In This Article: What are the Quarters? • How are the Quarters Called? • Deosil vs. Widdershins
What are the Quarters?
The 'Quarters' often refer to the elements of nature that are forces honored by Pagans and Witches. They are named many things, but you will often hear them referred to as corners, quarters, Watchtowers, elements, Elementals, etc. All of these related titles have different meanings and represent different forms of energy.
As with nearly everything in the Craft or in Paganism, these forces are seen differently by each individual. This is a general explanation of what they are and how they are 'called'. Above all else, research and explore all the opinions you can acquire, but remember that you are your own best teacher and there is no substitute for personal experience.
Many people feel that the pentacle represents the four elements, with the practitioner, the divine, 'spirit', ether, or akasha residing above the rest as represented by the top point. This demonstrates how the Witch, or the divine within the practitioner, guides the elements or forces. This is just one interpretation of the pentacle or of how elements are viewed in relation to the Witch.
The following excerpt, from a book we recommend highly The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft1 explains briefly the difference between Elementals, Watchtowers, the elements, and the four quarters. Please refer to this book for further information about the history of the elements.
"The elements are associated with the cardinal points of the magic circle and with a hierarchy of spirits- lower-level beings called elementals, who in turn are governed by higher beings, devas, also called the Lords of the Watchtowers, the Mighty Ones and the Guardians."
So from that exerpt we see that the elements are Earth, Air, Fire and Water
Elementals are said to be 'lower-level' beings, meaning very generally that they are not God/desses.
Elementals are ruled over by higher beings, devas called by names such as the Lords of the Watchtowers, the Mighty Ones, and the Guardians.
The four corners refer to the four cardinal points of the compass, North, South, East & West.
In the movie "The Craft", the girls used a popular phrase "Hail to the Guardians of the Watchtowers of the _____(North, South, East, West) powers of _________(Air, Fire, Water, Earth)......" Hollywood of course spruced up the rite by adding the critters in jars- but don't be confused -this is only one of many ways to call the quarters. The phrase has been used by Witches and other practitioners, but the semi-sacrifice of the critters is pure Hollywood as far as our experience and research can relate. Most practitioners create their own evocations and convocations (to call, summon or command) or invocations (to invite, appeal to, or welcome) according to how they view the elements.
Here we must pause to explain that magick takes many paths. The occultist, or sometimes ceremonial magician, uses different techniques than a Witch might use. This of course is not an absolute for all Witches. Being very practical people, Witches will often utilize whatever techniques work, so long as they are in line with their beliefs and ethics, or those of the Old Religion.
The occultist or ceremonial magician will generally evoke a spirit, often using the names of gods, angels and demons from the Judeo-Christian and Mohammedanism tradition. The magickal traditions of these paths are based in the Zohar (Quabalah), Hebrew based numerology, Notarikon, Gemetria, and are influenced by Egyptian, Chaldean and Babylonian magick. These sources have little to do with Witchcraft except that the techniques have been adopted by some Witches as being useful, and that they may have been adapted by these sources from originally Pagan folklore. A Witch generally invokes an energy, using techniques gained through experience and learned from nature and intuition.
If techniques derived from other traditions prove effective and do not run counter to Wiccan (used in the sense that Witch=Wiccan) belief, it is proper to use them......the Witch uses the techniques in the service of the Old Religion, just as, let us say, a Christian doctor might utilize drugs which were discovered first by Indian [sic] shamans and used by them in the service of their religion" 2
Some Witches utilize the elements, seeing them as general energies that are inter-connected, that make up all of life. Often you will encounter an author or practitioner who feels the hierarchical division and labeling of particular energies of the elements are not Witchcraft, but rather are more ceremonial in nature. Others utilize the 'Guardians' or 'Guardians of the Watchtowers' or some similar title. These energies are called to the circle for many reasons, often to 'keep the element energies in line with the working'. Again, we can only speak in generalities because each practitioner has a different view of these things.
Because many of the rituals in the Craft have been lost through time and persecution, and because Witchcraft is an, they are merely echoes of what the Old Ways may have been. In an attempt to reconstruct some of the old techniques which were probably more shamanic in nature, modern practitioners will 'borrow' from other magickal traditions. These more modern traditions of magick often consist of grand hierarchies of energies (angels, demons, etc.). Many Witches however, feel that these hierarchies are an over intellectualization of the energies of the universe and are too limiting.
As mentioned above, the elements correspond to the cardinal points. These again are up for interpretation. Generally:
- North is Earth
- East is commonly attributed to either Air or Fire
- South is commonly attributed to either Fire or Air
- West is Water
Even these correspondences are often altered according to a particular tradition or according to the area in which the practitioner lives. For example; if you lived on Long Island, you might consider East to be Water (Atlantic ocean) and West to be Earth (N. America continent). Others use different magickal references (grimoires and other books) to determine which is proper for them, or they follow what they were taught by their mentors. This is a difficult area in which to find a consensus and can cause tension in covens of Witches with varied or eclectic backgrounds.
Each of the elements is also associated with a magickal tool, or tools. These too vary according to tradition, training, or intuition. You may have noticed that these are the symbols represented on many tarot cards. Here are some general correspondences:
- Earth is the pentacle, and often considered a female principle.
- Air is the wand, staff ( or sword or athame for some) considered a male principle.
- Fire is the sword or athame (or wand or staff for some) considered to be a male principle.
- Water is the cup, chalice or cauldron, considered a female principle.
- The combination, integration or mastering of the 4 elements is also sometimes represented by the cauldron or pentagram.
The spirits of Nature are sometimes seen as energies in the form of creatures, this is probably where Hollywood got the idea of critters in the movie "The Craft":
- Earth=gnomes (Greek gnoma meaning knowledge)
- Air=slyphs (Greek silphe, a butterfly)
- Fire=salamanders (Greek, salambe, a fireplace)
- Water=undines (Latin unda, or wave)3
An old Gaelic term for the four corners (directions of the compass) is 'Airts'. For further information, we strongly recommend pointing your research to the "four airts" of Celtic origin. Two introductory resources for this research may be Silver Ravenwolf's 3 which explains them in more detail., which shows her own unique view of the Airts and utilization of them, and Doreen Valiente's An ABC of Witchcraft
Again, there is rarely a consensus on this topic in magickal circles. Generally, the circle is cast and invocations, evocations or convocations are utilized for the elements, Elementals, or Guardians. Usually the practitioner faces the corresponding direction (cardinal point) while invoking. These are some of the more popular invocations and convocations used by modern Witches. Please refer to the quoted source for more information about those of interest to you. You can find more information about the quoted sources at the end of this article. Only one invocation or convocation is listed here from each source, for the remaining invocations, often the only variance is the element (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) and the direction or cardinal point (North, South, East, West).
Remember, research and study all the resources you can, but above all, use your intuition. Never use an invocation or convocation that contains words you do not fully understand. Try to develop your own style and make your practice your own. Blessed Be!
Ye Lords of the Watchtowers of the East, ye Lords of Air; I do summon, stir and call you up, to witness our rites and to guard the Circle. Alexandrian Tradition4
O Spirit of the North Stone, Ancient One of the Earth, I call You to attend this circle. Charge this by Your powers, Old Ones! 5
Ye Guardians of the Watchtowers of the East, I do summon, stir and call you now to witness this rite and guard this circle. Powers of Air, move thy cool essence about me as I journey Between the Worlds.6
Soft and whispering winds from afar, Greetings be unto thee in the Names of the Old Gods. Blow clear and fresh and free. In magickal presence here. Blessed Be!7
Blessings of the North upon us, Winds of strength, Bring us perfect peace and perfect trust.8
Black spirits and white, Red spirits and grey, Come ye, come ye, come ye that may. throughout and about, around and around, The circle be drawn, the circle be bound. (Note: Old Celtic: The 'Airts' of the directions of the compass in this example are represented as red=east, white=south, black=north, brown-grey=west. Of course this is only one of many color correspondences for the Airts.)9
Hail, Guardians of the Watchtowers of the East, Powers of Air! We invoke you and call you, Golden Eagle of the Dawn, Star-seeker, Whirlwind, Rising Sun, Come! By the air that is Her breath.10
Darksome night and shining moon,
East, then South, then West, then North;
Hearken to the Witches' Rune-
Here we come to call ye forth!
Earth and water, air and fire,
Wand and pentacle and sword,
Work ye unto our desire,
Hearken ye unto our work!
Cords and censer, scourge and knife,
Powers of the Witch's blade-
Waken all ye into life,
Come ye as the charm is made!11
You who surround us, Guardians, Watchers, the dead we were and are and the unborn, help us, guide and bless us, for we are at one and one in spirit and in life.12
Deosil vs. Widdershins?
Deosil is clockwise movement and widdershins is counter-clockwise movement.
A Quick Note: In the Northern Hemisphere, Quarters are generally called beginning in the North or East and moving clockwise (deosil). For example, North, East, South, then West. Most of the books available about Wicca and Witchcraft use these correspondences.
In the Southern Hemisphere however, these correspondences may vary. Circles are still cast deosil (sunwise), but to those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, they would seem to be widdershins (counter-clockwise). The equator is to the North in the Southern Hemisphere, so North is sometimes representative of fire.
Lilitu in Australia writes:
"We cast circles counter-clockwise which is still doesil, as doesil means sunwise rather than clockwise. We take down the circle counter-clockwise which is widdershins (against the sun). So, it is related to the sun, rather than the way clock hands turn.
Generally in Australia North is sun because the heat is in our North, and earth is in the south, but this varies in different locations. . . There is no one generally "accepted" way of casting due to the geography of different parts of Australia. . . circles are rarely cast clockwise or taken down counter-clockwise."
- The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, ISBN-10: 0816071047 or ISBN-10: 0816038481
- The Practice of Witchcraft by Robin Skelton, ISBN-10: 0806516747 or ISBN-10: 070903525X
- More information regarding gnomes, slyphs, salamanders and undines can be found in An ABC of Witchcraft, ISBN-10: 0919345778
- A Witches' Bible: The Complete Witches' Handbook by Stewart Farrar, Janet Farrar, ISBN-10: 0919345921. Note that this book is actually two books by the same authors, Eight Sabbats for Witches and The Witches' Way, bound together into one volume.
- Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham, ISBN-10: 0875421180
- To Ride A Silver Broomstick: New Generation Witchcraft by Silver RavenWolf, ISBN-10: 087542791X
- Magical Rites from the Crystal Well by Ed Fitch, ISBN-10: 1936922061
- To Stir a Magic Cauldron by Silver Ravenwolf, ISBN-10: 1567184243
- From The Rebirth of Witchcraft by Doreen Valiente, ISBN-10: 0709083696 - this is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, probably originally from Middleton's play, .
- The Spiral Dance by Starhawk (born Miriam Simos), ISBN-10: 0676974678
- By Doreen Valiente and Gerald Gardner together, Ibid. #4
- Ibid. #2
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