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air is invisible, but felt all around us, and seen only by its affect on its surroundings

*air is invisible but felt all around us and seen only by its influence*

Blessing of Air
May the blessings of the air be upon you,
A soft breeze to refresh you,
A strong wind to lift you up,
Great golden wings to enfold and heal you.

– blessing from a Pagan handfasting ceremony
(via The Blessing Files)

The strongest quality of air is truth.  Air is an element of intellect, of thoughts, and of the mind…whether bright and clear or dark and clouded.    In ancient Greece, the element air was sometimes associated with one’s spirit.

Scientifically speaking: What we call “air” is really our atmosphere.  Our atmosphere is mainly composed of Nitrogen (78.1%) and Oxygen (20.9%).  The remaining 1% (due to rounding, it looks like 1% with the numbers I’ve used, but really its more like 0.97%) are Argon (0.93%) and Carbon Dioxide* (0.035%), as well as even smaller amounts (in order) of Neon, Helium, Methane, Krypton, molecular Hydrogen (H2), Nitrous Oxide, Carbon Monoxide, Xenon, Ozone, Nitrous Dioxide, Iodine, and Ammonia.  Another component of the atmosphere is, of course, water vapor (its not included in these calculations of percentage, though it makes up an average of 0.25% of the atmosphere by weight, ranging from 0.oo1%-5% locally). (source)

Our atmosphere is divided up into layers, a bit like a cake.  There’s a mnemonic to remember the 5 principle atmospheric layers–The Strong Man’s Triceps Explode (or Thoughtful Schools Manufacture Terrific Experiences…or Terrible Sun Melts Tiny Eskimo!) , which stands for (from the surface of the Earth, out) Troposphere, Stratosphere, Mesosphere, Thermosphere, Exosphere.  The atmosphere, in some ways, behaves like the oceans, in that there are tides, and currents, and waves, that move energy and molecules.

The troposphere is where weather happens–it contains about 80% of the atmosphere’s mass (including 99% of its water and other aerosols) and extends 4-12 miles above earth (the heights it reaches depends on a location’s latitude and altitude).  Nearly all weather occurs here

In the stratosphere, the coolest temperatures are found closest to Earth, and the highest temperatures are the furthest away.  Other than airplanes (people) and birds, which can fly in the lower parts of the stratosphere, bacteria is the only life form that can be found in the stratosphere.  Also, the stratosphere is quite dry, and it is home to the ozone layer, which protects us from the Sun’s UV rays.

Scientists don’t actually know much about the mesosphere, compared to the other layers of the atmosphere–its too low for satellites and too high for planes and weather balloons (between 31 and 53 miles high).  One thing we do know, though, is that it is the place where meteors burn up in the atmosphere…but its really cold, around -90 degrees C or -130 degrees F (they burn up because of friction with the gas molecules in the mesosphere).  Its also home to a couple of neat phenomena–noctilucent clouds (wispy, almost glowing clouds visible around and after sunset) and sprites (a type of lightning that occurs over thunderstorms, glows red, and is best visible from sky).

The thermosphere, in contrast to the mesosphere, is hot.  Really hot.  It increases in temperature the further from Earth one travels, and the temperature varies between night and day and what is known as the solar minimum and the solar maximum (which has to do with sunspot activity), but the average temperature range for the upper thermosphere is 500-2000 degrees C (932-3632 degress F).  Space shuttles and the International Space Station orbit Earth in the thermosphere…this is also where the aurora happens!

Lastly, we have the exosphere.  Depending on where one gets their information, it is either the last layer of Earth’s atmosphere, or the first “layer” of space…some sources actually consider “space” to start in the thermosphere (How high is space anyhow?).  Either way, this region is where the lightest elements wind up, still bound by Earth’s gravity…but tenuously.

Traditional Correspondences: East, flying, sound, yellow, mountaintops, wind-swept plains, cloudy skies, knowledge, recovering lost items, fragrant herbs and flowers, light stones (such as pumice) and transparent stones (such as mica), wind instruments, birds and winged insects, airplanes, balloons, bubbles, spring, dawn, wands (magical tool and tarot–but beware the “controversy”, in some systems swords are associated with air, and wands with fire), feathers, incense smoke, divination, concentration, visualization, wind magic

Deity Correspondences:  There really aren’t any gods of air, specifically.  There are, however, sky deities and wind deities. My “favorite” is Aeolus, the Keeper of the Winds from Greek mythology.

In the natural world, Air is associated most closely with the sky, wind, and clouds. Mountain peaks, which seem to touch the sky, are also Air. Birds of all kinds belong to this element, and hawks and eagles are especially associated with Air because they fly so very high and make their nests at such high altitudes. A stork or duck, by contrast, is a less powerful symbol of Air because, although these birds fly, they live in and near the water.

In a person, Air is associated with thought and with the intellect, corresponding in the Witches’ Pyramid to “To Know.”1 Ideas are said to come from Air, as is inspiration, a word that also means “to breathe in.” Logic and scholarship are Air functions, which is perhaps why academics are said to live in ivory towers as opposed to ivory basements. People who spend all their time thinking “have their heads in the clouds,” and if they’re “airheads,” they mistake imagination for real life and are impractical (because practicality is an Earth quality, which they lack).

The direction of Air is the East, and since the Sun rises in the east, Air is associated with the morning, with the spring (the beginning of the agricultural and astrological year), and with beginnings of all kinds. Anything that “dawns” is a thing of Air. The things in our lives that dawn, be they projects, creations, or careers, dawn with an idea. Often inspiration feels like the sunrise; a bright beginning full of promise and possibility. Since seeds are beginnings and are associated with the spring, seeds, too, belong to Air.

Deborah Lipp, The Way of Four

Getting to know air:

  • Go fly a kite (made of natural materials that will biodegrade without causing damage).  But DO NOT release balloons!  They just become pollution.
  • Take a hot air balloon ride
  • Spend an afternoon (or morning) watching the clouds roll by
  • Skydive, parasail, bungee jump, etc
  • Volunteer at a bird sanctuary or wildlife refuge that rehabilitates birds
  • Keep track of a nest
  • Get to know your backyard birds–put up a bird feeder and pick up a field guide
  • Make a set of windchimes
  • Create a shrine to the four winds (or to another spirit or deity associated with air
  • Plant a tree and study photosynthesis and respiration
  • DO NOT collect feathers from migratory and native bird species in the US, if you would like to collect feathers, go through someone that is properly permitted
  • Learn your native birds and winged insects
  • Make a bee box, a bat box or a bird house (or all three!)

How I do it differently…Adapting Correspondences:

If you’ve been a reader of my my blog for awhile, it comes of no surprise that I’ve made some changes, adaptations, etc to the conventional correspondences that fit my practice and beliefs better.  I’ve mentioned many times over that I’m a big believer in witchcraft being an extension of one’s geography–that part of our job is to *grok* the forces and cycles that are native to one’s location and to work with them, forging our own relationship, rather than some formula from some book by some guy (or gal).  Now, if it just so happens that those correspondences work for you, that is awesome…and if you aren’t sure, try on the traditional correspondences for a bit, and shift them as needed for your environment.  I promise, you won’t break anything!

So, for me, air is now.  Its an end-of-summer, fall thing (hurricane season), its a North correspondence, and air, as an elemental force, reaches its peak around Samhain…

Serving Air:

Through ignorance and carelessness we have poisoned your clean air. For monetary gain we have reduced verdant forests, the lungs of our world, to barren wastes. In our craving for more we have plundered your beloved creation and driven many of our fellow creatures to extinction. Only recently have we begun to realize the dangerous future into which our current patterns of consumption and waste are driving us, especially in relation to earth’s climate. Only recently have we begun to see our need to find a wiser and better way of life, before it is too late and our choices are limited by the consequences of inaction. Lord of the Winds, in your mercy, hear our prayer.3

I pray that I may draw a lifesaving breath. This is the most important element of health, to breathe clean and unpolluted air.

(from my Prayer for Clean Air)

Plant a tree.  Stop smoking.  Plant another tree.  Drive less.  Plant a tree.  Turn off your lights and wash your clothes in cold water.  Plant a tree.  Write your representatives to support limits on air pollution by industry and fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and alternative energy.  Plant another tree.  Stop buying furniture made from rain forests.  Plant a tree.  Stop buying ANYTHING made from rain forests, unless it is ethically sourced and fairly traded in a way that supports local peoples.  Plant more trees.  Plant sea grass.  Let your lawn grow as high as you can without getting a citation.  Plant a tree.  Get rid of your lawn, and make it a certified wildlife habitat, and a place for birds and bees and butterflies.  And for goodness’ sake, plant another tree!

Read the rest of the series: Earth, Fire, Water, Intro