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The AODA’s Seven Element System: Above, Below, Within, Earth, Air, Fire, Water

The AODA's Sphere of Protection in a Tree

The AODA’s Sphere of Protection in a Tree demonstrating the seven-element framework

 

Perhaps the first thing to think about in any system of spiritual or magical practice is the way in which a practice offers a framework to understand reality. These frameworks vary widely based on the spiritual tradition: some use a complex system of deities to map concepts to reality.  Deities often have domains and represent certain aspects of reality (e.g the Horned God Cernunnos of Celtic Mythology can represent fertility, abundance, the land itself, and so forth). Other systems may have songs, stories, and dances to help explain the world.  Other systems may recognize different kinds of energies and map them (such as the Jewish Kabbalah or Yggdrasil, the world tree, in Norse tradition, In AODA, our primary framework is a seven-element framework. The seven-element system is a highly adaptable and non-dogmatic framework that you can use for a variety of purposes, whether or not you belong to AODA. As an elemental framework, it works with a classification of energies present on the land to provide a framework for raising and drawing energy in particular ways, for rituals and more. Once you have an understanding of a system of representation like the seven elements, you can work with it in any myriad of ways to develop your own unique practices, adapt it to your local ecosystem, and so forth.

 

The seven elements include three aspects of spirit: spirit above, spirit below, and spirit within, as well as earth, air, fire, and water. Thus, in this post, I’ll explain the historical roots of this framework and some of its features. This post is really the precursor to next week’s post when I show how this kind of framework can be used to create any number of rituals and practices, including land healing and blessing.  (As a reminder, since I became Grand Archdruid of AODA, I’m dedicating one post a month to AODA-specific practices!)

 

Understanding the Elements as a System of Representation and as Symbols

The first part of the seven-element framework is the four classical elements. The classical elements of earth, air, fire, and water or some similar equivalent were part of many ancient cultures including those of Ancient Greece, Persia, Babylonia, Tibet, and China. In ancient Persia around 600 BCE, the ancient philosopher Zarathustra (Zoroaster) seems to have originated–or at least, first written down–the four-element theory and described the four elements as “sacred” and “essential for the survival of all living beings and therefore should be venerated and kept free from any contamination.”[3] The failure to keep these elements pure could anger the gods. If only the modern world had such wisdom!

 

As in the classic period, today, the elements can be seen both as physical things (e.g. the soil as earth, the fire as fire, water in a stream) as well as metaphysical. Thus, we can see the four elements represented in nature and in revival druid symbolism, but also emotionally and physically in the human body. For example, earth in the druid tradition is tied to the energy of the bear, trees, and stones on the physical landscape. We can see representations of the earth everywhere we look–in the mountains, the stones, the caves. Its also tied to the personality qualities of determination and perseverance, the physical bodily qualities of being strong or having a high constitution, and the metaphysical qualities of grounding and rootedness. If we were to trace the element of earth back to through traditional western herbalism, we’d also see earth connected to the melancholic temperament, which indicates a deeply reflective, introspective, and quiet individual. Thus, the element of earth as a concept gives us a system to help classify and categorize the worlds within and without. This kind of thing is quite useful when you want to call upon all of the above with a single word or symbol, as we do in the Sphere of Protection ritual and other such rituals in AODA.  What I mean here is this: if I want to bring these qualities into my life, a simple thing I could do is trace the symbol of earth in the air each day (in AODA, it is a circle with a line pointing to the earth), carry a stone in my pocket, or lay down upon the earth.

 

What any elemental (or other) framework does, including AODA’s 7 element system, the Hebrew Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the Chinese 5 element system, and so on, is offer a way to represent the world.  It offers a way to take the complexity of matter and spirit and put it into an accessible framework that can be worked, adapted, and understood. Elemental frameworks, such as the classic four elements work to create a more simple system to represent the complexities of reality. The elements are symbols. Symbols are simplified things (e.g. a word, an image) that stand-in for something else or represents it, usually a set of much more nuanced and complex concepts. Symbols help us interpret and understand the world, and offer us frameworks not only for meditation and ritual but also for daily life.

 

The reasons you might to want to master such a system are numerous. For me, it helps me design effective and on-the-spot rituals and practices, design effective meditations, understand the ways my life may be in balance or out of it, and allows me to have a system of understanding in which to work as a druid.

 

 

The Four Elements

And so we begin with the four elements in AODA’s system, drawn from the broader druid revival and western antiquity.  These are some of the classic meanings for each, but in AODA practice, we encourage individuals to adapt these meanings as they see fit.

 

Earth is the element tied to the north, to the dark moon, to the energy of winter and midnight.  We find the earth physically in mountains, stones, trees, all of what classical writers would call “the firmament.”  The energy of earth, manifesting metaphysically, offers grounding, stability, strength, and perseverance. Earth encourages us to be grounded and stable in our work.  In the druid revival tradition, earth is often associated with the great bear, both manifested in the heavens as Ursa Major, but also on earth as a physical bear, who represents many of earth’s qualities.

 

Air is the element tied to the east, to the waxing moon, to the energy of spring and dawn.  We find the air physically in the wind, the sky, the clouds, the rustle of the leaves as they blow in the breeze.  The energy of air, manifesting metaphysically, offers us clarity, knowledge, wisdom, focus, and objectivity. Air encourages us to temper our emotions with reason, evidence, and clear thinking.  In the druid revival tradition, air is associated with the hawk soaring in the air at dawn.

 

Fire is the element tied to the south, to the full moon, to the energy of summer and noon.  We find the fire physically as a fire itself (such as that at a campsite or in your fireplace) but also in the combustion materials to create heat and energy (in the modern world, oil or electricity). The energy of fire, manifesting metaphysically, has to do with our inspiration, transformation, creativity, passions, and will—how we direct our lives and what we want to bring into manifestation. In the classical texts, fire is often closest to the divine as it is a transformative agent. In the druid revival tradition, fire is associated with the stag, often depicted in a summer forest.

 

Water element from the Plant Spirit Oracle

Water is the element tied to the west, to the waning moon, the energy of fall and the dusk.  We find the water physically in rivers, lakes, oceans, springs, streams, storms, and even in our own bodies. The energy of water, manifesting metaphysically, offers us intuition, emotion, healing, wisdom, connection, particularly connection with nature and spirit, and flow. In the druid revival tradition, water is associated with the salmon of wisdom, originally coming from the Fenian cycle[4] of Irish mythology, where the salmon who lived in the well of wisdom ate nine hazelnuts and was later caught by Finn, who cooked the salmon and had the wisdom transferred to him.  We might then see the water as helping us have wisdom, which is the integration of the head/heart and subconscious/conscious mind.

 

What I’ve just shared are the meanings that are most common. But in AODA practice, we encourage druids to develop “wildcrafted” and ecoregional druidries. So a druid living in California might have a different interpretation of what these elements are on their landscape than one living in Pennsylvania.  In fact, my own elemental animal interpretations are different based on the dominant animals in my landscape and I tie each of my elements to sacred trees. Each druid can thus adapt these basic meanings and directions as they see fit for their own wildcrafted and ecoregional druidry.

The Three Aspects of Spirit and the Three Currents

Drawing upon the earlier writings of the Greek writer Empedocles who introduced the four elements to the Ancient Greek World, Aristotle added a 5th element, Aether (spirit) to the four classical elements. The original four elements were considered four states of matter with the fifth being a connection to the metaphysical (that which is beyond the physical).  In AODA, we recognize three aspects of spirit–above, below, and within.  This distinction is certainly present in the druid revival (for example, see Trilithon, volume 1 for a druid revival text on the telluric current).

 

Spirit Above: The Solar Current

The Solar current is the energy—physical and metaphysical—that comes from the sun, our ultimate source of life. The solar current is magically associated with things in the sky: the heavens and birds: hawks, eagles, and roosters. Additionally, I have found that certain plants also can draw and radiate solar energy quote effectively—Dandelion (dominant in the spring); St. John’s Wort (dominant in at midsummer), and goldenrod (dominant in the fall) are three such plants. For Land healing or other earth-based work, we can use these specific solar plants when we need to light up dark places (energetically) and focus the solar current’s healing light.

 

Solar energy, being directly tied to the sun, changes based on the position of the sun in the sky on a daily basis.  That is, solar energy is different at noon than it is at dusk, dawn, or midnight. It also changes based on where the sun is in the wheel of the year; the energy of the sun is different on June 21st, the summer solstice than it is on the Winter Solstice on Dec 21st.)

 

Connected to the sun are the other solar bodies in our solar system and more broadly in the celestial heavens. In the Druid Magic Handbook, John Michael Greer notes that other planets in the solar system directly reflect the energy of the sun, so astrological influences can help us understand the current manifestation of the solar current at various present moments.  This is all to say that solar energy is ever powerful, and ever-changing, in our lives.

 

Standing stone - bringing the solar into the telluric

Standing stone – bringing the solar into the telluric

We can see the solar current manifested differently in the world’s religions—Christianity, for example, is a very solar focused tradition.  When you look at pictures of saints or Jesus, they are often accompanied by rays of light from heaven, god’s light shining down, even the halo of light around the head of a saint or Jesus. Buddhism, likewise, focuses on achieving “higher levels” of consciousness and being—these are all solar in nature. Any time that you hear things about ascension, the light of the sun, and so on, that’s the solar energy being connected to and being drawn upon. Part of the allure of these traditions, in some cases, is the idea of escapism—since the material earth is problematic and imperfect, we can ascend and go to more perfect realms. The problem with some of this thinking is that it separates the living earth from all things sacred or holy—I firmly believe that part of the reason that such pillaging of the planet is happening is because of the emphasis in dominant world religions on solar aspects as divine and earthy aspects as not.  The earth, then, is seen only as a resource worth taking from.

 

Spirit Below: The Telluric Current

While the light of the sun comes down to earth, the Telluric current rises from the heat and energy of the earth itself. Ecologically, we have the molten core of the earth which drives the earth’s tectonic plates and thus, shapes the landmass on the surface. Tectonic plates and landmasses, along with the energy of the sun and the composition of the atmosphere, determine our climate[1]. The great soil web of life, which contains millions of organisms in a single teaspoon of rich soil[2], also supports all life. Thus, we can see the importance of the biological aspects of the earth in the larger patterns of life on this planet.

 

The telluric current’s name comes from “Tellus,” a name for the ancient Roman goddess of the earth. She was also known as “terra mater” or Mother earth; later, this was a word in Latin “telluric” meaning “land, territory or earth.” These ancient connections, then, are present in the name itself, where the earth and her energy were often personified and worshipped as divine.

 

This telluric energy starts at the center of the earth and rises up, through the layers of the stone and molten flows, through the groundwater and underwater aquifers, through the minerals and layers of fossils, and into the crust of the earth. It takes its shape from what is on the surface: plants, trees, roads, rivers, valleys, rivers, and so on. As Greer notes in the Druid Magic Handbook, it is powerfully affected by underground sources of water (aquifers); springs and wells that come up from the land have very strong concentrations of telluric energy. This helps explain both why sacred wells, throughout the ages, have been such an important part of spiritual traditions in many parts of the world–and why we can use spring water for healing and energizing purposes. This also explains why fracking, which taints the underground waters themselves, is so horrifically bad.

 

As RJ Stewart notes in Earthlight, it is from the currents of the earth that the nutrients flow from the living earth into our bodies, regenerating them. It is from the telluric that you can find the light of transformation and regeneration. The telluric represents the dark places in the world, the energy found in caves and deep in the depths of our souls. The telluric energy sometimes is about confronting the shadows within ourselves and realizing that those are part of us too. It is about lived experience—the act of being—rather than rationalizing and talking about. In Lines Upon the Landscape, Pennick and Devereux sum this up nicely when they write, “For us, the sense of traveling through a dark and elemental landscape, pregnant with magical and spiritual forces, is no longer experienced. We have separated ourselves from the land and live within our own abstractions” (246). Take a minute to think about the word “dark” – in modern Western culture, it is immediately associated with evil (showing our strong solar bias).  But darkness can be a place of rest, of quietude, of inner learning and knowing.

 

There are fewer traditions that work primarily with the telluric currents—the Underworld tradition (see R. J. Stewart’s line of books as an example) is one such tradition. Many forms of shamanism, where the practitioner is going down into the depths of the earth or their own consciousness to seek allies and assistance is also telluric in nature. These traditions are frequently concerned with transforming the here and now, and seeing the earth as sacred, understanding the sacred soil upon which life depends.  It’s also unfortunate because, throughout history, many telluric-based religions that were indigenous and earth-based were essentially wiped out by solar ones.

Elemental Wheel - Animals in the Druid Tradition (Artwork by yours truly, Dana O'Driscoll)

Elemental Wheel – Traditional Elemental Animals in the Druid Tradition (Artwork by yours truly, Dana O’Driscoll)

Spirit Within: Awakening the Lunar Current

A third current—the lunar current–can be created by consciously bringing the solar current and the telluric current together in union. As Greer writes in the Druid Magic Handbook “When the lunar current awakens in an individual, it awakens the inner sense and unfolds into enlightenment. When it awakens in the land, it brings healing, fertility, and plenty” (p. 30).

 

We can see ancient humans’ deep knowledge of the three currents and their interaction reflected in the ancient ley lines upon the landscape—for example in Cuzco, Peru, which means “navel of the earth” had at its center, the Inca Temple of the Sun. It was here in the Inca temple that the Coricancha (the emperor) sat at the heart of the temple; radiating the light of the sun outward from this temple like a sunburst was a large web of straight lines reaching into the countryside (Lines upon the Landscape, Pennick and Devereux, 251). On the other side of the world, we see the same principles at play in China, where the Chinese emperor sat on his throne in the center of the Imperial Palace (the “Purple Forbidden City”), centered on the imperial road and with gates leading outward to the four directions (Pennick and Devereux, 251). In these, and in other ancient civilizations, the rulers, associated with the sun or considering themselves as “sun gods” or “sons of heaven” radiated via these “transmission lines” to bring the solar energy down and radiate it outward to bless the manifestation of the telluric. In both cases, the ruler was the personal awakening that third current and sending it out for the bounty and health of the land.

 

The lunar current also helps us resolve the binary created by the telluric and solar currents—it shows us that unification is possible and art of awakening the lunar current can be part of our healing arts in magical practice. To return to our opening discussion of “energy”; the Nwyfre flows from the awakening of this third current, through the alchemical synthesis and transformation of the other two into the third.  We can see this unification present also in the works of Jung–the unconscious (represented by the telluric) and the conscious (represented by the solar) come into unison to create a more complete and whole person when unified (a process Jung calls individuation).

 

Adapting the Seven Element Framework to Your Practice

If you are drawn to this framework or are a member of AODA, you might find it helpful to start mapping out your own understanding of these elements in your life and in your local landscape and building a seven-element mandala of ideas, experiences, and themes.  You can do this in many ways and, over time, you can layer many different meanings and understandings into your elemental mandalas.  This practice can take time to understand and requires some interaction and observation with the earth around you.  You can use the attached graphic to the left (click on the graphic for a full-size version) to help you map out the different relationships if you’d like.

 

Seven Element Framework Graphical Representation

Here are some of the many ways you can think about building your own:

  • What local animals to you represent each of the seven elements?
  • What local herbs to you represent each of the seven elements?
  • What local trees to you represent each of the seven elements?
  • See if you can identify local features that mark the elements and directions where you live: a mountain to the north, a river to the west, and so on (this practice may also have you switching directions–e.g. if you live on the east coast, the largest body of water is to the east, not
  • the west!)
  • What emotions tie to each of these elements?
  • Can you develop a movement for each of these elements?
  • If you practice bardic arts, you might consider developing a poem, painting, carving, photograph, or any other practice
  • Can you make a physical representation of this framework on an altar or in your landscape?

 

As an example of how this might work, in the photos earlier in this article, I shared one such bardic/artistic representation of my own. Earlier this year, I was asked to create a set of large elemental banners for the upcoming MAGUS 2020 gathering, which is primarily an OBOD gathering, so they were looking for elemental four-quarter banners.  I was asked to do them with an herbal/plant theme. Thus, I spent some time sketching and meditating on what local herbs would be appropriate (and put them into the seven elemental framework, even though I was only painting the first four for the gathering!)  I came up with the following list of herbs based on my own understanding, observation, and attunement with the local region and made several shifts and revisions during the development process.  Here’s my list:

  • Air/East/Spring Equinox: Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).  Dandelion is excellent for east because she grows in the spring, she has a yellow flower, she is a dominant plant upon the landscape offering food and medicine, and when she goes into seed, she “takes to the air”.
  • Fire/South/Summer Solstice: Monarda / Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) Monarda here in this region blooms a firey red, bright pink, or light purple in the heat of the summer, usually throughout July.  This medicinal herb is also a very spicy plant–if you eat a leaf, you will have a spicy sensation.  It also helps fight illness and is a native plant here.  I could think of no better plant for fire/south because of both when monarda blooms and monarda’s firey physical nature.
  • Water/West/Fall Equinox: Cattail (Typha latifolia).  Cattail is another native plant here in our bioregion, and a very important one from an ecological perspective, as it helps cleanse and keep our waterways clear.  Like the other plants here, Cattail is a perennial plant, but it is most dominant in the fall as it grows its seed head (which is where it gets the name “cattail”.  Cattail is a water cleansing and water-loving plant often found on the edges of lakes and swamps.  It was perfect for the west!
  • Earth/North/Winter Solstice: Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens).  Wintergreen is another native perennial plant here, and while it has its green, waxy, and minty-tasting leaves year-round, by the winter solstice it is producing bright red berries that are flavorful and delicious.  Wintergreen stays green through the winter months.
  • Spirit Above:  Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).  Milkweed offers such abundance, including four separate harvests for food, during the year, that I think it’s an excellent plant for spirit above.  Part of this is that it has a “spirit” quality as it slowly opens its pods as the season progresses and releases the delightful seed fluffs to the wind.  On a beautiful fall day here, you will see thousands of them in the air, offering a very ethereal quality. It has an enduring nature–there is some form of milkweed always on our landscape, whether it be the beautiful golden pods in the deep winter months to the shoots in the spring.
  • Spirit Below. Ghost pipe (monotropa uniflora).  Another plant imbued with spirit, ghost pipe is a parasitic plant that feeds on dead plant matter (and thus, does not have chlorophyll, giving it a “ghostly” appearance).  Part of why I selected this plant for spirit below is that has tremendous medicinal virtues associated with grounding–this plant is often used for people who need to come back from a bad experience (mental, alcohol/drug-induced or otherwise) and it helps them bring their way back to a place of stability–in a way that no other plant does.  It also has an enduring nature; even through all seasons
  • Spirit within. Sage (Salvia officinalis).  The uses of sage for spiritual purposes can be found in many cultures worldwide (it truly may be a “global” herb as far as spiritual practices are concerned).  Sages are found throughout the world, and certainly, here in my own ecosystem, where they are perennial, easy to grow, and abundant.  Sage has a long history of spiritual use in the druid tradition, and certainly, it burns beautifully, connecting matter with spirit, and serving as a connecting herb.  It has the quality of bringing mind, body, and spirit into the same place.

This is only one set of interpretations of the seven-element system, but I hope this example shows you how you might adapt this system to your own local ecosystem and understanding.  Next week, we’ll continue with the adaptations and work with the seven-element system, as I’ll further illustrate these concepts and how they can work together for land blessing and other kinds of rituals!

 

[1] Ruddiman, William F., ed. Tectonic uplift and climate change. Springer Science & Business Media, 2013.

[2] ch, Jeff, and Wayne Lewis. Teaming with microbes. Workman Publishing Company, 2010.

[3] Habashi, Fathi. “Zoroaster and the theory of four elements.” Bulletin for the History of Chemistry 25, no. 2 (2000): 109-115.

[4] Nagy, Joseph Falaky. “Fenian Cycle.” The Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature in Britain (2017): 1-5.

Lessons from the Sacred Element of Water: Seasons, Places, and Spaces

In the past two years, I have done an intensive study with water as an element. My work with water began at Alban Elfed (the Fall Equinox) in 2011, when I met Thea Worthington, OBOD Modron, at the OBOD East Coast Gathering. During our interactions at the gathering and in our conversations, she gave me some powerful mentoring and suggested to me that I “embrace the chalice.”

With this, and an incredible gift of water from the Well of Danee on Iona, I began what turned out to be a two-year study of water. Since I’ve now felt the call to study a different element for a time, I wanted to share some insights about this journey, my understanding of nature throughout the seasons, and give some suggestions for those who want to engage in advanced, extended study of water. I’ll also note that for those of you who aren’t familiar with the OBOD’s Bardic Training course, the course is a wonderful introduction to studying the elements and is a good first step–I did this work years ago, so I was returning to water for a more intensive study. The work with the elements, a strong part of the druid revival tradition, is never complete–we can continually return to them and gain deeper understanding.

Ice in the Winter Months

Ice in the Winter Months

The Nature of Water

Water is expressed in three states–liquid, solid, and gas. We most often interact with it in the liquid state, but we can see representations of its three-fold nature in many things.  Its the only element that has such a nature, and this allows it to be incredibly adaptable. Its three-fold nature also allows it to interact with all of the other elements–rivers and lakes flow upon the earth, heat transforms water into its three states, and air allows for it to cycle.  One of the most basic ways of studying water is just observing and interacting with it in the natural world (and those of you familiar with permaculture design will recognize the 1st principle of permaculture at play here–observe and interact).

Water is synonymous with life. Without water, we can’t survive more than a few days–because we are, like most life on this planet, made up of mostly water. Life began in the element of water–in the primordial seas on this planet 3.8 billion or so years ago. Its the quest for water–and therefore life–that drives much of our space exploration.Water teaches us the power of adaptability, change, and flow–yet also power, persistence, and destruction. It can be as gentle as it is terrible.

 

The Nature of Water in the Seasons

Water is one of the primary vehicles of change as the wheel of the year turns.  The winter is a time when the water turns to its solid state–lakes freeze over, the water within the ground freezes, and water falls as snow, blanketing everything.  Each snowflake is a world into itself, a unique gift, the Awen of the universe expressed in minute form. The water, in its frozen state, brings about a calmness, a quietude, and a tranquility. As we go into winter, this is the time when we reflect deep within ourselves, when we too find rest. The water requires and demands this rest in its solidity.

When the spring comes, the warm rains fall, helping thaw the earth and bring forth new life. The plants uptake these waters and grow into the summer months, producing their bounty as light returns to the world.  Summer

Life in the Water

Life in the Water

storms–or droughts–mark the passing of the wheel. Humidity rises, mosquitoes come out seeking the water within each of us, the berries burst forth, and the wheel continues to turn.  Into fall, it becomes hotter and dryer, and the vegetables and fruits are harvested.  When we harvest vegetables, we must pay attention to their water content–for losing water is to lose freshness, to lose firmness, and takes much of the taste away.

By the time frosts and cold begin to once again blanket the land, water again is the agent of change. When the first frosts come, the water cells in the plants (especially the sensitive plants, such as many in the nightshade family) crystallize and then burst–this process marks the transition from liquid to solid state, and from fall to winter.  This is why the first and last frost are probably the two most important times to know when gardening–it marks the passage of the season.

 

Communing with the Spirits of Water

One of the ways that I worked with water in the last two years was by visiting many different bodies of water, communing with the spirits, and collecting water (with permission) from each of the sites.

How you find these sites is a matter of good listening and intuition–sometimes I would simply go places and see what I came across.  But I also studied maps to understand bodies of water and flow in my area, and often, I would see a place on the map I knew I needed to visit.

In communing with the spirits, I would bring an offering (bread for the fish and/or tobacco, which works very well for the spirits of this land), open up a sacred space, and then sit in quiet reflection and meditation. I found that communing works best when you are physically in the water or on its surface.  Frozen ponds work just as well as wading in the summer, but your experiences will be radically different due to the changes in the energetics of the seasons–this is something also to pay attention to.

Here’s one such example: for the last two summers, I took the hour or so drive north to Bay City State Recreation area which is on the edge of Lake Huron. I was lead to this spot initially by looking at a map. This turned out to be a perfect place to commune with the Great Lake Huron–there are a series of sandbars that go very far out into the lake and it is quite shallow. You can easily wade 500 feet or more out into the lake–so far that the shore is tiny, and you feel like you are in the middle of the lake, and nobody is anywhere near you. I’d sit in less than a foot of water out there and open up a magical space (using a modified version AODA’s solitary grove opening). And then I would wait and see what happened–and the most amazing things happened, each time I visited. I saw rainbows, butterlfiles, herons, geese, fish, and so many more things. I met the Lady of Lake Huron, who has taught me many things about the nature of water, especially in the Great Lakes region where I live. Seeking out these local water spirits, and working with them, can give you deeper insights into the nature of the element you are working with as well as the surrounding landscape.

 

Water altar

Water altar

Collecting and Honoring Water

My journeys to various watery sites and the gathering water at most of those sites has lead to quite a collection of water–from the Great Lakes Huron and Erie, from the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic, and the Pacific Ocean, from the Delaware Water Gap and various rivers, streams, and sacred pools.  Perhaps the most unique place I collected water was at Penn’s Cave, a water-filled cave in Western PA where you can only access it by boat.  At each location, I would spend time communing with the body of the water and then bring water back with me to put on my altar and continue to work with it.

The water altar is simple–its a series of vials with labels and other watery materials–shells, smooth stones, and the like.  I’ve always kept elemental altars in my home, but this one took on such special meaning with all of the care I put into its construction.

I worked to bring water into my life in other ways as well–I also brought water into my work environment–a small fountain, purchased used at a flea market, sits on my windowsill with my beautiful plants.

 

The Magic of Water: Healing and and Taking Journeys

The magical work of water is wide-ranging and powerful. I practiced water-based divination, where I would spend time just observing the surface of my pond or gazing into a bowl of water.  I also focused on conducting water healing rituals, such as the ritual I posted last year for our grove’s Imbolc celebration (and this one was later performed at the Pan-Druid Beltane, 2013). With each of these experiences, I documented my findings in a “water journal” which has become a source of inspiration–as well as the material for this blog post :).

Water also lends itself well to magical journeys. A while ago, I posted my reflections on the journey to the source of a river–this was one of my exercises that the spirits lead me to do while studying water, and it is a journey well worth doing.  The exercise is simple and yet profound:

1) Find a river or stream that you have a connection with.  If its too large, the journey could take a really long time, as a warning :).  The one I started with flowed through a forest and was about 10 feet across when I started.  It took about 8 hours.

We become the river.

We become the river.

2) Follow that river upstream as it gets smaller and smaller.  At each branch, take the largest branch (or follow your intuition).

3) See where the path leads you, and what insights you have.

My journey was detailed in my previous blog post…but let’s just say, I plan on taking other journeys in the near future along waterways :).

You could also do the opposite–get in a kayak, get in a small stream, and see where the water takes you!

 

Connecting with the Ancient Understandings

There are different kinds of elemental spirits and ways to commune with them–delving into the roots of esoteric wisdom and spiritual teachings in many traditions will likely give you deeper insight. For example, as part of my work with water, I studied and worked with the elemental spirits of the alchemical tradition, the Undines (and writings by Paracelsus or Manly Hall can lead you in this direction.) I started learning spagyrics (plant alchemy) recently as part of my Celtic Golden Dawn training, and these original studies ended up being fruitful in many ways.

In mythology broadly, water, water creatures, and water deities form a central role.  From the Chinese Dragon Kings who lorded over the seas in the four directions to the Scandinavian Fosse Grim, you can learn much about the nature of water in this way.

 

Understanding Water in the World Today

A study of water wouldn’t be complete without research into the challenges that the world faces concerning water. A visit to San Diego a year ago and seeing the strain on water resources and my teaching of a course in research methods with a sustainability theme prompted me to study more about the Colorado River and issues in the Southwest. More locally, I also studied threats to the Great Lakes region, which include oil pipelines, nuclear waste dumps, and Asian carp.  These lessons are important, and can help me meld my spiritual understandings with the nature and lessons of water with action in the world–especially on a local level.

 

Catching and Storing Water

One of the things I have yet to do in the realm of water is to work with it here on this land for the purposes of homesteading and growing food.  In this next year, I am planning on digging a series of swales to store water to nurture my fruit trees and possibly create some zones for growing aquatic foods (such as rice paddies for me and duckweed for the chickens). I also am looking into harvesting rainwater and finding other potable means of water (water became a big issue when I lost power a few weeks ago). These plans will represent, in many ways, the next phase of my study of water–now that I understand it on many levels, I will work with it more in my physical life.  This is part of the beauty of the path of druidry–it can manifest itself in all realms, in all ways–all we need to do is seek the connections.  I will be sure to post details of that work here as the spring comes again! 🙂

Dear blog readers, I would love to hear from you on your experiences and insights into the nature of water!