The Ancients divided the world into four basic principles or elements; earth, water, fire, and air. That viewpoint has mostly changed with advances in science, but the four elements are still accepted in magick, for they are more closely linked with emotions, the human psyche, and nature than are modern explanations of the world.
These magical elements are also of some importance in astrology as well as ritual. Many occultists think of the magickal elements as forces, or as qualities of energy; especially within the astral world. Each element has a symbol and color. Common symbols are – fire: a triangle pointing up; air: a triangle pointing up and with a horizontal line through the middle of it; water: a triangle pointing down; earth: a triangle pointing down and with a horizontal line through the middle of it. The colors of the elements are – earth: brown and green; water: blue; fire: red; air: yellow.
Traditionally, we assign elements to each of the points of the pentacle. The four basic elements are Earth, Air, Fire, and Water and are considered in metaphysics as the four basic components that make up life itself. These elements all have different vibrations which, when properly aligned, can help to produce the desired results in your magick. By placing a pentacle on your altar you are asking for the blessing of all the elements and the circle that binds all life.
Many philosophies and worldviews have used a set of archetypal classical elements, most developed sets of the simplest essential parts and principles of which anything consists or upon which the constitution and fundamental powers of anything are based. There are several approaches, the most frequently occurring theories of classical elements are held by the Ancient systems of thought. In use as an explanation for patterns in nature, the word element refers to a substance that is either a chemical compound or a mixture of chemical compounds, rather than a chemical element of modern physical science.
The classical elements are used to the present day by esoteric movements such as neo-paganism, astrology, and tarot. In Western astrology, the concept of the four classical elements has survived from antiquity up until the present. The twelve signs of the zodiac are divided into the four elements: Fire signs are Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius, Earth signs are Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn, Air signs are Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius, and Water signs are Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces. Most modern astrologers still view the four classical elements as a critical part of interpreting the astrological chart.
In divinatory tarot, the suits of cups, swords, batons, and coins are said to correspond to water, air, fire, and earth respectively. Although these elements are often thought to be the meaning behind the suits in a deck of playing cards, the real symbolism is to that of the four pillars of the economy: church, military, commerce, and agriculture.
A fundamental aspect of Wiccan belief is the set of Four or Five Elements of Nature. Some hold to the earlier Greek conception of the four classical elements (air, fire, water, earth), while others recognize five elements: earth, air, water, fire, and spirit. Some see the points of the pentagram symbol as representing the five elements. The elements are commonly invoked at the beginning of rituals or used in their physical forms to symbolically purify the ritual circle. Each element has associated symbols, rituals, and meanings, which will be covered in detail in a different area.
The magical elements are said to be peopled by spirits and mythological entities called elementals or nature spirits. These are grouped into four main categories: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. As their title implies Elementals are the spiritual guardians of a given element or direction. Elementals are usually only visible to those with clairvoyant sight and are more likely to be seen at night in the mountains or country away from cities — especially if you are tired or sleepy.
To the Ancients, elementals were the physical explanation of the universe. However, some contemporary occultists see them only as symbols for forces and are otherwise not ‘real’ at all. Another word sometimes used for elemental is ‘familiar’ (usually in medieval witchcraft); the term is ambiguous, as it might merely be an ordinary household pet such as a dog or cat.
Each element has its chosen spirit or Elemental. When working in a ritual space it is not the element you are manipulating, but the Elemental who is aiding you. Elementals are otherwise known as nature spirits or guardians. Fairies, Pixies, Water Sprites, Imps, Gnomes, Kelpies, Brownies, Sylphs, Mermaids, Unicorns are a few examples of beings that belong to the Elemental realm. Just as angels are messengers from God (or a source higher than ourselves, the Divine if you prefer), the Elementals are nature’s guardians, residing here on earth just in a different realm to the physical one we live in.
Working with the elements is the first step in connecting with any kind of magick. There are rituals, places, items, and tools associated with each element that may help you connect with an Elemental and forge a working relationship. A Witch may even have an astral guardian associated with each of the elements in turn. Positioned at each of the Watchtowers, in addition to calling in the Elementals a guardian may be called upon during rituals to “Guard and Witness.”