Air Apparent

I put the Book of Thoth’s slant on elemental Air under the microscope next. In his discussion of the Ace of Swords, Crowley called Air “all-embracing, all-wandering, all-penetrating, all-consuming.”  He also said “In nature, the obvious symbol of Air is the Wind, ‘which bloweth whithersoever it listeth.'” Taken together, these observation could be seen as a fair approximation of the wayward qualities of the Fool, to which primal Air is assigned in the Golden Dawn system of correspondences. Crowley had more to say about the Fool than any of the other cards, but I was hard-pressed to find anything more representative of the operation of Air than the above. He does add, however, that “the important feature of this card is that its number should be zero,” and that “Air, in this card, quintessentially means a vacuum.” He goes on to elaborate, saying that the innocence and purity of the wandering Fool is a form of divine madness:  “In the East the madman is believed to be ‘possessed,’ a holy man or prophet. So deep is this identity that it is actually embedded in the language. “Silly” means empty – the Vacuum of Air – Zero . . . ”

In practical (that is, divinatory) terms, it can be difficult to see how all of this fits with our assumption that Air equates to Intellect; in fact, it seems to imply just the opposite. But the native intelligence of the Fool could be considered of a higher, more subtle order, organically self-sustaining and in no need of a codified system of philosophical tenets and precepts. Because of its simple-minded yet inscrutable nature, it is often the source of misapprehension and misunderstanding, leading to charges of “foolish” behavior. Modern interpretation tends to sanitize the older, more disreputable view of the Fool as an unwelcome simpleton, vagrant or misfit, instead soft-peddling it as a “new beginning” and perhaps a restless “urge for going.”  Even Crowley, who elevated the Fool to the status of “idea, thought, spirituality, that which endeavors to transcend earth”  while also acknowledging the possible meanings of “folly, eccentricity, or even mania,” said of his version: “But the essential of this card is that it represents an original, subtle, sudden impulse or impact, coming from a completely strange quarter.”

In the suit of Swords, Air relates to ideas and their communication, and therefore to debate that can turn into trouble fast in the form of contradiction and ensuing argument. Later in the book, Crowley describes Air as “elastic and flexible, yet all-pervading and the element of combustion.” It is this edgy volatility that brooks no resistance to one’s cherished ideas: ego fanned by the blustery assertiveness of self-righteous opinion can create a stubborn impasse from which there can be no graceful retreat. It is no accident that the domain of the trial lawyer is emblematic of the nature of Air and particularly of Swords. Of all the suits, the Swords are the most characteristically dour; even the more upbeat cards have a downcast feel to them, and the nastier ones are positively dire. This mean-spirited quality is not an inherent feature of lofty primal Air, except to the extent that the abstracted indifference of Air to emotional distress lends itself to a rather insensitive, cold-blooded outlook on human failing.

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