The Inner Flame

In re-reading The Book of Thoth for what is now the fourth time, I’m constantly being enriched by fresh insights and epiphanies regarding the esoteric underpinnings of the modern tarot. I’ve long appreciated Crowley’s statement regarding the Hebrew letter Shin (relative to Judgement in the Golden Dawn system of trump-card correspondences) that “The element of Fire is very close kin to the idea of Spirit; so the letter Shin, belonging to Fire, may be taken to mean Spirit as well.” But last night, in the concluding paragraphs of Part Three, “The Court Cards,” I came across the following observation that brings the concept into sharper focus:

” . . . Fire, so kin to Spirit that it is not a substance at all, but a phenomenon, yet so integral to Matter that it is the very heart and essence of all things soever.”

Spirit, partaking of the qualities of both Fire and “aether,” is sometimes called the “fifth element,” overarching and permeating Fire, Water, Air and Earth, which strikes me as an even further sublimation and rarefaction of the already encompassing  reach of elemental Fire, which finds expression at both the celestial and mundane extremes of natural phenomena: the violent nuclear fusion of the stars and the slowly simmering magma at the core of the Earth. Physical fire meets its reciprocal in spiritual fire (conveyed in qabalistic terms as the uppermost tip of the Hebrew letter Yod). Crowley’s comment that it resides at the heart of all things as an insubstantial “phenomenon” or immanence brings its influence more cogently into the realm of occult metaphysics. My personal take on this is that, in his stated mission to bring esoteric practice into the fold of modern science, Crowley chose as his operative model the advent of atomic particle theory and the musings of Albert Einstein.

It is this relation to what is commonly referred to as the “life-force” or creative “spark” that I find the most compelling in attempting to interpret the practical implications of Fire beyond the usual cliches of “initiative” and “ambition.” At some level, the creative impulse (even if it manifests perversely as destructive in cards like the Tower) is behind every act of Nature, whether human or entirely impersonal. In a reading, I strive to see the impact of the Wands and the fiery trump cards as a more deeply-rooted motivator that goes beyond simple desire, acting in concert with elemental  Air – the more conventional view of Spirit as ruach, prana or breath – to leaven and “humanize” its mode of expression.

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