The Elements in Wicca
About the Elements
Elements—they are the building blocks of the entire universe. No, I’m not talking about the scientific elements, such as is found on the periodic chart. Sure, they are the building blocks for the physical universe. But I’m referring to the spiritual or classical Elements—they are the metaphysical building blocks.
Mention of Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Aether (Spirit) are something Wiccans will come across time and again. Regardless of how big or small a role the Elements play in your personal spiritual path, they’re something you should learn to understand.
Elements in Wicca
Big “E”; Little “e”
Sometimes I write ‘Element’, and sometimes ‘elements’. Sometimes I capitalize Air (Earth, Fire, etc.), and sometimes I don’t. There’s actually a reason for it.
Remember the Periodic Table of the Elements from chemistry class? There are 118 known elements and all matter breaks down to these most basic components. When speaking of scientific elements, I use the little “e”.
In ancient Greece, the concept of the Elements (the classical/spiritual ones) was born. They did not have the technology to see atoms and molecules, so they thought everything was made up of some combination of Air, Earth, Fire, Water and Aether.
Fast forward a couple dozen centuries-- now we know that air, earth, fire, water and aether are compounds-- a mixture of smaller elements on the periodic table. For example, water is a compound of hydrogen and oxygen.
This is the reason for the distinction. The Elements (capital E) refer to the spiritual/classical Elements of our religion—those forces that we honor. The elements (lowercase e) refers to the actual scientific elements on the periodic table.
There’s More to Elements Than Compounds
We all know the Elements are Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Aether. Sometimes people confuse this with earth, air, fire, water and ether. Note my use of capitalization here, because it's very significant.
The Elements—Air, Earth, Fire, and Water—are not the same thing as wind, dirt, flames, and H20. These compounds are meaningful representations of the Elements of course, but the compounds themselves are not Elements. The Elements (capital 'E') are so much more than the compounds for which they are named.
Recommended Wicca Book:
A must read for any Pagan studying the Elements, this book goes more in depth into how the Elements affect our spiritual practices than any I can remember. Most books tend to breeze past the subject in a chapter or less, but this book focuses on aspects that I, even having been Wiccan for decades, had not considered.
A Bird's-Eye View of Elements in the Quarters
The Elemental Connection
The Elements represent all things, and connect all things. Look at the diagram above; you can see the vertical axis contains the masculine Elements (Air and Fire). The horizontal Axis contains the feminine Elements (Water and Earth). The circle is where the Elements meet, as if at a crossroads. The circle surrounds and connects the four Elements, just as Aether (Spirit) is the unifying and balancing factor that runs through everything in the universe—the soul, the divine, it’s what gives life and meaning to all things.
Notice how they are equivalent in length and well balanced. When you go around the circle, you get the polarity alternating the masculine and feminine Elements, the projective and receptive, the positive and negative: Kind of like an electric charge (energy!).
You might even envision it as a compass, with each Element at one of the cardinal directions. You can even set up the primary altar tools as in some traditions in that same format: the athame is a symbol of Air, the pentacle a symbol of Earth, the wand a symbol of Fire, and the cup a symbol of Water.
Recommended Wicca Books:
This excellent book tackles Elements in depth beyond ritual and overt religious practices. It examines how the Elements effect your lives in every waking moment-- the clothes you wear, your environment, what you consume, the artwork you view. In turn, it examines how you can arrange things to bring more Elemental influences into certain areas of your life. This book is chock-full of quizzes to help you get a real reading on your current Elemental balance, and what you need to do to bring it into balance.
Correspondences—Just the Start
Notice the innermost circle we have our compass and our male/female axis. Beyond that we have correspondences to the directions, time of day, time of the year/season, the sabbats—even the life cycle itself. You get a taste right there at how the Elements correspond to everything; and everything corresponds to one or more of the Elements.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, really, as Elements also correspond to zodiac signs, tarot cards, runes, herbs, gemstones, deities, personality traits, occupations, body functions, activities, etc....the cycles and connections are endless.
Types of Matter
In Relation to the Pentagram
Each pentagram point represents an element. This is why the pentacle is the ultimate symbol of balance—each equal point, all intertwined with each other—balance is a key tenet in Wicca.
Wiccans usually wear a pentacle point-up. We move from the point at top (Aether) the intangible, to the semi-intangible realm (Fire and Air) to the tangible realm (Water and Earth).
I say usually because some Wiccan trads also occasionally use the pentagram point down. No, this does not represent Satanism; in Wicca, the pentagram has nothing to do with Satanism no matter which way it faces. When the pentagram is point up, it stands for Spirit (Aether) ascending over matter. When it’s point down, it represents Spirit descending into matter.
As you can see, the Elements are a rich, diverse, and complex system of symbols and energies that effect our world, our minds, and our spiritual practices. Take advantage of their potential by learning to work in harmony with them.