The Truth About The Tattwas

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The Truth About The Tattwas

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The tattwas or tattvas are primal energies that underlie the five elements of Hindu philosophy -- akasha or akasa (spirit), tejas (fire), apas (water), vayu (air) and prithivi (earth). The term tattwas means realities or states of being. How they found their way into the magic system of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn would be interesting to know, since most of the techniques of this Order were Western in origin, but they formed an essential part of Golden Dawn training in meditation, visualization, clairvoyance, consecration of instruments, making telesmatic images, and other aspects of the Golden Dawn system.
One of the key members of the early Golden Dawn was Allan Bennett, who was primarily interested in yoga and Eastern methods of training. Perhaps he played a part in popularizing the tattwas within the Order. Some aspects of the Golden Dawn system formulated at the beginning of the Order were allowed to lapse and were almost never used. This cannot be said of the tattwas, which always formed a central part of Golden Dawn teachings.
In the Golden Dawn system, the tattwas take the form of five simple symbols. Akasa is represented by an inverted black egg. Tejas is an upright red equilateral triangle. Apas is a silver crescent with its horns pointing upward. Vayu is a circular sky-blue disk. Prithivi is a yellow square.
The tattwa symbols are used to graphically represent the five elements, Earth, Air, Water, Fire and the fifth element of Spirit or Light. All of the qualities applied to the elements also apply to these symbols. Their primary use in the Golden Dawn was for meditation on the nature of the elements. Much of Golden Dawn magic concerns the manipulation of the blind forces of

the elements, and of elemental spirits.
By placing a small tattwa symbol in the center of a larger symbol, an elemental quality of an element may be represented. For example, a small red triangle in the center of a blue disk expresses graphically the fiery nature of elemental Air -- hot, rushing wind. It is possible to express twenty-five compound elemental qualities in this way, including the five in which a

small tattwa symbol is placed within a larger, similar symbol, such as a red triangle within a red triangle -- the fiery aspect of elemental Fire. A tattwa within itself intensifies the elemental quality. The smaller symbol stands for the active force, the larger symbol for the background or environment against which it acts.
Another way of symbolizing the elemental qualities of each element is with the royal cards of the Tarot. Wands represent Fire, Cups represent Water, Swords represent Air, and Disks represent Earth. Also Kings represent Fire, Queens represent Water, Knights represent Air, and Pages represent Earth. Thus, the Queen of Wands is the watery aspect of Fire; the Page of Disks is the earthy aspect of Earth; the Knight of Cups is the airy aspect of Water; and so on. This system was also extensively used in the Golden Dawn, but it has the limitation of not including the fifth element of Spirit. Perhaps for this reason it never displaced the use of the tattwas.
It was left to the student to determine through meditation and contemplation the forms that best express the elemental aspects of each element. However, Aleister Crowley left a record of his own interpretations of the compound elemental natures of the signs of the zodiac (see Crowley's Book of Thoth). This was probably based on the general Golden Dawn interpretation.

Crowley's version of the combinations of elements is as follows:
"Fire of Fire" Aries (red triangle within red triangle): "Lightning -- swift violence of onset."
"Air of Fire" Leo (blue disk within red triangle): "Sun -- steady force of energy."
"Water of Fire" Sagittarius (silver crescent within red triangle): "Rainbow -- fading spiritualized reflection of the Image."
"Fire of Water" Cancer (red triangle within silver crescent): "Rain, Springs, etc. -- swift, passionate attack."
"Air of Water" Scorpio (blue disk within silver crescent): "Sea --steady force of putrefaction."
"Water of Water" Pisces (silver crescent within silver crescent): "Pool -- stagnant, spiritualized reflection of images."
"Fire of Air" Libra (red triangle within blue disk): "Wind -- swift onset (note idea of balance, as in trade winds.)"
"Air of Air" Aquarius (blue disk within blue disk): "Clouds -- steady conveyers of water."
"Water of Air" Gemini (silver crescent within blue disk): "Vibrations -- bulk unmoved, spiritualized to reflect Ruach (mind)."
"Fire of Earth" Capricorn (red triangle within yellow square): "Mountains -- violent pressure (due to gravitation)."
"Air of Earth" Taurus (blue disk within yellow square): "Plains -- steady bearing of life."
"Water of Earth" Virgo (silver crescent within yellow square): "Fields -- quiet, spiritualized to bear vegetation and animal life."
Quotation marks indicate the actual text from Crowley's Book of Thoth. I have added the signs of the zodiac and the tattwa symbol sets. This list of combinations is not complete, since it deals only with the properties of the twelve signs of the zodiac, where the first components of Fire, Air and Water take the place respectively of the Cardinal, Fixed, and Mutable qualities. However, it does give a good indication of how these combinations of elements may be assigned phenomena in the natural world that express the same occult energies.
Were I to make the same associations with the signs, I would be inclined to link Air with the Mutable signs rather than the Fixed signs. In the Kabbalistic text Sepher Yetzirah Air is said to be the "tongue of the balance." Its natural energy is vibration, which is also the energy of the Mutable signs. I tend to regard the Cardinal and Fixed signs of each element as its extremes and the Mutable sign as its middle, based upon the dynamic forces these qualities represent.
These interpretations of Crowley's for the elemental combinations are not to be accepted as received wisdom, but should be analyzed and questioned until they are completely understood. For example, Air of Earth is said to be the "plains" because the flat Western Plains are where the great mass of atmospheric air and the solid ground meet. The ground is dominated by the vastness of the sky above it. For this reason it is a symbol for the airy aspect of elemental Earth.
I question the interpretation Fire of Earth as "mountains" -- in my view, it should be volcanic mountains, not just any mountains. Crowley's rationale was that the triangular shape of a mountain is the same as the shape of the red triangle of Fire. However, there is nothing inherently fiery in a mountain, unless it has been reared up by geothermal processes.
In a similar way, when studying the tattwas alone and in combinations, you should consider aspects of the natural world that best express their natures. Occult wisdom is earned -- it is never received.

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