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

12 Cards of Signs

  1. The Emperor shows a crowned king seated with orb and sceptre upon a cubical stone, on which is marked a red eagle. His arms are so placed as to form a triangle with the apex upwards, and his legs are crossed. This triangle above a cross is the alchemical sign of sulphur, which represents the clement of fire in a very sublimated and sacramental form. It is easy to see the analogy between the drawing and the sign of Aries, which is ruled by the fiery planet Mars and in which the Sun is exalted and triumphant. It is the return of the year, when earth is renewed and all life awakens again to its fullest activity.
  2. The Pope is figured in his pontifical vestments, crowned with the triple tiara, which, of course, in more ancient times was but the yellow crown of Osiris, and represents the creative force which linked man with divinity. His hands are upraised in blessing and at his feet kneel four persons in such a position that their five heads are at the point of a pentagram, the star of the microcosm, the symbol of God made man. This card, therefore, represents incarnation. In the ancient mythologies, particularly in India among the worshippers of Shiva, in Syria among the worshippers of Mithras, and in Egypt among the worshippers of Apis, we find the Bull is the symbol of the Redeemer. We also find Isis and Hathor, represented by the cow, it being from them that the Redeemer springs by incarnation. The Sun in Taurus then is a fixation on Earth through woman of the fire of the Sun in his exaltation. Taurus means bull, is ruled by Venus, and in it the Moon is exalted. It is also a passive feminine earthy sign.
  3. The card called the Lovers is a very peculiar symbol. It represents the expansion and dispersion in air of that fiery force which has been fixed on earth. Its conventional form represents a youth standing between two women, one fair and one dark. These represent the waxing and waning Moon. Above the heads ‘Of this group is flying a winged god, a child, bearing a bow and a quiver full of arrows, one of which he directs against the head of the youth. It is a symbol of inspiration, of the growth of the mind of the youth. Modern designers have mistaken this winged God for Cupid, but he is really a form of the Sun in which that luminary is considered as a vehicle of a divine force beyond him, the Creator of all. This is an identification of Mercury with the Sun. (It is not generally known how intimately the myths of Hermes! and of Dionysus are connected, and there is no space to prove the identification in this place.) In the life of the year, this card represents the shooting of buds, the blossoming of flowers, which occur when the Sun is in Gemini in the month of May.
  4. The card called the Charioteer represents a crowned king standing in a chariot, drawn by two sphinxes, one black and one white. At the corners of the chariot are four pillars, which support a canopy of azure, covered with stars. The meaning of this card and its connection with the sign Cancer are quite obvious. The Sun enters Cancer at the summer solstice, that is at the period of his greatest triumph, his extreme northern declination, the height of summer. The sphinxes are, of course, day and night. The canopy of stars is the abyss of heaven and the four pillars are the seasons. In his hands the King bears a cup and this is connected with the symbolism of the Holy Grail. In connection with the life of Mars it represents the quickening of the child in the womb of its mother, which takes place three months after conception, as symbolised by the Sun in Aries. Cancer being a watery sign, this period is the receptacle of the force of the previous quadrant. It is governed by the Moon and here we see its connection with the symbol of the mother, while the exaltation of Jupiter in the sign refers to the divine influence presiding over the incarnation.
  5. The card called Strength represents a woman closing the mouth of a lion. This in the life of the year symbolizes that the fruits of the earth are now safe from the devouring elements which endanger them during the spring. It is the fixation of the fire of Aries, and a similar sense of security and triumph reigns a.lso with regard to (he life of man. It is a period of security, of fine weather. The arduous work of ploughing is over. The harvest is gathered in; there is no further fear of starvation during the winter, which is already foreseen. h should be remembered in.. case this explanation seems trivial to us modems, who by the advance of science have made ourselves permanently secure against famine, that in the times when these cards were designed, the case was entirely different. Dwellers in modern cities never think about the harvest unless they are gambling in cereals; but to a family in ancient Egypt or Chaldea, it was the constant preoccupation and anxiety. This card is a hieroglyph of the old aphorism that salvation comes to the woman whose courage and fortitude assure the preservation of the race, and again in the life of the year, it shows the benefit obtained from her housewifery. Remember that among all primitive / people the women do all the hard work of the field.
  6. When the Sun enters Virgo, the harvest is already secure, and the fruits of the earth ripen. The symbol upon the card called the Hermit is therefore very easy to understand. It represents an aged man, hooded and cloaked, bearing a long staff and a lamp. At his feet before him goes a serpent. This man is Hermes, the messenger of the Gods, he who taught science and letters to men. It is only in the modem design that this man is old, and this is owing to confusion in etymology. The word Hermit has nothing to do with Hermes; it comes from the Greek Eremitos, one who lives in a desert, and it is because hermits, as known to the people of the Middle Ages were usually old men, that this card Hermes was replaced by a figure of a hermit. The lamp, staff, cloak, and serpent are clear indications that the original design represented the messenger of the Gods. He symbolises the developed mind of man, the prudence and foresight which causes him to gather up the fruits of his ploughing and sowing and reaping into granaries, for Virgo is the last sign of summer. The Sun is already prepared for his crucifixion upon the equator. Virgo is an earthy and mercurial sign and so represents the fixation of the intellect in practical ways.
  7. The card called Justice represents a grave woman with austere and solemn countenance. In her right hand she holds an uplifted sword, in her left a pair of balances and she is seated on a throne. At the entrance of the Sun into Libra, the days and nights are again equal, and this card is a fitting complement to the Emperor who presides over Aries. This is the moment of the crucifixion of the Sun who now descends below the Equator for the remaining six months of the year. Libra is ruled by Venus, but Saturn is exalted in the sign, and this indicates, with reference to the life of man, the sorrow and burden of the woman. It will be noticed that the sceptre in the hand of the Emperor, the symbol of creation and destruction is replaced by the sword which destroys. It is this woman who executes the fiat of the Almighty, who has appointed that every rise shall be equilibriated by a fall.
  8. The card called Death is just as simple a representation as Justice was. The card shows the figure of a skeleton in whose hands in a scythe, cross-hilted, with which he is reaping a field, on which are to be seen the heads and hands alike of crownedkings and beggars. When the Sun enters Scorpio it is the death of the year. The leaves fall, nature putrifies. Scorpio, the balanced form of water, is under the rule of Mars, and its meaning in alchemy is always corruption and putrefaction. This process is necessary to rebirth, and that such is the office of death is shown by the fact that the handle of the scythe is in the shape of a cross, the sacred emblem of salvation in which the true light exists, but in a concealed form. For the letters of the Latin word Lux are formed by the arms of a cross.
  9. The card which rules over Sagittarius is called Temperance, and it represents the final operation in the Great Work. The card shows a woman in whose girdle shines the Sun. Upon her head is the crown of the twelve stars of the Zodiac. Beneath her feet is the Moon; in her right hand, she bears a cup; the water from which falls upon a lion in the midst of a fire and in her left is a torch whose fire illuminates an eagle that crouches upon the sea. Between these symbolic animals is a caldron boiling over a fire and the lion and the eagle emit from their mouths into the caldron two streams. The picture is so full of signification, that one cannot enter into it in this place as fully as one might wish, but the main point to be observed in this is that in the life of man, this represents the triumph of the woman over the destructive forces of nature: by tempering and equilibrating the opposing forces, she has succeeded in preserving that which was entrusted her by the Emperor, the active and creative force which she develops. The sign Sagittarius is ruled by Jupiter, and this is again an indication of the triumph of the father.
  10. We now come to an exceedingly sinister card, the Devil. In this symbol, the makers of these hieroglyphs have been exceedingly cautious. It has seemed to them very necessary to hoodwink the eyes of the uninitiate. Apparently, the card represents the figure of a satyr or demon. He is standing upon an altar, and four other demons are worshipping him. It is simple to deduce from this that he refers to Capricornus, the goat, ruled by Saturn and having Mars exalted therein. In this exoteric reading, we see denoted earth at the end of December, an element one might say actively malevolent. The student will remember that the festival of Saturn was held at the entrance of the Sun into Capricorn. The Sun has reached his greatest Southern declination. It is the culmination and finality of death, but a deeper philosophy finds a deeper meaning in this card. It is noticeable that this Devil bears the torch and cup as did his predecessor. It is also remarkable that he and his four worshippers are placed at the points of the pentagram, which, as we said before, is the symbol of God made man, the peculiar hieroglyph of Christ, It may also be observed that the devil is standing upon the cubic stone, and this fact is not unrelated to that upon which we have animadverted in our discussion of the Emperor. The torch and cup are the same symbols as the sceptre and orb, in a slightly different form, and the pentagram or pentacle has previously occulted in the card of that other earthy sign Taurus, which we call the Pope. We must then regard this Devil as the Emperor in disguise, beneath a veil, and the symbolism of the whole will become clear, when we recall what festival has replaced the Saturnalia, what was the principal event in the world’s history which occurred at the entry of the Sun into Capricornus. This card consequently represents esoterically the complete triumph of the creative force initiated by the Emperor. It is the birth of the Sun. In the life of the year, too, this is not only the period of the Sun’s greatest declination, but it marks the moment of the beginning of his return. It is the supreme optimism, not of the short-sighted folk whom William James called the ‘onceĀ·born’, but that of the thrice-born who regard life and death equally as parts of a sacrament. This card was redrawn by Eliphas Levi, who harmonised it with the ancient representations of Baphomet. In it he shows the complete equilibration and triumph of all forces and in particular the perfect wedlock of spirit and matter. The older form is, however, deeper and subtler. Particular attention should be paid to the planet Mars who represents the energy of the Sun. In Aries we saw him at work, in Scorpio in apparent defeat; here he is exalted in the house of Saturn himself. It is the force of life triumphant in the palace of the King of Death.
  11. The card called the Star or Hope is of a very gracious and beautiful character. It represents a woman kneeling by the bank of a stream. In her hands are vials of water; with one she fills the stream, the other she pours over her own head. Above her shines the star of Mercury and at her side is a roseĀ· tree about which a butterfly is flitting. As Sagittarius represented the triumph of the woman, so this card represents the recognition of that triumph; the festival of the purification of the virgin occurs in this part of the year. The sign Aquarius means water-bearer. The old astrologers gave Saturn as its ruler, but modern thinkers on this subject have inclined to suppose that this position may more properly be given to Uranus. However, there are some considerations that make Saturn very suitable and one of these is that in regard to the life of the year, February is the month of the greatest inactivity; it is also the month in which the heaviest rains fall and soften the earth for the plough. There is a very strange signification which must further be noticed. There is a reference to the story of the flood. The earth is the ark in which the precious grain is carried and kept safe from the destroying elements during the period of their greatest rage. This ark in connection with the life of man is also symbolical of woman, and the flood itself is the amniotic fluid.
  12. Now we come to the last, and in some respects the most curious of these designs. The card shows the Moon waning. She shines upon a landscape which shows low hills crowned by two towers: directly beneath her winds a narrow path between them, and on each side of the path is a jackal, the sacred animal of Anubis, the watcher of the Gods and the guardian of the threshold. In the foreground is a pool of water, from which emerges a beetle, the symbol of Kephra, the Sun at midnight. The entire picture is very characteristic of the moment before dawn, both of the day, and of the year, and it also represents in regard to the life of man, that preliminary period of trouble, darkness and illusion which characterises woman before she has discovered the purpose of her existence. This is further indicated by the fact that Pisces is the right house of Jupiter, so-cal led, and in it Venus is exalted. This sign is however given by modern astrologers to Neptune, for this reason, that if we interpret this hieroglyph on the plane of the mind of man, it represents this present state of doubt; the dawn in him of the capacity for full spiritual illumination.