In the witches' view of the universe, all things are made up of four elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. All animals, plants, stones, emotions, inanimate objects, and energies are combinations of these elements..as, of course, are we. Everything has its own unique blend of the four elements in it: everything that has substance has earth in it; everything that has energy in it has fire; everything that flows and/or has feelings has water; and everything that involves sound, thinking, or communication has air in it.
We call upon the elements when we do magic, offer healing, undertake a project, cook a meal...anything where we would like to have the elements come together in perfect balance for a specified purpose. This isn't praying so much as inviting the energies of the elements to come into our space and offer their own unique gifts to the project we are working on.
Many people work with "elementals." These are creatures whose being is totally of one element. They embody that element and can help or hinder us as we work with it. Generally, they like people who embody the best features of their element, and can make trouble for those who feel uncomfortable with it...but it is possible to befriend all of them.
Most of us have more of one element than the others in our makeup...or perhaps have one or two that are lacking in comparison. One way to get an impression about this is to have your birth chart drawn by an astrologer and count how many planets you have in each element. Another is to read about the elements and their correspondences and see which ones you are most comfortable with. Most people start out by establishing working relationships with the elements they resonate with easily, and then work toward those which are more elusive for them. To be most successful as a magician, and to have a well balanced personality and energy system, one should try for reasonable balance between all four, but there will always be some you'll find easier to work with.
In these pages, I offer information about the correspondences of the elements. I also offer a number of suggestions for short meditative or experiential activities that can help you get in touch with the feel/energy/meaning of each of the elements. I suggest the types of things that would honour each element on an altar, and ways that one might try to befriend the elementals. Goddess knows I'm still working on all of this myself, (especially with Fire) so if you have any suggestions for something I haven't mentioned, please let me (Willo) know.
Please note that while things like herbs and stones are primarily of Earth and music is primarily of Air, etc, different representatives of each of these groups will have more energy of one element or another than the others might. This is how we can say that light and leafy herbs, or those with penetrating, clear scents might be of Air, and those that are hot and spicy might be of Fire, even as we acknowledge that all herbs are Earthy beings. Similarly, candles are magical tools of Fire....but we can light candles of various colours or scents to honour the other elements.
I wrote an exercise for meeting, playing, and learning with birds for the Air page. I live in a big city, and songbirds are one of the few "wild" things I get much opportunity to interact with. If you live in the country and can spend time with some of the other animal friends I have mentioned, please enrich your experience by doing so. Watch them, talk to them in non-threatening ways. (note...I've learned that birds really don't like to be smiled at...they don't seem to realise that this way of showing teeth is meant to be friendly) Offer or leave food, healing energy, or anything else you are inspired to give. Observe their behaviour and learn from it. You can have learning experiences no less profound than The Wart's even if you can't physically change into animals, if you open yourself to thinking like them. Of course, please remember that wild animals are wild and may hurt you if you look like food or if they are cornered or threatened.
One final note...I offer many classical correspondences and some that are relevant for me. As you become familiar with the energies involved, you may find other correspondences make more sense to you. Just as it makes sense to celebrate the Sabbats according to the actual season in the southern hemisphere, so it makes sense to place Earth nearest your polar ice cap and Fire where you see the tropics. I once spent a whole magical retreat with all my directions 180 degrees out of synch because there was a mountain where I thought North was and water where I thought West was and an eagle's nest where I thought East was. The magic worked.
Let these pages form a springboard for you in your own exploration of the elements. And enjoy the new partnerships you'll form.