Monthly Archives: August 2013

Why East isn’t Air

or why not to confuse the finger pointing at the moon with the moon

Recently I had read some posts discussing that age old topic of elemental associations and directions. For perhaps some unfamiliar readers, the elements that I am talking about are the classic elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire (and occasionally Aether). The directions I am referring to are the basic directions we are all familiar with IE: North, South, East and West.

A good many readers are probably familiar with some practice that makes a correspondence between the two, with a great number of variations based upon traditions that one practices within the sphere of Western Esoterica. A common one, used by many Wiccans is the following:

East – Air, South – Fire, West – Water, North – Earth

It is a handy way to work and to have the symbols drawn up so that when you face a certain direction, and you can invoke that element. The thing that I see people getting stuck on is the pushing of the rightness and absoluteness of one set of correspondences over another. What my own practice has lead me to is this. East isn’t Air. South isn’t Fire. West Isn’t Water. North Isn’t Earth. East is just East. It is the direction the sun rises. Depending upon where you live, it might be towards the ocean. If you are very euro-centric you might consider it the exotic East, where cultures and values very different from the Europe are to be found. But it isn’t Air. It’s only a symbol. A useful symbol perhaps, but still just a symbol. You can just as easily call up Earth from the East as you could any other element. You could turn west and evoke fire. You could in fact not have to face and specific direction and call up the elements, either as an energy, or an intelligence, or as primal and archetypal force that symbolizes something specific to you. The exacting debate over directions, elements and other correspondences of place and time, well, they are all just symbols. And while symbols can be useful building blocks help construct a practice, they can also become the bricks of the wall that hold you back and keep you from moving forward.

Rather then turning South and experiencing Fire, why not turn South and experience South. Whatever experience the spirits and powers of the South want to give, what message, guidance, or awakening they can bestow, without being locked into a specific element or other value.
While the needs of tradition continues, and if you are within the tradition, you should continue with the symbol set given, especially if you are conveying that tradition to others, for your own practice, you might try moving outside of the limitations of tradition.

Runes of Air

The element of air is not very apparent in the natal cosmology that the runes sprang from. It is just kind of there, and everything that inhabits it comes about later. For that reason, there is very little clear relation to the element of air in the runes, although using some investigation it is possible to make connections between some of them.

In various books about runes, you will find some of the following runes listed as connected to the element of air. They are:

Os/Ansuz, Raidho, Gebo, Eohlx/Algiz/Elhaz, Tiewaz, Mannaz and Yr

Some of these are related esoteric symbolism (like Eohlx which quite a few relate to Valkyries, which fly about in the air, or Mannaz which has connections to the mind and thus the mind/intellect/air connection). Others are directly related like Os/Ansuz which is about the mouth, and thus the movement of breath through the human body. Tiewaz could also fall in this category as it’s rune poem reference both mists of night but also the means to be guided through them, IE the stars in the heaven.

For myself, I have a slight longer list of runes, based on a greater perception of what makes up interaction and relationship with air and both it’s physical and esoteric qualities.

Here is my own list.

Thurisaz, Os, Raidho, Wunjo, Nauthiz, Jera, Iehwaz, Eohlx Tiewaz, Ehwaz, Mannaz, Dagaz, Aesc

I attribute Thurisaz because of the associations it has with violence and misfortune, but also with power. It is a fickle rune, and so Air is a fickle element. It is not always the gentle breeze, but sometimes the terrible storm and hurricane. It can be the breath of life, or the poisonous gas that takes life away.

Os is given because it is the mouth, and the words that come from it, bringing wisdom or folly. It also connects to breath, and to song.

Raidho is given because it is the traveling and wandering nature, always moving, always restless. In most forms of travel is is always good to have the wind at your back.

Wunjo mainly because of the sound of the name. It just sounds windy and airy. I can also see an symbolism in the comforts, the joy, the deep breath of calm and relaxation in prosperity and ease.

Nauthiz I give for reasons similar to Thurisaz. The challenges and obstacles of need are often symbolized by the power of air and it’s challenges, but also the method of resolving them lies in the preparation by planning and mindfulness, which can help to overcome them

Jera I establish because of the rune poem mentions the King of Heaven. While it could be a reference to Christianity. The idea of harvest, season and summer and the warm air and light that fills it as blessings from Heaven and thus being communicated through the air. This also just adds to the complexity of this rune.

Iehwaz, the yew tree, is another one of those mysterious and complex runes. While I don’t give all the trees mentioned in the runes to Air, there is a connection I feel that comes from the high reaching branches of trees to reach up. Yew also being identified as one of the trees of Yggdrasil, which reaches from the underworlds up into the heavenly realms.

Eohlx I also give as an air rune because of it’s potentially violent power, as the rune poem mentions the elk grass as being able to cut people who handle it roughly. Air also lends itself to protective magic that is more aligned with the watchful guarding nature of Eohlx

Tiewaz I give for the reasons already given above. Stars, mists, and the wisdom and guidance that Tiewaz imparts

Ehwaz is the other side of the moving runes. Instead of the wandering nature of Raidho, Ehwaz is the fast paced speed of movement. It is more direct and blunt then Raidho, because it channels everything into the direction it is moving to get there quickly. It also has symbolism to loyalty and trust, what I see as the ideals of air.

Mannaz as the rune of the mind, and also of friendship and connection based upon the rune poem. It also has the tragic element of the absolute end of all connections, death, which I see as the ability of the mind to contemplate all things and thus be prepared to deal with all events.

Dagaz as the rune of Day, while it is strongly a rune of light, it is also the medium which light passes through, namely air and the bright airs of daytime which serves to inspire hope and happiness.

Aesc the ash tree, another world tree, but this one I associate with the upper worlds. The ash grows high, and the particular powers of this rune seem to be about inspiration and enthusiasm, the descending powers of the gods as they flow into us, bringing prophecy, insight and perhaps madness. It is a rune that connects to the Divine Mind, the Nous or Wod, and be filled with divine possession.

As I indicated before, Air is one of those invisible elements in the northern cosmology. It is always present and yet never really talked about or focused on. Only in it’s particular manifestations as winds or breath, mists or odors does it make itself known. Finding runes of air is a challenge, as it requires interpreting symbolism and meaning and application in many ways of what air can symbolize, how it flows and acts, and it’s deeper esoteric possibilities.