Ogham and the Elements - The Alphabet of Magic - The Foundations of Druid Magic

The Druid Magic Handbook: Ritual Magic Rooted in the Living Earth - John Michael Greer 2008

Ogham and the Elements
The Alphabet of Magic
The Foundations of Druid Magic

Unless you have studied other magical systems, you may be wondering how these Ogham fews relate to magic at all. The secret lies in the magical practice of correspondence. A correspondence is a relationship between two symbols, connecting them with exactly the same sort of poetic logic mentioned earlier in this chapter. These connections give you the raw materials to turn any situation you want to bring about into a symbol you can imagine clearly. They also weave the world together into patterns of shared meaning—the basis for the enchantment of the world.

Each Ogham few has many correspondences, some more useful in magic than others. Among the most useful are the five traditional elements. A quirk of language makes these elements challenging for many modern people to understand, however. Today's science sees elements as basic types of physical matter, each made up of a distinct kind of atom. Hydrogen, for example, is made of atoms with one proton and one electron; helium, of atoms with two protons and two electrons, and so on. This is the only meaning of the word element most people know nowadays.

The word originally meant something different, however. Before it was taken over and redefined by chemists in the eighteenth century, elements were understood as conditions of matter, not fixed types, and there were five of them: earth, water, air, fire, and spirit. Modern scientists heap scorn on this older system, and then go on to describe a universe made of solids, liquids, gases, energy, and the background fabric of spacetime itself—exactly the same concept under different names.

Yet the traditional elements are not simply physical states of matter. Like everything in the old enchanted world, they had connections linking them to everything else in the universe of human experience. Each of the elements corresponds to a season, a direction, a time of day, an emotional state, and much more. Even today, we describe someone prone to anger as hot tempered, someone whose thoughts drift loose from reality as an airhead, and so on. All these metaphors point to symbolic connections that magic can use.

Table 2-1 The Five Elements


The five elements have these basic qualities:

Air opens, expands, clarifies, and connects. The old elemental lore calls it warm and moist—that is, it radiates energy and responds to its surroundings. It corresponds to the east, dawn, spring among the seasons, and the intellect in the self.

Fire illuminates, challenges, transforms, and destroys. Elemental lore calls it warm and dry—that is, it radiates energy and does not respond to its surroundings. It corresponds to the south, noon, summer among the seasons, and the will in the self.

Water receives, resolves, unites, and dissolves. The old elemental lore calls it cold and moist—that is, it absorbs energy and responds to its surroundings. It corresponds to the west, dusk, autumn among the seasons, and the emotions in the self.

Earth closes, limits, establishes, and manifests. The old elemental lore calls it cold and dry—that is, it absorbs energy and does not respond to its surroundings. It corresponds to the north, midnight, winter among the seasons, and the senses in the self.

Spirit originates, witnesses, and reabsorbs all the other elements. The old elemental lore gives it no qualities of its own, because all qualities unfold from it. It corresponds to the center, the present moment, and pure awareness in the self.

In certain Druid traditions—including that of AODA, the source of the magical system taught in this book—the element of spirit is further divided into three elements: Spirit Above, Spirit Below, and Spirit Within, corresponding to nwyfre, gwyar, and calas. This fits an old symbolism that assigns the number 3 to spirit, the number 4 to matter, and the number 7 to the universe, which is made of both. Several important parts of the ritual work in this book use this system of seven elements.

The symbolism of the Ogham uses the more basic set of five elements. It adds another level of complexity, however, because each few represents a combination of two elements, not a single element on its own. Each of the five elements can be divided into five subelements; air, for example, has a spiritual side, a fiery side, an airy side, a watery side, and an earthy side, and so on for all the other elements.

Table 2-2 shows how this works. Each aicme of five fews represents one of the five elements, and each few in the aicme is a subelement of that element. Thus Beith is the spiritual side of the element of air, Luis the fiery side of air, Nuin its airy side, Fearn its watery side, and so on through the list of fews to Mór, the earthy side of spirit. In this way the Ogham alphabet gives the Druid mage access to a precise set of symbols for elemental forces.

Table 2-2 Ogham and the Elements


It's important to take the time to think through these correspondences, and see how each few combines the elemental forces that go into it. Later on, we'll discuss other practices—meditation and scrying—that will help you explore these correspondences and others in more depth, in preparation for using them in magic. The simple process of thinking about them and trying to see how the meaning of the few unfolds from the combination of the elements, however, offers a good starting place for this work.