Note: I’m tired right now and I may not have expressed myself as clearly as possible, especially near the end. If I have time later this week I may revise this article to make it clearer. In the mean time though feel free to read what I have, but do so at your own risk. It is a complicated subject, so feel free to ask questions if there is something specific that I can clarify.
Because I’m currently working on individual articles dealing with the various elemental tools, I thought I’d take some time to go over element theory, in other words what are they and where do they come from. Element theory is one of the key concepts in magical understanding, especially in regard to Ceremonial Magick and its derivatives, like Paganism. There is no practical information in this article. I’m using the term element as an adjective as opposed to elemental because elemental theory could also imply theories surrounding the magical use of Elementals, which are naturally occurring entities which may also be evoked. Still the information here is very basic foundationary information, and it’s important if you want to understand spell work, ritual, or the creation of the universe.
First the basic stuff. We have five elements. Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, and a fifth element referred to as Akasha, Void, or Spirit. This article will refer to it as Spirit since this is the standard in Western Magick. Spirit would be the equivalent to what magicians commonly refer to today as energy. It is a force in the universe which cannot be seen or measured with conventional methods, but nonetheless can be manipulated and quantified.
Now it’s important to remember that when we say fire, or water, or air, or earth, or spirit, these are physical things which we symbolically associate with the actual element. The elements exist at every point in the universe. The universe is often split into several planes of existence. We have the physical plane, which is represented in the Kabalah by the bottom four Sepiroth. This is the only place in the universe (outside the Qlippoth), where fire, water, air, earth, and energy actually exist. All of these things are physical manifestations, and the first physical manifestations occur in the seventh sepiroth, Netzach. Prior to this, we have the mental planes, composed of the middle triad in the Kabalah. Here everything exists as thoughts, ideas, and intelligences, yet the mental planes are also where these things are created. Beyond the mental plane we have the first triad, and that which exists here are often called abstracts or ideals. There are no physicalities and there are no thoughts here, there isn’t even space. There are two things that need to be said to describe the first triad, there is existence there, and everything exists as acts. As it is the thoughts and ideas and eventually intelligences that make up parts of the mental planes, it is action, the doing, that makes up the first triad. It’s hard to understand because when we think of an action, we think that someone or something is doing that action, yet in the first triad there is no physicality and there is no intelligence, so there is nothing there to actually take an action. The act defines itself.
Now, getting back to the point, fire, water, air, earth, and energy cannot exist at any point beyond the physical planes, because they are physicalities. Yet the elements exist on every plane. So when we talk about, say, the element of fire, we aren’t actually speaking about actual fire. Fire is something we’ve found in the physical world which, based on its form and how it acts, we feel is a good representation of one of the five elements. There is no word in any language spoken on Earth that describes the element of fire. Even if we made up a new word, say we called it fluffenfuf, we still would not have words in the English language to adequately define the new word it. It’s a common habit in magick, and with dealing with interworld beings that may know completely foreign concepts created in languages from other worlds, that if we don’t have a word for something, we substitute a word we do have that is used to describe something like it.
So now that we’ve discussed what the elements are not, what exactly are they? A lot of people describe the elements as the basic building blocks of the universe. When we break things down, within the universe, into smaller and smaller parts, eventually we reach the smallest parts that make it up, and these ‘smallest’ parts are the five elements. They are, in a lot of ways, to magical theory what atoms are to science. But we also know, in regards to science, that if we look deeper we can break atoms down into protons, neutrons, and electrons. And likewise we can break the elements down into their basic parts. There are actually five basic building blocks that precede the five elements, and these are creation, division, singularity, duality, and triplicity. These five things are the only five things that exist prior to the existence of the elements, and so they are the only five things in all the universe not made up of the elements. In the same way that a proton is not made up of atoms, creation is not made up of the five elements.
So how did we get the elements? Everything in the universe is a direct extension of what came before it. To make a new thing we can combine two or more existing things, or we can divide an existing thing into two or more parts, or we can do a combination of dividing and combining various things. The point is, nothing is ever completely new. New things are created in the universe using the various parts that are already available. Since the divine spark the universe has become a varied and complex place, yet there is still no sixth element, and there never will be, because we cannot have a completely new thing. Everything needs a precedence.
There are two exceptions to this rule. Two things in the universe occurred without prior precedence. In many systems these two acts are considered the beginning of the universe. This is not however the true beginning of the universe. This is just the place that we are labeling the beginning because we need a place to start are exploration at in order to get anywhere, and because we can’t find the true beginning.
Anyways, two things happened without precedence, a thing created itself, then it divided into two parts. We call this thing which created itself the divine spark. It is the very first thing to appear in the universe, and it is from the divine spark (and its division) that all things spring forth. In Kabalism it is defined as Kether. Remember the divine spark occurs at Kether, Kether exists in the first triad, and all things in the first triad are actions. So what is the divine spark? It is the act of creating itself. If you think about that too hard, your brain may explode. It created itself and what it is (and what it created) is the act of creating itself :)
So the divine spark creates itself. There we have the first part, creation. After it creates itself, it is the only thing in creation. There is just one thing in all of creation, and it is different and separate from what came before, so now we also have singularity. So the divine spark exists, and anything that exists has to have a definition. It can be defined through everything else that also exists in the universe. Right now all that exists in the universe is the divine spark since it was created without precedence. We can say that the divine spark is itself (everything that exists in the universe), and it is not what isn’t the divine spark (Nothing or that which doesn’t exist).
But wait, now we have two things that exist in our universe. You have the divine spark, and you have that which is not the divine spark, the nothing. But the divine spark ‘is’ the entirety of the universe. It is the all. The existence of the divine spark doesn’t just define itself, it also defines what it is not, the nothing is nothing more than everything the divine spark isn’t. What I’m getting at is the divine spark is the all of the universe, which encompasses both what defines it in the positive (what it is) and what defines it in the negative (what it is not). This create a contradiction. The divine spark cannot logically be both what it is and what it isn’t. So what has to happen in order to solve the contradiction is the divine spark has to divide into two pieces. Going back to kabalistic representations Kether divides into two parts, Chockmah which is the purity of being when the divine spark existed alone, and Binah which is self-awareness through duality and thus represents the first corruption of purity and singularity. The actual first division itself is Thaumial, the highest sphere in the qlippoth.
Now we have the divine spark, which is the act of creating itself. It needs to be defined by what it is and what it isn’t. In order to do this, it divides. Some people may think the two aspects of the division solve the problem. Now Binah is Binah and not Chockmah, and Chockmah is Chockmah and not Binah, and Kether is Binah and Chockmah. But this isn’t the case. Chockmah and Binah existing isn’t what solves the problem. The division itself solves the problem. It is something which creation isn’t. Kether is not Thaumial. The divine spark is not the first division. In fact it is the duality that exists between Kether and Thaumial that is the precedence for the duality of Chockmah and Binah which occur after the division. The precedence for the purity of being of Chockmah is from the divine spark existing by itself, and the precedence for the self awareness via duality of Binah is from Kether existing along with Thaumial.
As a side note I’d like to say something about Binah that proves an earlier point. Binah is the definition of self by comparing yourself to what you are not. It can be seen as the first instance of knowledge – knowledge of self which is acquired through a comparison to what you are not. It is the corruption of purity, because it is based on there being something else in the universe besides oneself. Remember only acts can exist in the first triad. Binah is the act of definition. But definition implies knowledge, so now we have the existence of knowledge. Knowledge is an abstract thing. It’s not quite an idea, but its definitely not an act. It can however exist in the first triad, but only in particular parts of Binah. But knowledge presents problems. Now there’s something that must be known. So it must have a duality. There must be knowledge which is true and knowledge which is not true. Now we have truth, and truth is most definitely an idea. Not only that, you have self definition. Self definition leads directly into an idea. So do we have ideas in Binah, and thus in the first triad? No we do not. But ideas are occurring as the natural eventual conclusion to the act of Binah, so what happens to them? They begin to form the fourth Sepiroth, and thus the beginning of the third triad, the mental planes. Think of this process as a sentence. You begin speaking a sentence which forms Binah, but by the time you reach the conclusion of the sentence, you’re already forming the fourth Sepiroth, Chesed. Note that the middle triad is created as a direct result of the creation of the first triad, it is its eventual conclusion. It is also made up of the things which came into being in the first triad, going back to the earlier rule in the universe nothing (except our two exceptions) are created without precedence.
Now, going back to more relevant discussions, as we’ve said the first division occurs as a direct result of self creation. There for we could say that even the first division has precedence. It is a direct result of self creation, in the same way singularity is a direct result of self creation. Because of this it’s common say that there is one thing which started everything else, there was one event which occurred without precedence. But then why do I specifically say two events occurred without precedence? By my own logic either one event occurred without precedence, self creation, and division, singularity, duality, and triplicity followed as a byproduct, or I throw out the byproduct angle and just go with precedence, in which case five events occurred. But I’ll go back to my original statement, two things occur without precedence in the universe, creation and division.
The idea that creation came first and everything else is a byproduct of that creation is a matter of perspective. The idea that creation was first makes sense to us because we exist in the Sepiroth, which naturally flow from the act of self-creation. We have a perspective that is tainted by our location, and also by something akin to nationalism which sees are current location, the Sepiroth, as naturally superior and better than its counterpart, the Qlippoth. If we were, however, incarnated on the Qlippoth and trying to figure out these same ideas there, we would come to the conclusion that the first thing which occurred was the first division, and self creation occurred as a result of this division. The first division coming into being is what creates the act of self creation, and then it goes on from there. The thing is, it’s late right now, and thinking about this stuff from a Sepirothic perspective is making my head spin. Thinking about it from a Qlippothic perspective will no doubt cause my head to explode. In fact I can feel it about to burst right now. There are of course answers, and if you want to meditate on this and figure it out, it can be done. I’m just not figuring out how to put those answers into words right now. I will say that Qlippothic perspectives are interesting things to have if you can handle them.
Okay, so now we have four things. The divine spark (creation), the divine spark existing alone (singularity), the first division (division), and the existence of creation and division (duality). So where does triplicity come from? Well what was there prior to the divine spark? You could say nothing, but that would be wrong. In order for there to be a nothing there would have to be a something, and something is the divine spark, and that didn’t exist prior to the divine spark coming into existence. So what was there?
I don’t have that answer. I never talked with anyone or anything that claimed to have it. It’s possible some people, or some things have figured it out, but either they can’t remember it or can’t communicate it, at least in regards to our level of existence. So I don’t know what was there, but I know, through logic, something came before creation and division. This something is a third thing. We have creation, division, and what came before creation and division. A triplicity. We now have our five building blocks.
Note, we now have five things. That is everything we have. That is the most we can count to. Five. We have five elements. We don’t have six elements because we can’t count to six yet, and everything must have a precedence. Once we have five elements though we can count to ten. This is important to note because the universe didn’t pick the number of elements through some arbitrary method. It simply took the largest number it could, thus doubling what we had to work with, and making the entirety of the universe far more complex.
So how long did all of this stuff take to happen, from the time of the divine spark up until the creation of the elements? Billions of years, seven days, mere seconds? All of these answers are wrong. All of these things happen before time coming into existence. So does that mean it all happen at once? No, it didn’t. In order for everything to have happened at once, time must exist, or at least the concept of it must exist. All of this stuff happened/is happening/happens. If Kether divides into Chockmah and Binah, shouldn’t Kether cease to exist? If that were true Kether would exist prior to the division, and not exist after the division, but in order for that to happen, time would have to exist. So even though Chockmah and Binah exist as the division of Kether, Kether also still exists, because there was no time when this happened and time still doesn’t exist where it happened. So at any moment, this division has occurred, it has not yet occurred, and it is currently occurring.
Now we have five elements that can be defined by these five things. First we have singularity. Each element is a separate individual thing. Notice they just aren’t one big group called the elements. Next we have duality. We can say that fire isn’t water, spirit, earth, or air. We can also split the elements into two separate groups. We refer to these groups as masculine and feminine, but remember the ideas of gender and masculinity and femininity haven’t yet been created. These are later creations that we use to try to describe the elements. We group them as such: Group A (Masculine Elements) consists of Spirit, Fire, and Air; Group B (Feminine Elements) consist of Spirit, Water, and Earth. We can also use duality to create opposite elements. Fire is opposite Water. Air is Opposite Earth.
We also have creation and division. So some elements are creationary (Fire and Water), and some are divisionary (Air and Earth). Fire and Water join together in union (the creation), and the end result is Air and Earth (the division).
We also split the elements into three groups. The divine element (Spirit), the creationary elements (Fire and Water) and the divisionary elements (Air and Earth). Fire and Water, and thus Air and Earth, are created by Spirit, and the union of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth together creates Spirit, so in a sense spirit creates itself, giving it a connection to the divine spark and the divine element.
So a short review thus far:
Spirit = Masculine and Feminine groups, creationary and divisionary, divine group.
Fire = Masculine group, creationary, creationary group.
Water = Feminine group, creationary, creationary group.
Air = Masculine group, divisionary, divisionary group.
Earth = Feminine group, divisionary, divisionary group.
Now remember that all of these elements exist in the first triad. Only acts can exist in the first triad. So we know the five elements must be actions. So what actions are they?
Spirit = The all of the universe (the act of not existing).
Fire = The act of creation.
Water = The act of division.
Air = The act of action.
Earth = The act of existence.
But it gets a little bit more complicated. Fire is the act of creation, and so it is also the act of destruction. Remember the divine spark created itself, and whatever came before currently is not anymore, so creation is also destruction. Meanwhile when you divide something you can also now combine it back together, so the act of division also brings about the act of union, so both division and union are water.
Also take these numbers; 1.Spirit, 2. Fire, 3. Water, 4. Air, and 5. Earth. Compare the element to the number it is assigned. Compare it to the Sepiroth that is also assigned to that number. You’ll notice some interesting things. Such as water, which represents division, is number three, which is the same as Binah, which deals with duality. Air meanwhile is four, and air is generally associated with thoughts and ideas, and the fourth Sepiroth is the first Sepiroth of the mental planes.
So why is Spirit non-existence? Spirit represents all things in the universe put together. What happens when you put everything together? You no longer have a duality. There is no self-definition. We’re heading back to the universe encompassing both what it is and what it is not. We’ve gone backwards. We no longer have existence. We now have what came before the divine spark. This is best described as non-existence, since it was what was before existence.
Anyways, now we have our five little building blocks. And we pretty much build everything else out of those five things, along with the five pieces we used to build those (creation, division, singularity, duality, and triplicity). As we start building we notice a few things. First off, everything in the universe, beyond those ten things, contain all five elements to various degrees. Secondly that most everything in the universe contains more of some elements, and less of others. In practice we tend to define things by the element which has the greatest concentration. There are some rare exceptions where we feel the need to define something by two or more elements because of an equal or near equal concentration. Also although it may be possible to define very complicated things, like people, as a single element, you’ll also notice that these things may have many varied aspects, and these aspects may be defined as different elements.
It’s important to note that when we say things are made up of the five elements to various degrees, we don’t just mean physical things and living things. We also mean thoughts and ideas. We mean abstracts like philosophies and religions. We mean completely imaginary things which don’t exist. We mean concepts like the economy. We mean actions like punching or thinking. Pretty much anything in all of the universe, besides the original ten building blocks, is made up of the elements. Remember there is nothing without precedence, so everything comes forth from the divine spark/first division. A few steps up from that are the elements.
A brief summary of some of the things the elements encompass:
Spirit: Associated with the divine, sacred acts, magick, and that which came before the divine spark. It is the element of the highest spiritual attainment. It is both active and passive. It represents all things, and also nothing.
Fire: Generally associated with passion in all of its forms. Fire comes on as strong and as forceful as it can, it burns like passion burns within you, and it eventually gives every bit of itself to reach its goal. It encompasses passion in the form of lust, and also passion in the form of creative endeavors, such as the fine arts, and also being passionate about specific things. It is associated with creation (by oneself) and destruction. It is also associated with absolute spiritual truth and the divine light of spiritual truth. It is associated with the day and is the great exposer. It is associated with the beginning of the first triad. Fire is an active force, being active by the very nature of its existing. It is the only element which does not have a passive form (if fire is not active, it cannot exist).
Water: Water is generally associated with emotions, love, relationships, and unions. It is considered flexible and adaptive and ever changing, and it is often associated with the future because of this. Water is also associated with the power of creation through union. It is associated with the night, and along with that the great mysteries and everything that is hidden. Water is associated with the end of the first triad (Binah). Water is a passive force, passive because it meets the demands of its environment.
Air: Air is largely associated with the mind. It has strong connections to intelligence, thought, ideas, imagination, and imaginary things. It is also the element associated with action and doing. It is adaptive and flexible like water, but remains an active force like fire. Unlike fire though air has a passive form. It is associated with the present, and also with the dawn (being associated with beginnings). Air is associated with the mental planes, especially the fourth Sepiroth.
Earth: Earth is stagnant and endures. It is usually associated with physical things and the physical plane. Because of this it also represents things like wealth and money and that which is completely practical and mundane. It also is associated with things that are immortal and forever. Earth is the only element which does not have an active form. Earth is associated with the tenth Sepiroth Malkuth (and due to its nature, also Yesod). Because Earth is stagnant and unchanging, it is associated with the past which is writ in stone. Earth is also associated with the dusk, being associated with endings.
The above brief summary of the elements is my attempt to define five things which are so abstract as to be undefinable in English. Even if I did have the words, each element has an infinite number of definitions and associations, meaning it would be impossible for me to list them all even if I spent eternity doing nothing but that. As a practitioner, you shouldn’t be dependent on a list for your elemental associations (especially because a complete list would be impossible). It’s better to have a deep understanding of the elements, to the degree that you can figure out the elemental associations of things as needed. It’s a good exercise to get into the habit of thinking about things in terms of what elements they are. What element defines your computer? The processor inside your computer? The font on the computer screen? The electricity flowing through the power cable? The emotions you’re currently feeling as you read this? So on and so forth. This is a simple thing that can easily be done as you go about your day. After a while though, you’ll start to come to a deep understanding of the different elements and how they work, and you’ll also, through practice, learn how to figure out elemental associations.