here are essentially four parts to working with calling the elements in a formal sense into ritual:
Evocation means to call forward (where as invocation means to call within, as in the act of the High Priestess invoking the Goddess within herself during an Esbat ritual; you can keep them straight in your mind my thinking of invoke as to call INside). When we evoke a spirit we are calling on it, asking it to come forth and be present in our space. We call the evocations of the elements in ritual quarter calls because we are usually calling on them at one of the four directions. There are a few methods of evoking the elements but all start with calling on the element that you are facing. So while facing the North, for example, you’re going to call on the element of Earth. You can either call on the element and then the elemental guide or guardian you want to work with or you can call on the Watchtower, then the element, then any elemental spirits. So, for example:
Visualization when calling the elements is an important part of building the energy with what you are doing. By seeing the elements and their guides, by seeing the Watchtowers in the distance guarding your space, you are adding to the energy that is going to protect and guide your work. One of the easiest ways to work with this is to visualize the color that you associate with that element. Assuming that we’re working with our modern Wiccan colors of green, yellow, red and blue, you can visualize a mist of that color coming forth from the distance when you speak your invocation. Visualize the mist then joining with the energy if your cast circle but remaining concentrated in it’s specific quarter. Others might wish to visualize a specific elemental being, like a gnome in the North, or a spirit animal like a dolphin in the West, coming forth and appearing just at the edge of the circle. Yet others may wish to visualize specific symbols such as the Hindu Tattvas, elemental triangles, or otheralchemical symbols. The idea is that while you are speaking your evocation you are visualizing your element, in whatever form you can, coming forward and being present in your space.
Each element has some sort of physical representation associated with it. Some will use specific ritual tools that are attributed to each element as part of their evocations. For example you might hold up a chalice of liquid to salute the Western element as it is being called, or you may which to hold up your athame in salute to the spirits of the South while calling them forward. Others use the simple act of lighting a specific, corresponding candle when making their evocation, either on the altar or in the actual quarter. You can also do things like sprinkling water around the circle while calling on the element of Water or carrying a censer or smoldering incense around the circle while evoking the element of air. The use of tools in elemental evocation is an example of the Hermetic Principle of Correspondence at work in a ritual setting.
Gesture is simply the use of some form of intentioned movement during your evocation. This can be drawing the elemental pentagrams, or just invoking or banishing pentagrams, while working your evocations. Some may use hand gestures such as cupping your hands as though to hold water while calling on the Western element, or standing with your hands over your head with your fingers spread apart as though wind were to pass through them while calling on the East. Using a combination of all of these isn’t uncommon. Some may begin their evocation by drawing an elemental pentagram and then use a hand gesture while speaking the evocation.
Putting it all Together
Together these ritual acts, with your intention, become the keys to unlocking the gateways to the elemental realms. Putting them together and creating your complete quarter call might take some practice. What order do you want to do things in? What makes the most sense for you?
The way that I work with them, and the way that I might recommend, is like this:
Keeping yourself in the correct mindset, visualizing and feeling the element while evoking it and doing your gestures and such, is the hardest part to master, but it also the most important part to master. Words and gestures without intention and energy behind them mean nothing, so taking the time to practice this while really focusing your energy and thoughts so to remain in alignment with the element you are calling on.
A Note About Releasing
The act of releasing the elements is a very important one. As part of the closing of your circle always release your elements, going widdershins (counterclockwise) from how you called them in. So if you ended with West when you called them in you’ll start with West to release them.
I have seen many people verbally say, while releasing the elements, “Stay if you will, go if you must”, the same as they would to a Deity or other Spirit. Working with the elements and elementals is not the same as working with the Gods. When we offer to the Gods for them to remain with us once the ritual is complete and the circle is released, we see this as an act of reverence. However the Gods are of a higher intelligence and higher vibration than the elements. The elements are more of a raw energy that need direction. By releasing the energy completely and closing the gateways that you have opened when calling the elements in you will retain the balance of energy that you are used to. I have heard people say they don’t feel it’s “polite” to command the elements, but as an old friend of mine once said to someone while having this very discussion “If you don’t have the ***** to command something you have called into your ritual space, then you shouldn’t be calling it in the first place. You’re the Witch; you’re the one in charge.” Elements when left to just fill a space uncontrolled can cause havoc in your space (so if you start to find things catch fire a lot or your pipes start bursting, it could be the reaction of overactive and out of balance elemental energy in your space).