Once upon a time, two student witches sat in discussion with an old, curmudgeonly Wiccan priest. He asked, “When Wiccans call to ‘the guardians of the watchtowers’ of the four quarters, to whom are we speaking?”
The first witch, who already happened to be a High-Priestess in two different lineages of Initiatory Witchcraft, answered, “There are several possibilities. One choice is the Elemental Rulers: Paralda, Necksa, Djin, and Gob.”
The old priest’s surly eyebrows arch, as he scoffs in surprise. “What? Who told you that?”
Her cheeks redden, betraying her confusion. “Well…all of my teachers; all of the books,” she defends, eyes seeking confirmation from her fellow student.
The second witch, who’d long been upon the eclectic path of Modern Witchcraft (that would be me) chimed right in. “Yes, the elemental Kings and Queens are one choice of guardian. I think of them as the personified collective consciousnesses of the four elemental planes. They rule the beings known as elementals: sylphs, undines, salamanders, gnomes.”
The old Priest laughs at them cruelly. “What are you talking about?! Sounds like the rubbish they sell in a Llewellyn ‘Wicca 101’ books! <red flag #1> Do you have references for this lore?”
Knowing that “Llewellyn Wicca 101 books” is exactly where she’d learned these mysteries, the second witch answers, “I’m sure there were footnotes, though I admit I haven’t looked them up. They are discussed in every book on Wiccan ritual I’ve read over the last 20 years…seems to be common knowledge.”
He chides, “That was your mistake. Real Wicca isn’t in books. That’s why I haven’t bothered to read any of them.” <red flag #2>
The flush of embarrassment fills her, but then… “Hold on…haven’t you written several Wiccan books and published them through Llewellyn?” she demands.
“Well, yeah…but I’m the only reputable writer they have,” he boasts. <Red Alert! Shields up! All Hands to Battle stations!>
There is now steam rising in a collective swirl from both of their ears.
My Quest for the Elemental Guardians
That’s when I first knew something about this particular Wiccan priest was very, very….off…
The Curmudgeonly Wiccan challenged me to find a credible source about these so called elemental rulers, in any book older than Gerald Gardner. He said their names didn’t even sound British, so how did they find their way into a British form of witchcraft?
Hell took no umbrage like a Heron mocked. So, I accepted the quest.
Divine Breadcrumbs Fall
Within a week, the breadcrumbs started landing. First, I’m at my father’s home in Tennessee for a visit, when the family heirloom Masonic sword is now leaning in the corner of the guest room. I hadn’t seen it since I was a child, and as I carefully looked over the ornate etching into the blade and handle, the obvious ceremonial magick was clear. Many of my forefathers were Freemasons.
This sparked a new line of inquiry into the Masonic influences of Gerald Gardner who founded what we call “Gardnerian Wicca,” and Alexander Sanders, who founded what we call “Alexandrian Wicca.” As it happens, the curmudgeonly old Priest claimed that his lineage went back to Sanders, which is what made his teachings “real Wicca.” <The irony…it burns…>
Reading the biographies of Gardner and Sanders led me back further to the infamous occultist, Aleister Crowley, who was a clear influence on the development of British Wicca. But how did Crowley learn about ceremonial magick? Crowley was involved with the The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. “In 1898 Aleister Crowley was initiated into the society and progressed rapidly through the degrees. The next year, 1899, he went to Paris and compelled Mathers to initiate him into the Second Order to which Mathers complied.” source
Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
Ok, so what does the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn teach? From Wikipedia:
“The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was an organization devoted to the study and practice of the occult, metaphysics, and paranormal activities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Known as a magical order, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was active in Great Britain and focused its practices on theurgy and spiritual development. Many present-day concepts of ritual and magic that are at the centre of contemporary traditions, such as Wicca and Thelema, were inspired by the Golden Dawn, which became one of the largest single influences on 20th-century Western occultism.
…The “Golden Dawn” was the first of three Orders…The First Order taught esoteric philosophy based on the Hermetic Qabalah and personal development through study and awareness of the four Classical Elements as well as the basics of astrology, tarot divination, and geomancy. The Second or “Inner” Order, the Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis, taught magic, including scrying, astral travel, and alchemy. The Third Order was that of the “Secret Chiefs“… they supposedly directed the activities of the lower two orders by spirit communication…”
Secret Teachings of All Ages
The next week, I travel to South Carolina for my 20th High School Reunion, and an old friend suddenly gifts me with….this book…
…my most treasured volume: The Secret Teachings of All Ages: An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy by Manly P. Hall, original copyright 1928. This is the enlarged Golden Anniversary edition, and is incredibly valuable. My friend had no idea what he had in his hands, and he offers it in trade to me for a crocheted cowl I make. That is how all the best quests work…one must pay some price to the keeper of the key you need, a debt I gladly paid.
Manly P. Hall
Who wrote this rare book the Universe plopped into my lap? A masonic scholar of great acclaim and respect, who predates Gardner and Sanders, and was a contemporary of Crowley’s.
“Manly Palmer Hall (March 18, 1901 – August 29, 1990) was a Canadian-born author and mystic. He is perhaps most famous for his work The Secret Teachings of All Ages: An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy, which is widely regarded as his magnum opus, and which he published at the age of 25 (or 27, 1928) He has been widely recognized as a leading scholar in the fields of religion, mythology, mysticism, and the occult…In 1973…Hall was recognized as a 33Âº Mason (the highest honor conferred by the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite)…” www.manlyphall.org
Within the first days of my delicious acquaintance with my new tome of occult wisdom, I do a little bibliomancy, and allow the covers to fall open as they will. I dive into the first article, noting immediately the woodcuts of…get this…the elemental beings.
AHA! Now I know why this books comes to me NOW!
What I Learned About the Elemental Realms and Guardians
Thanks to the work of renaissance alchemist and hermetic philosopher, Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus (1493-1541), we have a body of knowledge about the spiritual essence of the elements, and the elemental beings that we work with in the ritual circles of Wicca and Witchcraft.
The concept of the elements of creation originated in the studies of Alchemy, and are believed to have been taught to Paracelsus during his studies abroad in the early 1500’s. Hall also offers an extensive article about the life and work of Paracelsus, himself. On page CL Hall states:
“When 20 years old, [Paracelsus] began a series of travels which continued for about 12 years. He visited many European countries, including Russia. It is possible he penetrated into Asia. It was in Constantinople that the great secret of the Hermetic arts was bestowed upon him by by Arabian adepts. His knowledge of the Nature spirits and the inhabitants of the invisible worlds he probably secured from the Brahmins of India with whom he came into contact, either directly or through their disciples.”
What Paracelsus Taught us about the Elemental Beings and Their Rulers
The four primary elements were known to the ancient hermetic philosophers are Earth, Air, Fire and Water.
Paracelsus taught that these elements were two-fold in nature; they had both a subtle, vaporous principle (Above, in the realms of spirit) and a gross, corporeal substance (below, in the world of matter.) Each element was both visible and invisible, discernible and indiscernible.
As such, air was described as both “tangible atmosphere and an intangible, volatile substratum which may be termed spiritual air.” Fire is a “spiritual ethereal flame manifesting through a material, substantial flame.” Water is both a dense fluid, and “a potential essence of fluidic nature.” Earth has a lower being that is “fixed, terreous and immobile” and a higher being that is “rarefied, mobile and virtual.” Pg. CV
In other words, the Hermetic principle of correspondence applies: “As above, so below. As below, so above.” All the minerals, plants and animals of the material world are composed of various combinations of the gross parts of these elements. However, these physical components of which everything is made, are fed by purely spiritual dimensions made of the elemental essences, the spiritual ethers that create through each physical element.
Elemental Realms: The Plane of Forces
The elements exist in their pure, spiritual state in what we call their elemental realms. These realms are not someplace we can physically “go” because they are already “right here,” but on a difference vibrational plane of existence. These planes are layers of energetic vibrations that are the Spiritual ether of the element. They exist concurrently with all of reality, intersecting with it, yet remaining centered and pure.
Collectively these are known as the Plane of Forces. Through them the forces of the universe are harnessed to create anything in the world.
Paracelsus wrote that the elemental essences are populated by a host of beings he called elementals, who are pure energy, pure consciousness in the essence of the element. They embody it and regulate its function in the physical world.
The elementals are envisioned in folklore from many ancient cultures.
- Earth: Gnomes, also described as pygmies, brownies, dwarves, sprites, goblins, dryads, hemadryads.
- Air: Sylphs, sylestres, fairies are envisioned like winged pixie-like creatures, or moth-like.
- Water: Undines, envisioned in folk-lore as Mer-people, also described as Nymphae
- Fire: salamanders, pictured like tiny red lizards, that exist in the heart of every flame. Also called firedrakes, some dragons, vulcani, lares, penates.
Although folklore tends to personify elementals as though they are part human, according to Paracelsus, this is not accurate; elementals are spirits of pure energetic forces. Nature spirits, faeries, or Fey Folk, and devas should not be lumped in with them, as they are different beings and embody more than one element.
Elementals function at a vibrational rate higher than their earthly substance. They cannot exist or survive in our dimension without the gross form of their element present, which is why the Wiccan altar requires a lit candle, bowl of water, salt and burning incense if you plan to “call the quarters” to support your magickal work. Much like humans must have atmosphere, and fish must have water to survive, so must elementals have their element to be present in your circle.
Mythologies often refer to hierarchies within the elemental realms. At the pinnacle are beings classified as Elemental Rulers. They are sometimes called to be the Guardians of the Watchtowers, because they maintain the balance between elements. They are our partners of creation. Through them and the ritual circle we awaken all aspects of ourselves–physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
- Paralda, rules the essence of Air and Sylphs, given the eastern corner of creation as his throne, and seen as “winged” aerial beings.
- Djin, rules the essence of Fire and salamanders, given the southern corner of creation, and seen as a magnificent flaming spirit, terrible and awe-inspiring.
- Necksa (Nicksa)*, rules the essence of Water and Undines, given the western corner of creation, seen as fluidic and fish-like
- Gob (Ghob)**, rules the essence of Earth and Gnomes, given the northern corner of creation, seen very close in vibratory nature as the material earth and plants, themselves, clothed in stone, plant or fur-like garments that grow with them.
Archangels of Creation
In the Western Esoteric Traditions which go back to Golden Dawn, through Enochian Magick, and from there to Alchemy, there are Archangels associated as the Guardians of the Watchtowers over the four quarters of Creation. Gabriel ruled the East. Michael guarded the South. Raphael guarded the West, and Uriel guarded the North. The archangels, however, are an entirely different strata of Divine Being than anything rooted in this middle world, as are the elementals. Archangels are of the Upperworld, encompassing far more than the single elemental power which falls in their domain. The confusion here is in the term “Watchtowers,” which is a ceremonial magick term, and doesn’t necessarily correlate to elemental realms, beings, sovereigns OR even witchcraft, and may have been a term borrowed inappropriately by the founders. <shrug>
The Curmudgeonly High Priest of my story also rebuked the notion of angels being in the quarters of his natural pagan religion. And I quote, “I didn’t spend my life leaving Judaism behind just to have angels show back up in my witchcraft.” So that wasn’t the answer he was looking for, either. Instead, their tradition chooses to call their Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses from the quarters. To my mind, I call Gods from Upper and Underworlds. But in witchcraft, our domain is the middle world, and the elemental energies and beings who dwell within the middle world, interweaving the physical from quintessence. The elements are my witchy business.
The Moral of the Story
By following this rabbit hole, I learned a lot about WHY things happen in a Wiccan ceremony the way they do. I found the internal consistency I needed to support both my understanding and my praxis. So, I brought my findings back to the Curmudgeonly priest.
Conclusion: Yes, the lore of elementals and their rulers who are often called as “The Guardians” are Arabic and/or Indian in origin, taught to a German doctor in Constantinople (Turkey) in the 1500’s, who carried that back to Europe and became a renowned Master of Alchemy. He wrote of the Elemental Rulers, which I showed him in a book from 1928 (prior to Gardner’s work) who referenced Paracelsus’ works from the 1500’s. But those guardians aren’t necessarily associated with “watchtowers.” Nevertheless, elemental beings and their rulers have very old occult roots.
So there! Llewellyn ‘Wicca 101′ books were accurate. BOOM.
Paracelsus’ work profoundly influenced Western Esoteric Philosophy, which was preserved by mystery schools in Britain such as Masonic Temples, and The Golden Dawn….who taught Crowley…whose work influenced Gardner and Sanders and countless other foreparents of modern Wicca…who launched a lineage…who’s downline priest would become…this Curmudgeon claiming superiority over us, and belittling our knowledge of occult magick.
Bottom Line: Wicca has always been a syncretism of British/European pagan religions, with both local folk magick and Ceremonial Magick born of the ancient worlds in the Middle-East, Greece, Rome, Egypt, India, Asia… I have no problem with that. If you choose not to discover those origins by refusing to read more than just your own books, well….good luck with that. However, the Curmudgeonly Wiccans of the world can cease and desist with the arrogant mockery of next-gen witches who’ve done their homework. Any teacher who denigrates their students is an asshole, and I have no time for assholes.
The Priest was nonplussed by my report. <Shrug> I left his tutelage shortly thereafter. I heard the message loud and clear: I do not require his brand of “real wicca” in order to do the Work set before me. I am priestess enough, in my own way.
May the quest for wisdom never end!
*In neither Hall’s text, nor in Paracelsus, is the ruler of water referred to by gender. They do say that Undines are usually seen as female, and the element of water is feminine. In my own work, I strive to remove the patriarchal bias found in foundational Wicca from the 60’s and later. As such, these rulers present themselves as Queens to me. I consider these “Queens” to have an internal consistency that bears out over multiple personal moments of gnosis of my associates.
**In the text, Gob is the only one referred to specifically as a “King,” and that gnomes are primarily envisioned as male. However, as elemental Earth was known to be primarily feminine by Alchemists, I consider this to reflect the patriarchal bias of the time. Paracelsus well known for a “hatred of women” that bordered on mania. My work reveals Gob (Ghob) to be more “gender-fluid,” but for internal consistency, I refer to the ruler as a Queen, and the ruler doesn’t seem to mind. 🙂