Eclectic Elementals: The Magic & Spirituality of the Elements

This is not a specifically named, established path like Asatru, Kabbalah, Hermeticism, Kemeticism, Wicca or Santeria. Yet the Elemental Path can be adapted to any traditional, reconstructionist or modern practice, and the Elements are indeed present and utilized in all traditions. It can also be, as it is for me, its own completely original, self-contained and self-defined path. It is the path of peeking behind all the named and well-presented curtains; of getting to the heart of All and of connecting to and honoring the mystical, essential building blocks of everything in existence, from the planet to our souls. No matter where your belief ultimately leads you or how you define it, the Elements are a part of it and, if nothing else, a great place to start.

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Elemental Initiation

It is a safe assumption that every Pagan, particularly any practitioner of magic, is familiar with the Elements and the role of each in life and in magic.

What is less certain is the extent to which they are truly understood, the relationship each Pagan or mage has with them, and the ability to work with them in one’s spirituality or magical practice. Even less certain still is the humility and respect they are given. It seems easy for many to think of the Elements and “elemental magic” as accessories, mere branches of magical theory or of natural spirituality. Yet they are the roots, the trunk, every branch, every bud, leaf and blossom.

It is a continual, endless endeavor to learn of the elements. No one has ever “graduated” from elemental studies or magic as though it is as simple as reading those few, late-coming chapters in certain books and grimoires as I addressed in my earlier post “Back to Basics: All Magic is Elemental”.

If you really want to understand the elements, if you really want to base a deep, effective magical practice and/or spirituality upon them, you need to be initiated into their energies.

Many Pagans and witches undergo formal initiations into certain traditions, covens and paths. Yet how many of us pledge ourselves, not to any specific group or anthropomorphic deity styled and defined by others, but simply to Nature herself, to the Elements, and become devotees of that visible and invisible world that resides behind, under and throughout all existence?

Even if you are of a more solitary “wild witch” bent, and you have indeed initiated yourself as a witch, steward and priest/priestess of Nature, have you undergone any elemental ordeals to strengthen your connection to them and your ability to use them in magic? What are such ordeals, you say? Well…read on, dear one.

In “Doctrine and Ritual of Transcendental Magic”, the famed French occultist and magician Eliphas Levi informs us that,

“To govern elementary spirits and thus become king of the occult elements, we must first have undergone the four ordeals of ancient initiations; and seeing that such initiations exist no longer, we must have substituted analogous experiences, such as exposing ourselves boldly in a fire, crossing an abyss by means of the trunk of a tree or a plank, scaling a perpendicular mountain during a storm, swimming through a dangerous whirlpool or cataract. A man who is timid in the water will never reign over the Undines; one who is afraid of fire will never command Salamanders; so long as we are liable to giddiness we must leave the Sylphs in peace and forbear from irritating Gnomes; for inferior spirits will only obey a power which has overcome them in their own element. When this incontestable faculty has been acquired by exercise and daring, the word of our will must be imposed on the elements by special consecrations of air, fire, water and earth."

It is my opinion that certain beliefs and teachings such as these are perhaps, in ways, more valuable to the scholar and historian of the occult as curios on a shelf in an antique shop of magical and philosophical ideals. Yet many of them can still be of great benefit to the modern practitioner and student who can see the abstract lessons and inspirations between the lines of the grandiose notions and practices of high magicians of earlier centuries.

I hold this belief mostly due to the prior belief that it is not for us to “govern” the elements. We need not attempt to “reign over the Undines”, but to adapt to their fluidity, to learn empathy from them and how to benefit from their powers when we welcome them to a ritual or ask for their aid in a spell. I would simply adjust what Levi claims and say that one who is timid in water will be less able to understand or call upon the assistance of Undines and similar beings.

One who is (irrationally) afraid of fire will also not be able to form a close relationship with Salamanders and other fire elementals, or to effectively use such energy in rituals and spells. However, it is again folly to try to “command Salamanders”, but better to humble ourselves before the majesty of fire and to never forget how quickly it goes from a pleasant, single candle flame to a raging destroyer.

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For, as Manly P. Hall very wisely points out in one of my favorite references, “The Secret Teachings of All Ages”,

Man, incapable of controlling his own appetites, is not equal to the task of governing the fiery and tempestuous elemental spirits.

I could not have said it better myself. This is an age of excess, of indulgence and shallow, immediate gratifications; of technology, of countless insidious influences, energies, temptations and of more, more, more of absolutely everything. Including misconceptions and downright falsehoods.

Therefore, it behooves us even more than arrogant men of the 19th century to consider that we are lesser to the Elements and elemental beings in many ways, and that they are not “inferior spirits” at all, as Levi says. We must also understand that we have great ability and therefore responsibility with them. They answer to our very thoughts and they are attracted by our every motion and will. Yet they in turn can also influence and control us if we allow them to, with either positive or negative results. Elementals have even been known to pose as other beings and spirits.

That being said, this is still a wonderful concept and potential practice or tool for learning and enhancing magic. What then is the purpose or benefit of these “elemental ordeals?” Rather than overcoming the elements in their own domains to be able to govern or dominate them, we should do so in order to understand them better, be awed and humbled by them, and to form relationships with them that will enrich our magic, our spirituality and our very lives.

It is likely that over the course of your life you have already undergone what can easily be viewed as at least some degree of an elemental ordeal. Have you escaped a burning building or even extinguished one? Firefighters obviously experience ordeals of Fire all the time. Have you scaled a mountain or hiked up an active volcano? Many extreme outdoorsmen/women have endured a variety of ordeals of Earth and Water, possibly of all the Elements. Have you experienced a strong earthquake? Have you ever gone skydiving, hang gliding or on a long-distance swim?

I personally have experienced multiple ordeals of Water, primarily and unsurprisingly, given my personal elemental affinity, and also of a combination of Water, Air and Fire: a category 5 hurricane. I detail that experience and my resulting love for hurricanes and their power and purpose on my blog, The Oracle of Water, in two parts – “Cataracts and Hurricanoes”

While there is much to be said for elemental ordeals that come to us naturally and unexpectedly, there is also great power, if not greater, in consciously choosing to undergo such ordeals and even ritualizing them.

I can’t give a more earnest, cautionary disclaimer here though: please don’t suddenly attempt to walk across hot coals or jump out of a boat in a raging sea or do any such thing you are unprepared for. There is a reasonable way to go about things and a terribly stupid way. Yet these are indeed ordeals for a reason – where Nature and the Elements are involved, there is always going to be an inherent degree of risk and possible danger.

Fortunately there are many different types and levels of the experiences and ordeals that can still thoroughly enhance your understanding of and connection to the Elements. For example, especially if you’ve never done it before, something like going camping and sleeping under the stars near a (well-contained and easily extinguished) fire you built yourself is a great start.

We are privileged to have the Elements and elemental spirits come to our aid in all manner of spiritual practice and magical workings, but we do not necessarily have a right to them. At least not if we are going to try to “command” them and therefore open ourselves up to either abuse them or be controlled by them ourselves. Honor them, and they will be there for you and they will teach you. They are always there, and they usually teach us regardless of whether we like it, want it, or are even aware of it. Yet all the better if we can ever have it on our own terms!



© 2019 Meredith Everwhite - All Rights Reserved

Featured image: The North Wind Went Over the Sea from East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Kay Nielsen

 

 

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Meredith is an amateur writer, Tarot/oracle reader, and a semi-agnostic, pan/metatheistic, Pagan mage & mystic. Her elemental affinity has led her to become a devoted water priestess and the creator of the website/blog The Oracle of Water where she shares and writes about all things aqueous in the worlds of metaphysics, spirituality, mythology and occultism. Currently pursuing her certification in Michelle Hanson’s seashell-based “Ocean Oracle”, she is also working to develop an original elemental-themed divination system. She currently lives in North Carolina with her spritely feline familiar, Naia.  

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