Directions, Elements, and Ritual Working

Elements - Isidorian - System

Chart of the Elements, Directions, and their Attributions from the Isidoro-Aligheran System, the successor and outgrowth of the Libri Artum method.

I just had a conversation asking about the direction the operator faces in the rituals in my books, and what to do if the room or temple is laid out so as to make inconvenient facing North or whichever other direction the rubrics indicate.

I explained it in terms of why I indicate facing those directions to begin with, and afterwards it seemed like a good idea to share with the rest of the world. So here we go!


The Origin of the System

As we begin, it may help to understand that every magical ritual I’ve ever composed has its origins in the Libri Artum system I created when I was sixteen years old. Having had exposure to some of the theory but none to practical working, I was left to my own devices to create the actual practice. Much of the Libri Artum ritual content has already been published piecemeal in my other books, especially Ritual Magic for Conservative Christians, so it needn’t concern us here. What does concern us is that everything I’ve done or written ever since, takes its root from my early study and experimentation during the late eighties and early nineties.

There are two things we should know about the system’s origins however. The first was that I created the practice whole-cloth based on pieces of theory I picked up from reading whatever I could get my hands on (read this to mean “whatever I could get my hands on that wasn’t obviously crap”). This accounts for the theoretical layout and very few of the practical details.

The second is the context. While my parents were “occult friendly,” the very prospect of ritual magic freaked them out. My father may have been a reader and teacher at the time, but he was still affiliated with the Newage movement which tends to focus entirely on the Psychological Model while being nervous of actual Magic, if not frightened by it. My mother had no interest in the Newage, but her preferred methods also involved the Psychological Model and techniques of meditation. The one thing going in my favor was that if I wanted a given occult book and had the money to pay for it, Mary over at Mountaintop was happy to order it for me (so long as it cleared my father’s radar).

What this means is: the Libri Artum system was created in the context of a sixteen-year old who had open access to theoretical but not practical information, working without communication with serious occultists, but had to create a practice where he could do ritual while sneaking around at night undetected. This translated into working around midnight (1:00am during Daylight Savings Time), in a dark bedroom with only a candle or two for illumination, no incense, memorizing entire texts for a week beforehand since I couldn’t see the paper anyway, and whispering the prayers so as not to wake up either my parents or my sister.

Okay, that was too much information, and definitely more than you’ll need to understand the question of directions. But I put it in this post so as to explain any other peculiarities in the system that may leave questions in the reader’s mind.


The Question of Directions

With all that out of the way, we come to the question of directions. In the Libri Artum system, the most common directional rubric is for the operator to face North. This is at odds with many systems which tell the operator to face East, and now I will tell you why.

In the Libri Artum system, a connection is made between the Four Directions, the Four Elements, and the Planes of Existence. Thus, the direction the operator faces during the ritual, is indicative of the plane upon which the operator intends the results to manifest. It really is that simple.

Now when I created the Libri Artum system, I used the associations most occultists use, those employed by the Golden Dawn. What this means is that East=Air=Causal Plane; South=Fire=Mental Plane; West=Water=Astral Plane; North=Earth=Physical Plane.

This is the key to understanding directional rubrics in the system. I would point out, however, that this is a “may” rubric and not a “shall” rubric, as we’re about to discuss why it’s not iron-clad.

[NOTE: Since I found the terms “may rubric” and “shall rubric” confused a few readers, I would like to clarify that these are terms found in Protestant liturgies, with a “may rubric” indicating a thing is optional, and a “shall rubric” indicating a thing is mandatory.]


Why It’s Not Iron-Clad

Why is it not iron-clad? Well, I’m so glad you asked!

The reason I say it’s “not iron-clad” is that the Direction-Element correspondences are not iron-clad, either. For example, I told you I had (at that time) accepted the correspondences found within the Golden dawn system, primarily because I didn’t know of any others.

When I began studying – and I mean studying deeply – the actual Elemental understanding of matter, I found that the Golden Dawn’s system was just that: the Golden Dawn’s system. They made it up just like they fabricated their alleged history and everything else.

What I learned instead was that in Medieval Catholicism, the Direction-to-Element correspondences also exist, and while there were a few different systems, the majority opinion seems to favor Fire=North, Air=East, Water=South, Earth=West.

Diagram of the four humours, elements, and seasons, from De Natura Rerum

Diagram of the Elements, Seasons, and Humors from Bede’s De Natura Rerum. Note that Fire=North, Air=East, Water=South, and Earth=West, arranged according to a continuum of hot, cold, wet, and dry.

It is also common to find Earth=East and Air=West, as we see in this diagram of the Elements, Seasons, Directions, Humors, Winds, Months, and the Zodiac composed by Byrhtferth of Ramsey in the early 11th century:

Byhrtferd's Diagram - Baker08

Source for this Translation. Note that the Elements, Seasons, and Humors here are also arranged along a continuum of Hot, Cold, Wet, and Dry.

This is also consistent with the Medieval worldview of the Elements descending in order of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, and also consistent with where the properties of Hot, Cold, Moist, and Dry would meet each other when placed on a circle. It’s likewise also consistent with how those four properties meet in the Four Seasons: Spring (Air) = Hot and Moist, Summer (Fire) = Hot and Dry, Autumn (Earth) = Cold and Dry, Winter (Water) = Cold and Wet.

This is also consistent with the attributions of the Eight Gregorian Modes, which are applied to the Planets (Mode VIII is the Sphere of Fixed Stars), the Days of the Week, the Four Humors/Temperaments, and of course the addition or subtraction of each Element.

Modes-Planets-Elements

The Eastern Orthodox number the modes differently, but names and attributions are the same.

That’s right. While the Golden Dawn, Aurum Solis, and their derivatives generally say “vibrate in the ‘magical voice,’” medieval Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy both have a complete system of musical modes with specific links to each Element, Planet, Temperament, and Humor. If any of my readers are in a Latin Mass choir, give that information a ponder next time you start chanting Introits from the Graduale Romanum.

While I don’t hate the Golden Dawn system, this is a large part of why I don’t work it. Next to the juggernaut that is Medieval Catholicism, the Golden Dawn system comes across as incomplete and contrived; it reads like a group of theologically-liberal Protestants tried rediscovering spirituality, and ended up looking in every place except their own tradition.

(The other part is the Golden Dawn’s insistence on a pseudo-Egyptian framework. I get that it was a fad in Victorian England, but I’ve always been turned off by it and found it unnecessary for my own praxis, seeing I already had my own working system for half a decade before I first encountered any systematic treatment of the GD system anyway.)


Oops, I Did It Again!

Apologies, as I feel myself meandering again. The fact is, the Direction-to-Element associations do not have a standard “one size fits all” set of attributions, and so if one is using the Libri Artum system or anything derived from it, they’re free to change “North” into whatever direction their system uses for Earth, or to ignore the rubric altogether if either their ritual chamber’s arrangement doesn’t allow for it, or their own system doesn’t bother with the distinctions.

In my own work, I’ve replaced “North” with “West” as per the (Isidorian and Bedean) Medieval Catholic attribution for Earth, and the results have panned out the same.

In closing, this is also why I tend to favor a training approach where the student has to feel his or her way through the proverbial dark to create their own praxis. Because no matter what I may study or explore, what push comes to shove, the most effective workings I’ve ever done always have their roots in the days when I was a teenager creating my own way of doing magic. Those techniques are the ones that work best for me, and I could not have learned them from a book or any other teacher. You, likewise, owe it to yourself to discover what set of techniques works best for you.

About Agostino

Originally from Queens, N.Y., and having grown up in Dayton, OH, Agostino Taumaturgo is a unique figure. He is the product of the unlikely combination of coming from a Traditional Roman Catholic background and a spirituality-friendly home. It was in this home that Agostino first learned the basics of meditation, prayer, and spiritual working. In time Agostino completed his theology studies and was ordained to the priesthood and was later consecrated a bishop. He has since left the Traditional movement and brings this knowledge to the “outside world” through his teaching and writing, discussing spiritual issues and practical matters through the lens of traditional Christian theology.
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