In the modern world witches often find themselves casting in places very set apart from the natural world. More often than not we are in indoor, electricity lit carpeted rooms. Bringing representations of the elements into that environment brings our casting space closer to that of the natural world. It helps bring nature into the casting space and allows the witch to connect with those energies she would normally associate with the outdoor environment.
For some witches the elements are used to summon elemental spirits. These are the spirits who embody the characteristics of the different elements. It is common practise in Wicca to call the spirits when casting the circle, asking the elemental spirits to lend their energies toward the spell work being performed and for the protection of the circle. In these instances an offering is usually made to the spirits – a feather perhaps for air or a crystal for Earth.
The elements are also used in a non spirit related sense to bring the properties of the nature they represent to a working. Stream water may be used to invoke the idea of peace and tranquillity whereas sea water might be used to bring majesty and violence to a spell. There are common associations with each of the elements (see the elements section on the website) but many witches prefer to go with their own instinct and use the elements in line with their own personal associations.
There are very definite opposing forces between the elements. Fire and Water are the opposite of each other as are Air and Earth (Air representing the intangible and Earth the physical). These come into play when completing a working that involves combating an excess of one element. For example a spell designed to calm a situation may make much use of the ability of water to dowse fire. This link between the elemental opposites is used both consciously and unconsciously at every level of witchcraft and plays a key role in the restoration of balance which is what many spells ultimately boil down to in the end.