A Treatise on Astrology, Liber 536 by Aleister Crowley, 1917

The Signs

The Universe is one, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. Its substance is homogenous but this substance cannot be said to possess the qualities of Being, Consciousness and Bliss, for these are rather the shadows of it, are apprehended by the highly illuminated mind when it comes near thereto. Time and space themselves are but illusions. This substance [of the Universe] has received many names. The Hindoos call it Parabrahm, Atman and so on. The Gnostics call it the Pleroma. The Qabalists call it the White Head, the Smooth Point, the Ancient One, the Concealed of the Concealed. In later times, it was called God, or the Absolute, or Spirit, and even Matter. All, however, agree about its attributes and these are mostly of a negative character. Because of its essential one-ness, the Greeks called it the One, and we here so consider it, for One is the first positive manifestation in computation. Since, therefore, this substance is one, homogenous and self-conscious, it cannot be manifest in any way while it is in that state. It is sufficient to know that it did divide itself into two equal and opposite courses, which have been variously described by different schools of philosophy as male and female, or active and passive, or fire and water, or being and form, or matter and motion, or the Yin and the Yang, or again personification such as Shiva and Shakti, and in fact any other pair of deities of the first order. This dual principle, exalted as it is, comes a little nearer to the limits of the human mind, for that mind is itself dualistic, our consciousness being composed of subjective and objective, the ego and the non-ego.

It is possible to dissolve this duality back again into the unity by a mystic process, but the natural course taken by its own combination is to form a third entity, partaking of the qualities of both, yet possessing an independent existence. Thus is formed the descending triangle of father, mother, son, the Yod, He, Vau of the Qabalistic Trigrammaton and the pre-Christian trinity of such Gods as Isis, Horus, Osiris, or many others whose names will readily occur to the reader. In the ancient Greek philosophy, of Parmenides, Empedocles, Heracleitus, the Eleatic Zeno and even in the philosophy of Pythagoras and the Stagirite, these three principles are recognised under the names of fire, air and water. They are connected with the three possible states in which one can conceive the Universe – Being, Not-Being, and Becoming. The more carefully Plato and Aristotle are studied, the clearer these points become. It must, however, be understood that these principles are all active and causative – they still pertain to the divine hierarchy. In a word, to the Yetziratic World of Rabbi Ben Simeon. However, from this trinity of actives [i.e. fire, air, water] is consolidated a passive which, to continue the termination of the physicist school of philosophy, is called earth. The whole of this doctrine is admirably resumed, although ‘amplified in the Sephirotic system. This division forms an extremely satisfactory base for any scheme of classification, and it has been necessary to enter thus briefly into pure philosophy because without some comprehension of first principles it is impossible to obtain any idea, not so much of what astrologers mean by the signs of the Zodiac, but why they mean them. For the twelve signs are divided into four triplicities in this order, fire, earth, air, water, beginning with Aries; and each triplicity classes its members under the regimen of the three actives. Thus, Aries represents the fiery part of fire, the most active and violent manifestation of that element; Sagittarius is the watery part of fire, the passive and tractable form; while Leo represents the airy part, the balanced, perfected and stable part of it. In nature, Aries might be compared to the lightning, Sagittarius to the rainbow, and Leo to the Sun. Similarly with the element water. Cancer is its active form. This must not be misunderstood; water is in its nature passive and receptive, yet in this are certain active qualities, for example the power of solution. Pisces is the reflective, passive, quiet form of the elements; and Scorpio harmonises and fixes these two. Thus, Cancer would be symbolised by clouds, rain, streams and rivers; Pisces by wells and pools, and Scorpio by the sea. With air, again, Libra is air in its most active form, the inter-penetrating garment of the globe. Gemini represents it in absorption and modification as the breath and mind of man. Aquarius harmonises these two ideas. In Aquarius the air is stable and fixed to such an extent that it partakes of the nature of water; it is the bearer of water, like the clouds themselves.

Turning to earth, we perceive the same subdivision. Capricornus is the earth, considered as a formative force; mountains in particular are analogous to it, because they are salient and rugged, offering obstacles. Virgo is the earth in its passive form – fields and pastures, which as it were yield themselves naturally to other influences. Taurus combines these ideas – the stable and fixed course of earth, which we can only interpret as the essence of labour.

It is hoped that these few simple preliminary remarks will aid the student in the beginning of his investigation into the meaning of the signs of the Zodiac from the standpoint of natural philosophy.

We must now consider an entirely different element, but a most important one, which enters essentially into the fundamentals of the astrological conception of the Zodiac. It is first necessary to call the attention of the student to the fact that all ancient religions were symbolic celebrations, either of the forces of nature in the macrocosm, and so primarily of the Sun, or of the forces of nature in the microcosm and so primarily of generation. In other words, all religious ideas are related either to the life of the earth, or to the life of man. Owing to the numerous accidents which occurred in the gradual development of civilisation, and in particular we would refer to the growth of the Roman Empire, these ideas became, to some extent, confused. Political considerations entered into theology; adaptations and compromises were made by priests who had become ignorant or careless of the true traditions, and we accordingly find that these two lines of thought are interlocked to such an extent that not all the acumen of scholars, even of initiated scholars, can satisfactorily dissociate them. To take one striking example, it is very strange that the spring festival which we now call Easter should be connected with suffering and death, as in the case of Attis, Dionysus and some others. The solution is given by considering what death is – we will not say a euphemism or a blind truth, but a mystic truth, which only initiates of the highest class are likely in any way to understand. But the obvious meanings given by the fact that the birth o f the Sun and of the year occurs nine months later at the winter solstice when Sol enters Capricornus. The crucifixion symbolism of the Sun, which is connected with his crossing the equator should really be referred to his entering into Libra rather than into Aries, and nearly all the confusion which has arisen is due to this original mistake. The entry of the Sun into Aries properly signifies his resurrection, but it is not at all the time to symbolise his suffering, and descent beneath the equator from which he rises, symbolically speaking, after three days and nights, that is to say six months.

We have, fortunately, a very remarkable document, the book of the Atu of Tahuti, more commonly known as the Tarot. Scholars are at issue with regard to the origin and antiquity of these extraordinary designs and it is no part of our present purpose to discuss so vexed a question. Indeed we will acquiesce readily in the contention that even in the Middle Ages the designs had been debased and corrupted by ignorant copyists, and that they stand in urgent need of restoration, but at least a very remarkable degree of truth has been retained and it is by careful consideration and study of these cards that we are able to draw a clear conception of the necessary- sequence and significance of the signs of the Zodiac. There are, in all, seventy-eight of these cards; sixteen of them are court cards, king, queen, prince and princess in each of the four elements. There are also the four aces, representing the divine root of the force of each of the four elements; there are thirty-six cards numbered from 2 to 10 representing the 36 decanates of the Zodiac; twenty· two cards remain and these refer to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, of which three are attributed to the three active elements, seven to the planets (for it must be remembered that the discovery of Uranus and Neptune is quite recent) and twelve for the signs of the Zodiac. To this last series we now turn our particular attention. The following is the list:

  • Aries, the Emperor or Pharaoh
  • Taurus, the Pope or High Priest
  • Gemini, the Lovers
  • Cancer, the Charioteer
  • Leo, Strength
  • Virgo, Prudence or the Hermit
  • Libra, Justice
  • Scorpio, Death
  • Sagittarius, Temperance
  • Capricornus, the Devil
  • Aquarius, the Star
  • Pisces, the Moon

These titles are not in all cases of any great significance. They were no doubt given in later times merely on account of some salient feature in the designs. It is therefore necessary to give some account of the designs upon the cards.