Different Presocratics proposed the “original stuff” comprising material existence is water1, earth2, air3, or fire4. It was Empedocles who suggested these four “roots” coexist in various combinations5, mixed by the motive forces of love and strife6. Plato put forth that particles of each “element” manifest in a particular form (the Platonic solids), which in turn influence its physical properties7.
Aristotle popularized the notion that the classical elements are matter with certain qualities and may be differentiated by their hot/cold and wet/dry characteristics8. The hot quality “associates” similar things, whereas the cold quality brings things together regardless of similarity9. Wet elements are adaptable in shape, whereas dry elements are not10. The elements may interact with one other, and one element may transform into another if its hot/cold and wet/dry qualities are altered11. Aristotle also integrated Plato’s aether12 as the quintessence (fifth element) that gave rise to the four terrestrial elements13. Aether transcends hot/cold and wet/dry dualities, and is instead associated with the celestial spheres and heavenly bodies14.
The Aristotelian model inspired the humoral doctrine proposed by Hippocratic authors15 and expanded by Galen16. Here, the four humors (body fluids) are the bearers of elemental properties in the human body. Their balance is responsible for our health and personality, with imbalance potentially leading to disease and discontent15,16. The optimum combination of humors varies among individuals, and further fluctuates according to season, age, and lifestyle15,16.
During the Renaissance Agrippa explored the elemental world, elucidating its esoteric properties through sympathetic correspondence17,18. He primarily focuses on the terrestrial elements, as aether (“Spirit of the World”)19 is the medium conferring their esoteric properties. Each terrestrial element expresses itself via a particular modality in the celestial, terrestrial, and infernal worlds17. Through various ancient and contemporary sources, Agrippa provided a valuable synthesis of Neoplatonism, Hermetics, and Judeo-Christian mysticism.
In the 1800s Lévi expanded the western repertoire of esoteric elemental knowledge20-22. In addition to updating some of the correspondences listed by Agrippa17 he presents new ones20. One of his major overall contributions was linking the Tarot to Qabala20,22, which in turn permitted him to correspond each Tarot suit to a classical element20,23. The elemental attributions of the court cards were developed by others24. Lévi’s synthesis also provides a ritual framework for commanding the elementals20 described by Paracelsus25.
Later, Crowley consolidated26 and updated27 many elemental correspondences of the time, while also presenting new ones26. He further linked core concepts of Buddhism and Hinduism to the elements through Qabala26. Note that his Qabalistic arrangement differs from Jewish mysticism28, Lévi20-22, and the Golden Dawn29. To this day, his magical synthesis remains relevant to magicians from a diverse variety of backgrounds and preparations.
Western correspondences for each classical element are shown below. Feel free to modify them to your liking or substitute your own. The oldest source, when available, is cited. A subset of additional correspondences, including Hermetic30 and Neopagan (witchcraft)31 ones, have also been included. This is not an exhaustive table. Eastern correspondences have been deliberately omitted, as they deserve their own space so they are not overshadowed. Comments, criticisms, corrections, questions, and suggestions may be submitted via the Contact page.
|Greek [Gk.]||γῆ [gē]||ἀήρ [aēr]||ὕδωρ [hydōr]||πῦρ [pyr]||αἰθήρ [aithēr]|
|Hebrew [Heb.]||ארץ [ʾareṣ]||רוח [ruaḥ]||מים [mayim]||אש [ʾesh]||את [ʾet]|
|Ancient Greek and Humoral|
|Poetic deity (Empedocles) [Gk.]5||Ἥρη [Hera]||Ζεύς [Zeus]||Νῆστίς [Nestis (Persephone)]||Ἀϊδωνεὺς [Aidoneus (Hades)]||N/A|
|Platonic solid7||cube (d6)||octahedron (d8)||icosahedron (d20)||tetrahedron (d4)||dodecahedron (d12)|
|Aristotelian qualities8||cold, dry||hot, wet||cold, wet||hot, dry||N/A|
|Humor [Gk.]15,16||χολή μέλαινα [black bile]||αἷμα [blood]||φλέγμα [phlegm]||χολή ξανθή [yellow bile]||N/A|
|Age range (humoral)15,16||maturity (25-45yo)||childhood||old age||youth||N/A|
|Stoic quality17||heavy (passive)||light (active)||heavy (passive)||light (active)||N/Aa|
|Energy31||female (receptive)b||male (projective)||female (receptive)||male (projective)b||N/Aa|
|Zodiac triplicities17||♉, ♍, ♑||♊, ♎, ♒||♋, ♏, ♓||♈, ♌, ♐||N/Ac|
|Time of day31||midnight||dawn||dusk||noon||N/Ad|
|Pentagram point26||bottom left||middle left||middle right||bottom right||top|
|Magical activities26||alchemy, geomancy, making pantacles||divination||the Great Work, talismans, crystal gazing, etc.||evocation, pyromancy||invisibility, transformations, Vision of the Genius|
|Power of Levi’s20 sphinx [Lat.]26||tacere [to keep silent]||noscere [to know]||audere [to dare]||velle [to will]||N/Ae|
|Tetragrammaton letter [Heb.]17||ה [final]||ו||ה||י||N/A|
|Pentagrammaton letter [Heb.]26||ה [final]||ו||ה||י||ש|
|World [Heb.]26||עשיה [ʿAsiya]||יצירה [Yeṣirah]||בריאה [Beriʾa]||אצילות [ʾAṣilut]||N/A|
|Path [Heb.]26||32-bis (ת)||11 (א)||23 (מ)||31 (ש)||31-bis (ש)|
|King scale color26||citrine, olive, russet, and black (quartered)||bright pale yellow||deep blue||glowing orange scarlet||white merging into gray|
|Queen scale color26||amber||sky blue||sea green||vermillion||deep purple (nearly black)|
|Emperor scale color26||dark brown||blue emerald green||deep olive green||scarlet, flecked gold||the seven prismatic colors, with the violet outside|
|Empress scale color26||black, flecked yellow||emerald, flecked gold||white, flecked purple (like mother of pearl)||vermillion, flecked crimson and emerald||white, red, yellow, blue, and black (the latter outside)|
|Color in Malkut26||black||citrine||olive||russet||N/A|
|Divine name [Heb.]26||אדני [ʾAdonay]||יהוה [YHWH]||אל [ʾEl]||אלהים [ʾElohim]||יהשוה [YHShWH]|
|Archangel [Heb.]17||אוריאל [ʾUriʾel]||רפאל [Rafaʾel]||גבריאל [Gavriʾel]||מיכאל [Mikaʾel]||N/A|
|Angelic choirs [Heb.]26,h||כרובים [Kerubim]i||אראלים [ʾErʾelim]j||תרשישים [Tarshishim]k||שרפים [Serafim]||N/A|
|Angel [Heb.]32||פורלאך [Forlak]||חסן [Ḥasan]||טל-יהד [Ṭaliahad]l||אריאל [ʾAriʾel]j||N/A|
|Demon king (Goetic)26,p||Amaimon||Oriens||Ariton||Paimon||N/A|
|Divination method confirmation20||cartomancy||oneiromancy||crystallomancy||magnetism||N/A|
|Tarot suit20,26||Pentacles [Diamonds]||Swords [Spades]q||Cups [Hearts]||Wands [Clubs]q||N/Ar|
|Tarot court cards26,27||Princesses||Princes||Queens||Knights||N/As|
|Agrippa’s “Mixed Bodies”|
|Stone types17||dark, heavy||light, transparent||clear, congealed||bright, burning||N/A|
|Metals17,t||lead, silver||copper, tin||mercury||gold, iron||N/A|
|Animal types17||burrowing, creeping||flying||swimming||walking||N/A|
|Animals, Plants, Stones, Incense|
|Plants26||oak, ivy, cereals||aspen||lotus, all water plants||red poppy, hibiscus, nettle||almond in flower|
|Stones26||salt||topaz||beryl, aquamarine||fire opal||black diamond|
|Incense26||storax, all dull and heavy odors||galbanum||onycha, myrrh||olibanum, all fiery odors||N/Av|
|Organs26||excretory organs, skeleton||respiratory organs||organs of nutrition||circulatory organs||organs of intelligence|
|Body parts26,y||solid structures, tissues||breath||chyle, lymph||blood||semen, marrow|
|Bodily functions26||excreting, matter||speaking, thought||holding, nutrition||moving, moving||generating, magic|
|Diseases26||sluggishness||fluxes||chill||fever||death (full insanity)|
|Part of soul [Heb.]26||נפש [Nafesh]||רוה [Ruaḥ]||נשמה [Neshama]||חיה [Ḥia]||יחידה [Yeḥidah]|
|River out of Eden [Heb.]26||פרת [Perat]||חדקל [Ḥideqel]||גיחון [Giḥon]||פישון [Pishon]||N/A|
|Holy city [Heb.]z||חברון [Ḥeberon]||צפת [Ṣefat]||טבריה [Ṭeverya]||ירושלם [Yerushalem]||N/A|
|Shevaṭim triplicities [Heb.]26,aa||אפרים [ʾEferaim], נפתלי [Naptali], זבולון [Zebulun]||מנשה [Menasheh], אשר [ʾAsher], ראובן [Reʾuben]||יששכר [Yisasakar], דן [Dan], שמעון [Shimeʿon]||גד [Gad], יהודה [Yehuda], בנימין [Bineyamin]||N/A|
|Color30||yellow, gray, black||blue||greenish-blue||red||deep purple (nearly black)|
|Sense30||taste, smell||hearing||perception||sight||all senses together|
|Body region30||coccyx, reproductive organs, genitals, feet||chest||abdomen||head||N/A|
|Aspect of the spirit30||consciousness||intellect||feelings||will||conscience|
|Colors31||black, brown, green, white||white, bright yellow, crimson, bluish white, pastels||blue, bluish green, green, gray, indigo, black||red, gold, crimson, orange, white||clear, white, black|
|Magical tool31||pentacle||athame, swordbb, censer||cup||censer, wandbb||cauldron|
|Infernal river [Gk.]17||Ἀχέρων [Acheron]||Κώκυτός [Cocytus]||Στύξ [Styx]||Φλεγέθων [Phlegethon]cc||N/A|
aAether transcends light (active)/heavy (passive), male (projective)/female (receptive), and other dualities.
bLévi20 classifies earth as male (projective) and fire as female (receptive).
cIn some traditions, aether is associated with the zodiac wheel itself.
dAether transcends space and time. In witchcraft31, it is attributed to the center or everywhere. It is also attributed to the wheel of turning seasons.
eCrowley27 proposes ire [Lat. to go] as the emergent power of the sphinx, which he associates with aether.
fCrowley26 swaps Agrippa’s17 associations of John (air) and Matthew (water).
gCrowley26 associates the Holy Ghost with aether.
hSingular angelic choirs (orders) are listed in The Key of Solomon the King32 and called the “elemental ruler” in many occult texts. Agrippa17, Crowley26, and others list a singular order for each element. The plural of each is shown in the table.
iAgrippa17 associates the Kerubim with air.
jThe name אראל [Aral] is the elemental angel of fire identified on the Seventh Pentacle of the Sun in The Key of Solomon the King32, while אריאל is identified as the ruler of elemental fire. The names אריאל [Ariel] and אראל [Aral] appear to be swapped, as the other rulers listed are singular angelic choirs. Aral is an alternate Romanization of Erel, the singular form of the choirs collectively known as אראלים [Aralim or Erelim]. To further complicate things, in Agrippa17 אריאל [Ariel] is identified as the ruler of elemental earth, and in 777 Revised26 אריאל [Ariel] is identified as the ruler of elemental air, while אראל [Aral] is the angel of elemental fire.
kIn The Key of Solomon the King32, תרשישים [Tarshishim] is spelled תרשים [sic].
lCrowley26 omits the hyphen in טל-יהד [Taliahad], spelling it טליהד.
mLévi20 never states the source language of the elemental king names.
nIn some traditions, the wand and dagger are swapped.
oIn some traditions, the lamp is associated with aether.
pThe demon kings are related to the elements via the cardinal directions they rule. Agrippa17 attributes Amaymon (an alternate spelling of Amaimon33), Paymon (Paimon33), Egyn (an alias of Ariton33), and Oriens (Uriens33) to earth, air, water, and fire, respectively. Many variant correspondence schemes exist in various Medieval and Renaissance grimoires.
qIn some traditions, wands and swords are swapped.
rCrowley26 associates the Major Arcana with aether.
sCrowley26 associates the Aces with aether (and Keter).
tAgrippa’s17 elemental correspondences for each metal somewhat reflect his elemental correspondences for each planet (via its respective metal). Lévi20 also relates the metals to the elements but deviates from Agrippa’s correspondences, assigning lead to earth, gold and silver to air, mercury to water, and iron and copper to fire. Crowley26 attributes the metals only to the planets.
uCrowley26 swaps Agrippa’s17 and Lévi’s20 associations of eagle (air) and man (water).
vIn witchcraft31, mastic is associated with aether.
wLévi20 associates azoth with air and mercury with water.
xAgrippa17 associates hearing with air and taste and smell with water. He does not address aether.
yAgrippa17 associates bones with earth, flesh with air, humors with water, and the spirit with fire.
zI don’t know what the original source is. טבריה [Ṭeverya] was added last, though.
aaCrowley26 links the Tribes of Israel to the zodiac, not the elements directly. Here, they are related to the elements via their zodiac signs for the sake of consistency. Agrippa17 assigns ראובן [Reʾuben], שמעון [Shimeʿon], and גד [Gad] to earth, יהודה [Yehuda], יששכר [Yisasakar], and זבולון [Zebulun] to air, מנשה [Menasheh], בנימין [Bineyamin], and אפרים [ʾEferaim] to water, and דן [Dan],אשר [ʾAsher], and נפתלי [Naptali] to fire.
bbIn some traditions, swords and wands are swapped.
ccThis river is also called Πυριφλεγέθων [Pyriphlegethon].
1Thales in Aristotle, Met. 1.3, 983b6-27 = DK 11A12
2Anaximenes in Theophrastus, quoted by Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics 24.26–25.1 = DK 13A5
3Xenophanes in Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 1.14.3–6 = DK 21A33
4Heraclitus in Plutarch, On the E at Delphi 338d–e = DK 22B90
5Empedocles in Aëtius, 1.3.20 = DK 31B6
6Empedocles in Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics 158.1–159.4 [lines 1–35] + Strasbourg Papyrus ensemble a [lines 26–69] = DK 31B17 + Strasbourg Papyrus, ensemble a
7Plato, Timaeus 55a-57d
8Aristotle, Gen. et Corr. 2.3, 330a30-b7
9Aristotle, Gen. et Corr. 2.2, 329b25-31
10Aristotle, Gen. et Corr. 2.2, 329b31-33
11Aristotle, Gen. et Corr. 1.1, 314b15–27; 2.1, 329a35–b3; 2.4
12Plato, Timaeus 58d
13Aristotle, DC 1.3, 270b20-26
14Aristotle, DC 1.3, 270b1-19
15see Nature of Man and Humours, in Page, T.E. et al. (Eds.). (1959). Hippocrates IV. Translated by W. H. S. Jones. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
16discussed in Arikha, N. (2007). Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours. New York, NY: Ecco.
17Agrippa, H. C., & Tyson, D. (Ed.). (2004). Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Translated by J. Freake. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
18Agrippa, H. C., & Tyson, D. (Ed.). (2009). The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy: A Companion to Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Translated by R. Turner. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
19Agrippa, H. C., & Tyson, D. (Ed.). (2004). Of the Spirit of the World, what it is, and how by way of medium it unites occult virtues to their subjects. In Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Translated by J. Freake. pp. 44-45. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
20Lévi, E., & Waite, A. E. (Trans.). (2001). Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine and Ritual. Translated, annotated, and introduced by A. E. Waite. York Beach, ME: Weiser Books.
21Lévi, E. (2000). The Great Secret, or, Occultism Unveiled. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc.
22Lévi, E. (2000). The Mysteries of the Qabalah: Or Occult Agreement of the Two Testaments. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc.
23discussed in Place, R. M. (2005). The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.
24discussed in Greer, M. K. and Little, T. (2004). Understanding the Tarot Court. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
25Paracelsus, & Sigerist, H. E. (Ed.). (1996). A Book on Nymphs, Sylphs, Pygmies, and Salamanders, and on the Other Spirits. Translated from the German, with an introduction by H. E. Sigerist. In Four Treatises of Theophrastus von Hohenheim, called Paracelsus: Translated from the Original German, with Introductory Essays by C. L. Temkin, et al. pp. 213-254. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
26Crowley, A., & Regardie, I. (Ed.). (1999). 777 Revised. In 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley. York Beach, ME: Weiser Books.
27Crowley, A. (2004). The Book of Thoth (Egyptian Tarot). York Beach, ME: Weiser Books.
28Kaplan, A. (Trans). (1997). Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation in Theory and Practice, rev. ed. York Beach, ME: Weiser Books.
29Regardie, I. (2006). The Golden Dawn, 6th rev. ed. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
30Bardon, F. (2001). Initiation into Hermetics. Salt Lake City, UT: Merkur Publishing.
31Starhawk (1999). The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, 20th anniversary ed. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.
32Mathers, S. L. MacGregor (Ed.). (2009). The Key of Solomon the King. Edited and translated by S. L. MacGregor Mathers. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.
33Mathers, S. L. MacGregor (Trans.). (1997). The Goetia: The Lesser Key of Solomon the King: Lemegeton, rev. 2nd ed. Edited, annotated, and introduced by A. Crowley. Illustrated 2nd ed. with new annotations edited by A. Crowley, edited by H. Beta. York Beach, ME: Weiser Books.
34Jung, C. (2017). Psychological Types. A revision by R. F. C. Hull of the translation by H. G. Baynes, with a new foreword by J. Beebe. Abingdon, England; New York, NY: Routledge Classics.
Agrippa, H. C., & Tyson, D. (Ed.). (2004). Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Translated by J. Freake. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Arikha, N. (2007). Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours. New York, NY: Ecco.
Bardon, F. (2001). Initiation into Hermetics. Salt Lake City, UT: Merkur Publishing.
Crowley, A., & Regardie, I. (Ed.). (1999). 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley. York Beach, ME: Weiser Books.
Curd, P. (Ed.) (2011). A Presocratics Reader: Selected Fragments and Testimonia, 2nd ed. Edited, with introduction, by P. Curd. Translations by R. D. McKirahan. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.
Lévi, E., & Waite, A. E. (Trans.). (2001). Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine and Ritual. Translated, annotated, and introduced by A. E. Waite. York Beach, ME: Weiser Books.
Last updated: August 23, 2019
Originally published: September 21, 2018