Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Air In The North

I read this over at Mike Nichols' site a while ago and wanted to share this article with you.

Rethinking the Watchtowers: or 13 Reasons Air Should Be In The North

Two excerpts from this article stood out for me.

By now, I felt miffed that my own tradition seemed to be at variance with most published sources. Still, my own rituals didn’t seem to be adversely affected. Nor were those of my fellow coven members, all of whom put air in the north. Further, over the years I had amassed lots of associations and correspondences that seemed to require air to be in the north. The very thought of air in the east offended both my sense of reason and my gut-level mythic sensibilities. There are good reasons to place air in the north. And the whole mythological superstructure would collapse if air were in the east, instead. If this is so, then why do most published sources place earth in the north and air in the east?

Suddenly, I felt sure I knew the reason! Somewhere along the line, someone had deliberately tampered with the information! Such tampering is a long and venerable practice within certain branches of magic. In Western culture, it is most typically seen among Hermetic, Cabalistic, and ceremonial magic lodges. It is common among such groups that, when publishing their rituals for public consumption, they will publish versions that are incomplete and/or deliberately altered in some way from the authentic practice. This prevents someone who is not a member of the group from simply buying a book, and performing the rituals, without benefit of formal training.

After reading this article, I began to wonder where air was "supposed" to be and if it really mattered. If a person is taught "air in the north", I wonder if a ritual performed with "air in the east" would be less effective for that person. Or at least at first. If it is less effective, is it just a psychological effect or is it something in the ritual design?

As I don't have much experience regarding rituals and their design, I want to ask those of you that are Pagan. So, what do you think regarding this issue? At what direction do you place the elements and why? If you switched them around would it make for a less effective ritual?

On a different note, I am sorry that I haven't updated in awhile. I was trying to get into a program that would help me get research experience for grad school and it was taking up much of my time. (I got notice today that I was excepted into the progam! Yeah!) I will try to update more often.


Jarred said...

Hrm...I thought I posted a comment, but it hasn't shown. I'm not sure whether you prescreen them or if I just screwed up somehow so the last comment didn't take. Either way, I'll share my thoughts (besides, I want to reword my perspective slightly.) If the previous comment is still out there somewhere, feel free to trash it or something. ;)

On the topic of where air -- or any of the other elements for that matter -- "should be," I think Doreen Valiente addresses that question in a couple paragraphs of "Witchcraft for Tomorrow." Unfortunately, I don't have my copy with me, or I'd quote the relevant statements directly. But the short and long of it is that she offers the explanation that the directions assigned to to the four elements were based on the "four winds" of Britain (e.g. hot, dry winds generally would blow from the south, so fire was associated with that direction). She also noted that because of this, it would make sense to modify these associations so they were appropriate in a different geographical setting. To me, this makes rather convincing evidence that the relationship between any particular element and any particular direction is more a "useful tool" that works under some reasoning rather than "holy writ." This also suggests that different reasonings could lead to different associations, which are equally useful.

As for your question about what might happen if people "switched things around," this is where my belief in tradition comes in. I think that working things the same way based on the same understanding has strong benefit in ritual, both on a psychological level and a spiritual/magical one. Repetition (which is a concept central to the definition of the word "ritual" anyway) helps creates "grooves," well worn paths that are familliar and can be explored in more depth each time. They dig right down into the core of your being that way. So regardless of what associations someone chooses or the reasons they choose them, I think it's best they stick with them. As long as they "work," of course. ;) Anything else amounts to cutting a brand new trail through the jungle every time you go to the neighboring village.

As for your question about what elemental associations I use, I don't. I tend to be of the opinion that elemental associations don't have much place in my circles to begin with. And that works for me, too.

Wanderer said...

I have had experience with several covens and individual practitioners who aligned the elements in different ways. Generally I have found that these individuals and groups tended to be equally effective in their own rituals, but regardless of agreement before hand, weren't as effective in combination with others. I think the direction, therefore, has to feel right to all who are working the ritual, more than the actual direction matters to individual elemental entities. After all, I think we can all acknowledge that we can set off in any direction and relatively quickly find an example of the element we would call. The directions then are in our heart, not on the compass.

Sojourner said...

Jarred - no, I don't screen my comments before they go up, so something else was happening. :) I like to take comments as they are as long as people aren't bashing anybody. The only thing I will delete are ads. I dislike those.

Good replies! Thank you for your opinions.

Anybody else want to say what they think?

Andy said...

The Celts really only had three elements: earth, air and water. They regarded fire as something spiritual, more ephemeral. So if you want to go back to the ways the Gaus, Britons, etc. did it, you need to drop fire.

What matters to you? What symbolism is relevant to your work and practice? What feels appropriate for the circle you are casting? For the Deity you are working with?

That's what truly matters.

Sojourner said...

Good point, Andy.

Thanks for the comment.

Rubicon said...

aye. and that article has it's flaws. Nichols goes on to say that air is masculine therefore represents winter. That may be fine for him. His yin/yang is backwards though. Yin which is the female aspect is downward seeking, dark, cold and the Winter is consider Full Yin, therefore feminine. It also relates to North and the Earth. Of course the opposite is Yang which is upward-seeking, warm and active and corresponds to the south and Full Yang is the Summer Solstice.

I've been thinking a lot about where I would place the elements for our (Trent and I) Othila tradition. Since Chi and the primal forces plays a large role in my belief system I would probably place Earth=North, Fire=South. The problem is Autumn and Spring. I haven't sorted those out yet :(

Rubicon said...

since autumn is yang turning to yin and there for is cooling I would probably make west=water and spring is warming with yin turning to yang so air=east.'s something to think on.