Elemental Pentagrams

Near the beginning of each ritual, most Wiccans stand before each directional quarter of the circle in turn (starting in either the East or the North, depending on their tradition, and continuing round deosil, or clockwise) and invoke the power of that direction. They usually accompany whatever invocation they utter with the gesture of tracing out with an athame (a ritual knife, never used to cut physical objects; pron. "a-THAW-meh") or outstretched finger a pentacle (five-pointed interlaced star) in the air before them. At the end of the ritual, we then dismiss each directional power.

Many traditions, including Oldenwilde, associate each direction with one of the four elements: East = Air, South = Fire, West = Water, North = Earth. (This particular association, incidentally, can be traced back to the Order of the Golden Dawn -- one of whose most famous members, William Butler Yeats, interlaced his poems with references to this element/direction correspondence.) Since each element is also traditionally associated with one of the points of the pentacle, many of these traditions trace the pentacle at each quarter in such a way as to emphasize the element corresponding to that quarter. (The fifth point is associated with the "quintessential" element of Spirit, which pervades and animates all the four elements of matter. The direction of Spirit is the Center, which is no direction yet every direction.)

The most commonly used system for tracing the elemental pentacles is given in Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft. Unfortunately this system arbitrarily garbles deosil (clockwise) and widdershins (counterclockwise) directions in a way that is unacceptable to traditions, such as ours, that maintain a consistent magical distinction between the two directions -- using deosil motion to invoke, build up, create, etc., and widdershins motion to dismiss, take down, destroy, etc. The system presented below is the one we use; we think it makes more sense.

Draw each pentacle deosil (in the direction of the solid arrow) when invoking, widdershins (in the direction of the broken arrow) when dismissing each quarter. Begin tracing it at the blunt end of the arrow, trace all the way round, then conclude at the sharp end of the arrow. In effect, you are twice pointing toward (when invoking) or away from (when dismissing) the element you are emphasizing. For example, when invoking Air, you begin at the point of Fire, move to the point of Air, then continue through the points of Water, Earth, Spirit, and once again Fire, then end at the point of Air. When dismissing Air, you begin at the point of Air, move to the point of Fire, then continue through the points of Spirit, Earth, Water, and once again Air, then end at the point of Fire.

deosil vs. widdershins arrows


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Created: 09 Jun. 1996
Latest update: 04 May 2009