Let’s begin with a few definitions so we’re all on the same page. Cleansing and Purifying are often spoken about interchangeably, but they are NOT actually the same thing:
Cleansing is a practice that removes both the physical dirt and the spiritual attachments that a person picks up from the environment throughout the day. Ideally, this practice is done routinely for the upkeep of our spiritual hygiene. Cleansing recalibrates and brings you back to homeostasis.
Purifying is a practice that’s usually a precursor to a more in-depth ritual, ceremony, or rite of passage. This practice is done as a way of ridding the spirit of any stains of spiritual abuse, as well as self-imposed attachments. More often than not, purification requires somewhat of an ordeal for the physical body. Once purifying wipes you clean, you’re ready to receive blessings and to reintroduce yourself to the blessings you already had.
The Elements are conscious, raw, primal energies that have been here since the beginnings of the universe. They are the sources of creation, transformation, destruction, time, space, and potentiality (if it helps, think of them somewhat like the Infinity Stones from Marvel). We may ask for them to assist us in many ways, including prayer, ritual, or meditation. When they show up (physically or in our spiritual sight), we are purified by their presence and the lessons they hold.
Ultimately, cleansing clarifies and cleans, while purification shifts consciousness in a substantial way. If this shift in consciousness is what you desire, exposing your spirit to the majestic, awe-inspiring vastness of The Elements is easily one of the best ways to do it.
***NOTE: It’s crucial to have someone knowledgeable and experienced present to guide you through these practices. This is an essential safety measure, not to be taken lightly.
Purifying with the Element of Water
We start with the abundant element of Water because it’s the most popular form of purification in the world! The Water Element (and research regarding this type of purification method) is generally much easier to access.
Once you've shown up to a body of water, you must call upon the Element of Water for purification purposes: You can do this by joyfully swimming in said body of water or meditatively touching the water with your hands or feet.
You will know when the Element of Water has shown up for you because you will first feel it as an obvious physical sensation: Cold, wet, slippery, maybe even a little slimy - but also refreshing. By moving past those initial sensations through meditation and your willingness to connect with this Element, you’ll notice Water show up for you in an emotional way - opening you up to all of your “big feels.”
Now that the connection has been made, the Ordeal of Water, maybe “Ordeal of the Feels” (trademark pending!) begins. Allowing yourself to be consumed by the water means allowing yourself to feel all the big emotions while Water washes them away one by one (either physically or psychically). The ordeal can manifest in memories that trigger certain feelings, feelings that you MUST work through (release) to be purified. To pass this part of the purification, you must not panic: Allow the Water spirit to reveal that fear and then wash it away. Water Purification is about letting go, surrendering, and washing away the old you.
You will know when purification is complete when you begin to have both emotional and physical sensations of warmth, peace, and a sense of being nurtured.
Purifying with the Element of Fire
The Element of Fire is a close second to Water in terms of purification rites, in that it too is abundant and easily accessible. When literal fire is used, it’s usually done in a communal setting for the safety of the initiate as well as having greater control over the fire. That isn’t to say you can’t do a Fire purification for yourself, because the Sun is another way you can do it! Whether working with literal fire or Sun energy,remember to take necessary precautions (sunblock/water/fire extinguishers - you get the idea).
Fire purification is an alchemical reaction. The goal is to burn away the old you and to rise out of the ashes renewed like a phoenix (metaphorically speaking of course). You do this by carefully, respectfully, and humbly approaching the Element of Fire, either by sitting out in the sun or staring into a controlled fire.
At first glance, Fire is chaotic, unpredictable, blinding, and hot! Remember that these initial observations and sensations are distractions. Breathe and mentally allow the warmth of the fire to fill your body. That is how you allow the Element of Fire to show up for you.
When that inner warmth starts to build to what feels almost like a fever, a boiling-over of anxiousness, agitation, and anger - the Ordeal of Fire/Inner Flame has begun. The goal is to recognize that these feelings are rooted in fear and doubt in yourself and in your power. By focusing on breath and the inner flame, you can transmute those negative energies into motivation, inspiration, confidence, action, and passion. What was once chaotic is now controlled, what was once unpredictable is now a constant, what was once a raging fire is now a joyful center.
Purifying with the Element of Earth
The Element of Earth is the most tactile element, and one that I personally love to work with (being a Virgo and all).
To connect with the Element of Earth, one merely needs to step outside, even if you live in an urban area. All you need is access to some kind of patch of dirt and grass. That could be a forest, it could be a park, or even the trees you find along sidewalks in the city.
When Earth shows up for you, it is subtle, slow, so it might take some time to hone in. One way to help get a better connection is to physically touch raw earth with your bare feet or hands.. Initially, the sensations will be cooling, grounding, heavy, and magnetic. Acknowledge those feelings and take deep, cleansing breaths. Once the connection is made, The Ordeal of Earth/Attachment begins.
Because Earth purifies by composting and converting the “old you” into nourishment for herself and all living beings, the experience will be dualistic in nature, making you feel dirty and clean at the same time. You may feel comforted by the sounds of life all around you, yet simultaneously so alone and disconnected from it all.
This conflict of dualities is the “older” you, making a last effort to hang on to the distractions, desires, and delusions that make up our world and our lives - similar to the concept of ‘maya’ in Buddhism. Earth Energy isn’t just about planet Earth itself - it also encapsulates all of physical reality, known and unknown. All your material fears and attachments will run through your mind, and the disconnection you feel is caused by these attachments. In order to connect with the greater truth of life, you must learn to detach yourself from these things. The Ordeal of Earth is often one of the most challenging because of how subtle it can be and how lulling the complacency of our attachments tends to be.
The way to move past this is to seek an almost “mystic” calm, using meditation, breathing, being still, attuning to your senses, and reminding yourself of the impermanence of it all. Once Earth has absorbed the old you, your purification is complete - you will feel lighter, grounded and balanced.
Purifying with the Element of Air
I left the Element of Air for last because, sadly, fewer mystics know how to use this element. I mean, what is air anyway? Are we talking about atmosphere, steam, wind, a light-weight spiritual type of substance?
Air is an essence composed of vibration, frequency, and waves of thought, all woven together into the fabric of the multiverse. So, no! Air is not just the atmosphere - that’s simply how it interacts with our realm.
Despite being the least utilized element for purification, it is one of the easiest to access. JUST BREATHE! Or, if you want to be fancy, you can utilize scents, sounds, or burnt plant material or resins to dress the air into form or give intention to the air around you.
While breathing, you may sense the Element of Air show up for you as a warm, almost ticklish buzzing throughout the body. Don’t get too caught up in those sensations, or allow yourself too much comfort in the false calmness air can provide to your thoughts and emotions. Air is shifty, always coming and going. Because the physical body doesn’t abide unpredictability and instability, the Ordeal of Air/The Mind is in being blown away or being made breathless.
Air has another quality that we can use to our advantage: it is a messenger of information. That buzzing you initially felt is the electricity carried upon the winds. For some an Ordeal of Air may manifest for them as an overwhelming amount of information or stimuli. But for this purification, we seek to breathe in the wisdom of our bodies, our guiding spirits, and the Element of Air istelf.
Purifying with Air is about relinquishing control and having trust in yourself. Your physical body was made for this. As you move past the fear of breathlessness, the body will automatically take over, just as it was made to do - freeing up your spirit to receive divine information and clarity of mind, completing your purification.
Let's answer some common questions
How do the Elements purify?
Because the Elements are both literal (external) and metaphorical (internal), purification too will be external and internal. After physically placing yourself in Nature and making a connection, the barrier between internal and external begins to disappear, like you are no longer in your skin. Your spirit becomes engulfed in the element both literally and metaphorically, allowing it to do its work in whatever way it needs to for you at this time.
When do we purify?
Here are a few suggestions as to when it may be a good time to purify:
If any or all of your Mind, Body, Emotion, and Spirit are undergoing extreme changes.
If you have gone through any kind of abuse or trauma that is negatively impacting your life and ability to function.
If you have never cleansed or haven't cleansed in a very long time.
When you’re going through major life transitions or rites of passages.
When converting from one religion to another, or if your religion requires initiations.
When meeting a God/dess for the first time.
Holy times of the year.
When trying to conceive.
After giving birth.
After the death of a loved one.
The full list is pretty extensive, but those are among the most popular.
You can find the Elements anywhere
I encourage my students to always make an effort to meet these spirits in their natural environment. For example, if you live near the ocean or another large body of water, then you clearly have ready access to Water, and likely also Earth and Air. If you're in the city or further inland, you may only have easy access to the latter two. Wherever you live, you likely have access to some form of Fire, whether it’s a simple candle or even the Sun. Any Element can help you purify, regardless of your location on the planet, in the same way that an internal medicine doctor like your primary care can address most of your medical needs. However, if you need surgery, you will go to a surgeon, not your primary care, which is why we listed the “specialties” of each Element above.
Ultimately, purification prepares our mind, body, and spirit for the next step in our spiritual journey. It is a mark of completion, a death of harmful energies and blockages, and a rebirth of pure potential.