Autumn seems like a very natural time to be reminded of the element of earth. The nights draw in and the days grow colder, and home beckons to us, to withdraw into warmth and comfort. We almost literally go to ground, or wish we could.
Earth is a sleepy, physical, resistant element, the least flexible, the slowest element, the most sheltering and anchoring. It is the most concerned with structure and form and a basic integrity, and the limitations and measures of time. It is an element of great richness and potential.
We don’t so much perceive the elements in their purity, but generally in combination and through nuanced expression. So we think of the complex manifestations of health, wealth and physical fulfillment as being earthy. We think of hearth and home with their warmth and fire, of fertile soil and growth, with its moisture, we think of gems and crystals and metals from within the earth, though these have been tempered and incubated with great heat. We think of the kaleidoscope of physical pleasures and appetites met. These are indeed all earthy, but of course nothing actually is constituted beyond interdependence.
In popular western occult culture the element of earth has become associated with the pentacle¹, maybe starting with associations from 19th century occultism referring to one suit of the tarot. Certainly with the publication of the Smith-Waite (aka Rider-Waite) tarot deck the link between the element of earth and the circled five pointed star was depicted as implicit, and I think this deck has been very influential. The older tarot decks don’t show this association (and I don’t think ceremonial magic would have put it quite that way), as the earthy discs on the cards were previously things like coins, but the association has stuck and entered popular subculture, which I personally find interesting and think is of valid note.
Of course, the pentagram (without circle) is used in elemental invocation and banishing, for all the elements. A twist here is that popularized Witchcraft has passed on the usage of pentagrams in invoking and banishing, but has tended to simplify the practice down to tracing invoking earth and banishing earth pentagrams as stand ins, applicable to any direction and element as needed. This practice is actually derived from the lesser invoking and banishing rituals of the pentagram, of the The Order of the Golden Dawn. It interests me again that the pentagram has succeeded in growing an association with its earth form in a somewhat more popularized form of occult subculture. Again, the pentagram is not specifically associated with the element of earth, but popular consciousness reinforced that possible association, which I find interesting.
Earth could be so many things to us, as many things as being in a body in a physical world entails, which runs the whole gamut from bliss to suffering, wonder to boredom and alienation, gestation to death. The tarot card on the edge of everything that physical existence is, well that would probably be The World. It is the final funnel of influences leading to us on the qabalistic Tree of Life, and the first gateway. It is ruled by the planet Saturn traditionally, ruler of a “golden age”, devouring father, sickle bearing reaper, dweller on the threshold, patron of the unlikely carnivalesque, old god, sea goat, teacher. Israel Regardie I remember said in The Garden of Pomegranates that it* represented both the lowest dregs of the astral, and looked at another way the summation of all the influences coming down the Tree to Malkuth, our familiar world of form. A vision of the Divine All. What occultists of a certain generation might have called the vision of Pan.
Earth has many scents and textures to it. Leaves fall in rains and frosts to the ground, and decay does its work. Earth is intimately connected with waste and its impossibility, regeneration, reduction and re-ingestion. Reducing, integrating, rebuilding. We are surrounded by a grand, chaotic merry go round, moving in all directions, inwards and outwards, of form, energy and intelligence.
And here, in the world of form, special things are possible, things we couldn’t learn or grow anywhere else. Whether it is the bottle that contains the fermentation, the hammer and tongs that work the metal, or the apparent separation of bodies that confounds our deeper intuitions of union, earth has a resistance which while it can frustrate, it can also beget ingenuity, application and vision. It offers benediction, healing and rest, as well as the crucible. It is a good part of the “footsteps of Nature” in which the alchemists sought to follow.
Winter’s slowly hastening approach tends to remind me of that.¹ “pentacle” is used here to denote the circled 5 pointed star, which is its common modern usage, though it’s older use in ceremonial magic is not so fixed to a specific geometrical figure.
* ie the 32nd path of Tau on the Tree of Life, assigned to the tarot trump “The World”