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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia

Term: Elemental Symbols


Elemental Symbols: Much of magic is done through the mediation of the four occult elements, Fire, Air, Water, and Earth. They determine both the type of energy that accomplishes the work and the avenue through which it acts. For this reason a clear understanding and proper use of the elements is vital in ritual. Each element is represented by its own material symbol, which is placed atop the altar beside the lamp in the appropriate elemental quarter. If a ritual concerns only one element, its symbol is placed on the altar alone; if all four elements are involved, all four symbols are present.

Fire is embodied in a short rod about nine inches long. This has a very specific design in the Golden Dawn magical system, but the details are not really necessary. It is the essential shape of the rod that is most important. The nature of elemental Fire is in accord with this strongly phallic symbol.

Air is embodied in a short dagger. Again, it is the associations of the blade—its flashing quickness, its piercing quality, its brightness——that are important, not details of the hilt and so on. The difference in tone between the rod and the dagger says much about the essential difference between elemental Fire and Air.

Water is embodied in a cup or chalice. It should be rounded and womblike, enclosing and protective. It is also more harmonious if the cup is made of a watery, or at least a natural, material. Blue hand blown glass is good, or earth-tone ceramic.

Earth is embodied in the disk or pentacle. This is a flat disk painted with Earth colors. Ideally it should be made of clay or stone. Usually it is of wood. It must not be too large to conveniently hold in the hand—four inches in diameter is a good size, because four is a material, earthy number.

So far as I know, the use of elemental symbols originated with the Victorian Order of the Golden Dawn in the last century, and received its inspiration from the symbols of the lesser arcana—the number cards—of the Tarot. Specific, formal symbols of the four elements were not used in medieval times, and are not strictly necessary. However, the employment of these symbols has become almost universal in modern magic, and they can be very useful. It is important that they be made to harmonize with the sensibilities of the one who will actually use them, not merely according to some arbitrary standard.
source: Truth about Ritual Magic, Donald Tyson

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