A while back I wrote about some different elemental correspondences for the four directions. Long story short, there are different systems of corresponding the elements to the four directions, with two primary methods: Agrippa’s method (Fire/East, Earth/South, Air/West, Water/North) and the Golden Dawn method (Air/East, Fire/South, Water/West, Earth/North). However, in a recent post Aaron Leitch discusses some of the biblical origins of the Golden Dawn system while exploring other methods of correspondence, and in a reply post Alex Sumner discusses why the Golden Dawn correspondences are the way they are. It’s all pretty interesting to read, so I suggest you do so.
Alex Sumner brings up a good point: should you change the correspondences of the elements to suit your working and placement in the world? To quote,
In my opinion, there can only be one answer – a categoric NO. And I say so for the following reasons:
A Golden Dawn temple physically located in England or America, is not operating in England or America;
A Golden Dawn temple in (e.g.) Australia, is not operating in Australia.
Both of them, despite being on opposite sides of the world, are actually operating in one and the same place. The magical inner-workings of the Golden Dawn ceremonies take the Temple, and astrally transport it through Time and Space and across dimensions – to the Hall of the Duat, in the Egyptian otherworld.
What he says makes sense, and points to something I’ve brought up in the past: if you’re working within a set tradition, don’t change stuff to suit your needs. If a text, grimoire, ritual, or teacher says to use a particular method, don’t change what they say to do until you’ve tried it first and, even then, only if you have an actual need to once you understand why it is the way it is. For the Golden Dawn system of magic, the physical location of the Temple (and thus the place where the elemental correspondences come into play the most) doesn’t matter, but the astral/spiritual location of the work, which takes place Elsewhere. That said, if you’re not working in that kind of framework, it may be better to experiment and change things before trying them out. It honestly depends. For instance, for an upcoming project (if ever I stop putting if off) where I plan to work with Wraeththu magic and mythos, the standard Golden Dawn/neopagan system of elements is used, but the system is also very personalized and dependent upon personal exploration. In that case, changing the directions of the elements may not be such a bad thing, and may help in my case to tie it into my other overall magic work.
So, with all that in mind and with a slew of elemental correspondences to pick from, which one should you use? As in all else with magic, it depends.
- If you’re working in any kind of tradition that has already set its own rules (traditional Wicca, Golden Dawn, etc.), use the correspondences already set down in stone. This way, you’re tapping into the current of that tradition, which links you to the overall power and history of that tradition, giving your rituals a stronger boost based on the power already built in that. Unless you want to experiment within the bounds of that tradition, you’re breaking away from it, which deprives you of the force already built up into it.
- If you’re working in a tradition that is place-independent and takes place in another dimension, much like the Golden Dawn where the physical location of the Temple is meaningless since the work in the Temple takes place in the Hall of the Duat in the Egyptian otherworld, then use the correspondences of that astral/otherworldly place. Since the correspondences of that otherworldly place take precedence, using a physical set of correspondences is meaningless.
- If you’re working in a solitary earth-based or nature-primary tradition, you might be best off using the elemental correspondences that best reflect the place where you’re currently working. This helps plug you into the natural flow of the powers that be where you currently are, and helps sync you to the place where you are, respecting the land and nature you’re actually working with. The standard Golden Dawn system is fine for Wicca in its original land of Great Britain, but other systems may work better should one works on the east coast of the US (e.g. Water/East, Fire/South, Earth/West, Air/North) or in the Southern Hemisphere (e.g. Air/East, Earth/South, Water/West, Fire/North).
- If you’re working in a tradition that is celestially-based or star-primary, I’d suggest using Agrippa’s correspondences that use the elemental associations of the zodiac signs. This implies that the elements come from the planets, which is pretty standard Hermetic doctrine, and helps link your work down here in this worldly sphere with the rest of the spheres of the cosmos, tying your elemental work into that of the planets directly.
For myself, I use that last method, since as a Hermetic magician, my primary work is with the planets and the stars, which form the basis for the elements down here on Earth. By working with the powers of the cosmos, I can influence how these powers manifest down here, and by using the correspondence of the elements to the directions based on the zodiac, this gives me the easiest opportunity to make the transition from Up There to Down Here as smooth as possible. However, even this might change depending on the situation; if I were doing something specifically with the spirits of the elements and the land down here limited strictly and solely to down here, I’d find out how the elements locationally and temporally work around me and use the natural power of the place of the working, buffed out with my own celestial correspondences. Then again, if I were to tap into a more Golden Dawn type of current or if I were involved in setting up a Golden Dawn ritual by the book, I would use the Golden Dawn method because that’s what works for that specific ritual.
In a way, rules in magic are helpful, but only up to a point, and only up to their own usefulness. Sticking to one rule at the permanent exclusion of all else can very easily deprive you of working methods or ideas to help buff out your work. As anyone familiar with Saturnine work knows, walls can bind and block, but walls can also be knocked down and rebuilt. Tradition, focus, scope, and need should all be taken into consideration when setting up a ritual or cosmological framework, and the combination of all of them may not be constant depending on the situation.