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Taylor Ellwood

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Space/Time Magic

The Samhain Elemental Ritual
by Taylor Ellwood

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 dead. 

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[1]. 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 experience. 

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.

[1] To see a good and complete illustration of those symbols, go to page 212 in Ted Andrew's book, Enchantments of the Faerie Realm.