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Elemental and Astrological Magic

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Mar. 20th, 2006 | 12:45 pm
music: Tone Hulbaekmo - Hildring


I really haven't been paying much attention to my LiveJournal, probably 'cause the interface and code still give me the heebie-jeebies. I intend to sort through some of my old essays and posts that appear elsewhere on various *closed* lists and make them available to the public here.

I am going to begin with this essay on the subject of the Four Elements, since it addresses some common errors in the way that the Four Elements are assigned to the Four Directions these days.

Generally speaking, the *Moderns* - Wiccans, Golden Dawn, &tc. employ the following attributions:

East - Air
South - Fire
West - Water
North - Earth

See the wiki entry for 'Wicca', here:


And see this entry for the traditional Golden Dawn assignments:

Magickal Order of the Golden Dawn

"The usual arrangement is Incense for Air in the East, Candle for Fire in the South, Cup of Water for Water in the West, a Platter of Salt for Earth in the North"

I have been a practicing astrologer and astral magician for 35 years, and can vouch for the tenacity of the attributions given above among the various communities I have been acquainted with in Manhattan and elsewhere [ Wicca, OTO, GD, &tc. ].

These attributions have absolutely nothing to do with my practice, which is based on my study of Ptolemaic astrologies and grimoiric literature, and on my own experience, which arises from my work along the Poison Path that admits onto the Sabbat.

Classical astrology arises primarily from the fact of the turning seasons, and not from astronomical concerns - which is why Ptolemy and Aristotle employ Empedocles' Qualities and Elements when discussing astrology to begin with.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, Spring will always be of Air, and Sanguine. Autumn, Melancholic and Earthy. Summer and Winter will be Fiery/Choleric and Watery/Phlegmatic, respectively. And these facts will obtain regardless of where the constellation of Aries gambols off to. Here are the attributions that I employ:


These are the attributions found in Hippocrates, Aristotle, Galen, Avicenna, Al-Biruni, Ficino, Agrippa, &tc... Note that each one of the Four Elements is itself composed of a pair of Qualities:


There is a discussion of the pairs of Qualities in Joe Peterson's online edition of Agrippa, here:

Chap. iii. Of the Four Elements,
their Qualities, and mutuall Mixtions.

"For Fire is hot and dry, the Earth dry and cold, the Water cold and moist, the Aire moist and hot. And so after this manner the Elements, according to two contrary Qualities, are contrary one to the other, as Fire to Water, and Earth to Aire. Moreover, the Elements are upon another account opposite one to the other:

For some are heavy, as Earth and Water, and others are light, as Aire and Fire. Wherefore the Stoicks called the former Passives, but the latter Actives."

Here is a diagram showing the arrangement:

Four Elements and Four Qualities

These Elemental attributions (with their Qualities) were first committed to text by the Stoic Philosophers of Ancient Greece and remained unchanged for over 1500 years as they were employed by the Romans, Arabs, and Europeans of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance until they passed out of popular use in the 1700s.

This particular ordering of the Elements, which assigns the Seasons to the Directions, is based on the 'Rotation of the Elements' - the notion that, as one Season passes to the next, it 'hands off' one Elemental Quality, and 'takes up' another one; for example, Spring leaves off Moisture and becomes Dry on the way to becoming Summer. The model I'm describing has to do with Phases of energy - it is like paper/scissors/stone, or the Pa Kua.

Think about the four seasons, with the 2 solstices and 2 equinoxes, as Stations of the Day. You have the Dusk/Dawn meridian as well as the Midnight/Noon meridian. The Dusk/Dawn meridian corresponds to Fall and Spring, the 'Twilight' times of November Eve and May Eve. And then the Midnight/Noon meridian parallels Winter and Summer. In this model, the year resembles a day, Writ Large.

This page sums it up:

Greek Elements

Among practitioners of Astral Magic, the attribution of the Directions to the Elements is not thought of as referring to Signs or Planets that are in One Forever Fixed Position; instead, the Directions are assigned according to the 'Window Frame' of your local Horizon.

This 'Frame' is composed of the points of Rising, 'Nooning' [ the 'Medium Coeli' / Middle Sky ], the Setting, and the 'Midnighting' below the horizon - what folks sometimes think of as a point beneath their feet. This 'Window Frame' is what astrologers refer to as the 'Houses'. Since the Houses are based on the local Horizon, the Houses provide the Fixed reference system for observing the Travellers as they move
from Sign to Sign.

One of the reasons that a 'magic circle' comes in so handy, is that it provides for the possibility of marking planetary & stellar positions along the rising/setting arc stretching from East to West as you face South in the Northern Hemisphere.

Of course, you could likewise face in a Northerly direction to 'observe' Planets and Stars located Below the horizon, but Generally one observes Planets at rising, setting, and at the Midheaven - a Planets 'Noon'. That 'Noon' is called it's 'Culmination', when it is as high in the sky as it's likely to get on any particular day.

The Elements turn up in Greek Philosophy as Types of Energy at least as often as they do as 'Elements' in the sense of Types of Atoms. And, as Types of Energy, we're concerned with what they DO - with Function, and with Energetics. If anything, this Elemental stuff is more like a pre-scientific pseudo-physical proto-typical Wave Theory than an Atomic Theory. Polarities suggest a Field, and involve wave-motion through a continuum. That's what al-Kindi was up to, with his 'De Radiis'. Seismographs, magnetic compasses, and tables of the ocean tides all demonstrate a familiarity with the 'field paradigm'. Oscillations of heat and moisture, of light and motion, wind and stone, dispersion and aggregation - these are part of the 'energy language' found in all the varieties of astrology, which 'organizes medicines and diseases according to prime elements, energies and
biological humours' [-David Frawley].

And 'complex position', the idea that some 'thing' is not simply located and bound at a particular point in space, but is distributed among, defined by, and contributes to relationships with every 'thing' else - that a plant or a stone *participates* in events occurring throughout the universe - that's the basis of Astral Magic, of Alchemy, and

Looking through Peirs Vaughan's translation of Robert Ambelain's _Spiritual Alchemy_, we can see that the Martinists, at least, follow the *Traditional* Elemental and Directional assignments I give here, and do not perpetuate the errors of Elemental attribution found in the Golden Dawn:


And, unlike the Golden Dawn, the Martinists can boast of some remarkable astrologers in their ranks, including Papus. I think that Lee Lehman's translation of Papus' _Astrology for Initiates_, 1996, is a must-read for practitioners of Astrological Magic. I also recommend Dorian Greenbaum's _The Four Temperaments_, 2005.

There is a review of Greenbaum's book on the Skyscript site:


And here is a link to some excerpts from the book:


This and other related volumes are available from Astroamerica:


Ambelain's _Spiritual Alchemy_ is also interesting as it examines the Abraham Elim ritual from a Martinist perspective.

I also recommend Earl R. Andersen's _Folk-Taxonomies in Early English_, Rosemont/Associated University Presses, 2003, ISBN 083863916X. Proceeds from colors on through the seasons, geometric shapes, plants, and animals, and confirms the Elemental/ Seasonal/ Directional arrangement that is described in this essay.

See also:

The Hippocratic Corpus


Adam McLean's Alchemy site:


Humoural Pathology

Porta's 'Natural Magick'

Unani Medicine


Four seasons chess

"As its name implies, the game is a competition between four players, each representing one of the seasons. Moreover, each player's colour represents one of the four elements and a humour.

Green represents spring, air, and blood;
Red represents summer, fire, and choler;
Black represents autumn, earth, and melancholy;
White represents winter, water, and phlegm."

Farmer's Chess [four seasons variant]


The History Of Chess


List of the works commissioned by Alfonso X, el Sabio


The Picatrix: Lunar Mansions in Western Astrology




"Heat and moisture are active to generation;
Cold and dryness are passive, in and to each thing;
Fire and air, active by elementation;
Water and earth, passive to generation."

'Of the Division of Chaos'
-Dr. Simon Forman
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Comments {2}

Wentzel Jamnitzer

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from: lhasa7
date: Mar. 21st, 2006 12:24 am (UTC)

Thanks for putting this up.

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(no subject)

from: layo
date: Mar. 21st, 2006 11:17 am (UTC)

This is interesting. I've been following your posts on yahoogroups for a while now, it's nice to see you here as well.

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