The Elements and the Seasons

- Sir Christian Henry Tobler, Grand Master, April 21, 2009 -

I often find the music I listen to, and its underlying themes and philosophy, profoundly affects my evolving thoughts about "this thing we do", i.e., Selohaar and its diverse activities. As I write this essay, and the year is progressing toward mid-spring, I'm mindful of the feelings evoked in George Winston's seasonally-themed solo piano recordings; some of these speak to the transitions between seasons, such as his album "Winter into Spring".

I'm also reminded of the transitions the Order makes as it continues to expand its magical, philosophical, and martial horizons. The neo-pagan "wheel of the year" is a good model for these transitions, and their attendant transformations.

Before I leave the subject of music, I'll quote Robert Fripp, visionary guitarist and chief exponent of the progressive rock group King Crimson. In addressing the band's evolution, he wryly notes "King Crimson is older and smaller, and continues to reinvents its wheel. When a new wheel appears, we stand back and look at it: We have a new wheel."

While certainly not smaller, the Order is older and hopefully still equally capable of the same innovation Mr. Fripp self-deprecatingly lauds. And the idea of "reinventing the wheel" is especially apropos for what I'm about to say.

At the most recent Selohaar Gather (April 4, 2009), I presented once again, albeit with some enhancements, my seminar The Three and the Four, a presentation describing the various correspondences of triads and tetrads, both in Western mysticism as a whole, and in Selohaar magic and philosophy specifically. This is, in various venues, perhaps the sixth time I've given the presentation. Each time that I've presented it, I've wondered afterward: what am I missing? What else is in this data that demands our use or further study? [I'm pleased to say that I'm not the only one asking these questions: Lady Catriona began a thread on triads on the Selohaar Forum right after the gather.]

The answer, at least for this iteration of post-seminar thoughts, struck me during my morning commute today. As I thought about Messrs. Winston and Fripp, and their respective musings on wheels of different sorts, it occurred to me that there is a level of depth left unexplored by us regarding our ritual observation of the cycle of the seasons - the Wheel of the Year. I believe we need, in part, to reinvent our wheel of the year, and in a way that reflects our deepening understanding of the classical elements.

We know that the elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth are given properties characterizing their individual dynamics: Fire is Hot and Dry, Air Wet and Hot, Water Cold and Wet, and Earth Dry and Cold. Some sources use a less intense quality of heat - warm, in lieu of hot. In any case, these combinations of hot, cold, wet, and dry describe the four elements. They also describe the four humors, temperaments, bodily fluids, etc. and…the four seasons. Winter is cold and wet, corresponding to the element of Water. In like fashion, spring is warm and wet (Air), summer is hot and dry (Fire), and autumn is dry and cold (Earth).

Knowing this, might we not expand our use of elemental symbolism beyond our spatially-aligned invocations of the four elemental Regents? We could, and I believe should, use the appropriate element for a given seasonally-scheduled Selohaar gather's ritual. A Summer Solstice gather might particularly celebrate the element of Fire, the element associated with that season, while Yule could include some themes structured around the element of Water.

But how should we treat the counter-quarter holidays - Imbolc (February), Beltane (May), Lughnasadh (August), and Samhain (November)? Here is where Mr. Winston's seasonal transition "Winter into Spring" comes into play, for we can understand a holiday such as Imbolc as a time of transition between those two seasons, between Water and Air, that is, from Cold and Wet to Wet and Hot (or warm - I can't quite bring myself to use so extreme a term as 'hot' for spring, at least not here in New England!). The common denominator for these two seasons is the quality of 'wetness'. Similarly, Lughnasadh is a time of transition from summer to autumn, from Hot and Dry (Fire) to Dry and Cold (Earth); here the common quality is 'dryness'.

If all of this seems just a little dizzying, perhaps an elemental diagram, now augmented with the holiday/gather names, will help:

The Wheel of the Year, with elemental, directional, and gather/holiday correspondences

All of this points to the rather exciting prospect of having more systematic and concrete terms to use in creating our seasonally-themed rituals. This only makes sense, given our process in ritual is intended to echo nature's process, best seen in the progress of the seasons.

I do not know, as of this writing, exactly how we might add in this additional layer of symbolism. The coming months - as the wheel continues to turn, and reinvent itself - will reveal those details, particularly once other minds in the Order turn to look at this new challenge, doubtlessly musing: We have a new wheel.