The associations I have attributed to the quarters originated from various teachings and slowly evolved to a more personal level that was attuned to my experiences and observations in my geographical area.
Living in the northeastern portion of the United States, my associations would vary from someone living on the West Coast. Someone from the Southern Hemisphere would have completely different observable associations for the Quarters than someone from the Northern Hemisphere.
Many of the traditional associations found in books were derived from the UK where the craft, in its modern incarnation, first took hold. (As well as from ceremonial magic, to which much of the heart of Wiccan ritual can find its roots.)
In order for the quarters to have any meaning or value, it is important to find associations to which you can personally identify. Groups, of course, need to work together and may choose to stick with more traditional associations for group work. This still does not stop the individual from exploring meaning on a more personal level.
The beauty of Wicca and many other Neo-Pagan religions is that it is a very personal spirituality. The importance is not whether others agree with your interpretations, but that it works for you.
Below is a list of my associations with the quarters, as well as an explanation of why I have these associations. A good exercise would be to list your own associations and then explain why you chose them. Remember that basing your beliefs on what you have read in books or learned in classes is not enough. The next step is to incorporate those beliefs into a living system. Find meaning in them or they have no power. (Sometimes the meaning may be based on a feeling - that is fine but try not to cheat yourself and use this as an excuse for everything.)
Element Earth Most of the larger forests where I live are in the north. When I want to get away from the city, I tend to travel north to do so. The closest hiking trails are to the north of my home. Ever since I was a child, I have associated the north with "up state" or "the country" - a place of farms and forests. Life Cycle Death This is the one quarter where the sun does not traverse. It rises in the east (birth) and sets in the west (old age) but north remains dark. It represents the mystery that lies between and connects death and birth. It is what allows the spiral dance to continue. Season Winter (For the same reasons I associate this quarter with death.) Tools Pentacle, salt Both are "of the earth" in make up
Other associations (from meditation): Mystery, magick, the sacred.
Element Air Since the Atlantic Ocean is to my east most of the wind derives from this direction. Living inland, I do not see the beach enough to associate this quarter with water. Since air is the traditional association, this always "made sense" to me and felt right. Life Cycle Birth/Rebirth This is the quarter where the sun rises. Season Spring (Same reasons as birth/rebirth) Tools Sword/Athame Originally I associated the athame with air since that was what most books said! But as I started to learn about the craft and find meaning in what I did, I associated East with the mind; and since a sword/athame is a tool that was created by using ones mind to forge the elements to create this tool, I felt the athame fit well there. It is also used for cutting and engraving, which requires concentration. Incense Burner The smoke rises in the air and scents it. We can see the gentle currents of the air by watching the smoke.
Other associations (from meditation): Intelligence, concentration, "the mind", will, beginnings.
Element Fire This is where the sun is at its brightest. It is also the direction to the Southern Hemisphere, which I associate with hot weather. Life Cycle Maturity Following the cycle of the sun, it was "born" in the east and will soon set in the west. It is in the south that it is at its peak. Season Summer Same reasons as maturity as well as summer being the hottest time of the year. Tools Wand The Wand is used in conjunction with will to direct energy and I associate energy with fire. I often just use the Athame, but traditionally the Athame is more of a ritual cutting tool and the wand is used as a means to direct the flow of energy. There seems to be a debate about the associations of the wand and sword since some seem to feel that the wand should be in the east/air since we are using our mind to direct energy. Others feel a wand, being made of wood, which burns in fire, should not be associated with south which traditionally represents fire. In the end this is a personal decision.
Other associations (from meditation): Strong (more carnal) emotions, such as lust & anger. Change, as in sudden, drastic change.
Element Water Well I have to admit this is partly due to the more tradition interpretations and also because of my associations of the west with Yin (see notes below). Life Cycle Old Age Sunset is the time before the darkness. Things begin to slow down toward an inevitable end. Season Autumn Just as the sun sets into darkness, so does nature seems to wane into darkness in autumn. Tools Water bowl Need I say why??? Bell I like to keep the bell in the West because I always associated resonating sounds with water. Cup The cup is very feminine/receptive in its design, which I associate with Yin and water.
Other associations (from meditation): Subtle emotions, intuition, dreams, meditation, The Crone, change through time (water has the ability through time to wear away rock - look at the Grand Canyon!)
NotesBecause of my love of the Taoist religion and my background in Tai Chi Chuan, the symbolism of the Yin-Yang has become incorporated into my belief system.
I associate the west and north with "Yin" and the east and south with "Yang." As the sun rises, it is aggressive/growing (i.e. yang), when it is setting, it is passive/receding (i.e. yin). Water and earth are Yin, and since north is earth, I have always considered West as water. The same goes for east and south, which are Yang: air and fire.
©1998, 1999, John Coughlin
Permission to reprint for educational purposes at no cost is hereby granted to all provided the text is not altered in any way and proper credit is given to the author, John J. Coughlin.