The Elements Of Life
In the Goddess tradition, as in many other earth-based traditions, the elements that sustain life are sacred. The four elements of life – air, fire, water, and earth form a circle, with the fifthe element, spirit, as its center. Each of the first four elements of life represents one of the four directions. For us, air is the east, fire is the south, water is the west, and earth is the north. In your circles, you must work with the correspondences that feel right to you. The elements teach us about ourselves. Air, fire, water and earth represent our minds, our energy, our emotions, and our bodies. When we face a problem or a challenge, we can ask ourselves whether we’ve looked at it from the point of view of each element. What do we think? What energies do we notice? What feelings do we have? How are our bodies affected? What does our inner spirit tell us? The circle of the elements of life helps us to remember to consider the whole, not merely one part, of any question or decision.
When these four elements of life are present and in harmony, the fifthe element, spirit, or center, is created. Spirit is what we call conscience, character, intuition, or the small voice inside. In Goddess tradition, this is the place where aquired knowledge and our innate wisdom meet and are touched by the Goddess to form an inner spirit, a sense of direction that steers us away from harm and toward our life’s purpose.
In the task of raising children in Goddess tradition, we find that just as the four eleemnts earth, air, fire, and water connect to make the sacred circle, these elements, when translated into human attributes, make the child a whole vibrant person. Our goal, as people who are rooted in the world view of the Goddess traditions, is to rais echildren who are empowered. Empowerment is that combination of self confidence, independent thought, intuition, and egagement with the world that enables us to live by our princicples and stand up for what we believe in. By creating an environment that empowers our children and ourselves, we strive to create a culture based on concern and compassion, rather than apathy and indifference.
In the following sections we discuss each of the five elements and their primary associated qualities as they relate to child rearing and self-development. We focus on realistic goals and common sense strategies that we can all draw from, regardless of our personal preferences on a number of issues.
All life on earth depends on the energy of the sun. Plants use that energy directly to live and grow. Animals must eat plants or other animals. But directly or indirectly, we are all sustained by the sun.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is brightest and hottest when it shines at high noon from the south. Therefore south is the direction we associate with fire.
Fire is also the element that warms our houses and cooks out food. the hearth fire is sacred in every earth-based tradtion, for fire is the living heart of the home. Before, television, people would gather before a fire to tell tales and sing songs during the long nights of winter, We still love to sing around a campfire or chant over a ritual fire in the center of our circles.
Fire is also dangerous. Like all thing of power, fire demands respect. A curtain wafting across a candle can burn down a home. The summers are dry where we live, and a careless match or stray spark can ignite a wildfire that may burn thousands of acres and hundreds of homes. Learning to knowfire means learning how to use fire safely and how to put a fire out. Fire reminds us that we are all responsible for each other’s safety.
Fire is the symbol of human energy as well as the sun’s energy. Health, strength, enthusiasm, and passion are qualities of fire. When we direct our energies, when we focus on a goal, we use our will, one of the powers we find in this eleement. Fire is connected to all forms of magic that direct energy, especially healing and protection.
The time of day connected to fire is, of course, high noon, just as the season is high summer. The colors of fire are red, orange, and bright golden yellow. The lion, because of its bright golden color and wild, dangerous power is often seen as a symbol of fire. So is the dragon, with its fiery breath. Legends tell us that salamanders could live in fire – but don’t test the myth with any of the ones you may find!
Brigit, of course, is the Goddess of the sacred flame of poetry, healing and the forge. Pele is the Hawaiian Goddess of the volcano. Hestia is the Greek Goddess of the hearth. Lugh is the Celtic sun God. Wayland Smith is the ancient God of the forge. Set is the anceint Egyptian God of the hot desert sun. There are many more Gods and Goddesses of fire. On our altars, a candle flame brings the presence of fire to our rituals. The tool of fire in our tradition is the wand, which is used to direct energy, and wands are oftenmade of wood, which burns. You can make a wand of your own by cutting (with adult help if working with a wee one) a small branch from you favorite tree. Be sure to ask the tree’s permission, and leave an offering.
Life began in water, in the currents of the primeval ocean, and living things need water to survive. Our bodies are mostly water, and our blood is similar to seawater in its chemistry. Water carries nutrients to all the cells of our bodies and cleanses our wastes. Clean, sweet water is sacred to all people who honor life.
Water moves in a great cycle around the globe. Rain falls on the earth, bringing life to plants, soaking the soil or collecting in streams and rivers that flow to the sea. The great tides and currents of the ocean sustain sea life from the tiny plankton tot he great whales, influencing the weather, wearing away the shore. Water evaporates from the surface of the waves, forming clouds that bring the rain, and so the cycle begins again.
The summers are very dry where I live, so the first rains of winter are especially sacred. Suddenly new life appears. Seeds sprout, and grasses begin to grow. Our winters are often very wet, and rain comes down for days and days. Dry streams spring to life and rivers widen their flow. In flood years, we see the imense power of water to break through obstacles and carry away anything that blocks its flow. In drought years, water becomes extremely precious to us, and we learn to guard every drop carefully.
Water also represents our feelings and emotions. After all, our feelings flow and change like wtaer. We can bathe eah other in love and appreciation, but we can also rage and storm like the ocean waves crashing against the shore. When we honor all our feelings, the ones we think of as positive and those we think of as negative, we can choose how to act so that our emotions feed life. When we know our anger, we can choose to act peacefully. When we admit our fear, we can choose to act with courage.
For us, water is in the west, the direction of the ocean and the rain. Its time of day os the gray twilight, and its season is autumn, when the rains return. The colors of water are blue, blue- green, and gray. All water animals ~ all fish and sea creatures, including dolphins, whales, and the wise salmon ~ are symbols of water.
Tiamat, the ancient Babylonian sea seropent goddess, was mother of all the Gods. Aphrodite, Greek Goddess of love, is also Goddess of the sea. Brigit carries the power of the holy well along with the sacred flame. Oshun is the Yoruba Goddess of the river and of love, art, and culture. Yemaya is the Mother Goddess of the ocean. Ba’al is the Canaanite God of storms and the returning rains of winter. Tlaloc is the Toltec God of rain. Mananan mac Lir is the Welsh God of the sea, while Poseidon is the Greek ocean God, whose horses are the wild waves.
On the altar, the symbol of water and traditional tool is the cup or chalice. Seashells, water-smoothed stones, and images of water creatures can also be used.
We have gone around the wheel of the elements and visited all four directions. Now we come to the center, the place of that mysterious fifth element we call "spirit," although we could just as well call it "mystery." The center is the place of change and transformation, and this element is not so much of a physical presence but the sense of connection that puts us in touch with the great powers of life and death. Spirit might also be called "relationship," as the center is the place where we connect with the Goddess and God, with our traditions, and with prayer, blessing, meditations, and personal practice. Another name for this section might be "core values," for here we contemplate ethics, right and wrong, and our responsibility to be healers, peacemakers, and protectors of the earth and her peoples.
Spirit is timeless. It corresponds to the whole cycle of the day and night, the whole wheel of the year, and the realm beyond time. Its color is clear ~ or the rainbow, which contains all colors. All the Goddesses and Gods can be considered as aspects of the center.
The traditional tool of the center is the cauldron, the magic soup pot that combines the earth/metal of the container, the fire below and the air to feed it, and the water within to bring about transformation. The drum, which holds the heartbeat of a circle and keeps a large group unified, is also a tool of center. Many symbols can be used on the alter to represent spirit. One of our favorites is a mirror, for our connection to the sacred must be found inside each one of us.
The Earth ~ Rocks, minerals, and the living soil beneath our feet. Plants draw energy from the sun, but they are nourished by the earth. Seeds are planted beneath the ground to begin their lives. The dead bodies of animals and plants are taken back to the soil to feed new life.
We think of earth as a solid thing, but soil is amazingly complex. A square foot of good garden soil is like an underground city full of space, caverns, crystalline arches, and mineral bridges, all teeming with life. Soil contains air, so that life within can breathe, and carries water to sustain billions of soil creatures and feed the roots of plants. When we truly understand the marvelous world below us, we can protect the soil from erosion by wind and water, and learn to help build new, rich soil where plants can grow. Gardening, tending trees and plants, and caring for animals are all ways to honor and protect the sacred earth.
The earth is the element that stands for our bodies. Our physical bodies are sacred, and we must take care of ourselves as we take care of the earth. All the food we eat, all the things we make and do and use, are part of this element. Because good soil is often dark, the color of the earth is black and its time is midnight. The green of living plants and growing things is also a good earth color. Its direction is north, the one quarter of the sky where in the Northern Hemisphere the sun never travels, and its season is winter, the time of darkness when seeds sleep beneath the ground. Plants, trees, and all land animals, especially big ones such as bulls and bears, are symbols of earth.
Gaia (GUY-yuh) is the ancient Greek Goddess whose name means "earth." Demeter was the Goddess of grain and agriculture. Eriu was the Irish Goddess who gave her name to the land itself. In many Native American stories, Corn Mother is the sacred being whose body feeds the people. Cernunnos is the Celtic Horned God, the God of animals. The Green Man in all his aspects is the God of plants and trees. Ogun is the Yoruba Lord of the forest. Robin Hood is an old English forest God. There are many, many more Goddesses and Gods of earth, of particular plants and animals, and of sacred places.
Symbols of earth for the altar can be stones, crystals, rocks, or living plants. Leaves, grain, fruits, flowers, and vegetables can also be used. The traditional tool of earth is the pentacle, a five- pointed star in a circle, often inscribed on a plate or made of metal. Its five points stand for the four elements, plus the fifth, spirit. They also stand for the five senses, for our five fingers and toes, and for the human body with legs apart and arms uplifted to invoke the Goddess. The circle around it stands for the wheel of life. For us, the pentacle is a symbol of wholeness and balance, and of the ancient mysteries of our tradition.
Every Moment of our lives, we must breathe in order to survive. Air carries sounds and scents, and its clarity allows light to pass through so that we can see. Air is invisible, except when other things move in response to its motion, when the wind makes branches dance and leaves fly, or bends the grasses down as it passes.
We share breath with all life. Like other re-blooded creatures, we breathe in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide,which is used by plants and trees to transform the pure energy of the sun into food for all living things. Plants and trees give off oxygen, which we breathe in, and so a balance is sustained. We honor air as the breath of the Goddess and the gift of our most ancient fellow living creatures.
In our tradition, we associate air with the east, the direction of dawn or sunrise. Because air is invisible, we identify it with the parts of ourselves that are important but cannot be seen: our mind, our vision, our thoughts, and our dreams. Air represents knowledge and understanding, which we gain by looking closely at what is around us. Air is connected with springtime, the dawn of the year. The animals of air are, of course, birds and all flying insects,such as dragonflies and butterflies. Air’s colors are pale pinks, yellows, and whites.
Some of the Goddesses of air are Iris, the Greek Goddess of sunrise and the rainbow, and Oya, Yoruba Goddess of the whirlwind and sudden changes. Boreas is the Greek God of the wind; Hermes is the power of thought and communication. Elegba, th Yoruba trickster, translates human language into that of the Orishas, the great powers of the universe. All could be invoked for the gifts connected with air.
Symbols of air to place on your altar might be feathers, incense or other good-smelling things, fans, pinwheels, or kites. In our tradition the tool of air is the athame, the Witch’s knife. It stands for thepower of the mind to seperate things, to say: "I am me and you are you and we are not the same." Clearly, a knife is an inappropriate tool for young children. Substitutes might be a pair of scissors or a pen (the pen is mightier than the sword).