Immersion into the Spheres of the Elements
This is a lengthy excerpt from the book “What Witches Do” by Stewart Farrar way back in the 60’s/70’s when he was initiated by Alex Sanders, and had written a book about it. This particular section deals with immersion into the spheres of the elements. The italicized quotes are comments by Alex himself during the writing of the book.
“It is one of the fundamental beliefs of Witchcraft (and occultism in general) that the universe is populated by a whole hierarchy of intelligent entities in addition to those which are materially visible in the human and animal kingdom.
These entities range ‘downwards’ from the Unknowable Ultimate... Man is not at the bottom of the scale, even if one excludes the animals. More primitive than man in their stage of development are the elementary, or nature, spirits. In the occult view, everything we see around us, including man, has evolved from these. Man is in fact a synthesis, the more highly developed the individual. Striving for such a balance is the central aim of occultism - of the magician in his temple, the alchemist in his laboratory, and the witch in his coven.
This concept of a hierarchy of beings operating on the spiritual, mental and astral levels, which is shared in one form or another by all religions, is of course rejected by the materialist; but even to him one must point out that, as a working hypothesis, it gets results.
Strictly speaking, there are not four elements but five, the fifth being the Akashic Principle, the spirit element which pervades them all and from which they all stem... These elemental concepts into everything a witch does. He works with them to balance his own nature; when he casts a spell, he ritually involves the appropriate element or elements. When he consecrates any object, he places it on the pentacle, touches it with water, and passes over the censer (for air) and the candle (for fire).
But he can also develop techniques for entering directly into the ‘worlds’ of these elements, to experience each in its undiluted form and to become aware of the entities that inhabit it - indeed, to communicate with them. In a sense this is a form of astral projection; one remains fully conscious all the time, but out of the physical body. [It is] recommended to master the elemental spheres as a first step on the path to ‘normal’ astral projection.
The inhabiting entities have traditional names; the sylphs of air, the salamanders of fire, the undines (mermaids, mermen) of water, and the gnomes of earth. These names have been to some extent degraded by popular fairy-tale, but to the occultist they are specific names for real beings, and their reality is underlined by the general agreement as to their natures between people who have contacted them.
The technique for projecting yourself into (for example) the sphere of water, of the undines, requires steady practice but is basically quite simple.
Sit in a comfortable and relaxed position where you will not be interrupted, and close your eyes. Breathe calmly and regularly; you must resist breath, or to tense your muscles. Calm concentration is the state to aim at.
Imagine your body to be hollow, and surrounded by all the water in the universe. When this image is clearly achieved, star bringing in the surrounding water into your hollow body by breathing it into your lungs and absorbing it through every pore in your skin. As the water fills you, imagine yourself sinking gradually to the bottom of the ocean.
What you are really doing is neither sinking in a material ocean, nor inventing an illusory one. You are seeking out, isolating, and submerging yourself in the water aspect of your own nature - which is real. And on the astral level of consciousness, this water-element part of yourself can become aware of, and communicate with, the entities which populate that element.
You may have to do the exercise many times, developing the experience into a vivid reality, before you make conscious contact with the undines. ‘They are very elusive, in the early stages, but gradually they become clearer. They are difficult to understand, because they are flowing creatures, but you can have communication with them.
You must be very courteous; meander through their life, and watch what their doing. You’re not there to master them, but to learn from them about the element they live in, and the uses to which you as a witch or magician can put it. By magical ritual you can bring them to visible appearance through a human being; in fact they can sometimes enter the body of a human being and inhabit it; they’re very jealous, very clinging, and they can kill...’
The projection technique for the fire element is similar to that for water. The rules for relaxing, breathing and concentrating are the same; but this time you imagine yourself as a hollow body in the middle of an infinite universe of fire. Steadily breathe in this fire, and absorb it through every pore, concentrating it within yourself. In some ways this is the most encouraging element for the beginner because most people experience a physical sensation of rising body-heat the very first time they try the process.
Again, the fire you experience is neither actual combustion, nor an illusion. It is the genuine fire-element factor in your own nature, which you are isolating and concentrating upon (incidentally, quite apart from its projection purpose, this technique is a very practical device for overcoming the discomfort of chilly surroundings.)
‘Salamanders, the fire-element entities, are as elusive as the undines but (as one might expect) rather more hostile to man. They will teach you, but they won’t give in. They don’t like to do the work for you at all... They can burn, and you should never take them for granted.
‘I do tend to take them for granted, because sometimes I feel that I’ve really achieved the conquest of the salamanders, that I’m the boss - so I boast and do fire rituals. And instead of using them as they should be used, within the formation of a magic circle, I do things like putting a cigarette-end on my palm to show off.. - Last time I did that, it took me three weeks to get rid of the burns. So I shouldn’t boast.’
Perhaps “hostile to man” is the wrong phrase. Fire, both as a psychic element and a physical phenomenon (or class of phenomena, for it includes both the molecular reaction of flame and the nuclear fission or fusion reactions of such things as the Sun or the bomb), is essential to man as well as dangerous to him. To come to terms with it, either psychically or physically, he has to understand its rules and respect them. The same is true of air, earth and water; but with fire the rules are stricter and the stakes higher.
‘After all, the salamanders in their truest aspect are the angels of the Sun - of Michael, Beltane, the fire God. Life couldn’t exist without them.’
To project your consciousness into the world of air, of the sylphs, you use the same basic technique, but visualize a universe of air. You absorb it, with the same steady but relaxed concentration, feeling yourself to be lighter and lighter until you have a sense of floating in the element which you have isolated.
Air, the realm of the intellect, is the least emotional of the four. In the make-up of human character, it is practically indefinable except in relation to at least one of the other three. Pure mind, without the mirror of love, action or solidity to view itself in, can scarcely be grasped. So to isolate that world within yourself, in order to project yourself into it and communicate with its entities, is perhaps the hardest of all. It might be impossible but for the fact that it is part of the function of these entities themselves to help you achieve it.
‘The sylphs are very hard to see - you have to be a pretty pure sort of person to see them at all, but you can make friends with them, though you have to work hard. They will teach you how to control your mind and level your thoughts out - how to be creative in the mind; this is their purpose. I have had experiences with them, but I admit I don’t know a lot about them.’
As for the element of earth, this is literally our own stamping-ground, so it should be, as is, a much easier realm to explore (it is also, as I have pointed out earlier, the witches’ base of operations, though not his boundary).
By now you should be able to work out for yourself how to set about the projection. In your relaxed position, breathing regularly, you make yourself aware of solidity, or permanence, or the earth itself. You absorb it into yourself and sink into it, knowing that you belong to it, are a part of it, and can survive naturally in it.
‘Gnomes tend to be friendly. They’re the easiest ones, very busy all the time. In fact, in a way we’re too close to them. The earth element has provided us with so much recently - new mineral treatments in medicine, for instance - that we’re getting “down to earth” and tending to ignore the other elements.
The gnomes give you the opportunity to open you subterranean caves within yourself, within your own earth element. How much you’re able to exploit the vein of gold they offer you depends entirely on yourself.
Being so close to man, they are occasionally discernible without a deliberate act of projection. ‘If you’re very quick and very smart, sometimes in the country you can see them, like a shadow in the corner of your eye.’
To a practicing witch, the Circle soon becomes a very real sanctuary and focus of power, so it is reasonable to use it for these projection exercises - casting it, and them sitting within it facing the candle of the appropriate element. Any symbolism which strengthens your purpose may be added.
The methods - and the results - are all very personal. But if anyone who achieves the results still doubts whether they are real and valid, let him compare notes with someone else who has also achieved them. He will soon realize that two minds have from their own individual viewpoints, looked on the same things.”