Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Elemental Weapons

Each of the four elemental gates is traditionally associated with a martial weapon.  The masculine elements of air and fire are represented by offensive weaponry: the staff (or spear) and the sword.  The feminine elements of earth and water are represented by defensive weaponry: the shield and helm.  These weapons have antecedents in the four suits of the Tarot: swords, staves, coins (shields), and cups (helms).  They are also representative of the four Celtic treasures of Nuada: sword, stone, spear, and cauldron.

The Sword

In the east, the gate of fire, is the forge of Tubal Cain.  Created on this primal forge is that most iconic of forged weapons, the sword.  The sword is a symbol of nobility and initiation.  It is the "sword bridge" we cross to enter the circle of initiation, just as Lancelot had to cross the sword bridge to enter the enchanted country of Melagant.  It is also the "sword that cuts both ways", demonstrating that both initiate and initiator are creating a solemn pact.  In Arthurian legend the sword Excalibur was drawn from a stone, but in the earliest forms of the myth the sword was drawn from an anvil.  In our tradition the "oath stone" of the coven is represented by an anvil in honor of Tubal Cain, Lord of the forge, and the fire of creation.  In the old song "Tubal Cain", we find this refrain:

“Hurra for Tubal Cain,
Our staunch good friend is he;
And for the ploughshare, and the plough,
To him our praise shall be.
But while oppression lifts its head,
Or a tyrant would be lord,
Though we may thank him for the plough,
We’ll not forget the sword.”

The Staff

The staff is the most personal tool of a witch.  It can be a stang, a distaff, a blackthorn blasting staff, a battle staff, a spear, or a simple walking stick.  The form matters far less than the function of the staff.  It is the weapon of the northern gate, sacred to the Black Goddess, who, in her crone aspect walks with a staff.  In her aspect as the spinner of Fate, she bears a distaff, and in her bloodthirsty warrior aspect she carries a spear.

The staff is a truly personal tool of a witch. It is not passed down as a kuthun to students or family.  It is best if the staff is destroyed upon a witch's passing, or that it is given back to earth, water, or fire with the witch's remains.

The Shield

The shield is both a physical and a metaphysical tool.  It can be a literal shield, like a targe, held as a piece of symbolic regalia upon which the symbols of the coven or the witch are emblazoned, or it can be a magical tool which we cultivate through visualization and discipline.  This shield is a semi-permeable barrier of etheric energy that we use for self-defense and cloaking magic.  The shield is a symbol of guardianship of the mysteries.  It is the weapon of the southern gate of earth, and is sacred to the White Goddess.  It is her shining white light which builds the etheric shield, and it is her seelie magic that weaves glamor and cloaking spells that depend on the shield.

The Helm

The helm, upturned, is the cup or cauldron of the western gate of water.  It is the helkapp that Tubal Cain as the Lord of death wears to grant invisibility. The helm is also symbolic of the mask, which we use in transformational magics, and ecstatic ritual.  The helm protects the head, which the Celts perceived as the seat of the soul. Thus, just as the shield protects the physical body from harm, so does the helm, or mask, represent protection of the soul.  It is appropriate, then, that the helm be the weapon of the western gate, that place of rest, that realm of the dead, that healer of the soul.

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