Deities and element correspondences?

April 2, 2011

In Lilith: Queen of the Desert, Anya Kless says that Lilith is one of the few deities she associates with all four elements.

Personally, I’m inclined to believe that most deities have associations with all four elements — at least if we dig deeply enough into their lore — and that relatively few of them are truly specialized by element.

Many modern Pagans have a tendency, inherited from ceremonial magick (via Wicca), to pigeonhole almost all deities by element. Some Pagan Reconstructionists have criticized this tendency as a superficial oversimplification, as failing to appreciate the multi-faceted personalities of the Gods. I’m inclined to agree with that criticism.

Some gods really do seem to have a strong preponderance of one of the four elements. An example is Hephaestus, God of metalworking. Clearly He is associated primarily with fire. Another example is Hermes, who, as the God of communication and travel, is associated primarily with air.

But consider Prometheus. In the best-known myth about Prometheus, He steals fire from heaven and teaches humans to use it. Hence He is commonly associated with fire. But Prometheus’s name means “fore-thought” — the opposite of the impetuosity we normally associate with fire. And, in Prometheus Bound by Aeschlylus, Prometheus is described as having taught humans “all the arts” (i.e. all technologies) — not just those arts that directly involve fire. “The arts” in general require knowledge (air) and practical skill and discipline (earth). Insofar as there is any creativity involved, “the arts” also require intuition (water). There are also myths of Prometheus being an omniscient seer who refuses to tell the future but gives people hope instead, inspiring people to do the best they can to make the future as good as it can be. That myth isn’t easily classifiable by element, although, if you absolutely had to squeeze it into just one element, I suppose it would be air.

Prometheus is one of my primary deities, and, in my personal experience, I strongly associate Prometheus with all four elements.

Consider also Athena. As the Goddess of (among other things) wisdom, She is often associated with air. But She is also a Goddess of various crafts, such as pottery (which literally involves earth and fire), shipbuilding (water), weaving, leatherwork, and shoe-making. She is said to have introduced the plough (earth) and animal-taming. Much of Her wisdom is of a practical nature (earth). She is the Goddess of civilization, which exists primarily for practical economic reasons. She is also a Goddess of war (fire), especially military strategy, which is very multi-faceted, requiring knoweldge (air) of terrain (earth) and the psychology (water) of both your own and the enemy’s troops.

Consider also Hestia. As the Goddess of the hearth, She is often associated with fire. But She is also the Goddess of domesticity in general, which involves a lot more than just fire. Food preparation, for example, often involves water as well as fire. For those who believe in astrology, domesticity is associated with the fourth house, which corresponds to the sign of Cancer, a water sign. Hestia is also associated with stillness and stability (earth) — pretty much the opposite of “fiery.” So Hestia has strong associations with at least three of the four elements: fire, water, and earth. (She even has at least a minor association with air, insofar as the domestic arts, such as cooking, do require know-how.)

Even Hermes and Hephaestus have at least minor associations with other elements besides their primary element. For example, metalworking requires not just fire but also know-how (air) and metal ores extracted from the Earth. Hermes was associated with the domestication of animals, which involves all four elements. However, in the case of Hermes and Hephaestus, there is at least a very strong predominance of one of the four elements. Not so in the case of Prometheus, Athena, or Hestia, in my opinion.

Outside the Greek pantheon, one obviously very multi-faceted Goddess is Ishtar, said to be the Queen of Heaven and Earth, Goddess of love, Goddess of war, and a fertility Goddess, among other things. Clearly She can be associated with all four elements, although this page on a Pagan site pigeonholes Her as “Air” for whatever strange reason.

More generally, it seems to me that gods with a strong specialization in just one of the four elements are the exception rather than the rule. On this point I disagree with many Pagans, especially many Wicca-based and other ceremonial magick-based Pagans.

The ritual practices of many occultists and Wicca-based Pagans require that deities be pigeonholed by element, to determine altar placement and the direction one faces during the ritual.

I too associate directions with elements. But, with most deities, instead of pigeonholing the deities themselves, I think it would be more respectful to use the elements to symbolize different aspects of a given deity.

Many deities do have multiple names and epithets, some of which may be more element-specific than the totality of the deity’s character. Such names can be taken as representing element-specific aspects of that particular deity. Finding out these names/epithets/aspects in the first place may require quite a bit of digging into the lore, but I think this is necessary if one is going to interact with one’s deities in an element-specific way while still treating Them with respect as multi-faceted Beings.

In ritual, I would then suggest facing whichever direction corresponds to the element most relevant to the purpose of the ritual, but also, at some point during the ritual, turning to face the other directions and acknowledge other aspects of the deity one has called upon.

That’s what I do with Satan/Azazel. I strongly associate Satan/Azazel with all four elements while using other names to refer to His element-specific aspects: Leviathan or Ancient Serpent for water, Iblis for fire, Lucifer-Azazel for air, and Belial for earth.

Anyhow, I certainly agree with Anya Kless that Lilith can be associated with all four elements.

2 Responses to “Deities and element correspondences?”

  1. GaianGuy Says:

    You asked: “Why reconstruct an “Old Religion” this way, rather than just going back to the records of actual old religions? Other forms of neo-Paganism, e.g. Asatru and neo-Druidism, which do base themselves more on what’s known about actual ancient religions, are far less likely than Wicca to be confused with Satanism by outsiders. Why do Wiccans insist on using words like “witch” and “coven” when they could easily use other, more respectable-sounding words?”

    But your question is rhetorical – you answer it a little later: “…at least some of them are using words and images popularly associated with Satanism as a way to attract attention, and/or because they themselves enjoy feeling naughty” – and you are absolutely right about that! – in my opinion, based on my experience. I’ll be more specific however – some Wiccan witches want to believe they have magical powers, and very much want OTHER PEOPLE to believe that being a Wiccan witch means they have magical powers. They don’t, of course…no one does. There is no divine/supernatural causation.

    “Wicca is not “the Old Religion”…” – true.
    “Much of Wicca’s self-image is based on the Paganized re-interpretation of alleged Devil-worship, rather than on actual ancient religion” – true.
    “Much of Wicca’s terminology and imagery, e.g. the words “witch”, “coven”, and “sabbat”, are used because of the Wiccan myth that Wicca is the survival of an underground medieval religion that was the target of the witchhunts. (Regardless of the linguistic origin of the words themselves, this constellation of terms comes from the witchhunts.)” – true.

    “The related idea that modern Wiccans too are in continual danger of being confused with Satanists is at least partly a self-fulfilling prophecy” – true.

    “Far fewer people would confuse modern Wicca with Satanism if Wicca didn’t use so many witchhunt-derived words and other trappings popularly associated with diabolical witchcraft” – absolutely true, and I’ve been saying the same thing since 1978 or so.

    “My point here is not that Wiccans shouldn’t use the words “witch”, “coven”, and “sabbat”. My point is that if they do use these and other diabolical-witchcraft trappings, they should accept responsibility for the consequences. For example, when explaining that Wicca Is Not Satanism, they should acknowledge the main real reason for the confusion: that modern Wiccans have chosen to identify with the victims of European witchhunts and have chosen their terminology accordingly. Wiccans certainly should not blame Satanists for Wicca’s own public-relations difficulties, as some Wiccans do” – yes, yes, yes, that’s all true.

    “Many Pagan Witches have said, in their “We’re not Satanists” disclaimers, that Satanists are “Christians” or “Christian heretics.” The point is that the idea of Satan is derived from Christianity (and Judaism), whereas Neo-Paganism aims to revive more ancient religious concepts”.

    No, that’s not the point.
    I’ll ‘fess up here…I’ve made these kinds of statements “that Satanists are “Christians” or “Christian heretics”, or that “you have to be a Christian to be a Satanist” – many times since 1976 – in personal conversation & correspondence, on television, on radio and in print. What you consider to be “the point” of saying those things, might be true for Bonewitz or others, but that’s not the point for me.

    “Calling Satanists “Christians” or “Christian heretics” is an insult to both Satanists and Christians” – that’s getting closer to the point, but I still suspect you don’t really “get it”. And, I certainly have no wish to “insult” MOST persons who call themselves “Satanists”, nor MOST persons who call themselves Christians.

    “…nor am I willing to engage in private email discussion or debate about the topics discussed on my website or blogs”

    What a shame.

  2. zalbarath666 Says:

    Yeah, you are right.

    In my experience, in demonolatry people are not crazy about elements and often we say that some demon is for example fiery part of earth or watery part of air, etc. Also in different pantheons the same demon may have different references and that’s also nothing unusual. When we meditate on certain demon it’s normal to feel various mix of elements with some standing out more then others but it’s still personal experience and it varies from person to person. Also gender is a very subjective matter and is not consistent.

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