Since I posted my first column on honoring the Elemental Powers, I've received several emails and questions on Facebook about the elements, all of them asking the same question: as a Heathen, how do I view the Elemental Powers and how do I incorporate honoring them into my practice? While initially surprised by the question, I realize that for those readers new to their ancestral traditions (be it Heathenry, another Paganism, or Wicca), there really isn't much information out there to help guide one on one's way (hence this particular series of columns).
I think Wiccans probably have it the easiest here because the typical Wiccan ritual involves an invocation to air, fire, water, and earth. That's good, but even that, drawn as it is from ceremonial magic, is far removed from what I'm referring to when I speak about honoring the Elemental Powers. I'm also aware that like ancestor work, this is a new concept to many of you (as it was to me not so long ago) so I'm going to step back and explain exactly what I mean when I talk about this type of elemental reverence.
The Elemental Powers are ancient. They are also older by far than humanity and quite sentient. As I indicated in my May 3 column, I very much like the idea of referring to Elemental "nations" precisely because in our lexicon that implies a culture, community, and sentient, independent beings working and abiding together. I believe that these Powers, like the Gods and like the ancestors have the ability to consciously choose to affect our world. I also think that they have been injured, attacked, and ravaged by our species. Likewise, I believe very strongly that part of doing effective ancestor work lies in restoring right relationship between ourselves, each one of us individually, and these Powers. Of course every person is going to have to decide for him or herself what precisely that entails.
I came to honor the Elemental Powers through my work with the ancestors. It was a logical extension and one some of my oldest ancestors pointed out to me. As a Heathen my cosmology tells me that ice and fire are responsible for life. That great collision of opposing forces birthed the worlds, including our human world. That makes them ancestors of a sort.
I'll fully admit that personally, I don't much like "nature." I'm not an outdoorsy type person. I much prefer a nice air-conditioned home with good food, good wine, maybe a little television to camping, hiking, and peeing in the woods. That being said, I may not like being out in nature but I respect the Powers that inhabit and form it; and I've learned over the years to honor them.
It wasn't easy for me. I especially found it difficult to overcome my distaste for personal inconvenience. When it dawned on me that to truly honor these Powers, it wasn't enough to say prayers and pour out offerings, that I had the moral obligation to make a few changes in my lifestyle as well (like starting to recycle, for instance), it was a huge personal comeuppance. It was a necessary one, but I can't say I was initially graceful about it. My understanding of what it means to honor my ancestors and honor the Elemental Powers has deepened over the years, but I well remember how difficult a concept it was for me at first.
I think that when dealing with any of the Powers it's important (very important) to remember that they don't necessarily give a rat's behind about our spiritual evolution. The universe is not here to help us evolve. It is here for its own sake and its own evolution. I think that we're very self-centered as a species (perhaps every species is) and many of the cultural concepts with which we've had to contend over the past two thousand years have only strengthened that particular tendency.
Whether we want to or not, whether we realize it or not, we have a relationship with these Powers. Technically, we live on borrowed land in their world. We depend upon them for the resources that help us sustain our lives. Many people I've encountered are drawn to the elements. They have a deep emotional response to the mountains, or fire, or to the oceans and seas. That's good. That's a good place to begin. It does not however, end there. It can't because our emotional responses in no way do anything to impact the relationship we have with the Powers. They can only spur us on into making those relationships better.
In reconstructing our traditions, on top of everything else we must re-learn, I think that we need to re-evaluate and reconsider our relationship with the Elemental Powers. We've not been taught to reverence them. In last week's column I talked about honoring the mountain spirits, how this could be done, and why it was important. Several people who contacted me privately were deeply offended by my belief (a belief shared by other ancestor and land workers) that the Elemental Powers are angry and have begun to lash out. It was very difficult for some readers to accept that these Powers may strike back by the only means available to them (i.e., natural disasters) and that we might well be reaping what we have well and truly sown. This implies that we have a debt to these Powers. It also implies that they are striking down the innocent as well as the guilty.