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Thread: Working with the elements

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    Sr. Member Spiny Norman's Avatar
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    Working with the elements

    I'd be interesting in hearing about how people work with the elements, practically speaking. Am I correct in thinking that pagans typically work with 5 elements, ie earth, wind, fire, water and spirit?

    In a Buddhist context I would usually work with 6 elements, ie earth, wind, fire, water, space and consciousness.

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    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: Working with the elements

    It depends on the Pagan. Personally, I work with the 4 classic elements--earth, air, fire, and water, but in a modern context. I've thought about expanded versions of the elements...but I like the simplicity. It is, after all, a symbolic division and not a literal one.

    I don't consider spirit (and I consider spirit and consciousness to be equivalent if not the same) to be an element, but rather what happens when you have all 4 of them together, in equilibrium. IMO, fire=energy, earth=solid, air=gas (and also absence of gas, ie a vacuum/void--including space), water=liquid. There are of course, some odd hybrids--mercury is a liquid metal, making it both earth and water (not that I work with mercury, because I prefer to live a long and prosperous life), the process of respiration (cellular respiration) is a function of both air and fire while the other kind (breathing) is a function of air and water (blood), etc. Life forms are a balance of these things in terms of form and function.

    If you think about fire (ignis) as energy, including the ignis vitae (the numinous "energy" that causes us to be biologically alive and gives us the process of having consciouness) then organization of the elements from a Druidic perspective makes the most sense (this view comes from revival Druidry, but has been adopted and/or modified by a number of modern druid groups and is based in a logical cosmology of what we know of PIE culture and the Celts):

    Druid Revival lore contains a system of its own, a set of three elements that first appears in Iolo Morganwg's writings. Whether it's an invention of Iolo's or a surviving scrap of some older teaching is anyone's guess, but the three elements have been part of Druid Revival teaching ever since his time. Their names are nwyfre, gwyar, and calas.

    Nwyfre (pronounced "NOOiv-ruh") is an old Welsh term meaning "sky" or "heaven." As an element, nwyfre is the source of life and consciousness, and modern Druids often refer to it simply as the life force. Its image in nature is blue sky.

    Gwyar (pronounced "GOO-yar") literally means "blood" in old Welsh, but its more general meaning is "flow" or "fluidity." As an element, gwyar is the source of change, motion, growth, and decay. Its image in nature is running water.

    Calas (pronounced "CAH-lass") comes from the same root as caled, Welsh for "hard," and means "solidity." As an element, calas is the source of form, differentiation, manifestation, and stability. Its image in nature is stone.

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    My perspective of the elements is as a 3+1 that otherwise follows the above. In a practical sense, that means the element I work with most strongly is probably fire--it is after all, energy, and the catalyst for change, though not always literally, with actual fire. In a literal sense, the element I work with most often is water--I live by the sea, I meditate at the beach, I do spells and rituals with the tides, etc.
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    The Gaze of the Abyss B. de Corbin's Avatar
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    Re: Working with the elements

    Quote Originally Posted by Porpoise View Post
    I'd be interesting in hearing about how people work with the elements, practically speaking. Am I correct in thinking that pagans typically work with 5 elements, ie earth, wind, fire, water and spirit?
    When you say "work with," what do you mean?

    I use the standard four elements as a sort of mental model, but I'm not sure if that qualifies as 'work with."
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    Re: Working with the elements

    I tend to stick with the four basic of Earth, Air, Fire and Water but place spirit at the center as a balance of all four. Where I possibly differ is I place them direction wise based upon my local and geography not how you would typically find them in a Med Basin configuration. So being on the east coast I have water to the east, earth to the west, air to the north and fire to the south. Where early Greek / Egyptian from my understanding was Earth was to the east, water to the west, air to the north and fire to the south.

    Like thalassa in the literal sense I align and work with water the most. It's my birth sign, my ruling planet, the place I go to for solace and could say it was my life since I served for 23 years in the Navy.
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    Sr. Member Spiny Norman's Avatar
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    Re: Working with the elements

    Quote Originally Posted by thalassa View Post
    It depends on the Pagan. Personally, I work with the 4 classic elements--earth, air, fire, and water, but in a modern context. I've thought about expanded versions of the elements...but I like the simplicity. It is, after all, a symbolic division and not a literal one.
    I don't consider spirit (and I consider spirit and consciousness to be equivalent if not the same) to be an element, but rather what happens when you have all 4 of them together, in equilibrium. IMO, fire=energy, earth=solid, air=gas (and also absence of gas, ie a vacuum/void--including space), water=liquid. There are of course, some odd hybrids--mercury is a liquid metal, making it both earth and water (not that I work with mercury, because I prefer to live a long and prosperous life), the process of respiration (cellular respiration) is a function of both air and fire while the other kind (breathing) is a function of air and water (blood), etc. Life forms are a balance of these things in terms of form and function.
    If you think about fire (ignis) as energy, including the ignis vitae (the numinous "energy" that causes us to be biologically alive and gives us the process of having consciouness) then organization of the elements from a Druidic perspective makes the most sense (this view comes from revival Druidry, but has been adopted and/or modified by a number of modern druid groups and is based in a logical cosmology of what we know of PIE culture and the Celts):

    My perspective of the elements is as a 3+1 that otherwise follows the above. In a practical sense, that means the element I work with most strongly is probably fire--it is after all, energy, and the catalyst for change, though not always literally, with actual fire. In a literal sense, the element I work with most often is water--I live by the sea, I meditate at the beach, I do spells and rituals with the tides, etc.
    Thanks, that's interesting. As an alternative to the traditional four elements I've also worked with the 3 states of matter ( solid, liquid and gas ) which sounds somewhat analogous to the Druid triad you mentioned. Consciousness is an interesting one, I think there are pros and cons to viewing it as an element.
    I also live near the sea and spend quite a bit of time looking at waves, in between keeping an eye out for seals and porpoises and suchlike. I find being by the sea is a very good place to experience and reflect on the elements, the continual interplay and movement.

    Could you say a little about spells and rituals with the tides, that sounds intriguing.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by monsno_leedra View Post
    I tend to stick with the four basic of Earth, Air, Fire and Water but place spirit at the center as a balance of all four. Where I possibly differ is I place them direction wise based upon my local and geography not how you would typically find them in a Med Basin configuration. So being on the east coast I have water to the east, earth to the west, air to the north and fire to the south. Where early Greek / Egyptian from my understanding was Earth was to the east, water to the west, air to the north and fire to the south.
    Could you elaborate on what you mean by placing the elements?

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    Silver Member monsno_leedra's Avatar
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    Re: Working with the elements

    Quote Originally Posted by Porpoise View Post
    .. Could you elaborate on what you mean by placing the elements?
    Basically in the older magical systems the elements were aligned to physical directions or points of the world. Consider Air was placed in the North and equated to the Northern Wind for instance. Fire was placed to the south which also equated to the hot and dry conditions of Africa and the heat and humidity. Earth was to the east and sort of equated to the vast expanses of land going from Modern Turkey all the way to India if not further. Water was to the west probably due to the great expanse of water which lay to the west.

    Then in the magical systems you could add in that the elements where also equated to planetary bodies, metals as well as creature equations. Like fire was the fire salamander, Water was Ondines and the planet Neptune to name a few.
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    Re: Working with the elements

    Season
    Wind / direction element
    Spring East Air
    Summer South Fire
    Fall West Water
    Winter North Earth
    None/All Up/Out Spirit

    I found this from from Isidore of Seville in "Libre de Responsione mundi (Augsberg, 1472) In my research many years ago. The table (list) includes humour (emotional), body fluid, and location (body organ) associated with each element/season. Although it seems to be alchemy related it also fits with many traditions of Paganism. I do understand the location specific modifications of the attachment to the prime directions. This fits in my location. In my area cold winds typically come from the east and warm winds from the west but that changes with the season. If I logically place Water and Fire in their logical place then East is reconciled to Air and North to Earth.

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    Re: Working with the elements

    I usually think in terms of the five elements that you described. However, the most powerful spell I ever did involved feng shui elements I was using to decorate my home at the time. Those involved earth,water,air,wood,and metal. Metal is literally metal, but also applies to all electronics and shiny reflective surfaces, such as high gloss white paint.I would include plastics in this category. Very modern decor usually has a metallic quality. I have come to interpret it personally as technology. As in human will using natural elements to create something new. To me it is very powerful.

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    Sr. Member Spiny Norman's Avatar
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    Re: Working with the elements

    How do people here understand the spirit element?

  10. #10

    Re: Working with the elements

    Out of curiosity, what kind of element work did you do as a Buddhist? (I dabbled in some Bön elemental practices for a while...)

    I'd say the spirit element is equal to consciousness in Buddhism but it also has some transcendental and/or life-giving and -sustaining qualities in it. But this also depends a lot on the Pagan.
    baah.

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