or Pagan Pride Day event), the children need to see their peers as well.
Rick and his wife/co-Leader and the other parents in their S*SI group were tasked with keeping the children at the conference busy. During the whole conference, there were kids in and out, playing on the playground, doing crafts in the craft room, having a good time. But all were respectful and well-behaved. The pagan parenting/S*SI ideas that seem to be in play when I am around other pagan parents very much reflects my own ideals that are in line with ‘attachment parenting’. I LOVE that the larger Pagan Parenting community (and pagan ideals in general) reflect my own choices. As a parent, having your choices validated by peers that you respect is always so reassuring!
Kaleen Reed is a Summerian Priestess who has been part of the Pagan Community for over 40 years. I met her last year at Houston Pagan Pride Day, and so very much enjoyed talking to her then and this past weekend. Some of the notable comments that she made were that ‘the perfection of today will not last’, and ‘I am, therefore, I am blessed’.
She also talked about how she teaches her students. She mentioned experiential training, and that she doesn’t instruct, so much as she inspires. She sends her students of ‘experience quests’ – go think about this and come back and we’ll talk about what it means to you. Since pagan spirituality is so very diverse, I think this is an excellent way to help someone new to the Craft find their own path.
I am a fan of learning. Our local Circle is very eclectic and diverse. Though many of us come from similar (Wiccan, usually) backgrounds, our practice today has evolved into a highly personalized path. For myself, this shows in my elemental associations and adaptions of the sacred woods I use. I’m influenced by ‘green’ witchcraft, kitchen witchery, Druid, Chinese, Egyptian, Norse, Celtic, Roman/Greek, Native American and Japanese beliefs and practices. There are aspects of many of those traditional styles or elements that can be found in my personal practice. I could no more define ‘how’ I practice to someone from one year to the next because it is an ever-evolving thing.
That brings me to the next speaker, Raven Grimmasi. I know there has been much controversy over Raven Grimassi’s heritage, practices, claims, what have you. I care naught for any of that. What I do care about is that he’s an amazing, and personable, speaker. He’s funny and charming, and brought a different view to the table; one that I very much enjoyed hearing.
He talked about ‘primal wiring’, and how separated from the natural world that we are today as compared to our ancestors who lived in the greenwood. Where for us, life, change and death are stark events, for those who constantly were in the presence of the cycles of nature, these things were commonplace. They accepted these events as daily occurrences. He spoke about the winter trees not bemoaning their leafless state, rather that they accepted that this state was temporary ever-changing, and that they are where they should be on their path at this moment. Saying, ‘I am…’ lays claim to a state of being, rather than allowing the transitory nature of life-cycles to play out as they should. Rather than saying, “I am old”, rephrase it with acceptance of the cycles, “I am a tree in winter. I am advancing towards renewal”.
He also spoke about the Oak & Boulder teachings, how for a while in our history, mankind wanted separation from the ‘old’ style of worship and spirituality, and doing so was the first step to where we are now – far removed from Nature. The witches have made a giant leap back to the Oak & Boulder Teachings, that is, tapping into the organic memory of the earth through connection with Chthonic Law. His book, Old World Witchcraft, deals in part with chthonic memory – the idea that all of the earth’s history is contained in the roots and spirits of the plants around us, and that through connection with these spirits, we tap into the Earth and Nature, itself.
Through keeping a Shadow Garden, sowing and growing your herbs and plants in sections according to the use of the plants. Whispering to them, talking to them, imbuing them with your words and intentions for them helps them grow and aids your magic when working with them. Then burning them, and spreading the ashes back into the soil to nurture the growing plants with that same energy further enhances the plants in that section. With each cycle of this process, your Shadow Garden holds the energy and intent of each work before – your magic gets stronger via plant memory each time you invoke this process. It is a fascinating thought!
He talked about Primal Deities; that using titles for primal deities rather than giving them a name allows more of a connection. By using a name, we limit the spirit of that deity into associations that we may or may not intend, and we limit ourselves to the understanding we have of the deity we named as well. I thought that was an interesting, and valid, idea. He spoke about the idea that UFO lore and faery lore are very much the same – as we have ‘grown’ as a society, we have invented new names to call that which we cannot explain – fairy lights have become UFOs. Lost time that used to be attributed to being lost on the faery realm are now called alien abductions. We’ve lost the mystery that surrounds us, and the magic, too. That the mortal realm, itself, is magic. If ‘magic’ is found ‘between’, then the Mortal Realm, here between that which is above and that which is below, is magic. This is where thought becomes reality, where our thoughts become solid. Whereas in the realms above and below, if one needs a chair, one appears. But once you stand, the chair no longer exists. But here in the Mortal Realm, we can build a chair and it exists long after we’re dead and gone – that is magic.
Raven also spoke of the Five Thorned Path. The long association with roses and their spiritual significance is legend. I know some do, but I don’t have an issue with blood magick in my personal practice. Though I am not willing to jump into that path wholesale, I found it captivating and look forward to more study on it. I liked the idea of a blood connection between the plant and the practitioner (exchange of red blood for green), and I’m sure I will be adding elements from it to my own practice.
During and after the conference, there were quite a few vendors, including my favorite, Elvenkeep, and a couple of new-to-me places, In Between and Phytognosis from Galveston. I bought oak moss and labdanum oils, and sandalrose and bergamot incense from Dark Elf, snagged a bag of colophony resin from Jeremy, a couple of porcupine quills, a bracelet a pair of much-needed charcoal tongs, and a beautiful small statue of Sekhmet from In Between. My final purchase was Raven Grimassi’s book, Old World Witchcraft.
Thank you, Thank you, Blackberry Circle, for all of your time and efforts to host this conference. It was more enjoyable than I can say, and I am so very much looking forward to being involved in planning the next HPC with my circle-mates. I hope to see everyone again at PPD-H this summer!
There seems to be a trend on YouTube about sharing and showing off your sacred spaces – altars, meditation rooms, and witchy cabinets.
I love watching them – seeing how different people, who practice in different ways and follow different paths, have created sacred spaces in their homes is very inspiring to me. But the one I enjoy the most are the tours through people’s witchy cabinets!
I love seeing what ‘things’ are inside them, how they’re organized and what they’re made from. I’ve seen everything from bookcases (or just a shelf or two), to entire rooms full of things. Books, herb collections, crystal, stone and gem collections, ritual wear, crafting supplies, extra altar decorations, statuary, candles (oh, tons of candles!) and all kinds of stuff.
I don’t have a YouTube account, and I am a bit camera-shy, so I thought that I would share a bit here about my ‘witchy cabinet’, and talk about how to set one up if you don’t have one already. I’ve seen some people who have their things all over their homes. I personally prefer to have my things stored all together in one spot so I am not running around trying to locate this book or that binder, but have relatively recently embraced the idea and practice of secondary ‘mini-altars’ all over my home.
I keep the majority of my things in a trunk in my bedroom. My primary altar is right there as well, so I have everything I need at arms reach. I have all of my books that deal with Paganism, herbs, crystals, mythology, witchcraft and religion on a bookshelf, with my binders (Books of Shadows) underneath it. I keep herbs, extra candles, tools (mortar & pestle, extra candle holders, athame, etc.) and my divination tools in the trunk. I also store my ritual garb (that doesn’t have another home) in there – my cape and pointy hat (worn for fun, of course) are both in there as well as some scarves and other altar cloths. And lastly, I keep trinkets and other keepsakes in the trunk. Some of them are useful – meaning that they’re either charged or holding a spell, or have held something and I don’t want to get rid of them.
When I am doing spell work though, I most frequently work at my desk, which is in my office with all the craft supplies. This creates a bit of a transportation issue at times, because I am lugging books and herbs back and forth, but overall works out well, because everything is neatly stored when I am finished. Since I have curious children running around, and also play hostess at times, having my ‘supplies’ out in the open wouldn’t work for me – plus the tendency of children and guests to touch would be annoying to have to deal with all the time.
If you don’t have a cabinet, it’s pretty easy to set one up. They can be made out of any space that is big enough. I started with a box that was about 18″ x 24″, and 6″ deep under my bed. I think the first things I ever had that were ‘pagan’ were Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner (still a favorite of mine even though I am not ‘Wiccan’) and a quartz crystal. I added candles in red, blue, green, yellow and purple and a scarf as an altar cloth. Later, I found a wand in the woods, and started collecting herbs and other trinkets. Slowly, that box filled up and I got a bigger one. Then I moved to a shelf to hold the books and a box on the shelf for my supplies.
Eventually, I had a ‘workroom’ of sorts set up, but with the addition of a husband and children, space became limited, so I boxed up most of my things. I always kept a small altar set up – just candles and incense, usually – in my bedroom, and for a long time, that’s all I had time (and space) for. Over the past few years, I’ve unpacked my altar and set it up again, added a couple more small altars around the house. My witchy supplies have migrated to a more readily accessible location so that I have what I might need right at my fingertips.
It’s been an interesting shift from having a small space, to a room, back to a small space and now, having my things all in one place, but my whole house has a more Pagan feel to it these days. I have decorations up that I have never had before – a handmade besom by the front door; a pentacle and witch balls up throughout the house, statuary in the kitchen… it’s comforting to have these small symbols up in my home.
So what about you? How are your supplies stored and organized?
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?