Slicing the Airy Intellect and Directing the Fiery Will: On the Symbolic Associations Between Fire and Wands and Air and Daggers

By Philosophadam or Frater S.C.F.V.

Recently, an Occult Corpus member named dgcleveland posted a wonderful question about the traditional associations between the Elements of Fire and Air with Wands and Daggers respectively. Here is the context of his question, in his words:

I am always a little shaken when I read a book that starts talking about Elemental Weapons because the attributions given them is always so counter intuitive to me that I have trouble getting past that point. If any of them bothered to give a reason for the associations I’d be fine, but they simply give them as if no other alternative should be considered and no explanation should be necessary.
So I’ll pose them here and see if anyone has any thoughts or can point me in the right direction.

Water is obvious. Whether Tarot suit or elemental tool, a Cup/Chalice is the only logical option being the vessel to hold liquid in. Earth is fair enough. Penticles, Disks, and Coins are all sysmbols of earth, being made of stone, metal, or the like.

Fire and Air are where I get turned around. Golden Dawn/OTO seem to attribute these as Fire=Wand and Air=Blade/Dagger/Sword and I am having trouble finding any documentation on the reason here. Let me explain my reasoning for thinking that the associations should be switched, and I welcome discourse and critique on the matter.

Associating Blades with Fire makes so much sense I can hardly understand any other attribution. Fire is destructive as a blade cuts and destroys but it is also a tool for building as a blade is. Fire represents power and fury and danger, just as a blade represents power and fury and danger. Fire causes death, just as a blade causes death. Fire protected early man’s camps and homes just as blades protected early man. Even its very construction demands the joining of blades with fire, being forged in the fires during their creation.

As for Air and Wands, I admit that is sort of a “well they’re what’s left” scenario. But I back it up with a few logical connections. Wands, batons, scepters, and staves have always represented authority and intelligence, being held by kings, conjurers, shamans, and priests, just as Air is the element attached to intelligence, logic, and authority. Likewise, wands are made of wooden branches, something that is destroyed by fire, yet withstands the rigors of wind all the time.I admit, I am at a loss for either historical attributions for these weapons or modern interpretation, so any help, links, or information presented for or against my thoughts here would be appreciated.”

Here was my response to his inquiry:

Dear Dgcleveland,

I applaud how you are critically analyzing the received traditions. All too often, occultists simply take the received traditions as points of faith because they are said to be grounded in ‘ancient sources’ and the words of ‘past masters.’ I, however, am a member of the camp of occultists who believe that occultism progresses only through dialogue, reevaluation, and critical examination. So, I am always happy to see people questioning the ‘authorities.’

Now, to respond to your question, I can only provide a form of a Golden Dawn interpretation, since this is the main occult tradition within which I have worked. As others have pointed out, for the Golden Dawn, in the microscopic sphere, Air is the element of Intellect while Fire is the element of Directing Will. Earth is the realm of the physical Body and water is the realm of Emotions and the Unconscious.

The Intellect, and hence, the element of Air, is seen as an instrument for making distinctions. Distinctions are conceptual slicings; they cut two concepts apart to distinguish them. They slice up the nondual reality into dual categories. Because the Intellect is so intimately associated with making ‘slices’ of this kind, the Dagger is the element tied to Air. The Dagger slices through the Air when swung just as the Intellect slices through the Mind when used. The expressions a ‘sharp wit,’ a ‘keen intellect’ and an ‘honed reason’ are idiomatic reflections of the intuitive insight embodied in the dagger-Air association.

The fire-want correspondence is less intuitive. To fully understand it, we need to understand both the microcosmic interpretation of the Fire element and the traditional shape of the wand that the Golden Dawn had in mind. Within the Golden Dawn tradition, Fire is associated with the directing power of Will, and it is this aspect of direction that connects it to the wand, which is essentially a ‘pointing’ and ‘directing’ tool. Moreover, the Four Elemental weapons are connected to the Four Suits of the Tarot and the Fire element connects to the Suit of Wands. This Suit was also historically called ‘Staves,’ however, and the staff is both a traditional implement of the magus and what one carries when one is moving in a particular direction or traveling. In the first case, it was an instrument of direction used to direct magical currents and spirits to do the Will of the magician, another connection to the Fire element. In the second case, the association with moving in a direction connects with the directing power of Will embodied by the microcosmic fire.

There are still more profound nuances in the symbolism, however. The traditional Staff had a bulb at the end and the Golden Dawn fire wand has such a bulb as well. This is an intentional reference to the shape of the phallus. The phallus here is seen as tool for directing the active power of creation which drives reproduction and the coming into being of new life. In this way, the phallus is seen as a symbolic expression of the Will to create. The sexual power associated with the phallus is also often linked to fire in traditional tropes and symbolism; we speak of ‘fiery lust,’ ‘being fired up,’ driven by ‘flaming passion’ and other such expressions. In the Golden Dawn, it is the creative association with the directing power of Will that has importance here and the phallic shape of the Fire Wand channels these symbolic associations to deepen the symbolism. I hope this proves helpful.