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Internet Book of Shadows, (Various Authors), [1999], at

                                    RE-THINKING THE WATCHTOWERS 
                            13 Reasons Air should be in the North 
                                             by Mike Nichols 
                                 copyright 1989 by Mike Nichols 
                            (fondly dedicated to Kathy Whitworth) 
             It all started 20 years ago.  I was 16 years old then, and a 
            recent initiate to the religion of Wicca.  Like most neophytes, 
            I was eager to begin work on my Book of Shadows, the traditional 
            manuscript liturgical book kept by most practicing Witches.  I 
            copied down rituals, spells, recipes, poems, and tables of 
            correspondences from every source I could lay hands on.  Those 
            generally fell into two broad categories: published works, such 
            as the many books available on Witchcraft and magic; and 
            unpublished works, mainly other Witches' Books of Shadows. 
                 Twenty years ago, most of us were "traditional" enough to 
            copy everything by hand.  (Today, photocopying and even computer 
            modem transfers are becoming de rigueur.)  Always, we were 
            admonished to copy "every dot and comma", making an exact 
            transcription of the original, since any variation in the 
            ceremony might cause major problems for the magician.  Seldom, 
            if ever, did anyone pause to consider where these rituals came 
            from in the first place, or who composed them.  Most of us, 
            alas, did not know and did not care.  It was enough just to 
            follow the rubrics and do the rituals as prescribed. 
                 But something brought me to an abrupt halt in my copying 
            frenzy.  I had dutifully copied rituals from different sources, 
            and suddenly realized they contained conflicting elements.  I 
            found myself comparing the two versions, wondering which one was 
            "right", "correct", "authentic", "original", "older", etc.  This 
            gave rise to the more general questions about where a ritual 
            came from in the first place.  Who created it?  Was it created 
            by one person or many?  Was it ever altered in transmission?  If 
            so, was it by accident or intent?  Do we know?  Is there ever 
            any way to find out?  How did a particular ritual get into a 
            Coven's Book of Shadows?  From another, older, Book of Shadows? 
            Or from a published source?  If so, where did the author of the 
            published work get it? 
                 I had barely scratched the surface, and yet I could already 
            see that the questions being raised were very complex.  (Now, 
            all these years later, I am more convinced than ever of the 
            daunting complexity of Neo-Pagan liturgical history.  And I am 
            equally convinced of the great importance of this topic for a 
            thorough understanding of modern Witchcraft.  It may well be a 
            mare's nest, but imagine the value it will have to future Craft 
            historians.  And you are unconditionally guaranteed to see me 
            fly into a passionate tirade whenever I'm confronted with such 
            banal over-simplifications as "Crowley is the REAL author of the 
            Third Degree initiation," or "Everyone KNOWS Gardner INVENTED 
            modern Witchcraft.") 
                          Last amended June 11, 1989  --  Page NEXTRECORD 
                 The first time I noticed conflicting ritual elements was 
            when I was invited as a guest to attend another Coven's esbat 
            celebration.  When the time came to "invoke the Watchtowers" (a 
            ritual salutation to the four directions), I was amazed to learn 
            that this group associated the element of Earth with the North. 
            My own Coven equated North with Air.  How odd, I thought. 
            Where'd they get that?  The High Priestess told me it had been 
            copied out of a number of published sources.  Further, she said 
            she had never seen it listed any other way.  I raced home and 
            began tearing books from my own library shelves.  And sure 
            enough!  Practically every book I consulted gave the following 
            associations as standard: North = Earth, East = Air, South = 
            Fire, West = Water. 
                 Then where the heck did I get the idea that Air belonged in 
            the North?  After much thought, I remembered having copied my 
            own elemental/directional associations from another Witch's Book 
            of Shadows, her Book representing (so she claimed) an old Welsh 
            tradition.  Perhaps I'd copied it down wrong?  A quick 
            long-distance phone call put my mind at ease on that score. 
            (When I asked her where she'd gotten it, she said she THOUGHT it 
            was from an even older Book of Shadows, but she wasn't certain.) 
                 By now, I felt miffed that my own tradition seemed to be at 
            variance with most published sources.  Still, my own rituals 
            didn't seem to be adversely affected.  Nor were those of my 
            fellow Coven members, all of whom put Air in the North. 
            Further, over the years I had amassed lots of associations and 
            correspondences that seemed to REQUIRE Air to be in the North. 
            The very thought of Air in the East offended both my sense of 
            reason and my gut-level mythic sensibilities.  There are good 
            REASONS to place Air in the North.  And the whole mythological 
            superstructure would collapse if Air were in the East, instead. 
            If this is so, then why do most published sources place Earth in 
            the North and Air in the East? 
                          Last amended June 11, 1989  --  Page NEXTRECORD 
                 Suddenly, I felt sure I knew the reason!  Somewhere along 
            the line, someone had deliberately tampered with the 
            information!  Such tampering is a long and venerable practice 
            within certain branches of magic.  In Western culture, it is 
            most typically seen among Hermetic, Cabalistic and "ceremonial" 
            magic lodges.  It is common among such groups that, when 
            publishing their rituals for public consumption, they will 
            publish versions that are INCOMPLETE and/or deliberately ALTERED 
            in some way from the authentic practice.  This prevents someone 
            who is NOT a member of the group from simply buying a book, and 
            performing the rituals, without benefit of formal training.  It 
            is only when you are initiated into the lodge that you will be 
            given the COMPLETE and/or CORRECTED versions of their rituals. 
            This is how such groups guard their secrets.  (And it is a 
            telling postscript that many scholars now believe modern 
            Witchcraft to have "borrowed" its directional/elemental 
            correspondences from ceremonial magic sources!  What a laugh if 
            this was Crowley's last best joke on his friend Gerald Gardner!) 
                 I remember the first time I became aware of such deliberate 
            ritual tampering.  A friend of mine had been making a study of 
            the so-called "planetary squares", talismans that look like 
            magic squares consisting of a grid of numbers in some cryptic 
            order.  There are seven such squares -- one for each of the 
            "old" planets.  While making this study, he began coloring the 
            grids (more for his own pleasure than anything else), making 
            colorful mini-mosaics, using first two colors, then three, then 
            four, and on up to the total number of squares in the grid.  Six 
            of the planetary squares yielded pleasing patterns of color. 
            Then there was the Sun square!  Against all expectation, the 
            colors were a random jumble, with no patterns emerging.  Thus, 
            he began his quest for the CORRECTED Sun square.  And I became 
            convinced of the reality of ritual tampering. 
            THE WATCHTOWERS 
                 All that remains, then, is for me to assemble all the 
            arguments in favor of the Air-in-the-North model, which I have 
            now come to believe is the CORRECTED system of correspondences. 
            The remainder of this article will be devoted to those 
            arguments, each with its own name and number: 
                 1. AIRTS: This is perhaps the strongest argument.  In 
            Celtic countries, the four elemental/directional associations 
            are referred to as the "four airts".  And it is a known fact that 
            this tradition associates Air with North.  While it is true that 
            some writers, familiar with ceremonial magic (like William Sharp 
            and Doreen Valiente), have given "tampered" versions of the 
            airts, it is a telling point that folklorists working directly 
            with native oral traditions (like Alexander Carmichael and F. 
            Marian McNeill) invariably report the Air/North connection. 
                          Last amended June 11, 1989  --  Page NEXTRECORD 
                 2. PARALLEL CULTURES: Although arguing from parallel 
            cultures may not be as convincing, it is still instructive to 
            examine other magical aboriginal cultures in the Western 
            hemisphere.  For example, the vast majority of Native American 
            tribes (themselves no slouches in the area of magic!) place Air 
            in the North, which they symbolize by the Eagle.  (Aboriginal 
            cultures lying south of the equator typically have different 
            associations, for reasons I will discuss next.) 
                 3. GEOPHYSICAL: If one accepts the insular British origins 
            of elemental directions, then one must imagine living in the 
            British Isles.  To the West is the vast expanse of the Atlantic 
            Ocean (i.e.  water).  To the East, the bulk of the European land 
            mass (earth).  South has always been the direction of fire 
            because, as one travels south (toward the equator), it gets 
            warmer.  Which leaves North as the region of air, home of the 
            icy winds of winter.  (These last two associations would be 
            reversed for cultures in the southern hemisphere, for whom north 
            is the direction of the warm equatorial region, and south is the 
            land of ice.) 
                 4. HYPERBOREAN: In fact, an ancient name for the British 
            Isles was "Hyperboria", which literally means "behind the north 
            wind", thus associating north and wind (air) once more.  The 
            inhabitants were themselves called "Hyperborians", and the 
            phrase "at the back of the north wind" (the title of one of 
            George MacDonald's faery romances) is still current.  Of all the 
            winds of the compass, it is unquestionably the north wind 
            (Boreas), bringer of winter, which is perceived as the strongest 
            and most influential (cf.  Robert Grave's goddess fantasy "Watch 
            the North Wind Rise").  You don't hear too much about the other 
            three cardinal winds. 
                 5. SEASONAL: Many occultists associate the four seasons 
            with the four cardinal points, as well.  Hence, winter = north, 
            spring = east, summer = south, and autumn = west.  (To be 
            precise, it is the solstice and equinox points which align with 
            the cardinal points.)  Again, in most folklore, winter is 
            associated with air and wind, as the icy blasts that usher in 
            the season.  In spring, it is the earth which arrests our 
            attention, with its sudden riot of blooms and greenery.  Again, 
            south relates to summer, the hottest season (fire), and west 
            relates to autumn. 
                 6. DIURNAL: Occultists also often associate the cardinal 
            points of a single day to the four compass points.  Thus, 
            midnight = north, sunrise = east, noon = south, and sunset = 
            west.  (Please note that we are talking about TRUE midnight and 
            TRUE noon here, the points halfway between sunset and sunrise, 
            and between sunrise and sunset, respectively.)  These associate 
            nicely with the seasonal attributes just discussed.  It is easy 
            to see why sunrise should equate to east, and sunset to west. 
            And, once again, from the perspective of the British Isles, the 
            sun rises over land (earth) and sets over the ocean (water). 
            South is related to noon because it is the moment of greatest 
            heat (fire).  Leaving the "invisible" element of air to be 
            associated with the sun's invisibility, at midnight. 
                          Last amended June 11, 1989  --  Page NEXTRECORD 
               7. MYTHOLOGICAL: In Celtic mythology, north is invariably 
            associated with air.  The pre-Christian Irish gods and 
            goddesses, the Tuatha De Danann, were "airy" faeries (later 
            versions came equipped with wings, relating them to sylphs).  The 
            Book of Conquests states their original home was in the north, 
            "at the back of the north wind".  And when they came to Ireland, 
            they came in ships, THROUGH THE UPPER AIR (!), settling on the 
            mountain tops.  (It has always struck me as odd that some modern 
            writers see mountains as a symbol of earth.  The crucial 
            symbolism of the mountain is its height, rising into the air, 
            touching the sky.  Virtually all Eastern traditions associate 
            mountains, favorite abodes of gurus, with air.  A CAVE would be 
            a better symbol of earth than a mountain.)  In Welsh mythology, 
            too, Math the Ancient, chief god of Gwynedd (or NORTH Wales), is 
            specifically associated with wind, which can carry people's 
            thoughts to him. 
                 8. YIN/YANG: Many occultists believe that the four elements 
            have yin/yang connections.  Both air and fire are seen as 
            masculine, while earth and water are seen as feminine.  If air 
            is associated with the north point of the magic circle, and 
            earth is east, then one achieves a yin/yang alternation as one 
            circumambulates the circle.  As one passes the cardinal points 
            of east, south, west, and north, one passes feminine, masculine, 
            feminine, masculine energies.  This alternating flux of 
            plus/minus, push/pull, masculine/feminine, is the very pulse of 
            the universe, considered of great importance by most occultists. 
            That it was equally important to our ancestors is evidenced by 
            standing stones in the British Isles.  At sites like the Kennet 
            Avenue of Braga, the tall, slender, masculine, phallic stones 
            alternate precisely with the shorter, diamond-shaped yoni 
                 9. GENERATOR: This argument flows out of the previous one. 
            Practicing magicians often think of the magic circle as a kind 
            of psychic generator.  Witches in particular like to perform 
            circle dances to "raise the cone of power".  Hand in hand, and 
            alternating man and woman, they dance clockwise (deosil) around 
            the circle, moving faster and faster until the power is 
            released.  This model has an uncanny resemblance to an 
            electrical generator, as man and woman alternately pass each of 
            the four "poles" of the magic circle.  These poles themselves 
            MUST alternate between plus and minus if power is to be raised. 
            This means that if the masculine fire is in the south, then the 
            masculine air MUST be in the north.  If the feminine water is in 
            the west, then the feminine earth MUST be in the east.  If any 
            adjacent pair were switched, the generator would stop dead. 
                          Last amended June 11, 1989  --  Page NEXTRECORD 
                 10. MASCULINE/FEMININE AXIS: When you look at a typical 
            map, north (the cardinal direction) is at the top.  Any 
            north-south road is a vertical line, and any east-west road is a 
            horizontal line.  Likewise, a "map" of a magic circle makes the 
            vertical north-south axis masculine (with air and fire), while 
            the horizontal east-west axis is feminine (earth and water). 
            This makes logical sense.  When we look at the horizon of the 
            earth, we see a horizontal line.  Water also seeks a horizontal 
            plane.  Feminine elements, considered "passive", have a natural 
            tendency to "lay down".  Fire, on the other hand, always assumes 
            an erect or vertical position.  Air, too, can rise upward, as 
            earth and water cannot.  Masculine elements, being "active", 
            have a natural tendency to "stand up". 
                 11. ALTAR TOOLS: In modern Witchcraft, there are four 
            principal altar tools, the same four tools shown on the Tarot 
            card, the Magician.  They also correspond to the four Tarot 
            suits, the four ancient treasures of Ireland, and the four 
            "hallows" of Arthurian legend.  And, like the four elements, two 
            of them are feminine and two of them are masculine.  The 
            pentacle is a shallow dish inscribed with a pentagram, 
            representing earth, and is here placed in the east.  The 
            womb-shaped chalice, symbolizing water, is placed in the west. 
            They form the horizontal feminine axis.  The phallic-shaped 
            wand, representing fire, is placed in the south.  And the 
            equally phallic-shaped athame is placed in the north.  They form 
            the vertical masculine axis.  (The gender associations of cup 
            and blade are especially emphasized in the ritual blessing of 
                 12. AXIS SYMBOLISM: In nearly every culture, the vertical 
            line is a symbol of yang, or masculine energy.  The horizontal 
            line is yin, feminine energy.  When the vertical masculine line 
            penetrates the horizontal feminine line, forming the ancient 
            Pagan symbol of the equal-armed cross, it becomes a symbol of 
            life, and life-force.  Place a circle around it or on it, and 
            you have a circle-cross or "Celtic" cross, symbol of everlasting 
            life.  (Please note the importance of the EQUAL-armed cross.  If 
            one arm is longer or shorter, then the four elements are out of 
            balance.  The Christian or "Roman" cross, for example, has an 
            extended southern arm.  And many historians have commented on 
            Christianity's excess of "fire" or zeal.  Some versions actually 
            show a shortened northern arm, indicating a dearth of "air" or 
            intellectual qualities.) 
                          Last amended June 11, 1989  --  Page NEXTRECORD 
                 13. ASTROLOGICAL: The astrological year is divided into 
            four equal quadrants, each beginning at a solstice or equinox. 
            And each quadrant is governed by one of the four elements. 
            Which element can be discovered by examining the exact MID-POINT 
            of the quadrant.  For example, the first quadrant, beginning at 
            the winter solstice (north) is governed by air, which rules 15 
            degrees Aquarius, symbolized by the Man or Spirit.  The second 
            quadrant, beginning at the spring equinox (east) is governed by 
            earth, which rules 15 degrees Taurus, the Bull.  The third 
            quadrant, beginning at the summer solstice (south) is governed 
            by fire, which rules 15 degrees Leo, the Lion.  And the fourth 
            quadrant, beginning at the fall equinox (west) is governed by 
            water, which rules 15 degrees Scorpio, here symbolized by the 
            Eagle.  Thus, north, east, south and west correspond to air, 
            earth, fire, and water, and to man, bull, lion, and eagle, 
            respectively.  If the last four symbols seem familiar, it is 
            because they represent the four elemental power points of the 
            astrological year, and their symbols appear in the four corners 
            of the Tarot cards, the World and the Wheel of Fortune.  (The 
            same figures were later adopted by Christians as symbols of the 
            four gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.) 
                  If those are the arguments in favor of Air-in-the-North, 
            where are the counter-arguments in favor of Earth-in-the-North? 
            Surprisingly, I've heard very few.  The most common by far is 
            "But we've always done it this way." Not too convincing. 
            However, no matter HOW persuasive my arguments may be, many have 
            countered that magic doesn't lend itself to rational arguments. 
            It's what FEELS right that counts.  True.  And there's no 
            denying that many practitioners do just fine with earth in the 
            north.  Granted.  Still, if they've never tried it the other 
            way, how would they really know? 
                 My challenge to my fellow practitioners then is this: give 
            Air-in-the-North a shot.  Just try it on for size.  See what it 
            feels like.  And not for just a single ritual.  It'll take 
            several tries just to overcome your habitual ritual mindset. 
            And nothing is as habitual as ritual!  So in order to give this 
            a fair shake, you'll have to do a whole series of rituals with 
            air in the north.  And go into it with an open mind.  Like all 
            magic, if you decide ahead of time it won't work, it won't. 
            Then, once you've tried it, compare it to your old method.  Ask 
            yourself what's different, if it worked any better, and why or 
            why not.  And let me know.  I'd enjoy hearing about your 
                          Last amended June 11, 1989  --  Page NEXTRECORD 

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