Below are two maps of the Viking world. One in English. One in Norse.
Halloween/Samhain is a time for remembering and honoring your ancestors.
The ancient Greeks believed the universe was broken down into four basic elements: Earth, Air, Water and Fire (as proposed by the philosopher Empedocles). Aristotle added a fifth element, Aether – the matter that fills the universe above the terrestrial sphere.
Many cultures actually believe in five basic elements.
In Hinduism there is Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Void. This is the same in Japan.
In China there is Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water.
The Celts believed in three: Earth, Sea, Sky.
However, in this article, I’m going to focus on the four elements.
Obviously we know today that the universe is broken down into the 118 elements on the periodic table, which is ordered by each element’s atomic number (the number of protons in its nucleus).
Yet the “four elements” provide an important way for people to conceptualize who they are on a spiritual level. Understanding what each element represents helps us evaluate where our individual strengths and weaknesses are. And in the West, the four classical elements seem to be the default.
And there’s a certain, balanced logic to the number four. There are four seasons in a year. Four states of matter (solid, liquid, gas, plasma). Most tables are held up by four legs. Most people have four limbs (or a fifth if you include the head). The spiritual significance of the number four is stability and structure.
There are many healing traditions and religions which incorporate the elements in their practices. The four suits in the Tarot represent the four elements. The medicine wheel is an example of Native Americans recognizing the four elements. Wiccans honor the classical elements along with a fifth added in that represents the spirit or the self.
So, now that we’ve clarified why the number four is important, what is the significance of the elements themselves?
ELEMENTAL SIGNIFICANCE: BASIC DEFINITIONS
- Air represents intellect, mental intention, and connection to universal life force.
- Earth represents grounding, the foundation of life, substance, connection to life path, and family roots.
- Fire represents energy, a tool for transformation, connection to personal power, and inner strength.
- Water represents emotional release, intuition, and inner reflection.
THE ELEMENT OF AIR
GODS: Enlil, Kheohera, Mercurym, Shu, Thoth
GODDESSES: Aradia, Arianrhod, Cardea, Nuit, Urania.
Cardinal Direction: East (where the sun rises)
Season: Spring (A time of freshness)
Time of Day: Dawn
Positive Qualities: vigilance, care-freedom, kind-heartedness, trusting nature, clarity, lightness, independency, dexterity, optimism, diligence, acuity, joy, smiling…
Negative Qualities: lack of perseverance, dishonesty, gossipy, cunningness, backbiting, garrulousness, inconstancy, touchiness, prodigality.
Astrology: Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
Spiritual Significance: Intellect, freedom, purity.
“The element of Air is vital to human survival, without it we would all perish, its aspects are Thinness, Motion and Darkness and its quality is Active. Air is the manifestation of movement, freshness, communication and of the intelligence. Sound is another manifestation of this element. As an element, it is invisible, but its reality can be felt in the air that we breathe in every day.
To connect with the power of this element, find a place with clean air and breathe deeply, touch a feather or inhale the fragrance of a heavily scented flower. Let yourself experience the energy of this element, and reflect that we also possess Air energy within ourselves.
In magical terms, Air is the power of the mind, the force of intellect, inspiration, imagination. It is ideas, knowledge, dreams and wishes. Air is the element of new life and new possibilities and is essential to spells and rituals of travel, instruction, finding lost items, some types of divination, and freedom. Air aids us in visualization, a vital technique in magic.
Air is a masculine element and governs the magick of the four winds. It is the vital spirit passing through all things, giving life to all things, moving and filling all things. Thus Hebrew doctors ascribe it not as an element but as a medium or glue that binds all things together.” (Source)
THE ELEMENT OF EARTH
GODS: Adonis, Athos, Arawn, Cernunnos, Dionysus, Marduk, Pan, Tammuz.
GODDESSES: Ceres, Demeter, Gaea, Mah, Nephthys, Persephone, Prithivi, Rhea, Rhiannon.
Cardinal Direction: North
Season: Winter (A Time of Darkness)
Time of Day: Night
Positive Qualities: consistency, conscientiousness, perseverance, punctuality, caution, resistance, responsibility, carefulness, firmness, reliability, sobriety, ambition, respectfulness, matter-of-factness…
Negative Qualities: stuffiness, superficiality, laziness, indifference, cumbersomeness, touchiness, lack of conscientiousness, irregularity, timidity, scornfulness…
Astrology: Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
Spiritual Significance: Discipline, Vigilance, Stabilizing, Grounding.
“The basis and foundation of all the elements is the Earth. The Earth is the object; subject and receptacle of all celestial rays and influences and in it are the seeds of all things. It is made fruitful by the other elements and the heavens, and brings forth all things of itself. It is the first fountain from whence all things spring; it is the centre, foundation and mother of all things.
Earth is the element of stability, foundations and of the body. The Earth is the realm of wisdom, knowledge, strength, growth and prosperity. It is also the physical Earth on which we live and the very heart of life. It is essential in spells and rituals of prosperity, business, fertility and stability. Earth is a feminine element and governs stone and knot magic.
The Earth can be viewed as our mother, with its fertile and nurturing farmland, providing all Earth’s creatures with nourishment and shelter. The earth takes on qualities of the other elements, whether it is the dry, dusty and hot aspects of Fire and Air, as is found in deserts. Or the moist and fluid aspects of Water, in swamps, marshlands and fens. In its physical manifestations, such as stones, rocks, crystals and gems, the element of Earth represents the densest of the elements.
The Earth is the womb from which all things spring, pressing your hand against fresh soil, you can feel its vitality, stability and earthiness. In its fertile soil, we’ve grown the food that provides life, on its surface we live out our lives, and when the time to return to the Goddess and God comes, we are interred in the earth.
We couldn’t exist in this form without the Earth. But our planet is simply a manifestation of this element on the physical plane, each of the elements exist in the astral planes as pure energy. This Earth energy not only exists within ourselves but also throughout the universe at large.” (Source)
THE ELEMENT OF WATER
GODS: Dylan, Ea, Manannan, Osiris, Neptune, Poseidon
GODDESSES: Aphrodite, Isis, Mariamne, Mari, Tiamat, Yemaya.
Cardinal Direction: West (where the sun sets)
Season: Autumn (a time of harvest)
Time of Day: Dusk
Positive Qualities: understanding, placidity, mildness, trusting nature, devotion, mercy, forgiveness, modesty, compassion, fervour, pliancy, meditativeness, internalization…
Negative Qualities: indifference, heartlessness, laziness, indolence, rigidity, lack of daring, lack of concern, unstableness, dejection
Astrology: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
Spiritual Significance: Intuition, Emotion, Compassion, Healing
“Water, is a great necessity, without it nothing can live. Only earth and water can bring forth a living soul. Such is the greatness of water that spiritual regeneration cannot be done without it.
Thales of Miletus concluded that water was the beginning of all things and the first of all elements and most potent because of its mastery over the rest. Pliny said “Water swallow up the earth, extinguishes the flame, ascends on high, and by stretching forth as clouds challenges the heavens for their own, and the same falling down, becomes the cause of all things that grow in the earth.
Water is a cleansing, healing, psychic, and loving element. It is the feeling of friendship and love that pours over us when we are with our family, friends and loved ones. When we swim it is water that supports us, when we are thirsty, it is water the quenches our thirst, another manifestation of this element is the rainstorms that drench us, or the dew formed on plants after the sun has set.
The power of the energy of Water, can be felt by tasting pure spring water, moving you hand through a stream, lake, pool, or bowl full of water. You can feel its cool liquidity; it’s soft and loving touch, this motion and fluidity is the quality of Air within Water. This Water energy is also contained within ourselves, our bodies being mostly composed of Water.
As well as being vital for life, within the energy of this element is contained the essence of love. Love is the underlying reason for all magic. Water is love.
Water is a feminine element, it also the element of emotion and subconscious, of purification, intuition, mysteries of the self, compassion and family. It is psychic ability; water can be used as a means of scrying or as an object for meditation. Water is important in spells and rituals of friendship, marriage, happiness, fertility, healing, pleasure, psychic abilities and spells involving mirrors.” (Source)
THE ELEMENT OF FIRE
GODS: Agni, Hepaetus, Horus, Promtheus, Vulcan.
GODDESSES: Brigit, Pele, Vesta.
Cardinal Direction: South
Season: Summer (The Time of Heat)
Time of Day: Noon (When the Sun in Highest)
Positive Qualities: vigorousness, zeal, enthusiasm, courage, decisiveness, power of creativity, daring, sedulity…
Negative Qualities: quarrelsomeness, irritability, urge to destroy everything, passion, immoderacy, jealousy, voraciousness, vindictiveness, violence, hate, anger, sudden ebullition…
Astrology: Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
Spiritual Significance: Destruction, Renewal, Rebirth, Transformation
“The element of Fire is both creative and destructive, its qualities are Brightness, Thinness and Motion and its mode is Active. It is fire that we and our ancestors used to warm our homes, we use it to cook our food, we sit around it to ward of the darkness of night, and it fuels our passions. Fire, unlike the other elements, does not exist in a natural state. Its physical form can only take place by consuming some other element. Fire is the transformer, converting the energy of other objects into other forms: heat, light, ash, and smoke.
To feel the manifestations of this power, go out on sunny day and feel the warmth and light of the Sun, hear the crackling of logs and smell of smoke from a burning fire. As you gaze into the transformational flame of a candle, immerse yourself in the energy of Fire. Fire is the natural element of animals and mankind, and they “have, in their natures, a most fiery force, and also spring from celestial sources.”
In order to gain benefit from the energy of this element, we need to control Fire’s destructive aspect. When we light a candle, we are not only calling upon the energy of Fire, we are also limiting its power. This destructive aspect should not be seen as negative, forest fires, actually help, clearing away underbrush and encouraging seeds lying dormant within the Earth to burst forth into new life.
Fire is a masculine element, its aspects being change, passion, creativity, motivation, will power, drive and sensuality. It is sexuality, both physical and spiritual. Fire is used in spells, rituals and candle magic for healing, purification, sex, breaking bad habits or destroying illness and disease. Fire is the element of authority and leadership.
The properties of Fire, Heat, Making things fruitful, Celestial light, Giving Life to all things. Its opposite the Infernal Fire are a parching heat, consuming all things and darkness, making all things barren.” (Source)
The Four Classical Elements (Wikipedia)
The Elements of Magick (The White Goddess)
The Elements – Fire, Earth, Air and Water (Thought.Co)
“My witchery is hood. I don’t have an expensively decorated, Instagram-ready altar; I don’t worship some appropriated feminine divinity or semi-European Paganism. When I talk about being a witch, my spirituality, or any combination thereof, I’m not talking dark aesthetics or visual trappings of occultism. My witchcraft is carved out of a history rife with appropriation, misrepresentation, and invisibility. I am the witch I’ve made myself.” (READ MORE HERE)
Since the Neo Pagan movement began in Western countries, it’s no surprise that it involves many European deities. However, for those in the West who are interested in connecting with their African roots, or even marshmallows like me who are just interested in African spirituality, sometimes the resources out there can seem sparse and underwhelming. The colonization of African spirituality has also added a negative connotation to things that aren’t negative.
For instance, the portrayal of Voodoo in many movies is often scary, when it doesn’t need to be.
Back in the day, many people with African heritage (such as the people of Haiti) looked to their African spiritual traditions to give them strength and power. Their white colonizers didn’t like this, so they often regarded these traditions as a kind of Satanic or dark magic.
And yet the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau, healed numerous people. She was such a skilled healer that many Catholic Churches allowed her to offer her services within their walls.
The truth is that African spiritual traditions, like Yoruba, go back thousands of years and even predate Christianity.
To learn more, check out the resources below:
RESOURCES FOR SPIRITUALITY WITH AFRICAN ROOTS
“Wherever you know of harm
regard that harm as your own;
give your enemies no peace.”
– Havamal 127
DISCLAIMER: The ideas on this blog do not represent all Paganism, just my own opinions.
First of all when I discuss paganism, I have to make clear that I am talking about the modern practice of Pre-Christian religions. This includes a wide-gamut of practices: Neopaganism, Wicca, Druidry, Asatru, etc. Everyone within these groups has different ideas on what makes a pagan, and some of these people don’t even like being called pagans.
But with that aside, I am going to attempt to tackle an important questions about warfare, pacifism, flower power and so on in the practice of modern day paganism.
Much of the interest in neopaganism got activated in the West a little before the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Wicca was introduced to the public by Gerald Garner in 1954. Other similar traditions started to also go public at that time. And as these traditions grew, they — like any other belief system — came to include many of the popular notions of the era.
Since the cultural revolution of the 1960s took place after the tail end of a massive era of war and violence in the twentieth century (after WWI and WWII), people were understandably sick of violence and embraced ideas of peace. And if peace can be achieved over war, it goes without saying that peace is a good solution.
But is pacifism always the answer? Does it represent some eternal truth? If one thinks of paganism as the ideals inspired by the Vikings, the Celts, the Greeks, the Romans, the Hindus — none of these civilizations were pacifistic by any means. The Bhagavad gita was told in the middle of a battlefield. (Not saying all pagans are inspired by Hinduism, but its concepts of Dharma and Karma are certainly key concepts for most). But I’ve heard Westerners try to rationalize this away by saying, “Oh but it was a metaphorical battlefield!” only for Indian Hindus to tell me…”Uh yeah, our Gods fought wars because sometimes war is necessary to defeat evil.”
If anything, some of the ideas of pacifism incorporated into the writings and teachings on modern day paganism may even be influenced by Christianity. And it’s impossible for anyone in a Western culture not to be influenced by Christianity, since that has been the predominant cultural lens for the past thousand or so years. (Not that the broad practice of Christianity has been pacifistic in any means in the West considering the history of genocide, witch hunts, colonialism, inquisition, and so on, but that there are many pacifistic teachings from Jesus in the Bible).
So this article is my response to certain voices in the pagan community who say that the pre-christian world was predominantly peaceful. Or that the ancient Gods value peace above all. Or the Californication of both pre-christian and Eastern religions. There is an attempt to make these views and practices non-threatening, so people will buy into them (literally and figuratively).
First of all, the pre-christian world was not predominantly peaceful. As stated above, the Celts, the Norse, the Romans, these were cultures that had wars, celebrated warriors, told tales of brave warriors, and even had entire gods and goddesses dedicate to war. Part of the reason why the Roman Empire collapsed is because they were having too many damn wars.
In Lawrence Keeley’s War Before Civilization, a book written by a man who lived with modern tribal people, and studied ancient tribes, he discusses how ancient times may have actually been even more violent than today, stating that with tribal people, a greater percentage of their populations participated and died from violence than people do today. Certainly with what the news may show about terrorism and school shootings people may think, “Oh what violent times we live in.” But at least in Europe and the United States, less than 5% of male deaths are caused by warfare. Compare that number to the Jivaro tribe where the percentage is something like 60%.
Human sacrifice was also practiced in ancient times, as I detail in my article about that topic. There is plenty of proof for this. Written accounts. Human skeletons found with the bones of animal sacrifices. Tales of human sacrifice in ancient myths. Historical accounts. Sure, human sacrifice may have been used as a tool of the Christians to smear non-christian people. But the idea that this NEVER happened and is some evil lie propagated by the haters is laughable.
I have read in multiple neopagan sources that paganism is a peaceful religion, based on peaceful cultures in the ancient world where everyone apparently celebrated flower power. But this is a sweeping generalization that oversimplifies a group of people, deletes a large chunk of their history and ritualistic practice, and more than that — is a glaring misunderstanding of basic human nature.
Humans at our core are aggressive and territorial beings. Tell me you’re not territorial when you get a bug infestation in your house and decide to kill hundreds of living creatures for the mere crime of being in your space (even when they’re doing nothing harmful to you).
As a species, we also bare a strong genetic resemblance to chimpanzees, which are one of the most aggressive primates.
The idea that humans weren’t aggressive or territorial until Christianity came along is fallacious.
Like any truth, it is important to understand that aggression is a normal part of human behavior, and should be accepted as such.
Does that mean that it’s okay for people to go around and pick fights and kill each other for no reason? No. Of course, peace and diplomacy should always be the first course of action, with violence being the very last.
But in order to control aggression, the first step is to accept that we have it. In order to control our violence, we must accept that we are violent beings.
And any real spiritual practice that is worth its salt must encompass all aspects of humanity. Peace. Warfare. The Feminine. The Masculine. Earth. Air. Fire. Water. And so on and so forth.
Many ancient traditions had a cult of the warrior, religious practices for warriors, rites of manhood that emphasized learning how to fight, protecting oneself and enduring suffering (as well as rites for women too). Ignoring that violence exists doesn’t protect one from it. It just makes one weak when the time comes to defend oneself. Modern day practices like self-defense and martial arts actually give people discipline, and make them less violent overall because they learn to control themselves and their own aggression.
And some even say that metal-heads are actually less violent and more well-adjusted because they listen to music that explores themes of violence, aggression and warfare.
So I’ll try to post some articles and sources here that can better understand traditions of warriors in the ancient world.
ONLINE SACRED TEXTS
VIOLENCE IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
To the Mesoamerican people (the people who lived in what is today Mexico) the study of time and space was of extreme importance to their culture. The Mayans and Aztecs built their cities and temples along astronomical alignments. To these people, the events of time and space were connected — just as physicists know today that time and space are connected. And they had extremely accurate calendars and astronomical observations that they made with the naked eye. The calculations of Maya priests were so precise that their calendar correction is 10,000th of a day more exact than the standard calendar the world uses today! (Source)
This article will include information about both the Mayans and the Aztecs, because the two civilizations had similar cultures. Obviously not exactly the same, but just as the Greeks influenced the Romans, so too did the Mayans influence the Aztecs. If you are to study one, it is important to study the other.
DISCLAIMER: This is according to what we know currently. Much knowledge about the Aztecs and the Mayans was lost over time, and a lot of it was destroyed or skewed by the Spaniards who came and conquered the Aztecs. Many written codices of Aztec knowledge were destroyed for containing “pagan information.” (Which is a shame because it is believed these codices included information on astronomy, medicine, culture and ritual). And some of the practices of the Aztec people were exaggerated by the Spanish.
THE MESOAMERICAN CALENDARS
The Mayan Calendar (and later Aztec Calendar) is probably one of the more accurate and complex calendars to exist throughout the history of civilization. The Mayan Calendar involves two inter-locking calendars.
The first calendar is called Haab. It is 365 days and approximates the solar year. The word “Haab” means year in the Yucatec Mayan language. But it wasn’t entirely like our calendar today. Instead of having 12 different 30 day months, they had 18 months made up of 20 days each. These 18 months together equal 360 days. And then they add a last month called Wayeb that is made up of 5 days. Some believe these were considered dark days of bad luck. Others believe that this was supposed to be a time of transition and reflection as the new year approached.
The Haab solar calendar was important for marking and observing weather and the seasons, so farmers could figure out when to grow their crops.
The second calendar is called Tzolk’in. The calendar combines 20 named days with 13 numbers, which results in 260 days. The length of Tzolk’in, the 260 days, matches the nine cycles of the moon and the gestational period of humans. The Tzolk’in is also related to the movements of the sun and the growing cycle for corn.
The interlocking calendars: As I said above, the two calendars are interlocked like gears. In the calendar round, a given combination of Tzolk’in and Haab will not repeat itself until 52 periods of 365 days have passed. (Or in other words, 52 years).
The Importance of the 52 Year Cycle: Astronomically, this 52 year cycle was begun when the “Pleiades crossed the fifth cardinal point or the zenith of heaven at midnight.”
The Aztecs used the same interlocking calendar as the Mayans did. And for them, this 52 year cycle was called the “New Fire Ceremony”, which was probably a once in a lifetime event for most Aztec people. On this evening, priests and a warrior chosen by the king began their 20 kilometer procession to the Hill of the Star. At the proper moment of alignment in the heavens, wood bundles representing the past 52 year cycle were lit, the heart sacrifice of the warrior was enacted, and the “new fire” built on his chest. Watching from afar, the citizens also cut and bled themselves and celebrated as the fire was brought back to the Great Temple at Tenochtitlan. Priests and emissaries from outlying towns came to Tenochtitlan to fetch the fire to bring back to their people, so that all could share in the marking of the time as well as symbolically renewing ties with the capital.
THE FIVE SUNS
The five suns are part of the creation myth of the Aztecs and other Nahua peoples. The central tenet of the creation myth was that there were four worlds or “suns” before the current universe, and that currently we’re living in the 5th era.
The present world is the fifth sun, and it is believed that the Aztec saw themselves as “the People of the Sun,” whose divine duty was to wage cosmic war in order to provide the sun with his tlaxcaltiliztli (“nourishment”).
I’m not going to include all the information about the Aztec creation myths here, because there is a lot to go over that is firmly documented elsewhere. But the basic things to know are the following:
Ometeotl: In the beginning, from the void that is the universe, the first god, Ometeotl, created his/her self. Ometeotl was both male and female, good and evil, light and darkness, fire and water, judgment and forgiveness, the god of duality. Ometeotl gave birth to four children, the four Tezcatlipocas, who each preside over one of the four cardinal directions.
Quetzalcoatl: Over the West presides the white Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, the god of light, mercy and wind.
Huitzilopochtli: Over the South presides the Blue Tezcatlipoca, Huitzilopochtli, the god of war.
Xipe Totec: Over the East presides the Red Tezcatlipoca, Xipe Totec, the god of gold, farming and Spring time.
Tezcatlipoca: And over the North presides the Black Tezcatlipoca, also called simply Tezcatlipoca, the god of judgment, night, deceit, sorcery and the Earth.
What is interesting to me is that they believed the sun has five phases, and scientists today believe that the life-cycle of a star has five phases (life-cycle of a star).
Also, scientists today believe the Earth has gone through five major cycles of extinction, and we are currently approaching a sixth one caused by human beings. While this doesn’t entirely line up with the Aztec mythos (which believes we are in the 5th cycle), it is interesting to me that they were close.
Maya Civilization: The Mayan Calendar (Web.Archive.Org)
Mayan Civilization (Wikipedia)
The Maya Calendar System (Living Maya Time)
The Maya Were Tracking the Planets Long Before Copernicus (Live Science)
Aztec Astronomy and Observation of Nature (Dellerae)
Aztec Astronomy (Inca Mayan Aztec.com)
Pictures of the Aztec Gods (Pinterest)
The Five Suns (Wikipedia)
Black Sun Mythology (Wikipedia)
“In tumultuous political times, the 18-30 demographic is reaching for the stars.
Interest in spirituality has been booming in recent years while interest in religion plummets, especially among millennials. The majority of Americans now believe it is not necessary to believe in God to have good morals, a study from Pew Research Center released Wednesday found. The percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 29 who “never doubt existence of God” fell from 81% in 2007 to 67% in 2012.
Meanwhile, more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry — which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services — grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.”