First, let’s address one of the things that many people are confused about when they first start to really explore and, quite honestly think about what they are doing and saying; the Watchtowers. Many people begin working with the a circle casting using the “I call the Watchtower of the North” method but not knowing what the Watchtowers are (and I think that after our discussion about the power of words in ritual and magick from the other day should make it no surprise about how I personally feel about this issue).
The Watchtowers serve as guardians in ritual. The use of Watchtowers is not new and is something that is believed to be one of the many things Gardner “borrowed” from the Golden Dawn while creating his ritual methods, but the Watchtowers go back farther than the Golden Dawn as well. The Watchtowers were used by John Dee and Edward Kelly during the 16th century in the Enochian magickal system which they were working to develop from visions and encounters with angelic beings, a system that would later be solidified by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers (S.L. MacGregor Mathers). The system that Dee and Kelly worked with was an elaborate one that utilized The Angelic Table, an alphabet grid that broke down into subdivision including the four elements and four directions. Through this grid and it’s system of use the names of specific angels to be placed at the four directions were reveled.
While Dee and Kelly used angels to call at the four quarter/directions for aid and protection Mathers, through his work with the Golden Dawn, would rework and develop the Watchtowers to replace the angels used in the Enochian system, associating each one with a direction and an element. This is the same system commonly used in Wicca now (North/Earth, East/Air, South/Fire, West/Water). The colors that we associate with these quarters in our rituals also originate from work that was done with the Golden Dawn system. The colors were supposed to be able to draw energy from the atmosphere around them so colored tablets known as “flashing tablets” would be placed on the walls in the corresponding direction in the temple during rituals. The colors are similar to what we often work with today with Earth being the only exception (Earth/black, Air/yellow, Fire/red, Water/blue).
Today some see the Watchtowers as being actual astral towers, sort of like lighthouses which radiate with the colors and essences of that quarters element, there to guard the ritual space and to regulate the actual elemental energy called in. The Watchtowers do not replace any other elemental being that would be called in. Some people have the mistaken notion that if you call the Watchtowers you can’t call on other astral beings like angels, dragons or faeries to lend energy to the circle in their elemental forms. This is not the case and the Watchtowers should be seen more as guards than your actual, working elemental aid.
So that’s the Watchtowers. What about the rest of what goes into calling the elements into a ritual circle?
There are essentially four parts to working with calling the elements in a formal sense into ritual:
Evocation means to call forward (where as invocation means to call within, as in the act of the High Priestess invoking the Goddess within herself during an Esbat ritual; you can keep them straight in your mind my thinking of invoke as to call INside). When we evoke a spirit we are calling on it, asking it to come forth and be present in our space. We call the evocations of the elements in ritual quarter calls because we are usually calling on them at one of the four directions. There are a few methods of evoking the elements but all start with calling on the element that you are facing. So while facing the North, for example, you’re going to call on the element of Earth. You can either call on the element and then the elemental guide or guardian you want to work with or you can call on the Watchtower, then the element, then any elemental spirits. So, for example:
- In the Northen quarter I call upon the element of Earth, and I call forth the power and aid of the elemental gnomes. Hail and Welcome!
- I call upon the Watchtower in the North to guard this rite. I call upon the element of Earth and I call forth the aid of the elemental gnomes. Hail and Welcome!
Visualization when calling the elements is an important part of building the energy with what you are doing. By seeing the elements and their guides, by seeing the Watchtowers in the distance guarding your space, you are adding to the energy that is going to protect and guide your work. One of the easiest ways to work with this is to visualize the color that you associate with that element. Assuming that we’re working with our modern Wiccan colors of green, yellow, red and blue, you can visualize a mist of that color coming forth from the distance when you speak your invocation. Visualize the mist then joining with the energy if your cast circle but remaining concentrated in it’s specific quarter. Others might wish to visualize a specific elemental being, like a gnome in the North, or a spirit animal like a dolphin in the West, coming forth and appearing just at the edge of the circle. Yet others may wish to visualize specific symbols such as the Hindu Tattvas, elemental triangles, or otheralchemical symbols. The idea is that while you are speaking your evocation you are visualizing your element, in whatever form you can, coming forward and being present in your space.
Each element has some sort of physical representation associated with it. Some will use specific ritual tools that are attributed to each element as part of their evocations. For example you might hold up a chalice of liquid to salute the Western element as it is being called, or you may which to hold up your athame in salute to the spirits of the South while calling them forward. Others use the simple act of lighting a specific, corresponding candle when making their evocation, either on the altar or in the actual quarter. You can also do things like sprinkling water around the circle while calling on the element of Water or carrying a censer or smoldering incense around the circle while evoking the element of air. The use of tools in elemental evocation is an example of the Hermetic Principle of Correspondence at work in a ritual setting.
Gesture is simply the use of some form of intentioned movement during your evocation. This can be drawing the elemental pentagrams, or just invoking or banishing pentagrams, while working your evocations. Some may use hand gestures such as cupping your hands as though to hold water while calling on the Western element, or standing with your hands over your head with your fingers spread apart as though wind were to pass through them while calling on the East. Using a combination of all of these isn’t uncommon. Some may begin their evocation by drawing an elemental pentagram and then use a hand gesture while speaking the evocation.
Putting it all Together
Together these ritual acts, with your intention, become the keys to unlocking the gateways to the elemental realms. Putting them together and creating your complete quarter call might take some practice. What order do you want to do things in? What makes the most sense for you?
The way that I work with them, and the way that I might recommend, is like this:
- Draw elemental pentagram (invoking during the calling, banishing during the dismissal)
- Use the chosen hand gesture for that element
- Speak evocation while visualizing the elemental color or elemental being
- Light elemental candle
- Bow to the quarter in reverence
Keeping yourself in the correct mindset, visualizing and feeling the element while evoking it and doing your gestures and such, is the hardest part to master, but it also the most important part to master. Words and gestures without intention and energy behind them mean nothing, so taking the time to practice this while really focusing your energy and thoughts so to remain in alignment with the element you are calling on.
A Note About Releasing
The act of releasing the elements is a very important one. As part of the closing of your circle always release your elements, going widdershins (counterclockwise) from how you called them in. So if you ended with West when you called them in you’ll start with West to release them.
I have seen many people verbally say, while releasing the elements, “Stay if you will, go if you must”, the same as they would to a Deity or other Spirit. Working with the elements and elementals is not the same as working with the Gods. When we offer to the Gods for them to remain with us once the ritual is complete and the circle is released, we see this as an act of reverence. However the Gods are of a higher intelligence and higher vibration than the elements. The elements are more of a raw energy that need direction. By releasing the energy completely and closing the gateways that you have opened when calling the elements in you will retain the balance of energy that you are used to. I have heard people say they don’t feel it’s “polite” to command the elements, but as an old friend of mine once said to someone while having this very discussion “If you don’t have the ***** to command something you have called into your ritual space, then you shouldn’t be calling it in the first place. You’re the Witch; you’re the one in charge.” Elements when left to just fill a space uncontrolled can cause havoc in your space (so if you start to find things catch fire a lot or your pipes start bursting, it could be the reaction of overactive and out of balance elemental energy in your space).