In many Wicca and Witchcraft systems the Watchtowers are evocational symbols of spiritual beings known as the Watchers or the Grigori. Each Watchtower is associated with one of the four quarters of north, east, south and west. In some traditions the Watchtowers are associated with the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. They are also each linked to a specific star. The north Watchtower is Fomalhaut, the east is Aldebaran, Regulus marks the south, and Antares is the west.
In archaic Roman religion, small towers were built at the crossroads, and an altar was set before them upon which offerings were given to nature spirits. Guardian spirits known as Lares were associated with these towers and with demarcation in general, as well as seasonal themes related to agriculture . Here we may find a connection between the Lares and the Grigori of Italian Witchcraft. These towers may be the foundation of the "Watchtowers" appearing in the ritual circles of Wiccans and other modern witches.
In the Enochian system of magick, brought to public attention by Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelly in the 16th century, we find the inclusion of Watchtowers as complex evocational designs. Some people believe that the Watchtowers have their origin in the Enochian magic system revealed to the Elizabethan magician John Dee and his scryer Edward Kelley, which was later developed into a working system of magic by S.L. MacGregor Mathers. According to Dee’s diaries, the two men summoned an angel, which Kelley saw in a magic stone; Dee recorded the revelations which Kelley narrated to him. Among the surviving records of the Angelic Operations is A Book of Supplications and Invocations which "deals with the Invocation of the Angels who preside over the Four Quarters of the Terrestrial sphere. At the core of the instructions was the Angelic Table: a grid of 25x27 squares, each square containing a letter. The Angelic Table is subdivided into four lesser grids for the four elements and the four directions, bound together by the cross-shaped Tablet of Union. They are used to call upon the aid of angels ruling over the four directions. The names of God and the angels to be used in the invocations are extracted from the tablets. The four tablets are often called the Enochian Tablets because the letters may be written in the Enochian alphabet also revealed to Dee and Kelley by the angel.
Dee’s work was revived and expounded upon by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, primarily through the work of S.L. MacGregror Mathers. In the Golden Dawn magical system, the four Angelic/Enochian Tablets became the four Watchtowers. Each Watchtower was attributed to a direction and an element, as in Dee’s original revelation.
The Tablet of Union was rearranged to form a rectangle attributed to Spirit or Ether. The tablets were brightly colored; squares attributed to the elements were painted in the color of that element, with lettering in complementary colors.
The use of complementary colors, called flashing colors in the Golden Dawn, means that the Watchtowers belong to the class of talismans called flashing tablets. The flashing colors were supposed to draw energy from the atmosphere. The painted tablets were placed on the walls of the temple during some rituals to symbolize the four quarters. A favorite ritual in the Golden Dawn was the Opening by Watchtower. This is actually a preliminary ritual to purify space and call upon the guardians of the four quarters, similar to casting the magic circle in Wicca. As part of the Opening by Watchtower, the practitioner uses the elemental weapons to summon the angels of the quarters. In the south, for instance, the practitioner uses the Fire Wand to trace an invoking Fire Pentagram, then summons the angels using the three names of God found in the Fire Tablet:
The Watchtowers were among the Golden Dawn concepts introduced into Wicca (modern witchcraft) by its founder Gerald Gardner. The complicated tablets and Enochian names were largely abandoned, but Wicca retained the Watchtowers as "the four cardinal points, regarded as guardians of the Magic Circle". They are usually mentioned during the casting of the circle. In a conservative tradition such as Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca the invocation of the Watchtowers begins in the east; the practitioner traces an invoking Earth Pentagram while saying;
Other Wiccans, especially eclectic and solitary practitioners, may employ less formulaic invocations, choosing instead to express their creativity in ritual. Some invocations draw attention to the elemental attributions of each quarter, as in this example:
Many Wiccan circle-castings no longer mention the Watchtowers by name. Another important development is experimentation with the attribution of elements to the directions, instead of adhering to the attributions used by the Golden Dawn and Gardnerian Wicca (north/earth, east/air, south/fire, west/water). Many Wiccans perceive themselves as participants in an earth-based religion; they believe their practices should reflect their living experience of the local environment. Both the Golden Dawn and early Wicca had their home in the British Isles; traditional attributions derived from the British climate may not appeal to or work for practitioners in other climates. A special instance of this problem is the circumstance of Wiccans living in the southern hemisphere, who tend to perceive the north, not the south, as the direction most characterized by fire and heat. Some Neopagans choose to follow the practices of a historical pagan group with whom they identify, or conform to local traditions; either choice may dictate a change of attributions.