Elemental Tools

Elemental Tools November 25, 2022

Elemental Tools: Should the attributions for air and fire be reversed?

The four Elemental Tools are used by magicians, wiccans and witches to work with the Four Alchemical Elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire. The attribution of tools to the first two elements appears to be agreed upon universally:

Earth – Pentacle

Water – Cup

The attribution of tools to the last two elements, however, has been called into doubt:

Air – Dagger / Wand

Fire – Wand / Dagger

The Magic Circle, by John William Waterhouse (1886), portrays a witch using a wand to create a ritual space.

In my case, I am more comfortable with the more prevalent Air – Dagger Fire – Wand attribution, which was popularized by The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Golden Dawn). Most esoteric texts and tarot decks adhere to this attribution making it easy incorporate the knowledge contained therein for those employing an eclectic approach to their spirituality.

I will look at both sides starting with the case against the Golden Dawn attributions. The logic comes down to the fact that wands are made from wood cut from trees which grow in the air, while daggers are forged through fire. [The situation for wands is complicated by the fact that they can also be made from metals like copper or elongated crystals.] The sources for this are Techniques Of High Magic: A Manual Of Self-Initiation by Francis King and Stephen Skinner; Initiation Into Hermetics: The path of the true adept by Franz Bardon; and, Wicca. It is interesting to note that a now-defunct magical order in Sydney, Australia called The Order of the Golden Phoenix accepted the case laid out in Techniques Of High Magic.

[Information on this order can be found in Other Temples, Other Gods: The occult in Australia by Nevill Drury and Gregory Tillett]


Francis King and Stephen Skinner

After listing the Golden Dawn attributions of the four Elemental Tools in Techniques Of High Magic: A Manual Of Self-Initiation, Francis King and Stephen Skinner wrote:

“However this incorporates a blind, and in fact if these attributions are considered in depth it will be seen that for some reason the two active weapons, the dagger and the wand, have been interchanged.

{This does not mean that your weapons will not work if the above ascription is used: of course they will if they have been properly consecrated, but using them will be somewhat like trying to batter someone to death with a dagger or stab them with a staff. Hard work.}

The weapons may be characterized as follows:

  1. The Dagger (Fire) is a weapon made of iron or steel, forged under heat, sharp and incisive like flame. As it is a weapon, it is associated with Mars whose colour is red, the colour of fire. Additionally the Golden Dawn attribution of the Elemental Weapons to the Sephiroth incorporated the same blind, so that despite hitherto published ascriptions, the Dagger is in fact a Weapon of Tiphareth, symbolic of sacrifice and the death and resurrection themes associated with this Sphere.
  2. The Wand (Air) like the Caduceus is part of the insignia of Mercury, the winged messenger of the gods. Mercury is traditionally associated with Air, and his patronage of travellers further confirms the attribution of the Staff or Wand to Air. The wand is the Weapon of Hod, Sephirah of Mercury and magic. … ”

Later on, instructions are provided for the manufacture of the elemental tools. The archangels used to consecrate the dagger and wand are Michael and Raphael, respectively. It will be remembered that Michael was often portrayed with a fiery sword, which strongly suggests an association between fire and swords, and by extension, daggers.

A number of online forums have debated this attribution, with some claiming that no proof is provided of a blind having been incorporated. However, the logic employed to reverse the attributions is sound.


Franz Bardon

Sadly only three of Franz Bardon’s planned five book system of spiritual development were ever written, as he died in 1958 while in the custody of Czechoslovakian police before he could complete them. In his first book, Initiation Into Hermetics: The path of the true adept, Mr Bardon outlines his elemental colors and tools:

“  …  the active elements, the Fire element in a red color and their element in a blue color  …  the passive elements, the Water element in green and the Earth element in yellow.  …

Even in the Tarot, the oldest book of wisdom, this great mystery of the elements is recorded by having the first Tarot card represent the Magician, who emphasizes the knowledge and control of the elements. On this first Tarot card the sword symbolizes the element of Fire, the wand the element of Air, the cup the element of Water, and the coins the element of Earth.”

Mr Bardon’s system is very thorough and would require years to complete. It’s designed for solo students without access to a teacher.



A blog from  2006 by Mishkan Ha-Echad, titled Air Dagger, Fire Wand, & Their Reversals, states:

“One of my personal magical ‘pet peeves’ is the reversal of the old G.’.D.’. attributions of Air to the Dagger (cutting through the illusions of the mind, etc.) and Fire to the Wand (indicative of the fiery Will, etc.) to Fire for the Dagger and Air for the Wand. This latter approach has been taken up by many Wiccan groups and has been the cause of quite some muddying of attributions, and a lot of confusion therefrom.”


A Wikipedia article, Magical tools in Wicca, contains pertinent information:

“A sword or a ritual knife, commonly known as Athame, is often used in Wiccan ritual. In Gardnerian Wicca these are symbolic of the element of fire.” – Lamond, Frederic (2004). Fifty Years of Wicca. Green Magic. pp. 125–126.

“In Gardnerian Wicca, the wand is symbolic of the element of air, though in some traditions it instead symbolizes fire.” – Gallagher, Ann-Marie (2005). The Wicca Bible. Godsfield. Page 201

This indicates that not all Wiccans agree on the attribution of the wand.


Another blog, from Wise Witches & Witchcraft, titled Gardnerian Wicca, states:

“Athames traditionally have a black handle and some kind of inscribed glyphs. This tool represents the Element of Fire.  …  Another common tool in Gardnerian witchcraft is a wand, corresponding to the Air Element.”



The Golden Dawn

In The Golden Dawn: The Original Account of the Teachings Rites and Ceremonies of the Hermetic Order by Francis Regardie and John Michael Greer we read:

The Wand for Fire: “The staff of the wand should be of wood, rounded and smooth and perforated from end to end. Within it should be placed a magnetised steel rod, just so long as to project 1/16 inch beyond each end of the wood.  …  The whole is coloured flame scarlet and is divided into three parts by yellow bands. The cone-shaped end has also painted upon its red surface three wavy flame-shaped Yods as ornaments; they are painted bright yellow.

The Dagger for Air: “Any convenient dagger or knife or sword may be adapted to the use; the shorter it is, the better. The hilt and pommel and guard are to be coloured in bright pure yellow. The divine and angelic names should be written upon the yellow background in purple or violet, together with their sigils from the rose, and the motto of the Adeptus.



Aleister Crowley

In The Book of Thoth, Aleister Crowley stated:

“The Ancients conceived of Fire; Water and Air as pure elements.  …  the three elements concerned are completely spiritual forms of pure energy; they can only manifest in sensible experience by impinging upon the senses, crystallising out in a fourth element which they call ‘Earth’  …  The four suits are named as follows: ‘Wands’, attributed to Fire; ‘Cups’, to Water; ‘Swords’, to Air; and ‘Disks’ (‘Coins’, or ‘Pan tael es’), to Earth.”

In Book 4, Part II, Mr Crowley stated regarding the Wand:

“This Magical Will is the wand in your hand by which the Great Work is accomplished, by which the Daughter is not merely set upon the throne of the Mother, but assumed into the Highest.

The Magick Wand is thus the principal weapon of the Magus; and the ‘name’ of that wand is the Magical Oath.

The will being twofold is in Chokmah, who is the Logos, the word; hence some have said that the word is the will. Thoth the Lord of Magic {sic} is also the Lord of Speech; Hermes the messenger bears the Caduceus.

Word should express will: hence the Mystic Name of the Probationer is the expression of his highest Will.”

Combining the material in The Book of Thoth and Book 4, it is evident that the Wand and the Will are both attributed to Fire.

It is possibly a bit of a stretch, but Crowley points out that Wands are attributed to The Will, the Logos (word) and Thoth the Lord of Speech which is very much in keeping with intellect, communication, and the element of Air. So, while Crowley used the Wand for Fire, he does appear to admit to an Air-like property to it.

In Book 4, Part II, Mr Crowley stated regarding the Dagger:

“The Sword or Dagger is attributed to air, all-wandering, all-penetrating, but unstable; not a phenomenon subtle like fire, not a chemical combination like water, but a mixture of gases.

The rational mind supports life, but about seventy-nine per cent. Of it not only refuses itself to enter into combination, but prevents the remaining twenty-one per cent. From doing so. Enthusiasms are checked; the intellect is the great enemy of devotion. One of the tasks of the Magician is to manage somehow to separate the Oxygen and Nitrogen in his mind, to stifle four-fifths so that he may burn up the remainder, a flame of holiness. But this cannot be done by the Sword.

The Sword, ecessaryy as it is to the Beginner, is but a crude weapon. Its function is to keep off the enemy or to force a passage through them – and though it must be wielded to gain admission to the palace, it cannot be worn at the marriage feast.

One might say that the Pantacle is the bread of life, and the Sword the knife which cuts it up. One must have ideas, but one must criticize them.”




As tempting as it is to conclude that only one of the attributions are correct, it is evident that both sets are being used with positive results.

If you’re in a magickal order or a coven, it make sense to use the attributions they teach as you’ll be surrounded with a support group. Solitary practitioners have the luxury of choosing the set which resonates with them.

Choosing the Golden Dawn attributions means that there is no shortage of books, tarot decks, and premade tools to purchase.

Choosing the reversed attributions, however, means you’ll have to fashion your own tools and tarot deck. Everything you read will have to be “translated” before it can be incorporated.



Tony Mierzwicki

Author of Hellenismos: Practicing Greek Polytheism Today and Graeco-Egyptian Magick: Everyday Empowerment.

Browse Our Archives