Some time ago I gave my daughter a lecture on the elements; Their nature, why we call them in ritual, what it's all about, etc. And I don't know that I'm an expert, but I felt I needed to hash it out a bit more. One reason I write. And it's possible that I disagree with some folks, but whatever. My blog.
We call the elements at the beginning of a ritual in any number of ways. You could perform the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, or a Wiccan Quarter Call or symbolically engage them on your altar, meditate them in or even play them in musically. Lots of ways to go about it. No way really better than the other, but what's the whole point anyway?
The prevailing wisdom is that you call in this energy and it either somehow protects you or it somehow adds energy to your spell. However, I believe both of these are wrong. Or at least somewhat misguided. And I believe that it is actually really important to know what you're doing and why you're doing it when it comes to the elements.
First off, the elemental energies are not a thing that you are calling in from any direction or summoning or even invoking. The elements are there. They are in everything and everyone, already there. When you evoke or invoke them, you're not really. What you're doing is calling your own attention to them and that is what is important.
The elements are not conscious things. They aren't "beings". They are natural "energies" that exist in all things and humans contain all of them. Actually… they're not even energies so much as flavors of energy or states.. vibrations maybe. It's all esoteric and difficult to explain.
Earth is our bodies, air is, well, what we breathe. Water flows through us in our blood and all our cells and Fire represents the energy that animates us. (I have never had any use for the 5th element Spirit because I believe that all energy is represented by Fire - therefore it is actually in everything - and Spirit is simply conscious energy. Aether is also redundant but that's a discussion for another day.) Elemental spirits are simply symbols of the elements. They aren't literal. If they were they wouldn't be just one element anyway as anything alive is automatically a creature of Fire so they'd all have to be at least that. Anyway, their symbolism is of no use to me, though some people find them helpful. When casting spells I often visualize my spell in the shape of an animal, so I can totally understand how visualizing the elements in animal shapes is helpful for others.
Each of the elements has been arbitrarily assigned a part of the human personality, which I do find useful. When you are preparing to do magick or to present yourself to the Gods for communion or prayer it is important to be fully present. That means every part of your Self must be involved with what you are doing. You call in the "elements" Earth, the material self, Air the intellectual self, Water the emotional self, Fire the creative self (as I mentioned, it's all arbitrary so whatever bits of you you think they represent is just fine). I also find it helpful to attach these to colors which I meditate upon and visualize filling my body to create a balance of the four. By creating this balance I ensure that every part of me is fully present. This allows me to focus my energy on the task at hand and put all of said energy into it.
In the practice of Kitchen Witchery, I make a great study of the elemental correspondences of food and then I use that food to help bring about the changes I need in my environment, in myself and even in others if the situation calls for it. I find plant food to be the most effective. Animal food is unpredictable.
Plants and animals contain all of the elemental vibrations, but certain vibrations resonate stronger in some and weaker than others. There is a natural state of vibration for each living and non-living thing thing that represents its perfect, healthy state. This can be altered by both internal and external factors, including stress, which results in a less-than-balanced or unhealthy state. Anyone with a personality; desires, goals, opinions, is a person (not just humans) and people can alter their own balance using thought. We can bring things into balance using thought, and we can fuck ourselves up completely the same way.
Plants and non-living things do not tend to screw themselves up like we do. They just are and so they tend to be somewhat stable in their elemental expression. Of course external factors like pollution and too much sun or too little water can mess them up, this is why a clever Kitchen Witch chooses the freshest, healthiest organic produce she can fine, and grows it herself if possible. This way you can be most confident that the plant vibrates the way you expect it to.
We can bring these things into our homes, keep them about our bodies or even ingest them to help bring about the balance we need when imbalance strikes. Sometimes a bit of imbalance might be desirable. Sometimes you want a little extra creativity or a little extra emotion. Here the Kitchen Witch can use the tools of her trade, i.e. food, home decor, even toiletry items to wonderful advantage as well. That is what it's all about. It's like alchemy, but oh so much simpler.
It is important to note though that looking at a correspondence table doesn't necessarily tell you the whole story. Some food plants resonate most strongly with one element, some equally strong with two and sometimes when you actually handle it you wonder why anyone could possibly have believed what the correspondence table says. You really have to use your intuition when working with the elements and that is why it's good to call them in at the start of rituals, even if your tradition doesn't demand it (as mine does not). It gives you the experience of dealing with them, feeling them, harmonizing with them, so you can recognize each element when you see it.
It is important when calling in the elemental energies that you don't just speak the words but really experience them. In fact, forget the words. I find a rattle works better. Visualize each element thoroughly (visualize is a limiting word, you have to feel them, taste them, hear them as well), maybe even meditate for a few minutes on each before proceeding to the next one. And you can also benefit from mixing up your order as well. I know different traditions have specific orders, but when you start with Earth every time then when you get to Air your perceptions are already colored by Earth and degrade as you move along. Some traditions begin with a different element depending on the season. I believe this is a good practice.
And that is my lecture for today. I'll just take this opportunity to invite you to check out http://www.kitchenwitchcorner.com to explore my online database of food correspondences if you are curious.
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Comments, questions, criticism?