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

35 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)

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  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?

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  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.

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  10. HaD93

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

  11. Sam

    In his book “Tarot and the Magus,” Paul Hughes-Barlow writes:

    “The Golden Dawn elemental attributions for the directions are: 1. North, Air, 2. East, Fire, 3. South, Earth, 4. West, Water.”

    This would seem to contradict what you have written here. Or have I simply misunderstood this? Any clarification would be greatly appreciated!

    • Thanks for your comment. I do hope that that is not all that Paul Hughes-Barlow says in his book, because he is displaying a very shallow knowledge of the GD if it is! The system of attributions which you mention is what I refer to as the “YHVH Formula” or where the elements follow the signs of the Zodiac, to wit: imagine a plan of the Zodiac superimposed on the temple, with Aries due east; the elements will then correspond to the Cardinal signs.

      This “YHVH Formula” is only used in two situations in the Golden Dawn, viz.:

      1. The Hexagram Ritual; and
      2. The placing of the elements on the Altar in the Vault of the Adepti in the 5=6 grade.

      However, in all other situations, such as the Pentagram Ritual, and the placing of the Enochian tablets in the grades of the outer order, the elements are arranged “according to the winds,” or as I term it, the “ADNI Formula.”

  12. Sam

    Thank you for this, but I remain somewhat confused.

    If a plan of the Zodiac is superimposed with Aries (fire) due east, then Capricorn (earth) will be due south, Libra (air) will be due west, and Cancer (water) will be due north. But Paul Hughes-Barlow attributes water to the west and air to the north.

    I have just read his online article, “New Views on Enochian Magic,” in which he writes:

    “Air should be in the North, Water in the West, Earth in South, and Fire in the East. This order is actually the same as in the Tablet of Union.”

    He elsewhere refers to this as the “shamanic cosmological model,” but I remain confused as to whether it is really Enochian, or “Golden Dawnian,” for that matter.

    • OK I was a bit hasty when typing out my previous response.

      You are indeed correct that a zodiacal arrangement would result in Fire/East; Earth/South; Air/West; and Water;North.

      I do not know where Hughes-Barlow got his ideas from, but John Dee himself actually used a Zodiacal arrangement for assigning the elements! In another place., John Dee placed the Enochian tablets in the same quarters as the GD outer order, except that the north-south tablets were “flipped.” NB: This is not to say that Dee assigned the same elemental attributions, or indeed any elemental attributions for that matter, to the tablets.

      For more details see:The Essential Enochian Grimoire: An Introduction to Angel Magick from Dr. John Dee to the Golden Dawn by Aaron Leitch.

      It appears to me that from what you describe, Hughes-Barlow is not describing a Golden Dawn method at all. Nor is he describing an Enochian method – either GD, or Dee traditionalist. I believe that his so-called shamanic cosmological method is nothing other than his own invention.

  13. Sam

    Thank you—this helps to clarify the matter. I no longer need search for corroboration that does not exist!

    As one of your commenters notes, in his “Conjuration of the Four Elements,” Éliphas Lévi wrote:

    “It must be borne in mind that the special 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. They influence the four temperaments of man, that is to say, the Gnomes influence the melancholic, Salamanders the sanguine, Undines the phlegmatic, and Sylphs the bilious.”

    However, the sanguine temperament said to be influenced by the Salamanders is warm and moist (Air, East), not warm and dry (Fire, South); and the bilious (that is, choleric) temperament said to be influenced by the Sylphs is warm and dry (Fire, South), not warm and moist (Air, East). I am inclined to believe this was an error rather than a deliberate blind.

    Similarly, Oswald Wirth in his “Tarot of the Magicians” linked the element of Water with the Angel (Aquarius, an Air sign) and the element of Air with the Eagle (Scorpio, a Water sign).

    Although these men were indisputably magicians, they were clearly not astrologers.

    In my (possibly half-baked) opinion, the correct placing of the elements in the Golden Dawn tradition represents an attempt to square the circle (or cube the sphere?) of the Four Holy Creatures, so to speak. If the magician starts in the East (Air, Aquarius), moves to the South (Fire, Leo), then to the West (Water, Scorpio), then to the North (Earth, Taurus), he or she in effect traces the Sign of the Cross within the Circle of the Four Holy Creatures.

    I really enjoy reading your posts. It is refreshing to read well-written, well-researched information.

    • Adam

      Again i cant qoute without my notes …but from a magical perspective the water and air a did have good reason for being terms of magical internal alchemy ..and not the zodiac itself..if that helps

  14. Two other things I came across when wanting to learn more about the origins of the placement as they are. According to Anaximenes, the Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from the 6th century BC. He felt that Air was the first principle because it is Warm and Moist so when rarified goes on to become Fire, and then Water — and earth being the last of these. That does not place a direction, but it does place the order. The other was THE SECRET TEACHINGS OF ALL AGES by Manly P. Hall 1928 , which has a table of correspondences, page 156 – A table showing the angles to which the parties of three (salt, sulphur, and mercury) go in search of CHiram and has the correspondences as we do now, in the same Corners of Creation.

    • Adam

      The magical callender is worth a study…there are several formulas with elemental directions there too…which perhaps hole the answers you seek

  15. Pingback: Solomonic Cardinal Directions | Solprian Sorcery

  16. Tony Hutchins

    ADNI possibly fits widdershins too with Venus ruling fixed earth and stealing fire for Yod from YHVH.

  17. Adam

    Thanks makes sense to me ..u cleared up aomethi NFL that has bugged me for 20 yrs when i hear ppl giving me.reaosens why to change was apparebt back then that mathers would have had a reason…one thing though…u said about that being why theyre at points on the pentagram but if u start from fire and go around via air…its spirit fire air water earth…which to me goes with the yhvh creation emenation formula…so to me makes sense that the 2 formulas are being interlaced into the one overall formula of the mentagram ritual…but again ppl have tried to convince me that this is a blind because water has the hawk head…and air the water sign..which to them prove they shoild be flipped…where it is cleatly stated they hold these symbols be cause banishing air invokes water..and vice versa..wondering if you had an opion about the formila of spirit fore air water earth on the pentagram placement.

  18. Adam

    I dont know why everyone keeps mentions zodiac and the hexgram configuration as that has nothing to do with the pentagram and 4 winds…which accroding to mathers are correspondences from greek origin. 2ndly the odd connfiguration someone noted abot shamanic arrangement: while my own notes from golden dawn.are in storage at the.moment…there is a slightly different config for traveling to there planes in the spirit vision/projected astral body of light etc..which may well be what is being referenced as this shamanic version…im failing to understand the argument…are u saying that the reference he claims to have of the 4 wonds from greek correspondences cant be found at all??

  19. Adam

    The old piece of art …”the magical callender” is worth a study…there are several formulas with elemental directions there too…which perhaps hold some answers

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