Elements: The DNA Of Magic

by Nate

[Magicians] seek after the virtues of the elementary world, through...the celestial world in the rays, and influences thereof, according to the rules of astrologers, and the doctrines of mathematicians, joining the celestial virtues to the [elementary]...through the sacred ceremonies of religions.

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa

DNA is formed of twisted pairs of chained nucleotides built on four distinct building blocks called nucleobases which, arranged in different combinations, describe all the many forms of life in the universe -as far as we can tell. The infinitesimally small, as it turns out, describes the incomprehensibly vast…

The “magical universe”, much like the physical one, is comprised of building blocks; base materials which, when arranged just so, can be made to represent nearly everything within that universe. As in the mundane world, these are referred to as “The Elements”; though in the magical sense there are only four elements and they have celestial, infernal, and earthly qualities simultaneously.

Elements are the “nucleobases” of magic’s DNA…in the sense that, like the nucleobases C, G, A, and T which compose the language of life, the elements compose the various arrangements of virtues (what we typically think of as significations).

As nucleobases are the language of DNA, and therefore life, the four elements are the language of magic, and therefore a divine language; used to describe how the diverse essences of the manifest world come together in perfect, stable harmony.

All substance, physical or immaterial, is comprised of the four elements in various portions and in various expressions. Agrippa discusses elements at length in the beginning of his Three Books Of Occult Philosophy, their virtues (as he calls them), and the nature of working with them in various ways.

In his analysis of the elements, Agrippa explores their qualities within each realm of creation (celestial, infernal, and earthly) and provides significations for each element and “tools” for their use in magic. Magic is, in many ways, a process of connecting the three realms in ritual: acting out an intention in the earthly sphere, petitioning celestial spirts to command chthonic ones.

It is extremely useful to conceive of magic as a metaphorical language for negotiating with the Other; the divine, celestials, sublunary spirits, the dead, or other expression thereof. And interpreting Agrippa through this lens turns his ruminating, run-on sentences into a veritable recipe for spellwork.

Elements & Significations

At the very beginning of Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Agrippa provides descriptions of the virtues of the four elements, which is to say their qualities, and how they combine and interact with one another to produce the increasingly complex compounds which proliferate the universe with form and function.

All form and function, however, are derived from these elemental qualities. In praxis this provides us with a diverse array of spellcrafting possibilities. It is the difference between being limited to primary colors or painting with an entire spectrum at your disposal.

First, and perhaps most practically useful, are Agrippa’s elemental significations:


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