Traditionally, Samhain is considered to be the day when the
dead and living can mingle. The veils of the world are at their thinnest and
there is a sense of liminal space in the air. Liminal space is border space,
the in between place, where anything can happen. This flexibility time means
that contact with our ancestors is easier than during the rest of the year. A
lot of rituals I've attended for Samhain have involved remembrances of the
For me, Samhain is a time for change. The nights are getting
longer, the air is cooler, the leaves are falling, and we are going into a time
of the year that tends to make many people insular. At this time of the year I
remember past regrets and assess the overall direction of my life. This has
caused me to start doing an annual ritual for just this time of the year.
This annual ritual involves choosing an element and
dedicating myself to working with it for an entire year. I originally chose the
five classic Western elements to work with. Since these elements have a lot of
behavioral characteristics associated with them, I felt that choosing to work
with an element that represented desired behavioral traits could be useful for
helping a person modify hir behavior.
I started doing this ritual in October 2004. I'd been asked to design a ritual for a college pagan group for Samhain that year, and decided to use the elemental balancing ritual. I deliberately chose an element that I felt I didn't have a lot of connection with. I'd always had a strong connection with the element of fire, but my connection to water wasn't that good. So I was a very creative hothead, but I wasn't in touch with my emotions. Sure, I could get passionate, or angry, but I didn't really know why I felt the emotions I felt and I sometimes had trouble figuring out what I was feeling at a given moment.
Water represented emotions for me. I decided that working
with water could balance the fire element in my life and help me get a handle
on the feelings I had. The other participants in the ritual also worked with an
element that they had a weak connection with.
About two weeks before the actual ritual I met with the
other quarter callers and told them I wanted them to do a pathworking with the
element they'd chosen. The pathworking involved astrally projecting to the
elemental plane and meeting with an elemental entity who would instruct the
person in how to channel the desired energy. Each person would also ask for a
symbol from the entity that they could use to connect with it.
I used the Western Hermetic symbols to connect with the
elementals for this ritual. I
did not use traditional Hermetic correspondences (i.e. the elemental kings or
angels). Instead when the entity appeared I asked it to assume a form I was comfortable
with. The entity became Spike Speigal from the anime Cowboy Bebop. This character always wears a blue suit, likens his
fighting style to water, and always seems to flow around people when fighting
them or talking to them. At the same time, one of his eyes is artificial. In
the anime, Spike explains that he feels like his artificial eye is staring into
the past at the last moment he really felt alive. In that sense he represents
the stagnancy of water.
For two weeks I meditated on water and met with Spike. He
gave me a symbol and showed me where a lot of my weaknesses were and how water
could help me with that. When I met with the other quarter callers they
reported similar experiences. The quarter caller working with fire made a
connection with Jean Grey/Phoenix from the X-men. The earth quarter caller
connected with a dead cat as a spirit guide. Finally, the air quarter connected
with a character named Cloud from Final Fantasy 7.
On the day of the ritual, I asked that people go to the
elemental quarter of the circle that they were going to work on. I painted, on
the foreheads of the quarter callers, the symbols they'd received. We invoked
the elemental entities with chants that we came up with ourselves and then
walked to the center of the circle. Facing toward the people in the circle, we
drew on the elemental energy and then sent it outward to everyone else, while
having them focus on getting attuned with their chosen element. I had the
people close their eyes and meditate, focusing on relaxing and calling out to a
spirit guide to appear, who'd instruct them about the element they'd choose to
work with. After the ritual was done, people reported meeting spirit guides and
getting advice. The spirit guides that appeared varied from being animal spirits
to being pop culture entities to being traditional god forms. I think the
appearance of the entity was determined by what the person was most comfortable
with. But even though the physical ritual was done, the spiritual effects lasted
for a year.
Over the course of the year I would occasionally get
messages from Spike urging me to go somewhere or try something related to
water, or just providing me advice on how I handled a situation. I listened
every time and inevitably found myself getting a stronger connection to water
and the attributes I wanted to have for myself. For instance, Spike told me to
present at a New Age convention. I met a person who became a close friend. He
told me about some Taoist exercises called water breathing techniques, and involved
using breath and energy work to dissolve internal blockages. By following
Spike's advice I was able to start the process of getting in touch with
emotions and recognizing why I felt the way I did.
Other people who participated in the ritual reported similar
occurrences, where the element they chose manifested in various ways throughout
the year. Some, like me, opted to continue the elemental balancing work the
next year. Others chose not to, because they found that the dedication and work
called for was sometimes intense and could change their lives in ways they
didn't expect. As a personal example, by working with water I did become much
more in tune with my emotions and how I expressed them. In 2005, when I
switched over to sound as an element, I became much more extroverted, but also
a lot more scattered than I had been. One person who worked with fire said that
she did learn to be more outgoing and creative, but also got angrier quicker.
The process of balancing the elements, involves temporarily experience both the
positive and negative attributes of the elements and this can be a daunting
I modified this ritual in 2005. While I think the
traditional elements are useful, I also thinking working with the chakras or
with a particular symbol set such as the Sephiroth on the Tree of Life can also
be useful. For instance, I wanted to work with sound in 2005, but there was no
symbol for it in the traditional Western elements. So instead, I chose to use
the symbol on the throat chakra to represent sound. By adapting the ritual to
that format, I was still able to work on balancing myself in a way that was
really effective for me.
Anyone can use this ritual. I associate it with Samhain
because it'is about transition and change, but it's also about dedication, and
choosing a path to rebirth even as you descend into the dark season. Every year
as I assess my life, I look at what I need to do to balance myself and choose
an element for that year to help me get balanced. You can use any system that you
are familiar with to do this ritual. For instance, you could use the eight
arrows of the chaostar from chaos magic or the five classic Eastern elements.
The key is to be aware of the characteristics you want to acquire, and use this
ritual to help you get in touch with those characteristics, so that you can
make them a part of you. If you're looking for some direction or a change in
how you act, try this ritual out and see if a year's dedication gives you new
perspective on the element and yourself.
 To see a good and complete illustration of those symbols, go to page 212 in Ted Andrew's book, Enchantments of the Faerie Realm.