The Meaning of the Five Elements in Magic, the Occult and Daily Life
What Do You Know About The Elements?
Most people have heard about the four elements Earth, Water, Air and Fire. Some have also heard of a fifth element, usually referred to as "Spirit." Typically, the elements are mentioned in fantasy stories and are often related to magic and mysticism. However, the average citizen of Western culture knows little about where the concept of the elements come from or what each of the elements is traditionally said to represent. The focus of this lens is on the Western system of five elements.
The Elements as Categories of Experience
Earth is often used as a symbol of the material realm. This typically includes physical health, family life, finances, home and similar "earthy" things.
Water is the next least dense element and is used as a symbol for the emotional realm. Just as liquid changes shape more readily than solids, the emotions take less time to change than the body.
Air is less dense than Water and is used as a symbol of the mind, dreams and communication.
Fire is the least dense of the four standard elements. It represents the passions, such as rage and lust. It is also significant of a burning sense of purpose. Like the other elements, it can be either positive or negative in it's application.
Quintessence is the fifth element. It is the new and perfected Earth, free of corruption and bridging Spirit and Matter.
What's the Use of the Elements?
The five elements are currently used by several individuals and groups of individuals in their personal worldviews. Some use it as a purely symbolic method of categorizing objects, forces and types of experience. Others see it more as a guide to the spiritual life behind the physical plane of manifestation. Many people who value the five element system incorporate it into their spiritual practices. This includes divination (for example, each suit of the Tarot represents one of the four elements) and ceremonial rites of worship and magic.
Which Element are You?
Each of us is said to contain a mixture of the elements, however many people feel a particular resonance with a certain element. Which one do you connect with most?
Which Element Do You Identify With?
Elements in the Major Arcana of the Tarot - Featured Video
Jeremy Crow discusses why there is no Elemental Earth card in the Major Arcana of the Tarot. There are only three Elemental cards in the Major Arcana: Water is The Hanged Man, Fire is Judgement/The Aeon and Air is The Fool. Also discussed is the idea that The World card, traditionally associated with the planet Saturn, can also be used to represent Earth. Hermetic Alchemy is used to explain that Water, Fire and Air (aka Elemental Salt, Sulphur and Mercury) are the principal elements and both Earth and Quintessence/Spirit are derivitive elements composed of the three principals.
The Elements and Science
Esoteric elemental theory does not have to contradict modern physics. If you study contemporary material on the occult elements [not to be confused with the elements on the periodic table], you will often see each of them correlated with the various states of matter:
Earth is the solid state.
Water is the liquid state.
Air is the gaseous state.
Fire is the plasma state.
Spirit is the state beyond physicality.
How To Use A Pentagram To Work With The Elements
One of the most common uses of the pentagram in magic, the occult and paganism is to invoke and banish the elements. Each of the five points is associated with one of the elements in a traditional arrangement, shown on some of the images displayed on this page. It is very common for those who express their spirituality through ceremony to trace a pentagram in the air. The point you start with, the direction you move from there and especially your intent while drawing the star will determine the meaning. To confuse matters, there is a traditional system and a modern system for determining how to draw the pentagram for invoking and banishing the various elements. In my experience the modern method is much more logical and elegant. The traditional system is cumbersome and unnecessarily complicated. The modern system can be explained in a few simple steps:
1. Start with the point associated with the element you are working with.
2. Draw the complete pentagram, returning to your point of origin. The movement should be clockwise if you are invoking the element and counter-clockwise if you are banishing it.
3. That’s it! There is no step 3.
To give an example, to invoke or call up the Earth element using an upright pentagram you would start at the lower left point. You would then move to the following points in order: upper-middle, lower-right, upper-left, upper-right and return to the lower left. It is traditional to imagine that you are drawing the pentagram with a trail of glowing light that you project from the tips of your fingers, your wand, a stick of incense, a rose or whatever else you choose to use for the purpose. The colour of light you choose to visualize should either be a generic pure white light or something specific to the intent.
I am going to share a simple and effective technique that you can use in order to familiarize yourself with the use of the pentagram. Specifically, you will be using the pentagram in order to bring more of a specific type of energy into your life. Using the associations to each of the elements described elsewhere on this page, you will first determine which element you would like to be more present in your life. Let’s say you find yourself lacking in energy and motivation. You will probably want to choose to invoke the element of Fire. Each situation is different, so if your schedule is too intense and the stress is wearing you out, you may want to invoke Water or Earth to stabilize things. Once you have chosen the element you desire, perform the following:
1. Sit or stand with your back straight and relax with a few slow, deep breaths
2. When you are ready, in the air in front of you draw the appropriate pentagram
3. Visualize the pentagram radiating the influence which you desire
4. Imagine the pentagram dissolving into a cloud of light
5. Breathe in that cloud of light and spend a few minutes intensely visualizing yourself experiencing the result you desire
6. Set your determination to achieve this goal and work out the action steps you need to take in order to succeed
7. Write down the steps
8. Determine what you can do today that will get you closer to your goal and make sure you do it
9. Each morning repeat the exercise (omitting unnecessary parts of steps 6 and 7) until you achieve your goal.
Once you have achieved success in one endeavor you can do this exercise again for another goal. As a tip, focus on one goal at a time. If you have a really big goal, break it down into smaller steps and focus on each step until you succeed with it before moving onto the next.
Take a stand and debate your ideas with others! Do you make use of 5 elements or 4? Do you prefer the Eastern system of Wood, Metal, Water, Fire and Earth? Do you even make use of an element system at all?
Do you value the elements?
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The Living Force of the Elements
Elementaries are traditionally considered to be non-physical entities that are composed entirely of one element. These are the intelligent forces behind all natural processes. The term "elemental" is often used in this context but is not traditional.
Sylphs are the spirits composed entirely of the Air element. They are like sprites and faries.
Gnomes are the entites of Earth. They are typically pictured as cave dwelling workers similar to the 7 dwarves of the Snow White tale.
Undines can be compared to merfolk and are composed of Water. They govern such things as ocean currents and waterfalls.
Salamanders are the denizens of Fire and are said to be seen jumping and dancing among the flames.
The Five Occult Elements and Alchemy - Featured Video
Jeremy Crow explains how the five occult elements relate to one another. The three principal elements of Water, Fire and Air (or Salt, Sulphur and Mercury) combine in their impure state to create the 4th element of Earth. Through the alchemical process, which is explained, they can also combine to create the fifth element of Spirit or Quintessence.
How Do The Elements Interact?
When using the term Quintessence, the fifth element is understood a bit differently from simply "beyond physicality". It includes as well as transcends the physical and is the key to understanding how the occult elements interact.
You will sometimes encounter the concept that the element of Earth is the result of the combination of the three more refined (in terms of density) elements of Water, Air and Fire. This technically makes Earth the fourth element. Western Hermetic Alchemy elaborates on this in a very interesting manner. The view states that Fire, Air and Water are the three principal elements in the universe. Everything that we see in the manifest world is considered Earth and is a composed of varying amounts of the three principals. In Alchemy, these principals are also often referred to as Salt, Sulphur and Mercury. These correspond closely with Water, Fire and Air (respectively.)
In the Emerald Tablet of Hermes, a fundamental Hermetic text, it states that "the above" resembles "the below" as well as the reverse. Since Earth is created from the Three Principals, it stands to reason that Earth can be broken back down into the Three Principals. Western Hermetic Alchemy claims that it can, and calls this process Death.
Alchemists learn how to use the Death force to reduce their Earth to a chaos of Salt, Sulphur and Mercury. The Alchemist then separates these principals, one from the other, and purifies each of them from all impurities. Mercury through distilation, Salt through calcination and Sulphur through a combination of the two methods. The purified principals are then recombined. They unite in a process of resurrection, creating a new type of Earth element which has conqured and removed the force of Death. This new, immortal element is the Quintessence - literally the Fifth Element.
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In addition, I want you to know that I do intuitive readings professionally. I learned a traditional family method of doing Tea Leaf readings from my Ojibway father when I was only 8 years old. At the age of 17, I took up the life-long study of occultism, including the art of reading the Tarot. I am currently 34 years old and continue to pursue my studies with great passion.