When Pagans talk about the elements, most people will think of the “classical” elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. In the Celtic expression of my Druidry, we refer to the dúile, a set of nine elements that are found in the world. Different sets of dúile may have different numbers of elements, but for our purposes today, let us discuss the nine from my practice.
The duile are found in both the macrocosm and the microcosm — they are analogues that appear in the world at large, and within our own selves.
Stones / Bones
Soil / Flesh
Plants / Hair
Sea (Water) / Blood
Moon / Mind
Breath / Wind
Clouds / Thoughts (Brain)
Sun / Eye or Face
Heavens or the Firmament / Skull
We call forth this list of elements in our Grove’s invocation to the Earth Mother at each of our High Day rites. Because we are made out of natural things, we can see all of these elements within us. Stones are the Earth Mother’s bones, yes, but they are also our bones. And expansions can be made — if the sea is blood, then rivers are veins, for example.
Where does this idea come from? In Vedic and Norse lore, as two examples, the world is created from the body of a first sacrifice. The parts of this man’s body are made into the constituent parts of the earth:
41. Of Ymir’s flesh the earth was shaped,
of his blood, the briny sea,
of his hair, the trees, the hills of his bones,
out of his skull the sky.
42. But of his lashes the loving gods made
Mithgarth for sons of men;
from his brow they made the menacing clouds
which in the heavens hover. (The Poetic Edda, Hollander)
What can we do with this list of elements? Because of our observances of the natural world (filtered, obviously, through our human lens), we can use these natural substances for magic. In the Táin, the Irish cattle raid epic, young Cúchulainn crafts himself a beard out of plant material and berry juice, calling forth the association between plants and hair.
Also, in the honouring of our Ancestors, it may be helpful to some to think about the physical parts of our bodies returning to these primal elements upon death, to be reconvened in the cyclical creation of the Earth and its inhabitants.