Book of Thoth Study Group #12: Tarot and the Elements


Tarot and the Elements

The Ancients conceived of Fire; Water and Air as pure elements. They were connected with the three qualities of Being, Knowledge and Bliss, previously mentioned. They also correspond with what the Hindus called the Three Gunas - Sattvas, Rajas and Tamas, which may be translated roughly as “Calm”, “Activity”, and “Slothful Darkness”. The alchemists had three similar principles of energy, of which all existing phenomena are composed: Sulphur, Mercury and Salt. This Sulphur is Activity, Energy, Desire; Mercury is Fluidity, Intelligence, the power of Transmission; Salt is the vehicle of these two forms of energy, but itself possesses qualities which react on them.

The student must keep in his mind all these tripartite classifications. In some cases, one set will be more useful than others. For the moment, concentrate on the Fire, Water, Air series. These elements are represented in the Hebrew alphabet by the letters Shin, Mem and Aleph. The Qabalists call them the Three Mother Letters. In this particular group, the three elements concerned are completely spiritual forms of pure energy; they can only manifest in sensible experience by impinging upon the senses, crystallising out in a fourth element which they call “Earth”, represented by the last letter of the alphabet, Tau. This, then, is another quite different interpretation of the idea of the Daughter, which is here considered as a pendant to the Triangle. It is the number Ten suspended from the 7, 8, 9 in the diagram.

These two interpretations must be kept in mind simultaneously. The Qabalists, devising the Tarot, then proceeded to make pictures of these extremely abstract ideas of Father, Mother, Son and Daughter, and they called them King, Queen, Prince and Princess. It is confusing, but they were also called Knight, Queen, King and Princess. Sometimes, too, the Prince and Princess are called “Emperor” and “Empress”.

The reason for this confusion is connected with the doctrine of the Fool of the Tarot, the legendary Wanderer, who wins the King’s daughter, a legend which is connected with the old and exceedingly wise plan of choosing the successor to a king by his ability to win the princess from all competitors. (Frazer’s Golden Bough is the authority on this subject.)