Earth Abides*

(*Thanks to George R. Stewart for the title of his 1949 science-fiction novel and its main character “Ish,” the word for “Man” in biblical Hebrew.)

For most of us, at any given moment the one thing we can rely on in our experience of objective reality is the ground beneath our feet. The element of Earth represents the “real-world” evidence of our five senses: the things we can see, touch, hear, smell and taste. In the esoteric view it is the tangible sum of the three primary elemental principles (Fire, Water and Air), a fusion of their transcendent qualities in the mundane. In qabalistic terms it is appended to the spiritual realm as the ultimate solidification of the dynamic outflow of supernal force in its urge to manifest, the often cited “Descent of Spirit into Matter.”  Among Jung’s four psychological types, it underlies the cognitive function of sensation (the others being intuition [Fire], thinking [Air] and feeling [Water]), approaching from the “extraverted” or external attitude.

In The Book of Thoth, Crowley says of Earth: “In this particular group (the “Three Mother Letters”), the three elements concerned are completely spiritual forms of pure energy; they can only manifest in sensible experience by impinging upon the senses, crystallizing out in a fourth element which they (the Qabalists) call Earth, represented by the last letter of the alphabet, Tau.” Like Shin (Fire and Spirit), in the Golden Dawn system of correspondences the Hebrew letter Tau must do double duty as both Saturn and Earth, which makes sense since Saturn in its home sign of Capricorn is the most “grounded” of the traditional planets. According to Crowley, “Saturn and Earth have certain qualities in common – heaviness, coldness, dryness, immobility, dullness and the like.” Saturn in ancient times was “the outermost and slowest of the seven sacred planets; because of these dull, heavy qualities, the element of earth was thrust upon the symbol. The original three elements, Fire, Air, Water, sufficed for primitive thought; Earth and Spirit represent a later accretion.” Consequently, “. . . the material world does not appear except as a pendant to the Tree of Life.” Within the series of tarot trumps, Tau (Saturn and Earth) is assigned to the last card, the Universe (aka World), a neat bit of metaphysical convergence and a clever play on words (World = Earth).

The suit of Disks (Pentacles in the Waite-Smith deck) is given to the element of Earth, which Crowley described in divinatory terms as “money, goods and such purely material matters.” But he went to great lengths to re-imagine the suit emblems as whirling spheres, and Earth as no longer a “passive, immobile, even dead, even ‘evil’ element.” It is in fact alive with revolving forces similar to those found in both the atom and the planets of the solar system, and its color should not be dull but rather a brilliant emerald green, the “new green of spring.” This energy bursts forth in the Ace of Disks as fecundity, and then slowly wanes in vigor as that energy becomes engaged in the pragmatic necessities of material incarnation, reaching its full extension (and exhaustion) in the Ten of Disks, the last of the 78 cards. Along the way it experiences extremes of change, advancement, consolidation, disintegration, reconstitution and finally mundane accomplishment (but at a self-satisfied plateau rather than an optimistic pinnacle of ever-rising expectations). Since Fire and Earth are complementary elements, in a reading I tend to see the latter as idealism clothed in the garb of existential compromise – ambition overtaken by the demands of realism – with tolerance (Water) and logic (Air) as extenuating modifiers.

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