Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Crowley’s most infamous innovation in Tarot was his inversion of the attributions of Tzaddi and Heh. While many people might see the Golden Dawn’s Tarot correspondences as one more arbitrary system, The Book of the Law explicitly confirms that order’s system with the single exception of the Star card and its placement on the path of Tzaddi (Cap I, v 57).
Crowley grappled with that this verse meant for many years until one day it occurred to him that the system swapped Adjustment/Justice (Libra/Lamed) and Lust/Strength (Leo/Teth). In other words, since the two attributions pivoting around Virgo/the Hermit, the sign of the autumnal Equinox, were switched, it would be logical and symmetrical to switch the attributions pivoting around the vernal Equinox – the Emperor/Aries and the Star/Aquarius. Thus, the Emperor would move to the Star’s former path, Tzaddi, and the Star to Heh, the Emperor’s prior position.
Except … even Crowley seems to have had his doubts. According to his description in The Book of Thoth, dating from the 1940s, his conception for the Emperor, as realised by the artist Frieda Harris, shows a beam of light coming from Chokmah over the imperial ruler’s shoulder, and shining down to Tiphereth. This is still as things would be if the Emperor were assigned to the path of Heh leading between these two sephiroth. As Crowley writes: “It is finally to be observed that the white light which descends upon him indicates the position of this card on the Tree of Life. His authority is derived from Chokmah, the creative Wisdom, the Word, and is exerted upon Tiphareth, the organised man.”
His description for the Star, though, is explicitly about the symbolism of Heh. It expands the old Golden Dawn conception of this trump to the scale of and wonder of Nuit, “Infinite Space and the Infinite Stars thereof.” And the book’s original diagrams leave no doubt that Heh with the Star goes above, linking Chokmah and Tiphereth, while the Emperor links Netzach to Yesod in the conventional placing for Tzaddi.
The Emperor is a power card. It’s about rulership, dominance, male fecundity and the Mars-force, and it embodies qualities more oriented to Chokmah (Spiritual Fire) and Tiphereth (the Sun) than to Netzach (Venus) and Yesod (the Moon). It is one of the three cards representing the primary alchemical principles, in this case Sulphur. Salt is referred to the Empress, linking Chokmah and Binah, and Mercury to the Magus, linking Kether to Binah. The other alchemical principles are up there in the Supernal triangle. So, the legitimate question with the swap is: what gives? And also, was Crowley correct?
A previous post in June pointed out how often the location of the Tarot trumps is counter-intuitive. The Tree of Life constantly draws out and expresses the shadow or unexpected side of things so that, for example, the fierce path of the Aeon connects the water-sephirah of Hod with the earth sephirah of Malkuth. To quote myself from the June post:
“Each sephirah represents a specific aspect of consciousness – will, memory, volition, desire, intellect – and so on. Each path represents how two sephiroth interact in the psyche as we move from the relative stability of one sephirah and its corresponding grade or degree, to the next.”
Some people try to soften the Tree’s ruthlessness but this quality is inherent in its design and operations. To work with the Tree is to be caught out in our comfortable self-deceptions again and again. It simply doesn’t let us hide from our inner power, with all the nice and nasty connotations that idea contains. The Qabalist, by vocation, lives with his or her inner lions and crocodiles. These will either ravage our lives, or show us our true strength and how to use it.
Thelema cuts to the core of this situation, insisting on the sacred primacy of True Will as the means to attain consciousness of love. We need to be clear that Will isn’t about whims and sudden fancies, but a completely life-embracing force and presence, and that it leads us, in various ways, away from a traditional compassion-and-gentleness type of spirituality. Which (it still needs to be said) doesn’t imply there’s any virtue or use in meanness or cruelty, because separating ourselves in that fashion from the reality around us is really a violation of our own integrity. We exist as dynamic monads and, simultaneously, as parts of a continuum. The realised union of these parts results in the appearance of the solar consciousness Thelema calls Ra-Hoor-Khuit, as well as its reflective, silent counterpart, Hoor-paar-kraat.
That said, the teaching and training process of the Thelemic Tree kicks in with Will and a more direct energy than other Hermetic schools. The Emperor energy, not that of the Star, is a necessary factor in proper unfolding and development of the aspirant. It’s not simply about dynamism, but – this is critical – control or rule of individual dynamics. The Emperor, sulphur, Aries-as-the-initiator, relates primarily to self-mastery.
Is this, then, the key? Rather than presenting us with a near-conventional vision of beauty, the Star now unveils for us the panoply of the heavens – and remember, the Zodiac was traditionally assigned to Chokmah, the path of Heh’s point of origin. The Emperor bids us prune our more vapid flights of fancy, so that we can begin to realise our birthright as human beings. Functionally speaking, the two cards are now positioned where they need to be for training in this Aeon to be effective.
One other point can be made for now. Not long ago, I read one Thelemic teacher’s comment that the Emperor is a good summarising metaphor for the first encounters with the Holy Guardian Angel. I wasn’t convinced by this, though, since the process of approaching the HGA is so individual. As the archetypal basis of the HGA in this Aeon, Horus comes close in many ways to the Emperor’s qualities; yet The Book of the Law tells us that Horus is the visible object of worship, but not necessarily the essence or spiritual core of what lies behind that imagery.
Crowley’s switch, putting the Star so high, has the effect of altering the eventual masculine bias of the Thelemic Tree. The fiery, macho traits are reinforced and brought out while dealing with the Personality Triad (Netzach, Hod and Yesod). At the same time, The Emperor’s influence on the path leading up into Netzach helps open up the emotional character of this sephirah, thereby strengthening the feminine archetype found within it.
Then, allotting a card explicitly to Nuit emphasises the ultimate primacy of Nuit (and secondarily of Babalon) as the presiding Goddess of Thelema. We still hear at times that the movement is ‘a solar-phallic cult,’ but this is only so as far as Tiphereth, if that. This Aeon requires us to see that “every man and every woman is a star” (I, v 3) and Thelema to date has been unable to tip the balance from old-style macho dominance in the field of spirituality to gender equivalence. We tell ourselves we intend otherwise, but the numbers of women in our ranks are still disproportionately low.
Revisiting the interchange of the attributions of the paths of Heh and Tzaddi is one way of reminding ourselves of what we still have to achieve, as well as indicating how we might go about it. And lest it not be obvious, the name of our order – the Temple of Our Lady of the Stars – was deliberately chosen with this idea in mind.
Love is the law, love under will,