The Placing of the Elements In A Golden Dawn Temple

This is a follow up post to The Elements and the Four Cardinal Directions by Aaron Leitch. The question naturally arises – why are they where they are? And: should they ever be changed?

As to the first, there are actually several plausible reasons. The first is that the stated reason in GD documents is that they are placed according to “the winds.” As I understand it this refers to Tetrabiblos, a second century work on Astrology by Claudius Ptolemy, thus:

East Dry Spring Air
South Warm Summer Fire
West Moist Autumn Water
North Cold Winter Earth

Whilst Ptolemaic Astrology is thus the proximate cause of the placing, it does enable several layers of symbolism to be interpolated into a temple arranged in this manner.


Now, I have actually seen some exponents of Alchemy claim that Fire is the most volatile of all the elements. However, when learned Alchemy, I learnt differently – that Air is the most volatile. Trying to figure out why these differences occur, I came to the conclusion that those in the Fire camp were taking their cues from Jean Dubuis, of the Philosophers of Nature, whilst the chap from whom I learnt Alchemy was instead inspired by Frater Albertus, of the Paracelsus Research Society.

After the Chaos has been prepared, the elements are separated from it in the order of Most Volatile (requiring only a very gentle heat), Second Most Volatile (requiring a slightly more vigorous heat), Third most Volatile / second most Fixed (requiring a fairly robust heat), and finally Most Fixed (requiring the fiercest heat of all). The Order out of Chaos, as I learnt the elements is

First, Air, the Subtle part of which becomes the Mercury;
Second, Fire, Sulphur;
Third, Water, Salt; and finally

Hence, in this manner, starting from the East and circumambulating Deosil, one encounters the elements in the order they come out of chaos, from most volatile to most fixed.

Adonai vs Jehovah

Pentagram (approximately) drawn on the belt of the Zodiac.

Pentagram (approximately) drawn on the belt of the Zodiac.

The “Fire-first” school however do not rest there: taking the Air and Fire flipped around, they apply the order of the elements to the Tetragrammaton, hence: Fire, Air, Water and Earth = Yod Heh Vah Heh. This is in contrast to the GD view of the matter, which holds that the Tetragrammaton is based on Fire, Water, Air and Earth.

I believe the confusion arises because the Fire-first fail to consider the following point:

The YHVH formula is based on Astrology, and is reflected in the Hexagram Ritual, the placing of the Elements on the altar in the Vault of the Adepti, and the order in which you would see the Cardinal signs rise above the Horizon if you got up at dawn on the Spring Equinox: Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn – Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. The YHVH formula (actually the Yeheshuah Formula) is also the reason the for the assignment of the elements to the particular points of the Pentagram.

The placement of the elements in the Outer order of the GD, however, is not based on the YHVH formula but on the ADNI (“Adonai”) formula – which is identical to that of the Four Winds of Ptolemy. What what what? There’s an Adonai-formula, I hallucinate that I hear you ask? Well, yes, actually. There are twenty four  combinations of Aleph, Daleth, Nun and Yod, which each refer to one of the 24 seniors of the Book of the Apocalypse. The Adonai Formula is not generally known amongst English-speaking occultists as it comes from continental Europe. This is what Macgregor Mathers referred to when he mentioned the significance of “ADONAI” in his paper on the magical formulae of the Zelator grade (see: Pat Zalewski’s Inner Order Teachings of the Golden Dawn).

The late Robert Ambelain mentioned it in his book Practical Kabbalah, until his publishers decided to force the translator to take the English edition off-line. Hence I cannot in any good conscience encourage you to search for it online, despite the fact you may feel curious to do so.

Embedded commands aside, the applicability of the Adonai formula to the placing of the elements is thus:

ALEPH Elemental AIR East
DALETH Venus, a planet associated (according to Eliphas Levi, amongst others) with FIRE South
NUN Fixed WATER West
YOD Mutable EARTH North

The Fire-First school of thought thus tries to bang their own placement of the elements into the YHVH formula like a Hollywood film producer trying to bang the wrong actor into the role of Batman: everyone know it does not fit, and it will only upset people. However – by removing the assumption that one necessarily has to work with the YHVH formula in all circumstances, and by learning that there are other Qabalistic formulae which are better suited to the task, a much more elegant solution is provided.


The Human Aura


Just as an aside, I would like to point out that at this point that the order Air – Fire – Water – Earth, is also the order of the elements as they are attributed to the four lower Chakras in Yoga: Air – Anahata (Heart); Fire – Manipura (Solar Plexus); Water – Svadisthana (Groin); and Earth – Muladhara (Base). Hence one is working the Pentagram ritual one can be said to be opening the four lower Chakra, in succession.

Should the Order of the Elements Ever Be Changed?


In Golden Dawn ceremonies we get to travel through time and space, and across dimensions!

Sometimes I hear people opine that when casting the four quarters, the elements should be changed to fit local circumstances – for instance, a number of people who live in the Southern Hemisphere think that Fire and Earth should be flipped around, to match the course of the Sun as seen from their perspective.

Now, what various pagans choose to do in their own traditions is up to them: but what about the Golden Dawn? Should the placing of the elements be changed in a Golden Dawn temple working in the southern hemisphere?

In my opinion, there can only be one answer – a categoric NO. And I say so for the following reasons:

A Golden Dawn temple physically located in England or America, is not operating in England or America;

A Golden Dawn temple in (e.g.) Australia, is not operating in Australia.

Both of them, despite being on opposite sides of the world, are actually operating in one and the same place. The magical inner-workings of the Golden Dawn ceremonies take the Temple, and astrally transport it through Time and Space and across dimensions – to the Hall of the Duat, in the Egyptian otherworld.

Hence, the correct placing of the elements should neither be for the Northern Hemisphere, if your temple is in the Northern Hemisphere, nor for the Southern Hemisphere if it is physically located there, but for how the elements would be placed in the Hall of Judgement in the Egyptian otherworld. And according to the GD tradition, that is: Air, East; Fire, South; Water, West; Earth, North.


Filed under Supernatural

21 responses to “The Placing of the Elements In A Golden Dawn Temple

  1. Pingback: The Elements and the Four Cardinal Directions | Ananael (The Secrets of Wisdom)

  2. Pingback: Directional Correspondences Redux | The Digital Ambler

  3. All philosophical musings aside, when astronomy and astrology were still one science and the sun rose in Ares on the spring equinox, the year began with fire, as the sun moves to rise in Aquarius on the spring equinox, air will begin the year. When people stop making the connection between microcosm (temple) and macrocosm (heavens), doctrine replaces observation.

    • Ah, but when the vernal point does hit Aquarius, the winds will still be in the same places, just as they were at the time of Claudius Ptolemy.

      • There is the philosophical doctrine, infinitely arguable and undemonstrable.

      • ??? It’s not philosophical at all! It’s *scholarly* and based on at least one source which I cite in the article.

        I suppose you’re one of these people who would rather deny there is a definite right or wrong answer to anything rather than lose an argument.

      • Actually, what I would be interested in is a scholarly investigation into the roots of astronomy/astrology behind the temple layout that considers the archeo-astrological evidence available- perhaps starting with the 25,000 year old cave paintings in the Pyrenees. Where did human beings come up with the idea of dividing micro and macro structures by elements any way? Defining your interactions by win/lose dynamics is not conducive to any exchange of ideas or information. I regret engaging in this exchange

      • If you do not like me talking about win / lose dynamics, I suggest that in future you do not go round accusing people who reply to you of making undemonstrable and unarguable points. That is the behaviour of an internet troll, not someone interested in serious discussion.

        Further replies from you will be deleted.

  4. Aur

    Great article and good tip with the Adonai formula!

    However, when it comes to Ptolemy there are a few misconceptions here. Frist of all that table should read East – Dry and South – hot (I.10). Unless he contradicts himself in another part of the book and I did not notice. Secondly, as far as I’m concerned he makes no distinct association with hot, cold, dry and wet principles and the elements of fire, earth, air and water. As a matter of fact, in Ptolemy’s times there were two dominating schools of thoughts associating those principles with the elements : Stoic and Aristotelian. According to Stoics, Air is cold, Fire is hot, Water is wet and Earth is dry. Aristotelian attribution is slightly different: Fire is hot (with a mixture of dryness), Earth is dry (with a mixture of coldness), Air is wet (with a mixture of warmth) and Water is cols (with a mixture of wetness). None of those systems places the elements in the way we have them in GD if we take Ptolemy’s account.

    Moreover, Ptolemy is not only not talking about the elements when he is attributing the 4 principles to the 4 directions, but he does not mention the winds in this passage at all. However he does mention winds in another passage – I.18. In that passage he attributes triplicities to various winds. He puts the fire triplicity (Aries, Leo & Sag) in north, earth triplicity in south, air triplicity in NE and water triplicity in west. A number of astrologers based their texts on Ptolemy. For instance Maternus Firmicus places fire triplicity in north, eart in south, air in east and water in SW. Ibn Ezra gives a different attribution: fiery signs are assigned to the east, the earthy to the south, the airy to the west, and the watery to the north. But attribution of triplicities to winds has a much older tradition – it goes back to Babylonia, where the fire triplicity was attributed to the north wind, earth to the south wind, air to the west wind and water to the east wind. What Ptolemy did was to switch air and water (not the only thing he’s messed around with). Had he switched fire and earth too, we would have a nice GD line-up. Unfortunately he hadn’t.

    Sorry to spoil it :)

    • The dry vs warm mix-up was a typo on my part, which I have now corrected.

      This does not however affect the underlying thrust of my argument. Whilst it is true that Ptolemy did not assign elements to the winds, the “Air = Dry East wind, Fire = hot south wind,” etc relation was interpolated by the Golden Dawn, probably inspired by the Societas Rosicruciana In Anglia, as they have the same system of assigning the elements to the cardinal directions.

      Incidentally, I had great difficulty in following your references as they do not appear in the edition of Tetrabiblos to which I was referring. (See here).

      • Aur

        My apologies. I was referring to my notes rather than the text itself. I will have to trace it back to check why the chapter numbers are different. On Sacred Text website it would be I.xiii for the directions and I.xxi for the winds. I can provide the references to the other astrological texts if you wish.

        Regarding the GD/SRIA interpolation – while it is an interesting argument, it is worth noting that contrary to our contemporary education standards, classical education was quite important in XIX c. How likely is it that they did not know how the element were attributed to hot/cold & wet/dry qualities in times of Ptolemy?

        One way or another – the GD papers specifically refer to *winds* when placing air in east, fire in south etc. Ptolemy’s chapter attributing dry to east, hot to south etc does not mention winds at all, even if we assume that GD/SRIA members did not how the qualities of the elements worked. The chapter that actually does mention winds gives different attributions.

      • They were also Qabalists and Theosophists – which is why both the “Adonai formula” and chakra explanation are plausible, not to mention Alchemy.

  5. Aur

    True, which is why I said the the ‘Adonai formula’ is a good tip. My argument is only with the use of Ptolemy’s text. I ran through every single known to me ancient, mediaeval and renaisance astronomical/astrological text mentioning winds and elements, and not a single one of them matches the GD attribution. I checked every single mention of winds in the Bible and the apocrypha, no support there either.

    As a matter of fact there are a few different ways of explaining the GD attribution of the elements to the directions, but none of them specifically refers to the institution of ‘winds’. Which is annoying but at the same time motivating towards further research :)

  6. Tony Fuller

    Very interesting post Alex. Although not necessarily relevant to your post you might be interested in the following which appears in a 1930′s copied notes of a GD/AO paper I have supposedly of the ‘higher Grades’. It is entitled “The Gods of the Four Winds” and is supposedly a formula for using the 2=9 Godforms which are the Egyptian Gods of the Four Winds (North – QEBUI, South – SHEHBUI etc). It notes, inter alia, that Budge says that the Four Winds were kept by Thoth in ‘Four Chambers’ of the sky and that he kept shut or opened the doors at will. These ‘Four Doors’, supposedly holding back the ‘four winds’ are related in the paper to the four Enochian Tablets. Interestingly, to me anyway, these are illustrated by the intriguing diagram in Chapter CLXI of the Egyptian Book of the Dead showing Thoth ‘opening the doors of the four winds’.There is some discussion of the directions, the order in which the doors/Tablets must be opened and the ‘forces’ which are unleashed when Thoth does open them.

    Tony Fuller

    • Tony, thanks very much for this! :-)

      Is the paper on the winds – or indeed any of the other wonderful papers in your possession – ever likely to see publication someday?

  7. Pingback: Omnium Gatherum: Aug 28th, 2013 | The Hermetic Library Blog

  8. Shah

    Hello Alex,

    Levi might be another possible influence. Especially ‘The Conjuration of the Four’ where the directions given are,

    “…kingdom of the Gnomes is at the North; that of the salamanders at the south; that of the sylphs at the east; and that of the Undines at the west.”

    As you’re aware this ritual contains many important ideas and motifs, which were incorporated into the Order and its rituals. Just a thought.

    • Yes, the likely sequence of events was that either Lévi inspired the SRIA which inspired the GD, or Lévi inspired the GD directly independently of the SRIA. Either is likely, since Lévi may well have known the probably authors of the cipher manuscripts.

  9. Pingback: Occult Digest – 30.09.2013 | Embrace the Goddess

  10. HaD93

    Thanks thanks thanks thanks! You gave me references I was long looking for, and just getting confused by Levi’s blinds.

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