Despite the title, this blog is not about the wonderful Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to heaven”. I have actually been thinking about the links of the four main elements to the four main Cardinal compass points. Generally in UK Paganism we associate Air with the East, Fire with the South, Water with the West and Earth with the North. But why is this?
Many people will say it is done that way because that is the way they were taught or its the way its always been done. That is fine, after all, part of the definition of ritual is “actions carried out in a prescribed order”. But Is there any actual link between the directions and the elements?
I personally like the idea of Starting in the East, the place of the dawn and working sunwise around the circle following the stations of the Sun. The Sun is an important part of Druidry. I sometimes think we don’t make enough of the Moon, in Druidry, but that is a topic for another blog. However, If we were to start in the East and call to the element of Earth first rather than Air, would this mess things up?
My wife, Rebekah, tends to only call on the energies of the elements during ritual and does not link them to the four directions at all. In doing this, the power and energies of the elements are not diminished in any way. So I wonder is their any correlation between the energies of the four directions and the four elements?
To try and answer this for myself, I set myself a task. I am fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on your view of early mornings) to get up for work just after the Sunrise. So I looked to the East and spent a few moments contemplating the energies at this time of day. At about Midday, Sunset and nightime I again looked to the East and repeated the exercise. Over the next few days I did the same with the other three directions.
What did I discover ? A deep and transcendental link between the energies of each direction and the energies of their associated element? Well No, nothing like that really. Here are brief notes from this exercise.
East – In the morning there was a very strong feeling of beginnings, not suprising really since I was looking at the rising sun and the start of a new day. However at Noon, Sunset or in the evening, no such feelings stirred when I looked to the East. It was peaceful, calm and felt like a good thing to do. But this was perhaps more to do with the fact that I was stopping my busy day for a few moments of quiet contemplation.
South – At Sunrise, I as not facing the sun and so the feelings of a new beginning were much more muted. However At Noon when I looked to the South I was looking into the Sun directly. ( I was fortunate enough to pick a few good clear bright days when I undertook this exercise) You could argue that this was the “fire” of the south, but their was just as much awe and passion for me in the Sun at sunrise and sunset. Looking to the south at sunset or during the evening, again did not stir up any feelings that I would exclusively link to the energies of the element of Fire.
West – It was the same with the West, the only time stronger feelings were induced, was when I looked to the West at sunset. The orange sky on fire and the dying of the light as the the sun bid its goodbye to us until the dawn. I did not get an association with the element of water.
North – So the poor old North. No Sun to see at Sunrise , my back to it at noon and no clear view of it at sunset. Standing towards the North at night, I was aware of a slight breeze blowing from that direction, more so than at this time when I looked to the other directions. So more an affinity with air at this time than the Earth? But perhaps at anther time of year we would get Easterly or Southern winds. I was not more aware of the Earth standing in the North at night than I was when I faced the other directions.
So What do I conclude from this? Do I conclude that the cardinal directions are unimportant? Well no not entirely. I did not feel a stronger affinity with any of the elements when I faced the associated direction. But I did feel a wonderful affinity with this land and this place. This was I think because I took time to step out of my usual schedule for the day, and spent some time to just think and feel what was around me. The directions have an energy of their own, but I don’t personally see them as connected irrevocably to one element or another.
Will I stop calling Air from the East, Fire from the South etc Yes quite possibly when I am on my own. But I will not cringe or be derisive at a ritual when others do. As I said above, part of ritual means doing things in the same way and calling the quarters in this way is the norm and works for many. If you are going to go round the circle to call the quarters , starting in the East and following the path of the Sun definitely works for me. But If I am ever in a ritual and people don’t mention the directions, or start in the East and call Fire as opposed to Air, I shan’t be loosing my mind over it.
It would be interesting to hear from others what they think about the association of the directions with the elements and why we call them in this way.
.. but for the moment, I return where I came in..
“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow
Don’t be alarmed now
It’s just a spring clean for the May queen
Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on
And it makes me wonder …”