Elemental Modifiers as Natural Phenomena

In Part Three of the Book of Thoth, Aleister Crowley briefly examines the elemental qualities of the Knight cards as natural phenomena: the “swift and violent, but transient” Knights correspond to the Lightning Flash in Wands; to Rain and Springs in Cups; to Wind in Swords; and to Mountains in Disks. Then he neatly extricates himself by going on to say: “It is very important as a mental exercise to work out for oneself these correspondences between the Symbol and the Natural Forces which they represent.” The goal is to explore ways in which the symbolism of the card and the elemental energy merge (or diverge) in action.

As an even more fundamental and illuminating mental exercise, I set out to sketch the interaction of all of the elements in their various dignities as phenomena, both natural and “borrowed” via human ingenuity, that share the motivating urges embodied in those elements. This list is far from comprehensive and is only intended as a “teaser” to get the mind the flowing along the lines Crowley envisioned. In practical terms, it aims to spark the imagination (and hopefully the intuition) with analogies that shed light on the functional workings of the elements in combination, opening the way to apply them creatively in situational and psychological judgments within a reading.

The “+/-” notation shows the positive or negative (as in “active or passive,” not “good or bad”) alignment of the elements in each set and their associated planetary totems. Where elemental notation is mixed, the planetary symbols before the “slash” (/) are attuned to the “plus” or “minus” alignment shown before the “slash” in the elemental notation; those after are ascribed to the second elemental polarity. In some cases (marked with an asterisk and an associated footnote), a traditionally positive or negative planet has been aligned with an element of the opposite polarity, reflecting the exaltation of that planet. Any card and its elemental correspondence (including the planetary trumps via the signs their planets rule) can be related to any other card in this way. (I had to attach the list because WordPress won’t translate the planetary glyphs.)


One way I like to apply this concept is through consideration of “proportion.” For example, a potent Earth card like the World coupled with a weak Water card like the 4 of Cups would convey the idea of an excess of “firmness,” suggesting the formation of dense clay or even bricks. On the other side of the equation, the quintessential Water card – the Hanged Man – in combination with a weak Earth card like the 7 of Disks could promote the generation of figurative “mud.” In a reading these extremes can suggest stubbornness or impassiveness in the matter on one hand, or a weak foundation on the other. Another example would be the Tower joined to the 4 of Disks; while Fire and Earth are mutually supportive and constructive, the dramatic overload of the former and the connection of both cards to Mars (which is exalted in Capricorn, home of the 4 of Disks) could be a recipe for devastating earthquakes.

This is especially useful when analyzing three-card combinations during the practice of Elemental Dignities, since it can shade an inconclusive status toward markedly greater strength or weakness of function. In traditional (that is to say, Golden Dawn) terms, a Fire card bracketed by a Water card and another Fire card would be a “mixed bag:” while the Fire and Water “modifiers” are mutually unfriendly, the central “principal” or focus card is debilitated by Water but enhanced by Fire, resulting in a neutral bias in its effectiveness or exactness of operation. The Golden Dawn material takes no note of the relative potency of each card in the series, simply relying on the elemental formula, but I find this approach a bit sterile. Let’s say the Water card on the front end is the 4 of Cups and the Fire cards are the Knight/King of Wands as “principal” with the Emperor following. It seems reasonable to assume that the two paragons of fiery dominion would blow that weak-kneed Water pip right out of the . . . (bad pun avoided), never even noticing that it’s there. (As an aside, I often see the Fire King as the sympathetic “little brother” of the Emperor when both appear in a reading, but that suggests a whole ‘nuther article.)


The active expression of Mercury relates to its Air sign of rulership, Gemini.

The passive expression of Mercury relates to its Earth sign of rulership, Virgo.

The active expression of Venus relates to its Air sign of rulership, Libra.

The passive expression of Venus relates to its Earth sign of rulership, Taurus.

The active expression of Mars relates to its Fire sign of rulership, Aries.

The passive expression of Mar relates to its Water sign of rulership, Scorpio.

The active expression of Jupiter relates to its Fire sign of rulership, Sagittarius.

The passive expression of Jupiter relates to its Water sign of rulership, Pisces.

The active expression of Saturn relates to its Air sign of rulership, Aquarius.

The passive expression of Saturn relates to its Earth sign of rulership, Capricorn.

*Consideration has been given to planetary exaltation in addition to rulership: the passive expression of Venus in the Water sign of its exaltation, Pisces, the passive expression of Jupiter in its Water sign of exaltation, Cancer, and the active expression of Saturn in its Air sign of exaltation, Libra.

The qualities of the planets are derived from the elemental “humours” as described by William Lilly.

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