Symbolism: Directions

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Elemental energy is often called from certain directions.  Here are the typical reasons why it’s done that way.

Many modern practitioners call Elemental energy from each of the directions when they cast a circle. The most widely practiced form of this tradition is to call Air from the East, Fire from the South, Water from the West, and Earth from the North. Many practitioners also add Spirit as a “fifth Element,” sometimes calling it “from Within and Without,” sometimes calling it from “Above and Below,” sometimes asking specific gods and goddesses to join in their right, and sometimes (whew!) simply representing Spirit themselves.

I was taught that the directional correspondences for each Element were developed in the United Kingdom. Winds blew off the European continent to the east, connecting the practitioners’ thoughts to Air. The equator and warmer climates were to the south, instantly associating that direction with warmth and Fire. The Atlantic Ocean lay to the west, establishing Water in that direction. And the endless ice appearing to the eye as Earth, lay to the north.

Those are extremely useful correspondences – if you’re practicing magick in the United Kingdom. But what about the rest of us? What about my students in Australia where even the seasons are reversed compared to a mystical seeker used to practicing in the Northern Hemisphere? How do we find something that works for us in the place where we live?

What I did, and I encourage you to do the same, is to begin thinking about the environment you live in and the manner in which you subconsciously think of each direction. Perhaps you live in Kansas and there isn’t a large body of water to connect with. Which natural body of water do you think of when you think of Water? Perhaps you lived elsewhere as a child near the shores of a majestic lake. Does it make sense to associate Water with the direction in which the lake is found, rather than simply associating the element with a direction?

My own Tradition coincidentally mirrors the correspondences from the United Kingdom. I say coincidentally, because I had discovered my own home for the Elements long before I learned of the associations that many modern practitioners draw upon.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, Water was the easiest element for me to establish a home for. The mighty Pacific Ocean, with all her moods, lay immediately to the west of me. I spent a great deal of my childhood living on her coasts and in my adulthood I return to her again and again. Our natural cycle of precipitation begins in her womb, the rains rising from the sea and moving inland. Each river, each stream in the land I know as home races back to her embrace. All of these added to my placing Water in the west in my own Tradition.

South has always been connected with warmth and heat to me. The farther south you drive from my home, the closer to the equator you draw and the warmer it gets. Southern California and the tropics both lay to the south of me, as is the incredible heat of California’s Death Valley and the deserts of the American Southwest. When I think of anything to the south of me, it’s always warmer. So South became the home of Fire.

Massive mountains and countless miles of untamed wilderness lay north of me. Washington’s Olympic Peninsula; Alaska’s Mt. McKinley; the Canadian wilderness; all of these are found to the north. Mountains and thousands of miles of forests, drawing up the energy of the earth. North has always symbolized Earth to me.

Which left Air in the East. Eastern Oregon and Washington are filled with wide open spaces where the winds race unhampered by tree or mountain. There are vast open spaces, rolling plateaus where the wind dances through the grasses, where antelope graze, where your eyes can stretch to the horizon unhindered. There is a certain majesty to the openness, to the wind that blows through your hair, to the endless sky above. Each of these are things I associate with the element of Air, and this Element naturally found its home for me in the East.

I was taught by a Native American woman that I studied with for some time, that Spirit is everywhere, that it connects all things. I came to believe, both through her teachings and my own discoveries, that the energy that connects all of us, that gives every living thing substance and life, is one energy, that we all are expressions from the same Source. So when I call upon Spirit, I call it from everywhere, both from within and from without.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I’m a big believer in finding your own correspondences to things. Many of the things I teach have evolved and been refined over the last two decades, but the emphasis I place on finding your own path has remained constant. Today, I see calling the Elements from specific directions to be a useful tool, but just a tool. Even I don’t consistently call upon them in my rites, just as you wouldn’t use a hammer to address every household repair. (Remember, when casting an octagon, I call the energy of each of the Sabbats, rather than calling Elements to form the perimeter sacred shape of the rite.)

Always remember that it doesn’t matter what is written in a book; the method that someone else tells you is the “right way” may not be the right way for you. Even rigid concepts, like numbers, are that way only because of their agreed upon meaning within our culture. As I like to tell students, “If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work (for you).” Explore. Try out ideas from other people and other cultures, but know that the best way is the one you try that you connect with and that empowers your magick and rites. Your practice is uniquely your own. “Your heart is your map and your intuition your compass. Follow them. They will not lead you astray.”

Excerpted from an early draft of my first non-fiction book, Principles of Magick.

This lesson is from Week Fourteen: Symbolism.  The week’s focus includes:

Monday: Color
Tuesday: Numbers
Wednesday: Shapes
Thursday: Attributes
Friday: Directions (the current lesson)

Jeffrey Pierce is an author, a traditionally trained shaman, a teacher of mystical spirituality, but simply defines himself as pagan. He devoted his life to uncovering the hidden truths on March 21, 1987 and never looked back. Jeffrey has taught thousands of students for almost two decades and is determined to share all he discovers, rather than keeping such insights a secret. His most recently published book is "Principles of Magick."

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