This symbol is well known as it features prominently in many western occult traditions, and particularly in Wicca. However it is much older than this and has been used in many different traditions and cultures from around the world, including Ancient Greece and it also being used as a protective charm in Babylonia.
But they also correspond with our human experience; air being breath, thought and intellect, fire being energy, emotion, passion and will, water being fluid, feeling and intuition, and earth being matter, physical sensation and stability. The upwards point representing spirit is symbolic of the psyche and spirit presiding over matter.
And the four elements are what is needed for spirit to manifest itself in the physical world. Because we are made of these elements, it’s also a symbol of humankind and the points correspond to our head and limbs.
The elements also correspond with the cardinal directions. East is air, south is fire, west is water, and north is earth. If you’ve ever watched the popular 90’s movie The Craft, you may remember the witches calling the guardians of the watchtowers which is a ritual to invoke the elemental guardians in the corresponding directions (or quarters).
In ceremonial traditions, four Archangels (Raphael for air, Michael for fire, Gabriel for water and Uriel for Earth) are considered to be these guardians and are called by name.
The purpose of this ritual is to cast a protective circle around the practitioner to aid them in their subsequent magical workings. And it is also used to master the elements. As the elements correspond with our human experience, practitioners often banish or invoke these energies to balance themselves. For example, if the practitioner is feeling overwhelmed, they could banish water. If they need some mental clarity, air could be invoked.
Too much and too little of anything can be detrimental and so balance is sought. Without heat we would surely die, but uncontrolled fire would also hurt us.
We see this happening in nature, forest fires for example are normal and bring about a regeneration. However, the imbalance humans have created in the world and to the climate mean that these fires can be uncontrollable and produce an unnecessary and devastating effect in the natural world which is difficult to recover from.
So the purpose of doing these rituals is to maintain equilibrium within oneself and their environment.
As this article was also released on Beltane, it’s a good time to remember that our connection to nature is vital for our own health and for the health of the planet.
We could wear this magical symbol to remind ourselves that equilibrium is the basis of life and the firm foundation upon which we stand. That life works better when we achieve a healthy balance in all areas of our life.
This takes time and patience, and it usually can’t be done all at once, but moving with the ebb and flow of life is something we can attain to. Just like nature can show us when we observe the cycles of the seasons, with both the generative and destructive stages necessary for equilibrium. Our thoughts, emotions, feelings and sensations also ebb and flow in a continuous cycle. Seeking to understand this can bring us inner peace and harmony, and help us move through difficult times with more ease.
Sammi Walters is a freelance Web & Graphic Designer and Illustrator for the daring and disobedient.