Eclectic Elementals: The Magic & Spirituality of the Elements

This is not a specifically named, established path like Asatru, Kabbalah, Hermeticism, Kemeticism, Wicca or Santeria. Yet the Elemental Path can be adapted to any traditional, reconstructionist or modern practice, and the Elements are indeed present and utilized in all traditions. It can also be, as it is for me, its own completely original, self-contained and self-defined path. It is the path of peeking behind all the named and well-presented curtains; of getting to the heart of All and of connecting to and honoring the mystical, essential building blocks of everything in existence, from the planet to our souls. No matter where your belief ultimately leads you or how you define it, the Elements are a part of it and, if nothing else, a great place to start.

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Meredith Everwhite

Meredith Everwhite

Meredith is an amateur writer, Tarot/oracle reader, and a semi-agnostic, pan/metatheistic, Pagan mage & mystic. Her elemental affinity has led her to become a devoted water priestess and the creator of the website/blog The Oracle of Water where she shares and writes about all things aqueous in the worlds of metaphysics, spirituality, mythology and occultism. Currently pursuing her certification in Michelle Hanson’s seashell-based “Ocean Oracle”, she is also working to develop an original water-themed divination system. She currently lives in North Carolina with her spritely feline familiar, Naia.  
Everyday Elements Part 2: Healing and Learning

Welcome to Part 2 of Everyday Elements, which hopefully can help you find the magic of the elements in the “mundane” of everyday life and the tasks that rule our existence. Last week I shared ideas and information on Cooking and Cleaning, and their inherent energies of Fire and Water, respectively. Now we move on to Healing and Learning, which are influenced and driven by Earth and Air.

If you didn't catch Part 1, get caught up here.

Especially when we live in busy, bright, crowded cities and have packed schedules, it can get hard to maintain a strong connection to our spirituality, our magical practices, and to nature and the elements. But practicing awareness and gratitude and finding simple ways to incorporate the elements and their powers into things we do every day can ground us, raise our vibrations and enhance our spiritual/magical practices.



Healing – Earth

Everything in nature is self-regenerating and that includes our bodies. This ability to heal and regenerate extends beyond the physical, and allows us to heal emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Our bodies are the sacred, physical vehicles for our souls and every part of our being, and it is well known now that our body tells us not only the state of our physical health, but manifests the condition of our mental and emotional health. Yet it is circular, as taking proper care of our body and staying connected to Earth can also increase our mental, emotional and even spiritual well-being.

Nature contains everything we need to take care of and heal ourselves on every level; herbs, crystals, vitamins, minerals, flowers, spices, foods, and even sunlight and the beauty of natural environments all have nourishing and healing properties.

When I was a child growing up in south Florida, we had a handful of large aloe vera plants growing in our back yard. I spent a lot of time playing outside and, like any active child, I often cut and scraped myself. I didn’t run inside, crying and expecting one of my parents to put Neosporin and a Band-Aid on me. I simply went to the back porch, broke off the end of a thick, fleshy leaf, squeezed the cool gel onto my scratch or road burn and went back to playing!

Most of us probably don’t spend as much time outside as we did when we were children, and this is a great shame. Nature is a healer, plain and simple. Especially when I am at my most anxious, despondent, depressed and restless, I escape outside for a meditative walk and I breathe deeply, tune into the breeze, the singing birds and the abundance of beautiful trees in my area. Without fail, I always feel much better during and after such walks. Sometimes I don’t want to go back inside, even if it’s raining. That’s why I have a rain shell!

I often get my best writing ideas while walking, as the elements surround me and speak directly to me. They help me ground, relax, and not only sort out thoughts and ideas I already have, but make me more receptive to new and better ideas and inspiration.

You are probably familiar with the practice of “earthing”, which consists of simply walking or standing directly on earth in your bare feet, or laying down on the ground or on a boulder. If you’ve heard of it but haven’t really done it, do it! If you do it, do it more! It is one of the simplest things we can do to ground and connect but it is also one of the most powerful and healing methods as it puts us in direct contact with our Earth Mother. Think of it as a new baby being laid upon her mother’s breast to hear and feel her heartbeat, to rise and fall and synchronize with her calming breath and to relax upon her strong, warm support. This is what we do when we practice earthing.

Sometimes we don’t realize how separate from the Earth we often live in our day-to-day lives. Most of us, on average, probably spend much more time in our houses, then driving in cars, then in the building where we work than we do being truly in and with Nature. After a while of being deprived of a proper connection to Earth, we become more tired, more irritable, less focused and certainly less grounded.

We also often take for granted all those things that nourish and heal us all the time – herbs, flowers, vitamins, crystals, all the supplements we take, and of course even the food we eat. All the best and most natural food is healing and this ties in great with the Cooking/Fire element. When you’re sick with a cold and you brew a cup of ginger tea, you’re being healed not only by Earth but by Fire and of course Water! But all the ingredients come from the Earth herself. Even when you pop an aspirin for a headache you are enjoying the blessings of the Willow tree (Salix), the source of the active metabolite in aspirin – salicylic acid.

Try to rely on as many natural healing methods and ingredients as you can. For millennia our ancestors managed just great, probably better in a lot of instances, without extra-strength Tylenol, Neosporin, Ny-Quil, and all manner of convenient, plastic-packaged “medicines”, most of which simply mask and numb symptoms and pain rather than offer any real healing. My cold medicine is vampire-hunter-level garlic in every meal, lots of ginger tea and rose hip tea (rose hips have lots of vitamin C) and constant self-pampering bed rest. I credit the garlic alone as the reason why I get over colds now at least twice as fast as I used to when all I took was the typical pharmacy stuff.

Consider putting together an “Earth-aid kit” consisting of essential oils (lavender and peppermint are great starters that help heal anxiety and headaches, two very common ailments), Bach’s flower remedies, aloe gel, ginger tea bags or ginger chews, capsules of skullcap and/or willow bark, your favorite grounding and healing crystals, natural bath salts, and even a CD of nature sounds if you aren’t able to get outside for a walk or earthing. I can’t live without my Lifescapes “Garden Rain” CD!



Learning – Air

When I was in elementary and middle school, I loved the zany Wayside School books by Louis Sachar. I think it was in the second book, “Wayside School is Falling Down”, where we learn that the teacher Mrs. Jewls tries to teach her class three new things every day, her reasoning being that if they learn three things each day, they will eventually learn everything there is to know.

This is obviously an absurdly over-optimistic approach, especially to creating a curriculum for grade school students, but the goal of trying to learn something new every day is worth implementing! Especially into adulthood and even after all formal education, there is an infinite amount to still be learned and discovered. Even if we don’t go through our daily life with the intention to learn specific new things, we are almost always guaranteed to learn something, even if it is as simple and temporary as our usual route to work being suddenly altered by construction detours.

Air is the element traditionally associated with the mind; with thought, intellect, knowledge, speech and communication. We are constantly surrounded by air just as we are constantly surrounded by knowledge and potential knowledge. Just as we rely on air to breathe lest we rapidly suffocate and die, we need knowledge and learning or we figuratively suffocate and stagnate, and even potentially still literally die.

We rely on certain knowledge to survive as much as we rely on air. If we don’t have enough oxygen at birth, or indeed if at any point in life we experience a sustained deprivation of oxygen, our brains are damaged as is our capacity to learn, reason, speak and even control and coordinate our entire bodies.

Sometimes we learn something, or think we learn something, that is not accurate or complete, or that may eventually become inaccurate, dated and need to be replaced with new knowledge. This is not unlike the constant cycle of the breath – inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. If we always take every single thing we learn or are taught by others at face value and never question it, confirm it or replace/supplement it with new, expanded and/or updated knowledge, we may as well hold our breath or keep breathing only carbon dioxide, remaining stale and unrefreshed. The learning becomes useless, just as breathing would.

A version of a popular quote that may or may not be entirely correctly attributed to Einstein, though poignant nonetheless, states that “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”. So as air and our breath are essential to our existence, so too is our constant pursuit of both knowledge and truth and the constant desire to develop, improve and expand what we know.

Mindful breathing and various consciousness-altering breathing exercises, such as pranayama, are now well known both within and without Pagan and “new age” circles and practices. Among many other benefits and effects, awareness and control of the breath have been proven to have calming effects and to prepare the mind for concentration and meditation. This is probably the best illustration of and support for the traditional association of the Air element with the mind; they are directly connected.

So it not only greatly benefits us to try to consciously learn at least one new, helpful and interesting thing every day, but also to try to develop a regular mindful breathing practice. This isn’t hard to do if you already have a meditation practice that probably already incorporates pranayama or any mindful breathing exercise.

Particularly before you do any reading, studying, attend a class or important work meeting or before you set off on your daily adventure to learn one new thing (or Mrs. Jewls’ recommended three), try spending just a few minutes to focus on, slow and control your breath and to cultivate a heightened feeling of both awareness and gratitude for the ubiquitous invisible element that directly affects and refreshes your mind and keeps you alive.

So remember to look for the Elements in all you do every day because chances are, no matter what, they are there in some form or another and they all make everything possible. Recite to yourself this popular, simple yet profound chant now and then to remind yourself of the magic that composes your entire being and the world around you...

Earth my body
Water my blood
Air my breath
and Fire my spirit


© 2019 Meredith Everwhite - All Rights Reserved
(except for elemental chant, author unknown according to the Pagan Chant Library at www.earthspirit.com)

Image credit: Hygieia, detail from "Medicine" by Gustav Klimt

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Everyday Elements Part 1: Cooking & Cleaning

Even in the busiest, most crowded, modern, neon-lit metropolitan areas, we come into close contact with the elements countless times a day. Even – or, especially – with all our technology we truly cannot live without them!

I’m often reminded of a line from one of my favorite songs by Lady Isadora, a witch, priestess and talented singer/songwriter who pioneered the Pagan musical genre in the early 1980s. It is from her song “Witch” – “I call myself a witch because I’m not afraid to tell that the magic is in life itself, not just in some ancient book or secret spell”.

Indeed it is! Magic is everywhere at all times and it is manifested through the elements in more ways than we sometimes realize. Even the most devoted Pagan or witch can struggle to maintain their ideal practice in this demanding, fast-paced age. However, much comes down to perspective and a slight shift in our approach to “mundane” tasks can go a long way toward helping us maintain a wonderful connection to nature and to enhance our magic.

There are four things that, for the most part, we all do on a regular basis, and they each correspond nicely to the four elements: cooking, cleaning, healing and learning – fire, water, earth and air, respectively. Simple awareness and gratitude for the elements and all they allow us to accomplish in our daily lives can help create all manner of easy yet effective rituals, grounding states of mind and to raise our vibrations.


Cooking – Fire

Even if you don’t manage anything more complex than microwaving a Stouffer’s entrée or brewing a pot of coffee, not much cooking can be accomplished without fire in some form or another. A pot of boiling water on a ceramic cooktop can easily conjure images and the energy of an old bubbling cauldron suspended over an open flame in a hearth, and be just as magical.

Obviously real cooking – that is, from scratch or close to it, and going through steps to peel, chop, sauté, flambé, marinate and macerate different fresh ingredients – is not only always more likely to be much more healthy, but it is a wonderful way to connect to ancestors and can be very meditative and easily ritualized.

There are so many wonderful books about kitchen witchery that teach about spells that can be incorporated into cooking, include magical and unique recipes specifically designed for sabbats, and give ideas for turning your whole kitchen into a shrine/altar to nourishment, magic and, of course, fire!

One of my favorite such books, at least that I actually own, is “The Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook” by Patricia Telesco. While I am not Wiccan, I find Scott Cunningham’s “Wicca in the Kitchen” to be a wonderful reference for the general energies and associations of most herbs, fruits, vegetables and several other ingredients. I feel it could have easily (and perhaps more accurately) been entitled simply “Witchcraft in the Kitchen”, but that’s just my opinion based on the content of the book which doesn’t seem to reflect the specificity of just Wicca.

Another favorite is “A Sorcerer’s Cookbook”, by Brigitte Bulard-Cordeau. It is not exactly geared toward the kind of magic and ritual that specifically pagan kitchen witchery books are, but it is visually stunning, filled with very unique and interesting recipes and still has lots of fun and enlightening information about folklore, history and magical uses associated with the ingredients and recipes.

Fire is the great transformer of the elements, and its use in cooking and preparing the food that we ingest can also transform us, our health and energy. No matter what we make or how, it all begins with fire.

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Elemental Initiation

It is a safe assumption that every Pagan, particularly any practitioner of magic, is familiar with the Elements and the role of each in life and in magic.

What is less certain is the extent to which they are truly understood, the relationship each Pagan or mage has with them, and the ability to work with them in one’s spirituality or magical practice. Even less certain still is the humility and respect they are given. It seems easy for many to think of the Elements and “elemental magic” as accessories, mere branches of magical theory or of natural spirituality. Yet they are the roots, the trunk, every branch, every bud, leaf and blossom.

It is a continual, endless endeavor to learn of the elements. No one has ever “graduated” from elemental studies or magic as though it is as simple as reading those few, late-coming chapters in certain books and grimoires as I addressed in my earlier post “Back to Basics: All Magic is Elemental”.

If you really want to understand the elements, if you really want to base a deep, effective magical practice and/or spirituality upon them, you need to be initiated into their energies.

Many Pagans and witches undergo formal initiations into certain traditions, covens and paths. Yet how many of us pledge ourselves, not to any specific group or anthropomorphic deity styled and defined by others, but simply to Nature herself, to the Elements, and become devotees of that visible and invisible world that resides behind, under and throughout all existence?

Even if you are of a more solitary “wild witch” bent, and you have indeed initiated yourself as a witch, steward and priest/priestess of Nature, have you undergone any elemental ordeals to strengthen your connection to them and your ability to use them in magic? What are such ordeals, you say? Well…read on, dear one.

In “Doctrine and Ritual of Transcendental Magic”, the famed French occultist and magician Eliphas Levi informs us that,

“To govern elementary spirits and thus become king of the occult elements, we must first have undergone the four ordeals of ancient initiations; and seeing that such initiations exist no longer, we must have substituted analogous experiences, such as exposing ourselves boldly in a fire, crossing an abyss by means of the trunk of a tree or a plank, scaling a perpendicular mountain during a storm, swimming through a dangerous whirlpool or cataract. A man who is timid in the water will never reign over the Undines; one who is afraid of fire will never command Salamanders; so long as we are liable to giddiness we must leave the Sylphs in peace and forbear from irritating Gnomes; for inferior spirits will only obey a power which has overcome them in their own element. When this incontestable faculty has been acquired by exercise and daring, the word of our will must be imposed on the elements by special consecrations of air, fire, water and earth."

It is my opinion that certain beliefs and teachings such as these are perhaps, in ways, more valuable to the scholar and historian of the occult as curios on a shelf in an antique shop of magical and philosophical ideals. Yet many of them can still be of great benefit to the modern practitioner and student who can see the abstract lessons and inspirations between the lines of the grandiose notions and practices of high magicians of earlier centuries.

I hold this belief mostly due to the prior belief that it is not for us to “govern” the elements. We need not attempt to “reign over the Undines”, but to adapt to their fluidity, to learn empathy from them and how to benefit from their powers when we welcome them to a ritual or ask for their aid in a spell. I would simply adjust what Levi claims and say that one who is timid in water will be less able to understand or call upon the assistance of Undines and similar beings.

One who is (irrationally) afraid of fire will also not be able to form a close relationship with Salamanders and other fire elementals, or to effectively use such energy in rituals and spells. However, it is again folly to try to “command Salamanders”, but better to humble ourselves before the majesty of fire and to never forget how quickly it goes from a pleasant, single candle flame to a raging destroyer.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Paracelsus-salamander.jpg

For, as Manly P. Hall very wisely points out in one of my favorite references, “The Secret Teachings of All Ages”,

Man, incapable of controlling his own appetites, is not equal to the task of governing the fiery and tempestuous elemental spirits.

I could not have said it better myself. This is an age of excess, of indulgence and shallow, immediate gratifications; of technology, of countless insidious influences, energies, temptations and of more, more, more of absolutely everything. Including misconceptions and downright falsehoods.

Therefore, it behooves us even more than arrogant men of the 19th century to consider that we are lesser to the Elements and elemental beings in many ways, and that they are not “inferior spirits” at all, as Levi says. We must also understand that we have great ability and therefore responsibility with them. They answer to our very thoughts and they are attracted by our every motion and will. Yet they in turn can also influence and control us if we allow them to, with either positive or negative results. Elementals have even been known to pose as other beings and spirits.

That being said, this is still a wonderful concept and potential practice or tool for learning and enhancing magic. What then is the purpose or benefit of these “elemental ordeals?” Rather than overcoming the elements in their own domains to be able to govern or dominate them, we should do so in order to understand them better, be awed and humbled by them, and to form relationships with them that will enrich our magic, our spirituality and our very lives.

It is likely that over the course of your life you have already undergone what can easily be viewed as at least some degree of an elemental ordeal. Have you escaped a burning building or even extinguished one? Firefighters obviously experience ordeals of Fire all the time. Have you scaled a mountain or hiked up an active volcano? Many extreme outdoorsmen/women have endured a variety of ordeals of Earth and Water, possibly of all the Elements. Have you experienced a strong earthquake? Have you ever gone skydiving, hang gliding or on a long-distance swim?

I personally have experienced multiple ordeals of Water, primarily and unsurprisingly, given my personal elemental affinity, and also of a combination of Water, Air and Fire: a category 5 hurricane. I detail that experience and my resulting love for hurricanes and their power and purpose on my blog, The Oracle of Water, in two parts – “Cataracts and Hurricanoes”

While there is much to be said for elemental ordeals that come to us naturally and unexpectedly, there is also great power, if not greater, in consciously choosing to undergo such ordeals and even ritualizing them.

I can’t give a more earnest, cautionary disclaimer here though: please don’t suddenly attempt to walk across hot coals or jump out of a boat in a raging sea or do any such thing you are unprepared for. There is a reasonable way to go about things and a terribly stupid way. Yet these are indeed ordeals for a reason – where Nature and the Elements are involved, there is always going to be an inherent degree of risk and possible danger.

Fortunately there are many different types and levels of the experiences and ordeals that can still thoroughly enhance your understanding of and connection to the Elements. For example, especially if you’ve never done it before, something like going camping and sleeping under the stars near a (well-contained and easily extinguished) fire you built yourself is a great start.

We are privileged to have the Elements and elemental spirits come to our aid in all manner of spiritual practice and magical workings, but we do not necessarily have a right to them. At least not if we are going to try to “command” them and therefore open ourselves up to either abuse them or be controlled by them ourselves. Honor them, and they will be there for you and they will teach you. They are always there, and they usually teach us regardless of whether we like it, want it, or are even aware of it. Yet all the better if we can ever have it on our own terms!



© 2019 Meredith Everwhite - All Rights Reserved

Featured image: The North Wind Went Over the Sea from East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Kay Nielsen

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Elemental Poetry: Fire in the Sea

 

 Do you think there is no fire in the sea?
I tell you fire and water are fierce lovers, together in me.
There are boiling cauldrons in the deep, the scalding seeps
that burn eternally in the benthic darkness, the crushing deep.

No mermaid is but a singing lily-child, fluid and meek;
The flowing and trickling of water might seem to you soft and weak,
but she will flood you, drown you, break you upon the rocks.
The fire flares in her heart, her soul, and sings to the man that mocks
and she will take him down to the lockers, the soul cages, the very end.

None can withstand the gaze that burns through the heart,
that sees the truth, the lies, the hidden wiles and denials
for all is connected and rippling together, nothing is truly apart.
We move in the moving element, far faster it carries the sound
and we See what they cannot, even when no light can be found.

The light is within, the fire burns bright and smolders low
and the liquid particles dance and frenzy faster than you can see
as the breath of the sacred dragon bubbles and boils the sea.
Above or Below, fire high or low, ever it burns, ever it glows.
I tell you, dear one, there is fire in the sea,
I tell you the blood and the passion of the primal one
ever flow and burn, ever they know and yearn
They are deep and bright in me.



© 2018 Meredith Everwhite - All Rights Reserved


Featured image: Underwater Volcano by Samuel Enslin, from his upcoming short film "Journey of the Water Bear" www.journeyofthewaterbear.com

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Back to Basics: All Magic is Elemental

“Elemental Magic” is not only a redundant term but, in many resources, it is often written about and distinguished almost as a semi-obscure, very specific branch of magic. Does anyone really work any magic that is not, in some regard or form or another, “elemental”? If the elements comprise all of nature, including our bodies, and if we are constantly surrounded by them, then surely not a single move we make, magical or mundane, is beyond or apart from the elements.

The constant breath that keeps us alive is air magic. The need to continually replenish our bodies’ hydration, which also keeps us alive, is water magic. The light by which we see, the heat with which we cook and warm ourselves and even the combustion which runs our cars is fire magic. The growth and knitting of bones that hold us up and allow us to move is earth magic.

When we learn to see the elemental macro- and microcosm that encompasses, empowers and controls everything, we can understand the true nature and reality of magic. This understanding can only allow us to better harness and manipulate the forces that perhaps we take for granted when we cast a circle and whisper an intention. We even take these things for granted when we run a faucet or flip a light switch.

We are the microcosm. Our bodies magnificently reflect the union and continual dance and interplay of the elements that originate in the macrocosm. We are stardust, after all. Astrology tells us that we are at the mercy of the eternal waltz of the mighty, mysterious spheres Above, which themselves are made of the cosmic elements that descend into our realm Below and translate into the microscopic elements in our watery blood, our earthy bones, our breath, and in the fiery spirit that animates us.


To know the elements is to know magic, and therefore to know ourselves. Yet so many books and resources on magic cover dozens of different topics, methods, beliefs and ideas before they even mention “elemental magic”. This is utterly backward. The elements are the foundation. There is little point in telling people how to find their “patron deity” before even discussing the use of the elements in magic, as in “Inner Magic: A Guide to Witchcraft” by Anne-Marie Gallagher.

In her “Complete Book of Natural Magick”, Cassandra Eason waits three hundred pages before she even addresses “the magic of the elements”, and the word “element”, or any variation thereof, is nowhere to be found in her introductory explanation of “What is Natural Magick?”, despite references to physical nature.  

First of all, frankly, all magic(k) really is natural, whether two-hour ceremonial high magic, or two minutes in the woods with a stick and some saliva. The particles in your blood cells are as natural as the particles in Saturn’s rings, obviously simply existing and functioning on different levels.

And to discuss things like spellcasting and the differences between “white” and “black” magic (found in the first chapter in Eason’s book) long before discussing the elements and their roles in magic is a bit like teaching grade school children quantum theory before basic physics.

Much better resources for understanding the foundations of magic and nature can be found in far older texts by early mages, philosophers and occultists that many modern practitioners have probably never read, such as Paracelsus and Agrippa. In his first of “Three Books of Occult Philosophy”, Agrippa includes an early chapter aptly entitled “On the Virtues of Things Natural, Depending Immediately Upon Elements”.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Celtic-Ornaments-3-GraphicsFairy.jpgAll things natural, magic included, indeed depend immediately on the elements, and therefore the practice begins with them and fully understanding them. He also states that “There are…four Elements, without the perfect knowledge of which we can effect [affect] nothing in Magic.”

To approach the practice of magic in such an odd reversed state, as in so many modern texts, is to guarantee that you are going to misunderstand or altogether miss the very things that you are trying to learn and apply. Of course this leads to misapplication which means, at best, you are affecting nothing.

The Sun has returned and a new cycle has begun. It is truly the new natural year now. This is an ideal time to refresh ourselves, our knowledge, our practices and our understanding. Even the most seasoned practitioner of magic or the most grounded and in tune pagan can always benefit from going back to the beginning and even questioning what they believe and why, and how much they really understand.

There is no plateau. We are never done learning or evolving. If you are in your forties and you still think and believe everything you learned when you were twenty, then you haven’t grown or learned.

Sometimes we all must, as Master Yoda advised Luke, unlearn what we have learned. There is always something new and enlightening to be discovered in what we think we already know, especially the vast, eternal and sometimes ineffable elements, elemental beings and powers.

Find some time in a frosty night or glistening dawn to sit amidst nature and yourself. Let go of names, institutions, redes, dogmas, man-made systems, materialism and indeed all “isms”.

Reflect upon this meditation or a similar prayer, incantation or evocation of your own, and reconnect yourself, your path, your magic to the natural essences of all existence.

How am I like this tree?
How is this soil just like me?
How does water keep me alive?
How does fire help me to thrive?
How is this air the first that I need?
Teach me, Earth mother, your natural creed
.



© 2018 Meredith Everwhite – All Rights Reserved

 

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Elementals and the Ineffable: Gods Not in Our Image

Man created God in his image. Before he (and I do mean he) decided to do that, humans venerated the powers and beings of Nature just as they were. They honored life-altering forces and powers that defied explanation, from the radiant rays of the Sun to the mysterious waters of woman’s womb, and all the delights and dangers of Nature in between.

These Nature spirits were held in the highest esteem, and propitiatory offerings were made to them. Occasionally, as the result of atmospheric conditions or the peculiar sensitiveness of the devotee, they became visible. Many authors wrote concerning them in terms which signify that they had actually beheld these inhabitants of Nature’s finer realms. A number of authorities are of the opinion that many of the gods worshiped by the pagans were elementals, for some of these invisibles were believed to be of commanding stature and magnificent deportment.” - Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages

Earlier humans were in awe of the thunderstorm. They saw all of creation in the glistening surface of the seemingly endless sea that supplied them with food, tools and decor. They listened to the lapping, splashing rivers and the tingling whispers and caresses of the winds. They knew that there was something moving them that moved in everything else, something they could not see, but rarely, that they could yet feel and see the result of.

There was once a greater sense of the ineffable – of that which is unknowable and unspeakable. Now humans are obsessed with themselves and with “knowing” and speaking, labeling, explaining, defining, compartmentalizing, and have been for ages.

They have also become obsessed with something that H.P. Blavatsky called blasphemous: anthropomorphism. She argued that if God is infinite and uncreated, then God is not a being but an incorporeal principle and therefore should not be anthropomorphized.

Despite the obsession with knowledge, humans don’t seem to understand how little they know, how little they are capable of knowing. Yet they have gone to war over what they think they know. Over what they believe.

Though these are impressions I’ve been having for a long time now, it was the recent encouragement I seemed to feel emanating from the fragments of a pre-Socratic philosopher named Xenophanes that got me finally writing this. He poignantly observed over 2,500 years ago that

Mortals suppose that gods are born, wear their own clothes and have a voice and body. Ethiopians say that their gods are snub-nosed and black; Thracians that theirs are blue-eyed and red-haired. But if horses or oxen or lions had hands or could draw with their hands and accomplish such works as men, horses would draw the figures of the gods as similar to horses, and the oxen as similar to oxen, and they would make the bodies of the sort which each of them had.

Xenophanes cautioned against misconceptions of the divine based on human tendencies and flaws, and supported a view of religion based more on rationality than on traditionally held beliefs. Yet he was not an atheist or humanist by any means. His almost mystical views and references to multiple gods, as well as the One God, “neither in form like unto mortals nor in thought”, confirm this.

I assume that most reading this might understand that “the gods” are metaphors and symbolic energies and that they have been (or should only be) anthropomorphized to make them more relatable and to serve as embodiments of certain forces and ideals to which we may aspire to emulate (let me here firmly exclude the contrarily wanton and immoral ancient Greek gods with whom Xenophanes was disgusted) or at least learn from. We have created them. It has become a circle, as our creations influence us and take on energies just as thought forms.

However, clearly many Pagans still heavily and pointedly anthropomorphize, dogmatize, name and strictly define and take the existence, forms and human characteristics of their gods every bit as literally as Christians do.

So many of us have crowed over the blatantly stolen and thinly veiled paganisms displayed in Catholic and other Christian rituals and practices. Yet I see an ironic amount of Christianity play out in many modern pagan writings, practices and attitudes.

It is no secret that most Pagans today have come screaming from Christianity or some offshoot thereof. So, it should be no surprise that many still bring with them much of the same attitude, belief, modes of worship and ritual, methods of “literalizing” and general understandings of deity and apply them to a pagan pantheon established by other mortals long dead, rather than to the decidedly masculine Christian “Trinity”, also established by other mortals long dead. Old habits die hard, after all.

I don’t think we need religion. Yet we don’t need to abandon notorious organized world religions to instead simply leaf through a catalog of alternative, indigenous spiritualities, gods and witchcraft and pick the regional aesthetic and system we like most (or a hodgepodge of several) and slap on the corresponding nametag either. At least not if we’re going to take every single thing as literally as Christians take everything in that old bugaboo, the Bible.

There are so many different names for the same thing. The One Thing, in fact. But also, many other things by which we are surrounded. 

There is a difference between Elementals and the One Thing; the Source; the original incomprehensible Universal Mind that is always becoming and never is. Yet the elements and the beings that inhabit them are a part and manifestation of that One; of what we mere, precious, silly humans, with our human opinions that Heraclitus called “toys for children”, cannot and will not ever begin to know or understand.

For, as my man Xenophanes says,

There never was nor will be a man who has certain knowledge about the gods and about all the things I speak of. Even if he should chance to say the complete truth, yet he himself knows not that it is so. But all may have their fancy.”

Indeed, Xeno. Let us have our fancies and our opinions, so long as we know that that is what they are, and that Zeus, Mithras, Jesus, Morrigan, Loki, Marduk, Amaterasu, Yemaya, Quetzalcoatl and the rest are just names. They are the creations of mortals. As such, they are little more than those names. But at their cores, what they represent and teach us are much, much more. 

The elements became “gods”. The sky above you is a god. The rains and rivers and oceans are gods. The flowers and the ladybugs that adorn them are gods. The mountain peaks and echoing caverns are gods. The trees, the animals, the flash of lightning and the howling winds are gods. All these things were so ages before any human deigned to give them - even the One - his own form and start naming them and saying what is so and what is not. None can say. None can know. We are surrounded by and composed of the magic of the ineffable and what we call God is not in our image.


© 2018 Meredith Everwhite – All Rights Reserved


Featured image: “Epiphany” 1940 by Max Ernst

References:
Insights into the Invisible World of Elemental Forces by H.P. Blavatsky
www.philaletheians.co.uk

The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
www.iep.utm.edu/xenoph/

Xenophanes of Colophon: Selected Fragments
people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/302/302xenof.htm

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite says #
    It only creates an obstacle if it is taken too far or too literally. The Ineffable, by its very definition, obviously cannot be ex
  • Steve
    Steve says #
    Who can explain the ineffable? This seems to be a difficult concept for many to grasp, particularly those Christians you mentioned

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Sound and Silence

The real in us is silent; the acquired is talkative.” – Kahlil Gibran

In my first post here, “An Introduction to Creating an Element-Based Spirituality”, I pointed out that Native American tribes, in addition to the four elements, also include in a fifth element of Sacred Sound. Shortly after I published that, it occurred to me that this was something I might want to verify.

I had remembered reading (or hearing) it some time ago in what I had believed to be a reliable source but now I can’t even remember where I read it or, by extension, just how reliable it may have been. Nor have I even been able to find any references or information online regarding any such specific belief.

Naturally, I know that sound is indeed sacred and powerful in Native American tribes and culture, as is illustrated by its use for healing (among many other spiritual contexts) via flutes and drums. I know that the Thunderbirds are sacred and dwell in the watery quarter of the West. I know that many vocables and wordless chants were also used for multiple purposes.

However, I’m no longer so sure that there actually was believed to be a fifth element of sound, per se, as far as any Native Americans were concerned. This served as a reminder to me of just how much modern, “New Age” and “Neopagan” information and enthusiasm regarding Native American spirituality, while usually well intentioned, is often simply completely erroneous.

I am loath to spread misinformation or fall victim to misappropriation (these days often unfortunately confused with the relatively less harmful and seemingly inevitable term and action of “appropriation”), so unless anyone can comment and maybe enlighten me as to where I may have heard/read this or if it actually has any basis in truth, I will have to clarify that, while a nice idea, it may not be contextually accurate.

That being said, Sound is still a very powerful and sacred force and my search to correct myself led me to reflect on it and realize that maybe it can still be considered a sort of element. On the same token then, so too is Silence.

Many creation stories have to do with sound, a word or words being used to create realms and life. Or to destroy them. In the Finnish epic poem, Kalevala, the main hero is called a wizard and a minstrel, and his famous singing of legendary songs leads a young rival from the North to challenge him to a fantastic, mountain-crumbling, ocean-heaving duel of magical songs and chants that have power of their own.

Sound is vibration, more technically defined as pressure change, particle displacement, and simply the changing motion of molecules through matter. So, sound has the power to influence or create, but sound itself is the result of something else that already exists and that is moving and vibrating, thus putting out compression waves. Creating sound is a great power. In all our different practices we all know about names, words of power, of sacred songs, chants, mantras, etc.

We also know, at least on some level, that even all of our everyday words have power. Yet this seems to be something easily forgotten, particularly in an age where communication is made faster and easier all the time, yet ironically leads to more communications breakdowns and misunderstandings. “Raise your vibrations” is first accomplished by raising your standards of both behavior and speech, both of which put out and define your vibe.

How often do even the most intuitive, learned and “enlightened” of us still say things we don’t mean, things that hurt others, or that attract energy we’d rather not want? Probably far more than a lot of us realize. Perhaps you’ve known someone who simply loves to hear the sound of their own voice, someone who will carry on and on talking about everything they (think they) know, everything this god told them or that they read in that book or this UPG or that thing that so-and-so claims that is actually bullshit, so on and so forth? Or have you simply had your heart broken or your world turned upside-down by hateful or false words?

Well, ‘tis the season to be silent. Literally. We’re coming into Winter now, a time when life slows down (in theory, natural life anyway), much life even ceases, blankets of snow muffle the Earth and fluid, babbling water freezes up into her solid, silent form.




Water is a very relevant element this time of year. It is the only element – pretty much the only thing – that exists in three different states: solid, liquid and gaseous. What if we would truly “be like water”? What if we allowed ourselves to shift and adapt more naturally, to really mirror the energy of the season, to know when to flow and when to freeze? When to speak and when to be silent? There is such power in sound and speech, and there is just as much power in silence; in knowing when not to speak or make sound.

When was the last time you sat in complete silence for an extended period of time? I realize I might be putting the question to the wrong crowd, albeit rhetorical, assuming that many of you do indeed meditate in silence regularly, or otherwise spend significant time not talking, not typing away texts or emails, not blaring music or a show in the background. However, I think we could always use even more silence.

This is an overstimulating age in which so many people are competing to be heard, in which we often can’t go to any social setting and have conversations without everyone talking over and interrupting each other. There is still a general desire, even expectation, to fill everything up with sound, noise, talk, busy-ness, distractions. Much of this gives many people, or is the result of, an inflated sense of self-importance. Mankind in general has a terribly grandiose sense of self-importance and feels like it just needs to make noise because it can, like an infant shrieking while discovering its own voice.

Winter humbles us. Winter silences us. Winter wants us to go inward, to reflect, to think, to really know ourselves long before we start opening our mouths and letting all kinds of energy and noise spill forth. We need to learn our truths instead of trying to tell others what theirs are or should be, in any way. We need to know how little we know, and understand that even what we do know doesn’t have to be shouted out all the time. We need to enjoy the sound of silence.


After all, as Maurice Switzer put it, "It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool than to talk and remove all doubt of it."


Featured image: The Hermit (detail, enhanced) by Pamela Colman-Smith
"Seasons - Winter" by Erté

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