Elemental Witchcraft: Virtue and Vice through Astrology, Pop-Culture, Tarot and Love Languages

Elemental Witchcraft: Virtue and Vice through Astrology, Pop-Culture, Tarot and Love Languages March 20, 2021

In December 2021, my book Elemental Witchcraft will be released by Llewellyn Worldwide. The concepts of the four elemental essences, upon which elemental magick is based, hails all the way back to ancient Greece. They continued to emerge throughout modern mythology and psychology. As a preview of my book, this article includes excerpts which explore how the elemental essences of earth, air, fire and water express their natures visibly through the virtues and vices of earthly inhabitants, encoded through our natal astrology.

To illustrate these archetypal themes in modern imagery we’ll explore them through pop-culture at Hogwarts in Harry Potter by JK Rowling, the races of The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, and the Star Trek Franchise founded by Gene Roddenberry. I’ll also compare them to the Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman and the four suits of the Tarot card system. A mythos isn’t valuable just because it’s ancient. The divine cosmos is alive, evolving, and continuously revealing itself through the imaginations of modern people, modern cultures and modern stories.

Elemental Virtues and Vices through Tarot Cards, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings – Heron Michelle

Four Elemental Natures of Empedocles

All our work with the elemental energies of nature, originates with a fellow named Empedocles. Empedocles was a Sicilian philosopher, poet, religious teacher and statesman, living 490 BCE – 430 BCE.  For historical context, he was a contemporary of the philosopher Socrates (470-399 BCE), and preceded Plato (428-348 BCE), who was born just two years prior to Empedocles death.[1]

Empedocles

Empedocles is credited with formulating the philosophy of the four essential ingredients which composed matter. He named them the elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. He believed that nothing could be created or destroyed, they just changed form depending on the blending and ratio of the four elements within. He stated that these four elements were all equal, with individual characteristics. Different mixtures of these elements produced the different mental, emotional, physical and active natures of all things.[1]

Empedocles was also a firm believer in reincarnation, with complex notions of how humans transmigrate between mortal bodies to experience the four elements in different combinations.[1] The concept of elemental energies went on to influence the Platonic philosophies, and ultimately the Hermetic philosophers in Alexandria, Egypt, which brings us to Modern Witchcraft today.

Virtue and Vice of the Four Classical Elements

Philosophers through the ages observed that the four elements expressed themselves through people as four varying “natures.” Each nature was then observed to have strengths, called virtues. This would be the inherent aptitudes empowered by the dominate elemental energy of that being. However, Empedocles also suggested that each of the elemental powers tended toward a particular “evil” when under duress. However, evil is a problematic term within the Hermetic Neo-pagan paradigm of modern witchcraft, which acknowledges the sovereign choice to behave for benefit or bane; this is a choice, not an inherent character flaw. Rather than “evils” I would describe the vices, or shadows each elemental nature presents. Our witching goal is then to confront, heal and strengthen those weak-spots within our natures during each lifetime.

Table of Zodiac Sun Sign dates by Element

Elemental Nature and the Zodiac of Destiny

One’s primary elemental nature is heavily determined by the placement of the sun in a zodiac sign, which encodes an elemental essence and a modality within a cycle. For example, if your sun is in Pisces, a dominant elemental nature for you will be water. While not the only factor, it is a starting place, as the natal sun sign will have a very strong influence upon one’s character.

Some of the qualities associated with the elemental natures are arranged in the chart below.[2]

Table of Empedocles Elemental Natures plus Tarot Suits

The Nature of Fire

The Fire signs exhibit a virtue of righteousness.

Fire sign people are typically courageous and bold in the defense of justice and the rule of law. These are the “take action” people who are the first to get in there and make their passions happen. They play fairly and truthfully, get right to the point, are typically virtuous, defenders and activists. They tend to do the right thing, even if it isn’t a sanctioned thing.

If fire folks were sent to Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, they’d feel right at home in house Gryffindor.[3] JK Rowling, Harry Potter and Neville Longbottom are all Leos!

The Fire signs are by nature warriors.

Our fire sign friends bring zeal and fortitude to the party. They are known for a moral strength enableing them to venture into unknown territories and persevere in the presence of danger. Whether right or wrong, they charge in with confidence. They are resolute, tenacious folks who will fight for their principles with a stubborn persistence that may be unwilling to recognize defeat. Fire sign folks may thrive in the military, marital arts, and athletics of all kinds.

The Fire signs are of a spiritual nature.

You know how some folks are described as “spirited” and what we’re describing is a quality of being a little wild, rambunctious and hard to control? Yup, fire. Vital powers of fire bring the gusto and plenty of physical energy, both agile and sexual. There is an essential liveliness, ardor, and enthusiasm to everything they do, being both firm and assertive.

In Roddenberry’s Star Trek Mythos, the Klingon Empire exemplifies the warrior spirit which is also deeply spiritual with a complex ritual for every occasion.

The Fire signs’ emotional nature is goal oriented.

Fire sign folks tend to be passionate and competitive, with strong feelings about being “the best.” This can be an internal goal for a personal best, but their egos are driven by their identity of accomplishment. They can feel at home in the spotlight. They may be perceived by others as aggressive because they thrive on challenge.

When I think of the “Five Love Languages” made famous by a marriage counselor, Dr. Gary Chapman, I’d say fiery folks easily offer and respond to “acts of service.”[4]

The Fire signs shadow is being destructive.

Fire can be the softest glow of romantic candlelight, but then a fire can also burn the house down. Fire signs are very determined, and therefore a pitfall for them would be in doing anything nefarious thing it takes to “win” whatever battle they’re waging, with themselves or others. When out of balance, fire folks may become spiteful, vengeful, and raging when angered; hyper-sexual, impatient, demanding, bluntly sharp-tongued to intentionally hurt feelings; they may become physically violent in a full-frontal assault. Klingon much?

Among Middle Earth’s races represented in the Fellowship of the Ring, the race of Men best shows Fire energies, as the prideful, (often ego-blind) and warlike, patriarchal “dominator” society. The horse is especially related to fire energies, and the King of Rohan is a perfect example of both the virtue and vice of fire.

Embed from Getty Images

Fire: The Tarot suit of Wands

Wands are ruled by the element of fire, and speak to our energies and the condition of our Will and Spirit. How do we apply our Will through our actions? Which “battles” do we show up to fight, our passions and what we are achieving toward those goals? Fire is a very yang, projective energy which may specifically address one’s sexuality.

The Nature of Earth

The Earth signs exhibit a virtue of propriety.

Earth sign people are typically conventional, tending towards prudence, with a deep regard for rules and socially acceptable conduct. Your earth friends bring order, substance, and both generous good manners and good food to the party.

The Earth signs by nature are merchants.

In the old world of Empedocles, there were rather limited roles to play in society. Think of all the occupations that involve the procurement, management, and trade of real, material things. Sellers, bankers, real-estate, makers and traders of material or tangible commodities. Earth folks tend to be business oriented and interested in physical resources. They are “in their element” when dealing with material comforts. They are nurturers, providers, builders, and artisans. I also think of the very literally earthy profession of growing things, like a farmer or gardener.

At Hogwarts: Hufflepuff House. Professor Sprout was head of house and the Herbology teacher in charge of the greenhouses, after all. Also consider the race of Goblins which are the bankers of the Wizarding world are clearly inspired by the elemental beings of earth ruled by the sovereign Gob (Ghob), as described by the Alchemist Paracelsus.

The Earth signs have a physical nature.

Wiccan author Timothy Roderick wrote, “Earthy people enjoy the simple pleasures of life such as good food, good sex, and a nice place to live.”[5] Earth signs love tangible possessions, and enjoy sensory stimulation such as taste, smell and feel. They are very grounded and practical, but they also appreciate the nuance of artistry, like fine art, sumptuous textiles, and quality construction.

In Tolkien’s middle-earth, this describes the Dwarves well. Dwarves live under the mountains as miners, in search of gold and jewels, also known for their exquisite artistry.

The Earth signs’ emotional nature is stimulated by the senses.

Sight, sound, touch, smell and taste are what best stimulate the emotions of earthy folks. They appreciate nice surroundings and good music. They are very sensual, and so touch is important to a sense of love and intimacy. Financial and physical security are conditions required for an emotionally happy earth folk.

As for a “Love Language,” I’d say that “receiving gifts,” and “physical touch” would be easily shared by earth folks, and also well received. [4]

The Earth Signs’ shadow is being vengeful.

When wounded, earth-natured people can hold a grudge as if it is set in stone. Their revenge will likely NOT be from a frontal assault, but there will be consequences, often financial. They may tend to rigidity, and a stubborn insistence of their own way. When angered, they are quick to express it verbally and cruelly. Attachment to material things may result in covetousness, possessiveness, avarice and greed. When out of balance there may be an internal struggle between slothfulness and hyper-hygiene.

In Trek terms, I always think of the Ferengi people, who were definitely the merchants and bankers of Roddenberry’s galaxy.

Earth: The Tarot Suit of Coins, Pentacles or Disks

Pentacles illustrate the element of earth, and speak to our resources and physical condition. By what means are we surviving in the middle world? These cards relate to our physical health, including how we put food on the table, and a roof over our heads. So this suit also relates to whatever job you do to provide financial stability. But the material reality is also a mirror of our internal reality, so the take-away from this suit is also about generosity, charity, and abundance-consciousness which manifests on all levels, including monetary wealth.

Aces from Four Elemental Tarot Suits, Rider-Waite Deck – Heron Michelle

The Nature of Air

The Air signs exhibit the virtue of knowledge.

Air sign people are driven toward intellectual pursuits, tending to be well-informed, with a rational understanding of the world. Their interests and education tend to be broad, with natural curiosity making them ideal researchers and academics. These are the idea people. Air folks have an excellent grasp of language and put that to good use as communicators. Virtues include curiosity, initiative, originality, self-discipline, and visionary ingenuity.

In JRR Tolkein’s Middle Earth, the lofty, refined and intellectual race of Elves exemplify the air nature, including their vice of elitism and condescension. In Roddenberry’s Star Trek Galaxy, the race of Vulcans, with their exemplification of logic and the scientific approach to life are a perfect example. Vulcan’s are ritualistic and “religious” about their meditation practices and spiritual pursuits, in true “priest” fashion.

The Air signs are by nature priests.

During the time of Empedocles, the educated class were the Priests, as keepers of the mysteries, and teachers of sacred wisdom. These remain the knowledgeable and insightful people of society. What gets air people out of bed in the morning is the active pursuit of knowledge through experience and education. Airy professions today may include academics, researchers, authors, thespians, publishers, educators, clergy, lawyers, politicians, investigators, inventors, and innovators.

The Air signs have a mental nature.

Air folks are keen witted, and deal with situations rationally, rather than emotionally. They use intellectual capacity and astute observations to succeed.

This is clearly the element that inspired the House of Ravenclaw at Hogwarts. The character Luna Lovegood was written to be an Aquarius, an air sign, and her character illustrated another potential pitfall being flighty and “air-headed.”

The Air Signs’ emotional nature is directed toward self-appraisal.

The air signs have the tendency to judge themselves very harshly; ego-driven to achieve high personal standards in hygiene and comportment, with elite education, demanding job performance and the “perfect” family.

Their love language could easily be “Words of Affirmation.” Air sign lovers will tell you how they feel, but they also need to hear how their loved ones feel about them in return. [4]

The Air signs’ shadow is being duplicitous.

When wounded and out of balance, air folks may become over-analytical, and hyper-focused on their own pursuits, at the exclusion of all else. They might misuse their mental powers as ingenious, dastardly masterminds. Air folk do not quickly forget their anger. At their worst they become mean, opinionated and judgmental. They may be prone to verbal abuse.

In Star Trek terms, I think of the Romulan empire, with their distrust, efforts at sabotage and renown for spy networks.

Air: The Tarot Suit of Swords.

Swords illustrate the element of Air, and speak to our thoughts and mental condition. It is easy to think of swords cards as the “bad things” suit, and it is true that many of the cards reflect the ugliest challenges we face in life. What we think is what we manifest, and those thoughts tend to be fear and worry-based. Unfortunately, we tend to think ourselves into real tribulations. Swords reflect our attitudes and processes, and we are most vulnerable to outside influence, because much of what shapes our reality emerges from subconscious programming.

The Nature of Water

The Water signs exhibit the virtue of benevolence.

Like water itself, which accepts all drops without discrimination, easily becoming one body, Water sign people are typically accepting, and inclusive. This lends to a charitable and generous disposition toward their fellow travelers of life. They can be soft-hearted humanitarians who concern themselves with the welfare of others. They are easy-going and forgiving, and enjoy doing helpful things.

The Water signs by nature are helpers.

Cooperative, companionable, hospitable and sociable; Empedocles called them ‘servers’ because of their selfless acts to serve others. When the virtue of this element is dominant, water folks can have a sincerely selfless devotion to the welfare of humanity. Water is the element of emotion, and in a cosmos made of Divine Love, a water element person may find it their nature to offer unconditional love to others, without quid pro quo. Water folk make excellent healers doctors, social workers, animal rescue and child-welfare advocates. They come to the aid of the sick and the unfortunate, just as they would for one of their own family.

The Water signs have an emotional nature.

Water folks are naturally empathic and psychic. They are dreamers, creative, compassionate and expressive of their feelings. Their deep awareness and sensitivity to the subtle aspects of life, mean that their feelings may be easily hurt, but they try not to let it show. Water folks tend to make decisions based on their emotions rather than by reason.

The “love language” of a water sign could be a blend of all five, but “Spending Quality Time” and pouring your energy into being present with them, is comforting. In other words, come swim in their waters to show your affection.[4]

The Water sign’s emotions are directed toward other people.

Water folks are deeply concerned about the welfare of their friends and family. Because of their subtle perceptions, they may be naturally skeptical and shy. They may be concerned about what other people think and say about them. They are generous and kind-hearted, which make them happy.

In Tolkien’s world, I think of the Hobbits. My first thought was earth, as Hobbits live as farmers and homebodies, lovers of good company, good food, pipeweed, and beer, but more than the comforts, it is in Hobbits that they are generously shared within deep familial relationships around the hearth stones of a comfy home, and singing with friends sociably at the pub and at big parties. Of all the races of middle earth, their self-sacrifice and dedication to service of a greater good exemplified the water element’s nature of selfless altruism.

The Water sign shadow is subterfuge.

Empedocles described this vice as “deceptive.” That may also be true. I am a Pisces water sign, and I think the weakness may best be described as subterfuge. Subterfuge is deceit by putting up an artificial front, using evasive maneuvers to avoid a consequence, or a confrontation. Subterfuge uses clandestine strategy as a means to evade a perceived threat. When a water sign person is wounded and reacting defensively, they may attempt to throw up a glamour which conceals the ugly truth, or which projects a falsehood onto someone they fear. Like a torpedo launched from their submarine, a water sign’s target may never even detect the attack, until their battleship is sunk. Water folks do emotional damage as their non-violent way of revenge. Milder cases include stretching the truth to keep up a false appearance. Water signs are emotional people, prone to get carried away. Also, prone to letting emotions build up until there is an outburst. If there is going to be a crime of passion, water folks are likely to commit them. They can become emotionally abusive.

At Hogwarts, the ambitious Slytherin house aligns with water energies, though unnecessarily demonized. Their common room was described as being in the dungeons under the lake itself! In the wizarding world, I think of the sign of Scorpio – the sign of sex, death and the occult – and whose symbols include the snake. In Star Trek, the Cardassian people were devoted to home, family and loyal friendship, like the water sign of cancer. Their stories also depicted them as being paranoid manipulators, deceptive and unnecessarily cruel…they even looked like humanoid Cobras! Watery characters/villains are complicated for real reasons! Alas…

Cardassian, a Star Trek Race, Image from Wikipedia

Water: The Tarot Suit of Cups

Cups illustrate the element of water, and speak to our feelings and emotional condition. How are our subconscious feeling for ourselves, mirroring in our relationships with other people? Matters of the heart, love, and the yin, receptive sexual energies play out upon these cards. Because the cosmos is made of Divine Love, we are all interconnected through that love, for the purpose of love. These cards speak to seeking out union with others, and remembering of our divine interconnections.

Moral of the Story:

My book explores the elemental natures from the perspective of Aphrodite’s Thealogy of Divine love. I consider the virtues of these elemental natures to be the resulting success of a person who is well-supported through the nine divine love conditions: Acceptance, Sovereignty, Resources, Affection, Expression, Security, Authenticity, Trustworthiness, and Reciprocity. In other words, if their particular elemental nature exists in an environment of affirmation of their true selves, with the personal sovereignty and resources they need to thrive, and the security, dignity and respect that is their God/dess-given right, then the benefits of their elemental nature will flourish.

Empedocles also suggested that each of the elemental natures tended toward their particular vice when under duress. Duress comes from the denial of the nine divine love conditions, resulting in fearfulness. Fearful duress is the norm in the patriarchal, dominator culture of oppression and false-scarcity in which we live. Therefore, the vices within all of our elemental natures are prone to emerge through harmful “acts of evil.” My book also puts these ethical choices into the perspective of my pithy Four Rules of Witchcraft for Personal Sovereignty: Don’t burn the witch. Don’t be the Asshole (or “the problem” when I’m being polite.) Don’t be the Weak Link. Must be present to win. In the vices, I see four distinct styles of witch-burning, assholery, weak-linking, and forfeiture (not present, therefore losing by default.)

Empedocles believed that those who have near equal proportions of the four elemental natures would perceive reality most clearly, and be most intelligent. We easily think of mental intelligence (air), but there is also emotional intelligence (water), behavioral intelligence (fire), physical intelligence of healthy living (earth) and spiritual intelligence of an evolving interconnection. In Elemental Witchcraft, I define the goal of a Pentacle Path of Modern Witchcraft as a cultivation of healthy balance between the five elemental aspects of the self, so that we may create a happy and effective human life. From a practice in Elemental magick, we may derive the tools of cooperation, which restore balance to society, as well as ourselves.

If you’d like to learn more, I encourage you to ask your local bookseller to pre-order Elemental Witchcraft: A Guide to Living a Magickal Life through the Elements, due to be released Dec. 8, 2021. To help me out until then, add it to your Amazon wish list at the link below!

Blessed be!
~Heron

 

References:
[1] Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Empedocles.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Access date March 19, 2021 https://www.britannica.com/biography/Empedocles.
[2] Higgins, Charlie. “Astrology and the Four Elements.” Access New Age. http://www.accessnewage.com/articles/astro/HIGELEMS.HTM Accessed Sept 29, 2019.
[3] Remember that Rowling has that degree in the Classics, so she did this on purpose!
[4] Dr. Gary Chapman is a marriage counselor, who wrote the book: The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts. Northfield Publishing. 2015 edition? https://www.5lovelanguages.com/5-love-languages/
[5] Roderick, Timothy. Wicca: A Year and a day in the Craft of the Wise. Page 182.

About Heron Michelle
Heron Michelle is a witch, high priestess and author of the forthcoming book, Elemental Witchcraft, to be released Dec. 8, 2021 through Llewellyn Publishing. She is a co-founder of The Sojourner Tradition of Modern Witchcraft, a mom of two, Reiki Master, tarot card diviner, clairvoyant and shopkeeper living in Greenville, North Carolina. Connect with her on Facebook: Witch on Fire: Heron Michelle, Author, Instagram: HeronMichelle and Twitter @HeronMichelle13. You can read more about the author here.

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