The Three Realms vs. The Four Elements


For eclectic Pagan groups that do not consider themselves Wiccan- this is my case for encouraging the idea of using a Three Realms blessing for at least the Celtic holidays (which are Samhain, Lughnasadh, Imbolc, and Beltane) instead of the prevalent four elements system.

Three was a sacred number to the Celts. They viewed even numbers as unbalanced ones. They did not categorize everything into four elements, but rather they viewed the world as being made up of three parts.

The three realms are- the Land, Sea, and Sky.

Now, if you are used to categorizing everything according to the Greek elements, you might look at this and say, “Well that’s just the elements of earth, water, and air, leaving out the fourth element- fire.”

Remember though, the realms are places, not elements. The idea of the “elements” started in late Greek philosophy and was probably not put to the practice of “calling the quarters”, and assigning elements to the four directions until medieval times by ceremonial magicians. These ceremonial magicians would “cast a circle” to trap a demon, and the “Guardians of the Watchtowers” that they called forth were Archangels. So, the practice of “casting a circle” and “calling the quarters”, while having elements of ancient philosophy, were in fact, very much a part of the Christian world view and a product of the era it came out of.

Note above that I said the concept of the elements came from Greek philosophy, not ritual. There is no evidence that the Greeks “called the quarters”, and modern Greek Reconstructionist Pagans do not include this practice in their rituals.

In fact, the methods of “calling quarters” and “watchtowers” done by most Wiccans actually dates back only to the ritual magic work of the Golden Dawn (a revival of the western ceremonial magic tradition) in the early 20th century, later picked up and popularized in the 1950s by Gerald Gardner. So either way, part of the concept (the elements) is relatively old, but the practice of using them in ritual is rather new.

But I can give you even more reasons I don’t use a four-quarters-elements system- the concept is very abstract. The system puts an element in each of the four directions. But the earth is not in the north, the earth is beneath my feet. Air is not in the east, air is in the sky and all around me… etc.

Quarter calling encourages people to think of elements as a system to categorize, it encourages thinking of very real things in an abstract way and not acknowledging the chaos and limitlessness of the world around us… We need to acknowledge and experience the real world of nature, not an abstract concept of it.

The Three Realms vs. The Four ElementsHere are some links to a few examples of Three Realms blessings/invocations/meditations:

A Ritual Opener by Ceisiwr Serith

One CR house’s opening ritual by DubhTine

from ADF’s “A Simple Group Devotional” (item #6)


3 responses »

  1. This is a area that I am having a bit of issue with as I am attempting to figure out what I want to share (teach) with my little ones. The Triple Realms are literally all around so showing them & having them feel/experience the realms is not the problem. Its when we participate with local pagan gatherings and rituals and they bring their circle together with the 4 elements… well my oldest is already asking questions and asking why they are giving fire a quarter when it is part of the three realms and the blender of all. I have told him so far that they have a different view of the world and it helps them remember the steps of connecting in their own way.
    I feel that its kind of a Christian influenced practice for some of the same reasons you bring up above. I am not knocking the Christians but I am not a ceremonial magician nor a Christian. Tho I do not clam to be a CR I do try to practice and live my spirituality in ways that I feel the Kindred’s might respond and be open too.
    When I did not know that the ancestors did not cast circles I created a triple realms circle casting. I based it on that they did favor 3’s and the Triple realms Sky, Land, and Sea… this really grab something within me. When I did figure out that circle casting was not part of their practices I created a triple realms hedge rising… more of a blending and labyrinth walk or dance, sacred space awaking… If that makes any sense. : )

  2. Pingback: The Three Realms vs. The Four Elements « Ozark Pagan Mamma | OurToday Informations

  3. Pingback: in brief, some differences between Wicca and Celtic Paganism « Ozark Pagan Mamma

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