Working with the four elements (and why we “call in the directions”)

by Jennifer Masters on July 11, 2010

The four elements—earth, air, fire, water—are representations of life-force/universal/divine energy. The idea that everything, All That Is, breaks down to one or more of four elements comes from the belief that all things are connected.

When the four elements are imbued with the fifth element of spirit, we have life! Without the elements, life cannot exist. Without you, the you-niverse cannot exist—we each comprise an integral part of it.

Earth isn’t necessarily the planet we live on, but the part of it that’s stable, solid, and dependable. It symbolizes abundance, prosperity, sustenance, grounding, and physical manifestation. It is associated with Winter, the dark of the Moon (when there is no moon in the night sky just prior to first crescent), and the root chakra.

Air symbolizes the realm of thought, learning, knowledge, harmony, communication, all things mental, and breath. It is associated with Spring and the heart chakra.

Fire is the creative spark, it represents our passions, the fire within. It is the element of change and symbolizes will, heat, freedom, vision, love, and power. It is associated with Summer, the full Moon, and the solar plexus chakra.

Water is the emotional realm, it symbolizes healing, dreaming, flowing, the subconscious, all things internal, and cleansing. It is associated with Autumn and the belly chakra.

Why work with the elements?

We humans thrive on symbolism, and working with the elements is a way of working with energy. As these four “flavors” of energy represent different fascets of human life, this way of breaking down and categorizing energy helps us focus on specific areas in our life in a way that’s easier for us to comprehend and connect with.

As these elements come from the natural world, in connecting with them we become more aware of our connection to nature and All That Is, and more aware of our own humanity, our personal nature.

Alchemical traditions and Shamanic traditions around the world work with the four elements. They often use a framework of symbolism that incorporates circular or spiral energy. These are ways in which energy moves in the world, and the circle and spiral are symbols of eternity, connectedness, cycles, and the natural world. Sometimes the metaphor of a wheel is used, the medicine wheel or wheel of life, to really illustrate the point that all things are cyclical, ever-turning.

More layers of symbolism

In some traditions, the elements are represented by a spirit called an elemental. Elementals are normally invisible to the untrained eye, don’t belong to the mundane world, considered sentient, and are comprised entirely of the element they represent.

Sometimes elementals are recognized as totem animals. Just like an elemental, a totem is a symbol. The animal species represents an energy or fascet of human life, often somehow related to the qualities or behaviors of the species.

Some traditions associate all of the above with the cardinal directions, North, East, South, and West. Relating the elements to the directions is a way of connecting to the land where you live. Many times this involves forming associations with the nature that exists relative to where you are, for example, here in San Diego we have the Pacific ocean to our west, the direction we associate with the energy of water.

These associations are not set in stone around the world. They can change as your location and intention changes. Specific traditions often adhere to specific correspondences as related to the land where that tradition was founded.

Why call in the four directions when setting sacred space?

Sacred space can be created anytime, anywhere—all it takes is your intent to do so. Often it is done for ceremony, ritual, or daily spiritual practice as a way to shift your consciousness from the mundane to the sacred. It’s a way of creating a “zone” in which all things will be treated as sacred.

Calling forth the directions as part of creating sacred space is a method of drawing from the power (of the four elements) that resides in the land where you are or where you live. It brings this symbolism and its power into your sacred workings.

When we take the time to include this level of detail in creating sacred space, we more readily engage in raising energy to direct toward our intent, and we are drawn that much deeper into the altered states of consciousness required to work with energy in a direct way.

In my ceremonies I also call in two or more additional directions. Spirit is represented in it’s masculine and feminine forms as Above, Sky Father, and Below, Earth Mother … of course these are the makings for another article, another time….

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Medicine Ball Exercises August 23, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

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Donna September 28, 2012 at 9:48 am

Do you know of a good book that talks about working the elements and circular spiral energy?

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Jennifer Masters September 28, 2012 at 12:08 pm

The ones that come to mind first are “Earth Magic” by Scott Cunningham, “Witch Crafting” by Phyllis Curott, and “Web Thinking” by Linda Seger

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Jennifer Masters September 28, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Also, “Prayers and Meditations of the Q’uero Apache” by Maria Yraceburu talks about working with the medicine wheel in a spiral path

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Donna October 12, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Thank you so much Jennifer

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Lori Seaborne January 30, 2013 at 5:43 pm

I love the graphic of the four directions and their elements. Is there a way for you to share it? It’s beautiful. Thanks.

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Jennifer Masters February 12, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Thank you Lori, I created it myself. Is there any specific size you’d like it? I’d just like to add my name to it as credit.

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Brian David Thomas February 2, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Nice work! Especially the parts about the elements assigned to the directions are up to the user applying them, and about the notions of two more directions- the masculine, white Sun above and the feminine, black Earth below. Indeed, in addition to forward, beyond, left, and right, and many Native American teachings included an above and below.

So I like you’re approach, and I’d like to help advance it. Have you ever read Kenneth Meadows? His books “Shamanic Spirit” and “Shamanic Experience” align Air with the North, Fire in the East, Water in the South, and Earth in the West.

He is quite clear about two things. First, his approach and the one on this webpage are off by 90 degrees. Meadows says the approach wherein Earth is in the North and so on was a misalignment of the elements and their directions by Middle Eastern people living about 10,000 years ago and manifesting in our reality today. From what I can determine from his writings and Spirit Science, certain secret societies were driven to stir up such internal spiritual confusion that people would be trapped inside themselves. The quiet voice of the Spirit within was to be drowned out by the loud and insatiable cravings of the Ego and its justifying, chattering servant, the Mind. This would make people dependent upon outside authorities and sources for answers on life’s deepest mysteries, how to attain everlasting fulfillment, and, most absurdly, where to find love itself! This is exactly what the designers intended in throwing off mankind’s ancient approach to the elements practiced on Atlantis and Mu by 90 degrees.

Second, Meadows says that any approach works for the person applying it, for the elements of the universe exist everywhere and are not linked to a specific physical direction. No matter the intention of the designer of the approach, it is the intention and will of the user applying it into their lives that makes the ultimate difference. Any spiritual orientation is true for the person living it, and any spiritual approach can lead a person to walk a path of Love and Harmony for the All.

Yet I would encourage you to check out Meadows philosophy, because it has been the most clear-headed and profound spiritual science I’ve encountered in my 17+ years of experiencing such material and asking the deep questions of existence. The fact that his approach is so clear while so many others are frequently muddled helps advance his point that the unclarity and disharmony is not an accident but an extended consequence many receive after applying that spiritual approach.

Thanks for your contribution to this topic, and keep loving, growing, and laughing! :)

Btw, love is always found within you. Love, the feeling of being aware of chi, cannot be obtained, and another cannot grant love to you or take it away. Love is not dependent upon an outside source like a parent or lover, but instead exists because of the internal choices you determine with your being. If you want to see more love in your world, love yourself first, because every decision you make on the inside eventually manifests itself in the world “outside.”

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Jennifer Masters February 12, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Thank you Brian, I have heard of Kenneth Meadows but not read his works, sounds interesting! I will check it out.

As one of my teachers says, “Love is a principle, not a practice.”

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