We live in a time with both a great blessing, and a great curse. Our great blessing is that never before have we lived in an age where so much spiritual information is available. We have all the religions of the world accessible to us. Even before such revolutionary changes occurred with the Internet, our local libraries and bookstores had a wealth of information on every topic, tradition, philosophy and ritual. In an afternoon you could learn about the Greek myths and mystery schools, Tibetan prayer wheels, Native American sweat lodges, and the Kabbalah. You could learn about meditation, mantra, candle magick, and astrology. Though some obscure teaching still remain hidden, for the most part you have access to the wisdom of the world.
Yet not everything is a great blessing. We also live in the time of a great curse. Our great curse is that never before have we lived in an age where so much spiritual information is available. Yes, you read it right. Our great blessing is simultaneously our great curse. We have so much to choose from, not only can be it be daunting to find material but also difficult to apply. With so much available, we run the risk of becoming fast food consumers rather than connoisseurs. As we pick and choose, we often leave behind key teachings because they were not obvious to us. The path of the modern mystic is not easy, for we have to be educated on everything, and then synthesize our paradigms.
One of the most powerful teachings for me has been the comparison of cultures and understanding what is similar across many different traditions. The strange terminology used by each culture can sometimes blind us to seeing that at the heart of the teaching, they are speaking on the same topic, but simply using different words.
A fundamental teaching to many eastern and western traditions is the concept of the elements. The elements are five fundamental forces to both the universe and the human experience. They are described as archetypal energies, or qualities, but they are given a vivid image through the use of natural phenomenon. These symbols from nature help us understand the qualities of the elements better, but should not be mistaken for the elemental energies themselves. In the west we use the terms earth, water, air, fire, and spirit. In the east, particularly traditional Chinese medicine, the terms earth, water, metal, fire, and wood are used.
The earth element is not literally stones and soil, but the quality of stones and soil help us to understand the earth element. It is the quality of solidness, of rigidity and the physical, tangible world. The quality of water, fluid, clear, reflective, needing containment or boundaries described the energy of elemental water. While earth deals with our physical body, water is our emotions. Fire is intangible, it cannot be held, but simply perceived as heat and light. Our own intangible energy, our will, drive and passion is described as fire. Fire is often equated with the soul, our own individual spark of light. The quality of our mind, our intellect and memory is described as air or metal, depending on the system. The western mysteries bridge the two systems, as the mind is described as air element, but its tool is the metal blade, sharp and keen, as a mind should be. All of the elements are symbolized by tools, and these tools are also found in the tarot suits of swords, wands, cups, and pentacles, for air, fire, water, and earth. The fifth element, also known as akasha or ether, is the hardest to describe. It is the force from which all four elements rise and return to. Western mysteries simply call it spirit, but in China, wood, the living growing cellular life of the plant world, is its symbol. In the tarot, the twenty two cards of the major arcana, representing major spiritual experiences, are the cards of spirit.
Here is an exercise to help you work with the five elements and find balance in your life. It's a variation and modern adaptation of a ritual known as a Medicine Wheel or Medicine Shield and shares many parallels with other rituals honoring the four directions.
Start by finding a quiet place to do a meditation. Start by lighting a single candle, of if you desire, five candles, one for each element. The colors of the candles for each element in western magick are traditionally red for fire, yellow for air, blue for water, green or black for earth, and white for spirit. While some of the colors don't always make sense, like yellow for air instead of sky blue, these associations are based on spiritual philosophies. In color therapy, yellow is the most mentally stimulating color, so it is associated with the mental element, leaving blue for water. If you have the space, you can put the candles around you, with green/black before you in the north, yellow to your right in the east, red behind you in the south, and blue to your left in the West. Spirit can be in the center of the ring just between you and the north candle.
Get into a comfortable position sitting in a chair or cross legged on the floor with a cushion. Ideally you should be facing north, but if you are unsure of the directions in your space, we will assume that before you is your own personal spiritual "north" regardless of the compass. Breathe deeply. Count back from twelve to one, feeling yourself slip into a deeper state of relaxation as you count.
Bring your attention before you and think of the element of earth. Think about your body. Think about your health. Think about your finances. Think about your home. These are all the areas influenced by the earth element. Ask the earth element to take form before you. Using your imagination, how do you see your earth element? You might have a vision of a spirit, an animal or angel, or an image of your own earthy self. Communicate with this earthy spirit, through words, pictures, intuition and feeling. Does this element have a message or instruction for you? How can you be in better balance with the earth element? When done, thank it.
Bring your attention to the right and think of the element of air. Think about your mind. Think about the way you communicate. Think about your memories, your intellect and your education. These are all areas influenced by the air element. Ask the air element to take form before you. Using your imagination, how do you see your air element? Again, you might have a vision of a spirit, an animal or angel, or an image of your own airy self. Communicate with this air spirit and seek its wisdom. When done, thank it.
Bring your attention behind you and think of the element of fire. Think about your passion. Think about your desires. Think about your will, your creativity and inspiration. These are all areas influenced by the fire element. Ask the fire element to take form before you. How do you see your fire element? Communicate with this fire spirit and seek its wisdom. When done, thank it.
Bring your attention to the left and think of the element of water. Think about your emotions. Think about your relationships. Think about your family, your friends and lovers. These are all areas influenced by the water element. Ask the water element to take form before you. How do you see your water element? Communicate with this water spirit and seek its wisdom. When done, thank it.
Bring your attention to the center and think of the element of spirit. Think about your spirituality. Think about your beliefs. Think about your religion. Think about your purpose in life. Think about your relationship with the divine. These are all areas influenced by the element of spirit. Ask spirit to take form before you. How do you see your spirit element? Communicate with it and seek its wisdom. When done, thank it.
Feel the presence of all five spirits around you. As a team, ask them what you can do together to find more balance and harmony. When done, thank and release each, starting with spirit and moving to water, fire, air, and earth. Count up from twelve to one and bring your awareness back to the world. Snuff out all the candles and take a few moment to write down any messages you received.
Having a healthy relationship with all five of these powers gives you a strong foundation for deeper mystical experiences, and a lens through which to understand teaching from across the world.