Scientifically, the periodic table shows us the building blocks of life. But metaphysically, the building blocks of life are broken down into four elements: Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. These have their roots in ancient explanations about how the world worked and have been used in occult spirituality for a long time. Without these, we could not exist. This does not contradict science. The explanations are on two different planes. That is not to say that elemental theory does not have roots in nature, because it does. But it is not meant to be an in-depth scientific explanation about how the physical world works.
These elements hold both the creative and the destructive powers of the universe within themselves. Like many things in Wicca, when we work with the elements, we are trying to get a balance of their power in our lives and in ourselves. Elements are very important when it comes to working magick, yes, but also to evaluate ourselves and see where we might need more of the powers of one element or another in our life. This will make more sense as we go through each of the elements, their correspondences, and their powers.
Earth is the element of growth, of fertility, of steadiness. People who are dependable and practical are said to be “well grounded” and have “both feet on the ground”. Too much of these traits, however, and they become “stuck in the mud” or “dragging themselves along on the ground”.
Earth is a feminine element. The Earth can be seen as our Mother, taking on the other elements so that we might live. She is the womb from which all things come, and to which all things will return. Earth is the element of fertility and prosperity, and the energy of the element of Earth is essential to any magick dealing with those things. The Earth is also associated with grounding and healing- simply walking on the ground barefoot is an old trick known to ease physical and mental pain. Animals lay on the ground when they’re sick, returning to their Mother’s breast for healing.
Earth is represented in the Wiccan’s tools by the pentacle, which is usually a flat disc on the altar, and a bowl of either salt or earth that is usually there as well. It is very common to cleanse a room using blessed salt water, merging the cleansing of the water and the purifying of the earth. When consecrating a new tool, depending on the tool, sometimes it is buried in salt or earth for a period of time to cleanse it of previous energies, or earth or salt is sprinkled on it to symbolize the same.
Goddesses particularly associated with the Earth are Gaia, Demeter, Persephone, Prithvi, Papatūānuku, Jörð, Asintmah, Spider Grandmother, Sif, and many more. Gods particularly associated with the Earth are Geb, Cernunnos, the Green Man, Irpitiga.
Air is the element of the mind; of wisdom, thought, and knowledge. We speak of “higher” education and the “realms” of knowledge; someone who is very smart or imaginative but maybe not so practical is said to have their “head in the clouds”, and someone who tries to appear knowledgeable about something but isn’t is “blowing smoke”.
Air is a masculine element. Its breezes carry the seeds that land on the fertile ground of the Earth and work their way to take root in Her. Air is strongly associated with divination and psychic work because these, too, are realms of the mind. Someone who is depressed and out of touch with their intuition might need more of the element of Air in their life. Conversely, someone who lives in their thoughts all the time and only approaches things from the realm of knowledge might benefit from a little Earth or Fire in their life.
The tool of Air is the wand. As a director of the psychic energy used in casting a circle, in invocation, or in casting a spell, the wand is quite fitting to be the tool of air. It’s worth mentioning that some people say that the athame is the tool of Air and not the wand, going with, among other things, the Ride-Waite Tarot suits, but what is said about the wand could also be said about the athame, as they have almost identical purposes.
Goddesses of the air are Oya, Nut, Aura, Ninlil, Dogoda, Tuuletar, and Okaga. Gods of the air are Amun, Enlil, Stribog, Borrum, Odin/Thor (it’s debated which one, if either), the Anemoi (Greek wind gods), Rudra, Ilmarinen, Fūjin and many others.
Fire is the element of passion, energy, and willpower. When someone is passionate about something, we say they are “on fire” about it. If they have a bit of a temper, we say their temper “flares up” or they have a “hot head”. And when things start to get out of control, others will recommend that the people involved go “cool off” because they’re
“getting overheated about this”.
Fire is a masculine element. It’s active, and it’s forceful, consuming everything in its path. It creates and destroys. It represents sexuality and in particular, the fertility of the God. The season of summer is the time when the God is at his peak. Fire is the driving force behind life; that push to keep going when everything says to quit.
The tool corresponding with fire is the athame. For those who don’t know, an athame is a double edged dagger, usually with a dark brown or black wooden handle, used for directing energy and invocation in Wiccan ritual. A sword is also a fire elemental tool. Some reverse the athame and the wand, as mentioned above.
Goddesses of fire are Oya, Sekhmet, Huilu, Lalahon, Amaterasu, Yal-un Eke, Brigit, Pele, and others. Gods of fire are Ra, Ogun, Zhurong, Bathala, Agni, Kōjin, Alaz, Eate, Grannus, Apollo, Helios, and others.
Water is the element of the heart- fitting, since our blood is mostly water. Water is the element of passion as well, but a different kind of passion then that of fire. It’s the element of emotion, intuition, healing, and love. We talk about being “flooded by emotion”. Conversely, if someone doesn’t seem to feel enough, we talk about them having a heart “as dry as a bone”. The imagery is often used in fiction of some metaphorical sense of water- usually the love of the main character- being like rain to a dry, cracked ground and making it fertile and whole again.
Water is a feminine element. It is linked with women’s fertility, particularly the waters in the womb that the unborn child lives in. Since we all came from the ocean way back in our evolutionary history, the ocean is seen as the womb of the Mother. Water is linked with healing and indeed hydrotherapy is an effective treatment for the symptoms of many illnesses and injury. IV fluid treatment is almost a given if you are going to be admitted to the hospital. It has become much more well-known how much even mild dehydration can harm the body. Water is also linked with psychic abilities and divination because it is used in divination (scrying) and because it is traditionally linked with spiritual initiation and regeneration.
The tools associated with water are the chalice and the cauldron. Both because they hold fluid and both because they are feminine shaped, invoking images of the Goddess’s womb. Some also associate the bell with the element of water because of its shape, while others associate with air because of its sound.
Goddesses of water are Danu, Ezili, Nephthys, Tefnut, Mokosh, Belisama, Acionna, Nerthus, Doris, Tethys, Saraswati, and more. Gods of water are Pariacaca, Tlaloc, Yumud, Indra, Suijin, Poseidon, Oceanus, Freyr, Lir, Osiris, and others.