Last updated on October 28, 2018
The Quarters or Watchtowers refer to large and yet simple concepts in not only Druidry, but many Pagan traditions. In my post about casting sacred circles, I only touched on the Quarters. In some traditions that understand these as the Watchtowers, they’re seen as a type of archetype, guardian, or elemental being that can provide protection and so called upon when casting a circle or a sacred space. But the Quarters concept themselves are, in fact, much larger.
So, as promised, here’s an expanded explanation of the Quarters. I can’t go into everything, because to explore this fully would take a novel, so this is an expanded overview to start you off on your own study.
Quarters – mirroring the harmony of the cosmos
In Druidry in particular, as well as other earth-based and existential belief systems, the greatest over-arching concept is harmony. Also expressed as balance. Seems simple enough, right? That’s because it is. It’s the simplest thing there is to know. And yet it’s not.
When we refer to “harmony” or “balance” in this context, we’re talking about the big stuff. The really big stuff.
This refers to an inescapable, undeniable interconnection and dependency between all things including ourselves. This is the cycle of seasons, the cycle of birth-death-decay feeding new life, the cyclic movement of planets and the sun, and all the planes, including the ones we can’t see, existing in a state of balanced, dynamic tension with each other. We’re talking about the entire underlying rhythm of the cosmos. Especially, the cause-and-effect of all energy of every kind causing a sympathetic or reflective reaction in everything around us from atoms to trees to human souls to the building blocks of galaxies.
What does it mean? It means, everything is tied together in a serious and critical stewardship with everything else. If it doesn’t stay in balance, in the same way we understand what happens to the delicate balance of an ecosystem when it’s disrupted, the whole smash degenerates. This is serious stuff.
The Quarters in History
Druid priests saw the critical importance of holding this balance and understood how energy, all energy, worked extremely well. And let’s remember, they were here several thousand years ago along with the Indian Brahmans. Who, coincidentally, came to the exact same conclusion. There’s some interconectedness for you. They never met the Druids and yet their two belief systems grew congruently and parallel while separated by half a world. Makes you think there could be something to this harmony thing, eh?
So, several thousand years ago, their lives were tied to the natural world and they were observers of that natural world. The Druids saw the reflection of what they understood right there in front of them every day. What better way to explain this massive concept of harmony to people who were not yet “woke” (to coin a modern term), than to use what they saw in the natural world around them? Not unusual for any earth-based religion to use the observable properties of nature to make concepts easier to grasp, so not a huge stretch for us to accept in the present.
Younger, modern religions do something similar and package massive existential concepts into personifications. Which may be a social commentary in itself. That despite our giant, evolved human brains, we’re so self-involved we think nothing on an order lower than human truly has value, so deify ourselves as lords of everything. But I digress…
And so, because the natural world works so well in explanation of this harmony, we still use it today. As long as you’re aware of the context and how it’s being used, as in all things in Druidry where you’re free to interpret them in the way that has the most meaning for you, you can reap the benefit for yourself. “What’s the symbology here?” (Boondock Saints reference and if you haven’t seen that film, you’re missing out). The Quarters are simply symbolic placeholders for large concepts, not that anyone seriously expects you to believe that air, fire, water and earth as natural elements somehow hold the secrets of the universe.
Why air, fire, water and earth?
In ancient times in the Celtic regions, the physical location of those lands made it only a small leap to see a connection with the elements called air, fire, water and earth.
To the east of them was where the sun rose up into the air over their land, so not much of a symbolic leap to air. And to the south it was hot, so then logically, fire. To the north were mountains which became symbolic for the unmovable earth. And to the west was the Atlantic Ocean, of course, and so easy to make that connection to water.
From their location, it seemed all the energies of creation were not only apparent, but surrounding them. Looking at it this way, you can appreciate why they believed an elemental sacredness embraced their land. And so, it’s from this perception that a lot of the Celtic Pagan sacred traditions sprung. Pagans who follow Celtic traditions more closely or purely, perhaps, tend to most often incorporate calling the Quarters when they cast sacred spaces while other Pagans who don’t follow the Celtic traditions don’t. And there’s a whole range in between.
Let’s also remember, the last of the “real Druids” died out about the ninth century. All they left us were fragments now cobbled together with some insight and interpretation into a way to make those fragments useful for us today. That means, there’s no right or wrong way here and if you don’t use the Quarters, it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong just as if you use them doesn’t mean you’re doing it right.
If it works for you, then use them.
Concepts associated with the Quarters
A lot of “stuff” has been associated with each of the Quarters since the Druid revival. The concepts were expanded upon, connected with historical symbols, the classical symbols of alchemy, the cosmogenic theory by the 5th century Greek philosopher Empedocles that these four elements are the root of all existing matter, the cycles of the year and even moral qualities. As I mentioned earlier, the more modern tradition is to personify, so the moral qualities we should aspire to were personified into the legendary “poets” Morias, Senias, Urias and Arias. And then we have the older symbols and parts of the year and the traits associated with the parts of the year. Mythology also comes into play here where traits of heroes and fragments of moral lessons are tied-in, as well.
The shorthand for all this is sometimes expressed as the 4 points of the pentagram with the fifth point designated as “spirit”. At a glance, this tells us everything we need to know. When we meditate on the concepts of the Quarters, no matter what we’re doing, we don’t do it in a vacuum. Our higher consciousness or “spirit” should guide us.
If you’re interested in this sort of thing, when you look at what’s associated with each Quarter, you can even get a sense of from what point in history the addition was borrowed. Kind of a neat perspective, though mostly an interesting side note than anything else. It’s something I find of personal interest.
When I take note of those things, I feel the connective tissue between each of the concepts with their points in history. For myself, it helps connect me with the past and even the movement of time and the wash of knowledge flowing through the Streambed of Inspiration. You may not see it that way and that’s okay. It’s just another layer I get out of mediating on it myself.
Quarter Concepts Cheat Sheet
So, let’s break it down. Here’s an overview of the things we most often associate with each Quarter. You could use this as a cheat sheet during meditation or when casting a circle or clearing a space. These concepts are going to mean different things to different people and it’s important that you understand them in a way that makes sense for you. So meditate on them, do some studying into the mythology where some of the concepts come from, and see how they strike you.
Treasure (or jewel) of the Tuatha Dé Danann – Sword
Poet – Arias
Trait – evening, paring away, higher awareness
Time of year – Autumn Equinox
Quality – truth
Treasure (or jewel) of the Tuatha Dé Danann – Spear
Poet – Urias
Trait – moonlight, fruition, overtaking, active
Time of year – Summer Solstice
Quality – victory
Treasure (or jewel) of the Tuatha Dé Danann – Cauldron
Poet – Senias
Trait – into the Light, beginning, new cycle, birth
Time of year – Spring Equinox
Quality – peace
Treasure (or jewel) of the Tuatha Dé Danann – Stone
Poet – Morias
Trait – death, ending, solidifying, grounding
Time of year – Winter Solstice
Quality – virtue
Quarters – overseen by spirit
While we can’t know exactly how the original Druids approached this, we do have a sense of the greater purpose. We try to maintain that when we do this in the modern world.
So, when we invoke the Quarters, we do it while consciously holding the knowledge that we’re stewards of a universal harmony. We don’t invoke them for no reason. And it should be for the greater good.
If we strip back all the associations and only think about the energy of the natural elements that they are, what we’re truly calling up here are Elementals. This is raw energy of the highest order, the kind that builds worlds and planes of existence.
They can be volatile. And when I say that, I don’t mean you’re going to accidentally throw lightning bolts around, so don’t panic. It simply means, we need to be mindful of how we invoke them. Without the guidance of a higher purpose, at the least, they’ll do nothing for you. At worst, they can be spiritually destructive. They can cause your focus to flutter away, feel crushed under a burden, drowning in self-doubt… You see the metaphoric connections there.
Energy, all energy, is neither good nor bad. It simply needs guidance to be useful. Think of a coursing river. During the rainy season, it can flood its banks and destroy what’s around it. But, channeled with purpose, we can direct it where it’s needed and so becomes useful, instead.
In the same way, it’s up to us to guide this elemental energy to a positive purpose. That means, when we invoke the Quarters, we use them with conscious, positive intent. In other words, guided by that greater or overarching idea of achieving or being a curator of universal balance. When we use that as our guide, it allows us to use this kind of potent energy for great things for the good of the many. Because that’s why we’re here.