The elements are a major part of Wiccan/DRW ritual, bringing balance into the circle as well as their respective energies which aid us in our work, add purpose, and can change us if we allow them through the ritual process. Deborah Lipp argues that a ritual cannot be considered Wiccan without the calling of the quarters and the casting of the circle.
The quarters themselves are more than directions; they are a collection of associations related to each cardinal direction. It is said that the correspondences which most traditions use originated from the placement of the major Pagan cultures, particularly the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. If you look at the common correspondences, they fit to this idea (though I have never seen solid proof of this theory). To the north there was a continent (earth), to the west an ocean (water), to the south a desert (fire), and that left east to be associated with air (I’ve also not seen a source that can explain that connection properly). However, many practitioners work with other cultures whose geographic placement doesn’t match up to those directions which may cause a change in correspondences. Others just may not see the connections and choose to work with other correspondences. I, personally, work with a north=air, east=earth, west=water, and south=fire system. So, it is important to know that the elemental correspondences are not set in stone, neither are the other correspondences related to the elements and quarters. For example, some don’t see air as being related to the mind and inspiration or disagree with other common elemental ties. Only through careful examination of each element will you be able to find the correspondences that work for you.
So, what is a “quarter” and how does it differ from an “element”? A quarter is a cardinal direction (north, south, east, and west). If you hear someone refer to the circle within the square, they are referring to the quarters making up the square which encompasses the circle. Others simply believe the circle is divided like a pie into four pieces which are, obviously, the quarters. Either way, they are much more than one spot on the perimeter of the circle. They are large portions of the sacred space that contain the energy you call in them. Thus one-fourth of your circle is water, one-fourth is fire, and so on. This is also why the center of the circle (where all the quarters meet) is said to be ruled by spirit by those that believe spirit is the sum of all of the elements.
When calling the quarters, there are three (main) options of which being you could call. There are the Guardians, the elementals, and the energies of each element. Besides those, some practitioners call upon the archangels, the four winds, or something else themed to their specific ritual (for example, I once did a ritual inspired by Sandra Kynes’ Sea Magic that called upon various seas and oceans at the quarters of the circle and a ritual inspired by Taylor Ellwood’s Pop Culture Magic that called the four Hogwarts house founders to my circle Slytherin=water, Hufflepuff=earth, Gryffindor=fire, and Ravenclaw=air). Before we can decide which to call, we must understand the differences among the various beings.
Let us begin with the Guardians, often referred to as “The Guardians of the Watchtowers”. There is confusion when it comes to the Guardians in general but specifically when the term “Watchtower” is used. What is a “Watchtower” anyway? Arin Murphy-Hiscock offers an explanation in Solitary Wicca for Life:
A watchtower is derived from ceremonial traditional practice. A watchtower indicates a watching presence that witnesses your ritual. Each watchtower is associated with a cardinal direction but is not directly associated with the corresponding elemental energy. For example, the watchtower of the north is not equivalent to the energy of the earth.
This definition doesn’t seem to deal specifically with the term “Watchtower” and more with what the Guardians are. Therefore, I (and several others) generally leave out the Watchtower when discussing and working with the Guardians. Arin Murphy-Hiscock goes on to explain the Guardians, however:
A guardian is exactly what the word suggests: a protector. A guardian is an intermediary between you and the outer world. If you do call a guardian, its attention will be focused away from your ritual, not upon it. A guardian cannot be a witness, nor can it bless or lend its energy to your work.
Let’s look more into what a Guardian is because Deborah Lipp offers a slightly different explanation in Elements of Ritual:
…the nature of the Guardians is elusive. I have come to understand them as beings roughly equal to ourselves, as sophisticated and complex as humans, as spiritually evolved as we, and with a similar relationship to the gods—sharing in their essence but still distant from them in practical terms…The primary purpose of the Guardians is to serve the gods; they protect humans and guard us primarily as an adjunct to protecting and guarding rituals devoted to and sacred to the gods.
She goes on to say that the Guardians protect our circle with and from their element (i.e. the Guardian of the West would prevent flooding in your circle while the Guardian of the South would prevent fire from breaking out). So, she seems to be on the side of the Guardians being tied to their elements, at least remotely, and being able to bring that energy into the circle with it. I agree with Deborah Lipp in that the Guardians’ personalities are influenced by their elements, even if they are not made up of their elements like the elementals are. Generally, the Guardians are considered “higher” beings compared to the elementals, and they have been compared to the archangels in their function (meaning they are Otherworldly beings that protect and support humans but have little to do with our daily lives outside of ritual).
Some witches feel that it is a bad idea to call anything you do not know fully to your circle. Because the nature of the Guardians is fairly elusive, mainly due to the fact that they don’t usually interact with humans and act more in a protector capacity than the other beings with their attention focused outward, for the most part, many witches feel it’s not wise to call them to their circles. Other, more traditional witches, always work with them, however, so it is certainly not uncommon to find a quarter calling with the Guardians or Guardians of the Watchtowers.
While Guardians are sentient beings akin to humans influenced by their element, elementals are beings made entirely of their particular element. This is often difficult for us to understand because everything we interact with is made of a combination of elements. Because they are solely one element, they have no spirit and, thus, are not sentient. They are often considered “lesser beings” which doesn’t mean they are inferior, just that they are rather simplistic. Due to this, it is often believed they must be commanded rather than invited because niceties can often confuse them; they can also be dangerous if allowed to remain after ritual or allowed to go about unchecked because they have no regard for humans or real understanding of their actions in the grand scheme of things (they work only to further their element).
I have yet to find an author who better describes the elementals than Deborah Lipp in Elements of Ritual:
Sylphs are Air. They think and they float. They are rarified and elusive. They do not respond to feeling, and they do not feel. They cannot be praised, fed, or excited. They are exclusively beings of wind, thought, and flight. You cannot persuade a sylph to care about your ritual, because caring is emotion—Water. Do not expect deep connections with sylphs, because depth is not the nature of Air.
Salamanders are Fire. They burn and explode; they smolder and burst and consume. They have no caution, not concern, no restraint; none of those are in the nature of Fire. When calling Fire elementals you must always be careful and cautious, because salamanders are incapable of these qualities.
Undines are Water. They feel and flow. They fulfill themselves in desire, intuition, and love. Do not expect them to be sensible, nor to hold still very long. Sense is for Air, stillness for Earth, and undines have none of either. You can’t reason with an undine, although you can attract her.
Gnomes are Earth. Because we live on Earth, and we are solid, we can often relate to gnomes, but we can also be mistaken about their nature. Remember that gnomes are slow, if they move at all, and immensely stubborn. They cannot be persuaded or enticed, although they do respond to sensory stimulation and to respect.
Some practitioners do not believe in the elementals or the Guardians. That may be the case for you. You might wish to do some trancework to see if they appear to you or not and not just make a snap judgement about choosing to work with them or not. The same goes for archangels, though many Pagans feel that Biblical creatures have no place in a Pagan ceremony; others, particularly those leaning toward ceremonial magic, would disagree.
By now, you probably have a general idea of what the elements are, their correspondences, and how to work with them. If not, see “How to Become Proficient” below. As I said above, it is possible to just call the energies of the elements to the quarters. This is what I most often teach my students, but it is harder to find examples online because most examples contain calls to the elementals or Guardians. The energies of the elements are generally called when a practitioner doesn’t want a certain being in their circle or when they do not believe that the aforementioned beings exist. The energies of the elements balance your circle and lend energy to your working, but they do not have personalities nor do they lend protection the way Guardians do. Some also believe they are not necessarily as dangerous to work with as elementals and Guardians, though they should be released adequately at the end of the working. For more information on why, see our article onDismissal of the Quarters.
When we do it:
Most Wiccans/DRWs call the quarters after the circle is cast. Deborah Lipp explains why in Elements of Ritual:
We’ve just finished creating a space between the worlds—about as middle of nowhere as you can get. It floats freely in spaceless space and timeless time. It isn’t anywhere, it’s just where we are. In order to proceed, we need orientation; we need to have a firmer sense of location, and so we must have directions. Theologically, this has a lot to do with Wiccans seeing ourselves in relation to nature, to Mother Earth; Her geography and Her poles. We don’t just have a ritual, we have a ritual that is oriented around its place in nature.
However, other practitioners may call the quarters (particularly the elements) before casting the circle so the elements’ energies are present in the space beforehand to use in other steps of ritual (i.e. the purification and consecration of the elements, tools, self, etc.).
Some practitioners will even call the quarters just to create sacred space without the presence of a circle. This may be because they are performing a working that will be aided by the energies of the beings they choose to call or it may simply be to add a natural feeling to their working. There is nothing inherently wrong with this; a circle isn’t needed to call the quarters. However, it should be noted that if you call the quarters without a circle that you need to be very precise about their presence, their purpose, and you must release them thoroughly when you have finished your work with them.
HowHow we do it:
There are various ways in which to call the quarters depending on your tradition, personal preference, which being you are calling, etc., but most of them require two steps: 1) Call a direction and its correspondence (element) and 2) Call a being. In that calling, however, one should try to include praise and purpose as well as remember to be polite and specific. After all, anyone is more likely to respond to an invitation if all of those are included. For example, you might call “Aislynn” and anyone who goes by that name will respond, but if you call “Aislynn Brigid who has albinism and makes wonderful and insightful Youtube videos and is the most beautiful woman on earth,” you are more likely to get my attention over all the other Aislynns and, even, Aislynn Brigids out there. If you also included what you wanted my attention for (perhaps to help you write a ritual or to explain a magical theory), I’d be even MORE likely to respond to your invitation. The same can be said of the beings one calls at each quarter.
Specificity goes a step further with beings associated with the quarters, however, because each element has so many attributes tied to it. For example, water may relate to emotions, fertility, compassion, tranquility, tenderness, forgiveness, modesty, fluidity, receptivity, influence, sensitivity, nurturance, hope, the unconscious mind, the sense of taste, etc. It can also relate to its presence in nature in the oceans, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, rain, fog, clouds, etc. So, when you call water to your circle, you could be working with any of those aspects, along with many others. Specificity is key when you are writing your quarter calls, then. The easiest example is fire; I could call the all-consuming heat and freedom of a wildfire, the slow smoldering of an ember, or the nurturance of a hearth fire. All of those possibilities exist in fire, and it is up to you to determine which attributes of each element suit your ritual.
There needn’t only be four directions, though we have been speaking of “quarters” until this point. Some practitioners choose to include five directions (east, west, north, south, and center) as we discussed briefly above. This is appropriate if you work with a five element system (including spirit at the center) because it wouldn’t be fitting to only include four elements here if you believe in five. Others include seven directions (east, west, north, south, center, up, and down) which is a system that originated in Native American spirituality. As always, it is up to your personal preference and tradition to dictate which directions you call.
If you choose to call the elemental energies themselves instead of the Guardians or the elementals, you need to consider more thoroughly when would be appropriate to do so. I discussed this briefly during the “When we do it” section above, but the energies of the elements are used before the quarters are typically called (after casting the circle). They are often used in purification and consecration of the participants, tools, space, and/orelements. In order for them to be used in this way, they would have to be present in the space. So, if you are choosing to call them alone, you might wish to do this before you use them in the space and, possibly, have a small salute or greeting in the usual place of calling the quarters since they needn’t be called again if they are present already. This could entail something as simple as “East, we call to you, direction of Air to witness this rite” so that the energies know that they are to remain for the entirety of the ritual rather than the earlier call which might have been more along the lines of “We call to you, O Powers of East and of Air to be present in our sacred space this night to aid us and lend your breezy powers of inspiration.” Any other beings can be called after the circle is cast because they needn’t be present in the circle before that moment.
When writing your quarter calls, you must take continuity into account. Many practitioners use a similar format for each quarter. For example, they might use “I call to you O Powers of (cardinal direction) from your (element)-y realms. Be present in my circle now, and bring your (insert attribute) energies so that I might (verb relating to attribute). Welcome, (insert element).” This format will remain the same with the message altering slightly for each element based on its attributes and what they do to the participants (i.e. Earth’s nurturance might help us grow, Water’s fluidity might help us adapt, etc.). This also relates to the beings that are called; you should always keep it consistent. Do not call the Guardian of the West, Sylphs in the East, the powers of Fire in the South, and Auriel in the North. Those powers might not work well together, and it tends toward chaos in the circle which causes your work to lose focus.
There needn’t be an elaborate written invocation for each quarter. Some practitioners, particularly newer practitioners, prefer to be silent to focus on the energies they are invoking and to focus on their visualization. Others prefer to chant or dance instead of reading lengthy invocations.
Speaking of visualization, there are various techniques for visualizing the quarters. Through your study of the elements (see “How to become proficient” below), you will discover which work best for you. I’ve heard of people using the center pentagon of the invoking pentagrams to “see” the element. This would involve a flame, rainstorm or ocean, rolling green hill or rock, and a tornado or gentle breeze. Others who don’t use the pentagrams would see these things taking up the entire quarter of their space. Some use a wave surging forward for water, a tree blooming for earth, a bonfire or candle for fire, and a breeze (somewhat akin to the colored leaf breeze in Disney’s Pocahontas) for air. Air is often the hardest to visualize, according to my students, and whichever element is your weakest will, naturally, be the most difficult to call.
Anyone can call the quarters in group ritual. Some groups prefer the High Priest and High Priestess to call the quarters, together or separately. Others have one person call each quarter, two people call two quarters each, or have four different people call each quarter. Still other groups will have four sets of working partners (typically male-female pairings) calling the quarters together so the gender energies are balanced. When gender balance is taken into consideration, some groups will have only men call air and fire and only women call north and west because it is often believed that each element has a dominant gender energy. This belief seems to suggest that men cannot possess the attributes of water and earth (meaning they cannot be grounded, emotional, nurturing, etc.) and women cannot possess the attributes of fire or air (meaning they cannot be logical, wise, courageous, etc.); as such, it is sometimes a hotly debated issue. If you will notice, I didn’t discuss it above because it is up to each individual to see if the elements have gender energies. Personally, I believe they are genderless.
If you have used invoking or banishing pentagrams previously (in the purification and/or consecration of the elements, for example), they will be used in the calling of the quarters. You should use the same format as you did before. If you used only the earth pentagram for your purification and/or consecration of the elements, use only the earth pentagram here. If you used all four pentagrams, use all four pentagrams for their appropriate quarters. The invoking and banishing pentagrams are traditional, but many solitaires and groups do not use them because of preference. If you wish to learn more about them, I cannot recommend a better source than my friend Anni’s, known as MIRTHandREVERENCE on Youtube, video series: Pentagrams (and you should watch her series on the Quartered Circle here: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.)
The actions one can do while calling the quarters are entirely up to the practitioner. Some circles will have the entire group walk deosil until the quarter callers are at their respective quarter; others will just have the quarter callers circle deosil until they reach their quarter. Still others will have the callers begin the ritual in their quarter so they need only to turn around to call it. The rest of the participants may do anything from turning to face the quarter, raise their hands or athames in salute, make an invoking pentagram, etc. So, it is generally recommended, for those new to ritual or the style of a particular group that you look around to see what everyone else is doing at this particular point if you haven’t been briefed beforehand. If you see movements that are unfamiliar to you, stand respectfully still.
If you choose to have quarter candles in your circle, they may be lit after each quarter is called or they may have been lit before the ritual started or when the circle was cast. Some may choose to ring a bell before and/or after each quarter is called. Both are appropriate. Ringing before they are called gets the being’s attention or signals that something is about to happen while ringing after they are called signifies that something important has happened and welcomes the being into the circle.
Deborah Lipp, as well as many traditionalists, maintains that if you begin your quarter calling in the east, you must return to the east for the circle to be complete. She says if you don’t, your circle will resemble a Pac-Man or a pizza with a piece eaten. Others believe that by calling the quarters you are calling the square (for the circle within the square) and it is complete when you’ve called all the corners. It is up to you and your feelings on this to determine what to do. If you return to the quarter in which you began, you needn’t call it again, just a physical return to it will be sufficient to close the circle, though some groups include a small salute.
After spending the majority of my time emphasizing the importance of balance in Wiccan/DRW ritual, my next statement might seem odd. However, it is perfectly okay to only call one element to your circle if you are doing a themed ritual. For example, if I am doing a sea ritual (as I discussed above), I might only call water to my circle, or I might call the powers of the Pacific in the west, the powers of the Atlantic in the east, and so on depending on my geographic location. While general ritual practice should be balanced, if you are working on one element alone, it is perfectly acceptable to focus entirely on it, so long as you adequately earth that energy and rebalance yourself afterwards (you wouldn’t want to suffer energetic imbalances after your water ritual like mood swings, apathy, instability, dependence, and/or delusions).
How to become proficient:
It is generally recommended to become proficient in calling the quarters that one learn as much as they can about each element. Most solitaries take this to mean that they must enter a course of study that helps them to delve into the mysteries of each element, see its connections to them, and helps them find and rectify their own elemental imbalances. After doing this myself over eight months or so, I would highly recommend it. Not only will it teach you more about yourself, it will greatly increase the power of your quarter calls.
This course of study could entail spending a month or two (or more) on each element, being careful to guard against imbalances, in which you spend time in meditations focused on that particular element, do exercises pertaining to it and its correspondences, etc. We hope to have a more detailed idea of exercises for this here in the near future.