Calling the Quarters, or Quarter Calling is a ritual performed at the start of magickal or spiritual work by many magickal practitioners and is prescribed by several traditions including many types of Ceremonial Magick, particularly Golden Dawn and Wicca and its many offshoots. It is an evocation to elemental energies tied to the four cardinal directions of the compass meant to bring the energies into the magick circle to make them available for the practitioners’ use and to bolster the practioners’ own energy toward the protective strength of the Circle and any further work to be performed within it.
Elements and Directions
Many traditions assign each element to a corresponding direction, each of these directions is a quarter. While calling the quarters, a practitioner faces each direction in turn, evoking or invoking its corresponding element.
European traditions, including Wicca, generally make the following correspondences:
Earth – North
Air – East
Fire – South
Water – West
These correspondences may vary by tradition and many witches and coven feel called to adjust them based upon local geography. For example, if you live near the ocean, you may wish to face the sea to call water, even if it’s not to the West. In the Southern hemisphere, you may wish to call upon Fire from the North instead of the South since the Sun travels across the Northern part of the sky instead of the Southern part as it does in Europe where these traditions developed. (However, through the rest of this essay, I will assume the correspondences as written for simplicity’s sake.)
The Order of Things
Ritual activities done in a circular motion, as quarter calling is, tend to be performed in a sunwise or deosil motion. This holds true for quarter calling as well. The order in which the quarters are called vary, but this holds constant.
Many traditions begin in the North, as the element of Earth is a firm foundation on which to begin. Goddess traditions may also associate the element of Earth and by extension, the direction North with the Goddess and thus want to begin with North to honor Her.
Still as many begin with East, where the Sun rises and follow the Sun’s passage then to the South, it’s Zenith, to the West, its setting and finally North where it rests beneath the Earth.
Traditions that focus on ancestor worship may begin in the West as the West is often associated with the Dead, the Underworld often being located in the West and Water often seen as a passage to the Underworld.
Methods of Calling
The actual calling can look quite different across traditions. Some traditions have very strict guidelines about how to perform the rite with prescribed words and gestures, while others have general guidelines and encourage practitioners to just do what feels right. Some have gestures or other movements associated with the quarter calls, some use incantations and some do not speak at all but simply meditate. Some use nonverbal sounds, such as the shaking of a rattle or the beating of a drum, and some assign specific instruments to each quarter, playing them in turn. For example, a drum for Earth, a whistle for Air, a bell or singing bowl for Water, a lute for Fire. Any one or a combination of these may be seen.
In many traditions, a candle is lit as the Quarter is Called. The behavior of the candle may be observed to determine the success of the calling. Upon releasing the quarters, the candle would be snuffed.
Dismissing the Quarters
The Quarters are generally called at the beginning of a rite, just after the Circle is cast or as part of the casting itself. They are then released, dismissed or banished at the end of the rite, just before the Circle is taken down. How important it is to dismiss the Quarters at the end depends upon tradition, but it is good practice, providing continuity and flow to a ritual and not releasing them can leave things feeling odd and unfinished at best.
Generally, the Quarters are banished using a similar method to their evocation. Many traditions reverse the order, moving widdershins around the circle this time. Any candles lit at the evocation would be snuffed in reverse order as well.
But What Are We Calling?
What a witch is calling when she calls the quarters can vary greatly from witch to witch, tradition to tradition. How dangerous a practice it is, how important it is and what it actually accomplishes can vary according to the traditional answer to this question.
For some, Calling the Quarters refers to the summoning or evocation conscious spirit entities who rule over the elemental energies and reside in the direction they are called from. The cooperation of these entities must be obtained for successful spellwork, either by the use of force or coercion or by more gentle persuasion including the offering of gifts.
When dealing with spiritual entities, a certain amount of formal ceremony is required. These traditions tend to have prescribed ways of dealing with the elemental entities and students are encouraged to invest time in learning the ways of the elemental entities in order to best utilize what they have to offer and also protect themselves from any backlash should the entity choose not to cooperate or become offended.
For those who honor angelic beings, there are angels associated with the four directions and their corresponding elements Uriel(North/Earth), Raphael(East/Air), Michael(South/Fire), and Gabriel(West/Water).
The Watchtowers are the homes of the “watchers”. These are concepts found in Enochian (possibly originally) and Golden Dawn-based traditions. The Guardians of the Watchtowers, or Watchers, are angelic beings that were summoned using elemental weapons and the names of God to gain their cooperation to guard the circle against (presumably) demonic interference.
This has been adapted and absorbed into many modern Wiccan-based practices.
Elements and Parts of Self
For others, elemental entities are summoned primarily from within, all else is metaphor. The Earth correlates to the body, Air to the intellect, Fire to inspiration and Water to emotion. When calling the quarters with this idea in mind, a practitioner can be much more flexible and creative with her quarter calls and should do what resonates best with her. He should approach the rite in a meditative manner and use whatever means to stimulate these parts of himself he has at his disposal. The use of scent, sound, vibration, visual stimulation, will all help bring the elements into balance within oneself.
The Elements as Pure, Non-conscious Energy
Viewing the elements in this way somewhat combines the two above approaches. The elements are now external to you, but they are a raw force of nature. Thus, while they are not as rife with unfortunate possibilities as a conscious entity might be, they are still tricky to control. Fire doesn’t want to hurt you, but it will if you’re not careful. It’ll burn down your whole house if you let it. This view, therefore, encourages us to spend time in nature learning about these elemental forces and their natural properties before attempting to work with them in the Circle.