Modern magickal practitioners across several disciplines share a few things in common and one of them is the use of Watchtowers in the opening of the operational space. Popular, derivative books on ceremonial magick or Wicca often contain instructions to invoke the Watchtowers of the Quarters, or more correctly, of the Elements to guard the magick circle and oversee what is performed within it. If any explanation of the Watchtowers is given it is usually cursory, quite often ill-informed and usually doesn’t begin to explain what the Watchtowers are and where they have come from.
In the simplest terms the Watchtowers are the spiritual guardians of the cardinal points and they take on their most appreciable persona as the Archangels of the Elements but they are derived from a much larger source than these four who represent only the face of a complex hierarchy. In order to fully understand these hierarchies it is necessary to look at the origins of the use of Watchtowers in modern magickal practices.
Even though many ancient scripts refer to watchtowers, often suggestively, the origins of the Watchtowers is, as is most contemporary magick theory, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and its adepts, led by S.L. MacGregor Mathers. The Golden Dawn derived much of their magick theory from the work of Edward Kelly and John Dee and their Enochian system of magick. The Golden Dawn magnified what was originally a mere framework of a system and made great use of the tablets that Kelly and Dee had devised, called Watchtowers. These Watchtowers are four square tablets divided into 49×49 squares each, and to each square is attributed a letter in the angelic language of Enochian. Unifying these four Watchtowers is a Tablt of Union from which the Enochian names of the gods that rule the Watchtowers are drawn. In the hands of the Golden Dawn adepts these Watchtowers became the focus of the opening of the temple and were celebrated ceremonially at the quarters, attributing each to an element and all of the corresponding qaballistic references.
ORO I BAH AOZP1 (oh-roh ee-bah-hay ah-oh-zohd-pee). In the names and letters of the great eastern quadrangle, I invoke ye, ye angels of the watchtower of the East.
The idea of the Watchtowers came to its fullest completion (to date) in the hands of Israel Regardie who included the latest developments of the Opening by Watchtowers in his issue of the Golden Dawn rituals. By Regardie’s time the invocations of the Watchtowers had become streamlined and ritualized to coordinate with the complex system of inscriptions of pentagrams and hexagrams that precedes all Golden Dawn operations. The god names from the Tablet of Union had been conflated with the simple pentagram ritual to create a system of banishing and invoking that is comprehensive and flexible.
The usefulness of such a system was not lost on the founders of the modern Wiccan movement who took the catholic Golden Dawn Watchtowers and attributed more of an elemental inflection to their characters. The archangels may still rate a mention, but the Enochian, and especially the Hebraic divinities were dispensed with. By the time that Starhawk wrote The Spiral Dance in 1979 the Wiccan invocation hardly made any reference to the Golden Dawn system of complex correspondences except to call upon the traditional Kerubic Emblems of the elements and yet her magickal system employs the Watchtowers for many things.
Hail, Guardians of the Watchtowers of the East,
Powers of Air!
We invoke you and call you,
Golden Eagle of the Dawn,
By the air that is Her breath,
Send forth your tight,
Be here now!
The eclectic nature of contemporary witchcraft has seen the Watchtowers wane in their ritual employment although most witches would recognize that they are there at the quarters of the sacred space. The usefulness of the Watchtowers as personifications of the elemental forces, as the Archangels of the Quarters and of the spiritual forces that they represent is that they put the working space of the magician, or witch, at the center of the elements, showing the magick circle that is made by invoking them to be the product of their union and a place where they meet to mingle and be reshaped. Invoking the watchtowers could be said to take you between the worlds.