Spirit is sometimes referred to as the “fifth element.” This idea goes all the way back to Aristotle and his idea that the celestial realm was made of a fifth element (quintessence), ether, which is not found here in the sublunary world.
Spirit is the most difficult element to describe, it is everywhere and nowhere, and is the force that unites all things, in rituals it is our connection to the otherworld. The Spirit element transports us beyond any narrow confines and allows us to open up to something much bigger, it is present in all aspects of life, and goes beyond thought and emotion. Unlike the other four elements it has no defined place or location, even though we cannot specifically place it, we know it is there.
Four is the number of order and stability. A house has four walls; there are four cardinal points of the compass. The laying out of buildings and boundaries with right angles was so important to our ancestors that our words for measuring off squares are intertwined with our words for propriety and authority: rectangle, regular, regulation, regiment, rex (king), ruler (both kinds), right (both senses), rectify, direct (both senses), correct, rector…the list goes on and on.
The four-fold order is static, not dynamic. Every element has its quadrant, and every quadrant its element. There is no room for mystery, for surprise, for magic. Something is missing, and that something may be called Spirit. Here’s one way to think about Spirit: if someone created a robot that looked and behaved just the way you do, would the robot be you? Most of us would say no—being alive is more than simply going through the motions. We also have consciousness, a point of view, an interior depth; there is something more than mind, will, heart, and body, some center of awareness that experiences our thoughts and desires, feelings and sensations, without being completely defined by them.
The number 5 is the most and energetic of all the single-digit numbers. It is unpredictable, always in motion and constantly in need of change. Five is the number of the human being. The number five symbolizes the four limbs and the head that controls the limbs. There are five senses: sight – hearing – taste – smell – touch. Almost all amphibians, reptiles, and mammals which have fingers or toes have five of them on each extremity.
Most Pagans believe that Spirit is not something we humans alone possess by virtue of having a soul (in the Christian sense), or by virtue of having complex brains (as the scientific worldview would have it). Rather, we see Spirit manifesting everywhere: in the plants and animals we share this world with, and in the grand, slow life of the cosmos as a whole.
Some people use the word “Spirit” in connection with the element of fire. It has a different meaning in that context. Compare the two words Spirited and Spiritual. “Spirited” describes someone brimming with energies and desires and willfulness; that is Spirit in the fiery sense. “Spiritual” refers to a connection with deep sources of meaning that lie beyond the confines of the ego. That is Spirit in the sense of the fifth element.
Spirit, in the Sanskrit language is akasha, from this comes the “akashic records,” which is a record of all knowledge pertaining to the material plane, it exists in the astral world. Ether was referred to as the quintessence in the middle Ages, meaning fifth. The alchemist’s quest was to find this fifth essence, which they believed contained the secret of everlasting life. Ether was described as the substance that made up the heavens.
The pentagram, or five-pointed star, bears religious significance in various faiths including Baha'i, Christianity, Satanism, Taoism, Thelema, Freemasonry and Wicca. The Wiccan pentagram symbolizes this mystery by opening the four-fold cross of the elements into a five-fold star. The pentagram gives physical form to a truth that is not itself physical. We don’t call five “quarters” when we cast a circle, and the four elements retain their own symmetries and contrasts. Spirit is not one of the physical elements. It is everywhere and nowhere. It has no list of correspondences, because everything can be an opening into Spirit.
The qualities of Spirit are expressed through art, music, writing, religion, healing, magic and ritual. Spirit is associated with the crown, or 7th chakra, in the Tarot deck it is represented by the last card of the Major Arcana, The World. Spirit colors are white and/or black, they are the colors that contain or reflect all other vibrations of light and dark. Each culture has its own definition of Spirit, In Buddhist tradition it is likened to a dewdrop disappearing into the ocean of infinite being.
While it is essential to recognize Spirit along with the other elements, it is also essential to keep it somewhat distinct, and not trivialize it by simply tacking it on the elemental quaternary.