Different Presocratics proposed the “original stuff” comprising material existence is water,1 earth,2 air,3 or fire.4 It was Empedocles who suggested these four “roots” coexist in various combinations,5 mixed by the motive forces of love and strife.6 Plato put forth that particles of each “element” (Gk. στοιχεῖα) manifest in a particular form (the Platonic solids), which in turn influence its physical properties.7
Aristotle popularized the notion that the classical elements are matter with certain qualities and may be differentiated by their hot/cold and wet/dry characteristics.8 The hot quality “associates” similar things, whereas the cold quality brings things together regardless of similarity. Wet elements are adaptable in shape, whereas dry elements are not. The elements may interact with one other, and one element may transform into another if its hot/cold and wet/dry qualities are altered.9 Aristotle also integrated Plato’s aether10 as the quintessence (fifth element) that gave rise to the four terrestrial elements. Aether transcends hot/cold and wet/dry dualities, and is instead associated with the celestial spheres and heavenly bodies.11
The Aristotelian model inspired the humoral doctrine proposed by Hippocratic authors12 and expanded by Galen.13 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 discontent.12 The optimum combination of humors varies among individuals, and further fluctuates according to season, age, and lifestyle.12
During the Renaissance Agrippa explored the elemental world, elucidating its esoteric properties through sympathetic correspondence.14,15 He primarily focuses on the terrestrial elements, as aether (“Spirit of the World”) is the medium conferring their esoteric properties. Each terrestrial element expresses itself via a particular modality in the celestial, terrestrial, and infernal worlds.14 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 knowledge.16-18 In addition to updating some of the correspondences listed by Agrippa14 he presents new ones.16 One of his major overall contributions was linking the Tarot to Qabala,16,18 which permitted him to correspond each Tarot suit to a classical element.16,19 The elemental attributions of the court cards were developed by others.20 Lévi’s synthesis also provides a ritual framework for commanding the elementals16 described by Paracelsus.21
Later, Crowley consolidated22 and updated22,23 many elemental correspondences of the time, while also presenting new ones. He further linked core concepts of Buddhism and Hinduism to the elements through Qabala. Note that his Qabalistic arrangement differs from Jewish mysticism,24 Lévi,16-18 and the Golden Dawn.25 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 Hermetic26 and Neopagan27 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, and suggestions may be submitted via the Contact page.
||gē (γῆ)||aēr (ἀήρ)||hydōr (ὕδωρ)||pyr (πῦρ)||aithēr (αἰθήρ)|
||ʾareṣ (ארץ)||ruaḥ (רוח)||mayim (מים)||ʾesh (אש)||ʾet (את)a|
|Ancient Greek and Humoral|
|Poetic deity (Empedocles)5||Hera||Zeus||Nestis (Persephone)||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|
|Humor12,13||black bile (Gk. χολή μέλαινα)||blood (αἷμα)||phlegm (φλέγμα)||yellow bile (χολή ξανθή)||N/A|
|Age range (humoral)12||maturity (25-45yo)||childhood||old age||youth||N/A|
|Stoic quality14||heavy (passive)||light (active)||heavy (passive)||light (active)||N/Ab|
|Energy27||female (receptive)c||male (projective)||female (receptive)||male (projective)c||N/Ab|
||♉, ♍, ♑||♊, ♎, ♒||♋, ♏, ♓||♈, ♌, ♐||N/Ad|
|Time of day27
||bottom left||middle left||middle right||bottom right||top|
||alchemy, geomancy, making pantacles||divination||the Great Work, talismans, crystal gazing, etc.||evocation, pyromancy||invisibility, transformations, Vision of the Genius|
|Power of Levi’s16 sphinx22
||to keep silent (Lat. tacere)||to know (noscere)||to dare (audere)||to will (velle)||N/Af|
|World (Heb.)22||ʿAsiya (עשיה)||Yeṣira (יצירה)||Beriʾa (בריאה)||ʾAṣilut (אצילות)||N/A|
|Path22||32-bis (ת)||11 (א)||23 (מ)||31 (ש)||31-bis (ש)|
|King scale color22
||citrine, olive, russet, and black (quartered)||bright pale yellow||deep blue||glowing orange scarlet||white merging into gray|
|Queen scale color22
||amber||sky blue||sea green||vermillion||deep purple (nearly black)|
|Emperor scale color22
||dark brown||blue emerald green||deep olive green||scarlet, flecked gold||the seven prismatic colors, with the violet outside|
|Empress scale color22||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 Malkut22||black||citrine||olive||russet||N/A|
|Divine name (Heb.)22||ʾAdonay (אדני)||YHWH (יהוה)||ʾEl (אל)||ʾElohim (אלהים)||YHShWH (יהשוה)|
|Archangel (Heb.)14||ʾUriʾel (אוריאל)||Rafaʾel (רפאל)||Gabriʾel (גבריאל)||Mikaʾel (מיכאל)||N/A|
|Angelic orders (Heb.)22,h||Kerubim (כרובים)i||ʾErʾelim (אראלים)j||Tarshishim (תרשישים)k||Serafim (שרפים)||N/A|
|Angel (Heb.)28||Forlak (פורלאך)||Ḥasan (חסן)||Ṭaliahad (טל-יהד)||ʾAriʾel (אריאל)j||N/A|
|Demon king (Goetic)22,n||Amaimon||Oriens||Ariton||Paimon||N/A|
|Divination method confirmation16||cartomancy||oneiromancy||crystallomancy||magnetism||N/A|
|Tarot suit16,22||Pentacles [Diamonds]||Swords [Spades]o||Cups [Hearts]||Wands [Clubs]o||N/Ap|
|Tarot court cards22,23||Princesses||Princes||Queens||Knights||N/Aq|
|Agrippa’s14 “Mixed Bodies”|
|Stone types||dark, heavy||light, transparent||clear, congealed||bright, burning||N/A|
|Metalsr||lead, silver||copper, tin||mercury||gold, iron||N/A|
|Animal types||burrowing, creeping||flying||swimming||walking||N/A|
|Animals, Plants, Stones, Incense22|
|Plants||oak, ivy, cereals||aspen||lotus, all water plants||red poppy, hibiscus, nettle||almond in flower|
|Stones||salt||topaz||beryl, aquamarine||fire opal||black diamond|
|Incense||storax, all dull and heavy odors||galbanum||onycha, myrrh||olibanum, all fiery odors||N/At|
|Organs||excretory organs, skeleton||respiratory organs||organs of nutrition||circulatory organs||organs of intelligence|
|Body partsw||solid structures, tissues||breath||chyle, lymph||blood||semen, marrow|
|Bodily functions||excreting, matter||speaking, thought||holding, nutrition||moving, moving||generating, magic|
|Diseases||sluggishness||fluxes||chill||fever||death, full insanity|
|Part of soul (Heb.)22||Nefesh (נפש)||Ruaḥ (רוה)||Neshama (נשמה)||Ḥia (חיה)||Yeḥida (יחידה)|
|River out of Eden (Heb.)22||Perat (פרת)||Ḥideqel (חדקל)||Giḥon (גיחון)||Pishon (פישון)||N/A|
|Shevaṭim triplicities (Heb.)22,y||ʾEferaim (אפרים), Naptali (נפתלי), Zebulun (זבולון)||Menasheh (מנשה), ʾAsher (אשר), Reʾuben (ראובן)||Yisasakar (יששכר), Dan (דן), Shimeʿon (שמעון)||Gad (גד), Yehuda (יהודה), Bineyamin (בנימין)||N/A|
|Color||yellow, gray, black||blue||greenish-blue||red||deep purple (nearly black)|
|Sense||taste, smell||hearing||perception||sight||all senses together|
|Body region||coccyx, reproductive organs, genitals, feet||chest||abdomen||head||N/A|
|Aspect of the spirit||consciousness||intellect||feelings||will||conscience|
|Colors||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 tool||pentacle||athame, sword,o censer||cup||censer, wando||cauldron|
|Infernal river14||Acheron (Gk. Ἀχέρων)||Cocytus (Κώκυτός)||Styx (Στύξ)||Phlegethon (Φλεγέθων)||N/A|
aCrowley 22 assigns ʾet because it is composed of the first (א) and last (ת) letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
bAether transcends light (active)/heavy (passive), male (projective)/female (receptive), and other dualities.
cLévi16 classifies earth as male (projective) and fire as female (receptive).
dIn some traditions, aether is associated with the zodiac wheel itself.
eAether transcends space and time. In neopagan traditions27, it is attributed to the center or everywhere. It is also attributed to the wheel of turning seasons.
fCrowley23 proposes “to go” (Lat. ire) as the emergent power of the sphinx, which he associates with aether. The sphinx is an amalgamation of the four kerubic animals described in Ezekiel’s vision in The Bible.
gCrowley22 switches Agrippa’s14 associations of John (air) and Matthew (water). He also associates the Holy Ghost with aether.
hSingular angelic orders (choirs) are listed on the Seventh Pentacle of the Sun in The Key of Solomon the King28 and are called the “elemental ruler” in many occult texts. Agrippa14, Crowley22, and others also list singular orders. The plural of each order is shown in the table.
iAgrippa14 associates the Kerubim with air.
jThe name “Arel” (Heb. אראל) is the elemental angel of fire identified on the Seventh Pentacle of the Sun in The Key of Solomon the King,28 while “Ariel” (אריאל) is identified as the ruler of elemental fire. The names “Arel” and “Ariel” appear to be switched, as the other elemental rulers listed are singular angelic orders. “Arel” is an alternate Romanization of “Erel,” the singular form of the orders collectively known as “Arelim” or “Erelim.” To further complicate things, Agrippa14 identifies “Ariel” (אריאל) as the ruler of elemental earth, whereas Crowley22 identifies ʾAriʾel (“אריאל”) as the ruler of elemental air and ʾErʾel (“אראל”) as the angel of elemental fire.
kIn The Key of Solomon the King28, Tarshishim (Heb. תרשישים) is spelled תרשים [sic].
lLévi16 never states the source language of the elemental king names.
mIn some traditions, the lamp is associated with aether.
nThe demon kings are related to the elements via the cardinal directions they rule. Agrippa14 attributes Amaymon (an alternate spelling of Amaimon29), Paymon (Paimon29), Egyn (an alias of Ariton29), and Oriens (Uriens29) to earth, air, water, and fire, respectively. Many alternate correspondence schemes are present throughout various Medieval and Renaissance grimoires.
oIn some traditions, wands and swords are switched.
pCrowley22 associates the Major Arcana with aether.
qCrowley22 associates the Aces with aether (and Keter).
rAgrippa’s14 elemental correspondences for each metal somewhat reflect his elemental correspondences for each planet (via its respective metal). Lévi16 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.
sAgrippa’s14 and Lévi’s20 associate the eagle with air and man with water.
tIn neopagan traditions,27, mastic is associated with aether.
uLévi16 associates azoth with air and mercury with water.
vAgrippa14 associates hearing with air and taste and smell with water. He does not address aether.
wAgrippa14 associates bones with earth, flesh with air, humors with water, and the spirit with fire.
xI don’t know what the original source is. Tiberias was added last, though.
yCrowley22 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. Agrippa14 assigns Reʾuben, Shimeʿon, and Gad to earth, Yehuda, Yisasakar, and Zebulun to air, Menasheh, Bineyamin, and ʾEferaim to water, and Dan, ʾAsher, and Naptali to fire.
1Thales in Aristotle, Met. 1.3, 983b6-27 (DK 11A12).
2Anaximenes Theophrastus, quoted by Simplicius, 24.26-25.1 (DK 13A5).
3Xenophanes in Hippolytus, 1.14.3-6 (DK 21A33).
4Heraclitus in Plutarch, 338d-e (DK 22B90).
5Aëtius, 1.3.20 (DK 31B6).
6Simplicius, 158.1-159.4 [lines 1-35] (DK 31B17) and Strasbourg Papyrus, ensemble a [lines 26-69].
7Plato, Timaeus, 55a-57d.
8Aristotle, Gen. et Corr. 2.3, 330a30-b7.
9Ibid. 1.1, 314b15–27; 2.1, 329a35–b3; 2.4.
10Plato, Timaeus, 58d.
11Aristotle, DC 1.3, 270b1-26.
12Hippocrates: Vol. IV, edited by T. E. Page et al., Harvard University Press, 1959.
13Discussed in Arikha, Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours, Ecco, 2007.
14Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, edited and annotated by Donald Tyson, Llewellyn Publications, 2004.
15Agrippa, The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, edited and annotated by Donald Tyson, Llewellyn Publications, 2009.
16Lévi, Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine and Ritual, edited and annotated by A. E. Waite, Weiser Books, 2001.
17Lévi, The Great Secret, or, Occultism Unveiled, Samuel Weiser, 2000.
18Lévi, The Mysteries of the Qabalah: Or Occult Agreement of the Two Testaments, Samuel Weiser, 2000.
19Discussed in Place, The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2005.
20Discussed in Greer and Little, Understanding the Tarot Court, Llewellyn Publications, 2004.
21Paracelsus, Liber de Nymphis, Sylphis, Pygmaeis et Salamandris et de Caeteris Spiritibus. Four Treatises of Theophrastus von Hohenheim, Called Paracelsus, edited, with a preface by Henry E. Sigerist, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1941, pp. 213-254.
22Crowley, 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley, edited by Israel Regardie, Samuel Weiser, 1999.
23Crowley, The Book of Thoth (Egyptian Tarot), Weiser Books, 2004.
24Kaplan (translator), Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation in Theory and Practice, rev. ed., Weiser Books, 1997.
25Regardie, The Golden Dawn, 6th rev. ed., Llewellyn Publications, 1989.
26Bardon, Initiation into Hermetics, Merkur Publishing, 2001.
27Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, 20th anniversary ed., HarperSanFrancisco, 1999.
28The Key of Solomon the King, edited and translated by S. L. MacGregor Mathers, Dover Publications, 2009.
29The Goetia: The Lesser Key of Solomon the King: Lemegeton, translated by S. L. MacGregor Mathers, edited and annotated by Aleister Crowley, edited by H. Beta, Weiser Books. 1997.
30Jung, Psychological Types, a revision by R. F. C. Hull of the translation by H. G. Baynes, Princeton University Press, 1990.
Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, edited and annotated by Donald Tyson, Llewellyn Publications, 2004.
Arikha, Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours, Ecco, 2007.
Bardon, Initiation into Hermetics, Merkur Publishing, 2001.
Crowley, 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley, edited by Israel Regardie, Samuel Weiser, 1999.
Lévi, Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine and Ritual, edited and annotated by A. E. Waite, Weiser Books, 2001.
A Presocratics Reader: Selected Fragments and Testimonia, 2nd ed., edited, with introduction, by Patricia Curd, Hackett Publishing Company, 2011.
Last updated: March 12, 2020
Originally published: September 21, 2018