Chapter 18- Elemental Origins, The Four Elements- part c
Apart from the alchemists, the other significant medieval magickal reference is the discussion by Agrippa in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy (1533), which is reproduced in Barrett’s The Magus. However it is in the writings of the French occultist Eliphas Levi that the elements really start to gain more noticeable prominence, particularly in works such as his The Magickal Ritual of the Sanctum Regnum (1896), with exorcisms of the four elements and prayers to the elementals of the four elements.
As the Golden Dawn synthesised material from the Qabalah, Levi, alchemy and the classics, it is no surprise that the elements should become a more dominant theme in their ceremonies and teachings. A consequence of this is that the elements also feature in the work of Aleister Crowley. From these two major sources, Wiccan practices continued to emphasise the four elements in the symbolism and ceremonies within the circle. However we should emphasise that the idea of magick circles is a fairly universal concept, as seen in this speech by the Ogala Sioux, Black Elk (1863-1950):
“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the hoop flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The East gave peace and light, the South gave warmth, the West gave rain, and the North with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the power of the World does is done in a circle.”
This clearly shows that the idea of the four directions being attributed to the four elements, within a circle, is not unique to the Western Mystery Tradition. In fact, upon closer examination the attributions given indirectly by Black Elk here correspond quite well with those used in Wicca.
Cold, Strength, Endurance
So even though some modern traditions of Wicca, especially those originating in North America have been criticized for including a number of chants, practices and ideas from the various indigenous first nation tribes, there is a striking similarity which cannot be ignored, though it is highly unlikely that there is any direct link with the development of modern Wicca. This example comes from a Sioux holy man, but the idea of the four directions being important in the indigenous cultures of the first people of the Americas can be found in many different tribes. In an Arapaho legend telling about the ‘Sun Dance Wheel’ we find the tale of why eagle feathers are used on the cardinal points of the wheel and how they represent the four old men of the four directions, an idea, when you think about it, which is not too far from what the Kings of the Elements may be seen to represent!
The four elements were not significant in the grimoires, and became significant in Victorian ceremonial magick through the influence of writers like Eliphas Levi. Thus the origins of the use of the four elements in Wicca are probably fairly recent, dating back to the influence of perhaps the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or Levi.
Extract from: Wicca: Magical Beginnings written by d’Este & Rankine, 2008 (Avalonia.) PB / Kindle @ https://amzn.to/3Ay4HJr. Shared here with the intention to inspire and inform the now and future generations interested in Wicca and other Pagan traditions inspired by it.