The theoretical understanding of Elemental Dignities has been sadly lacking so far. That Elemental Dignities is by Adepts of the Golden Dawn is proven – we have documented readings by Annie Horniman for the Head of the Golden Dawn, W.B. Yeats, and we have various fragments within the Golden Dawn system that discusses the elements using GD rules, and I have developed this information into the coherent whole on this website.
Since about 1995 I researched and developed Elemental Dignitiess – this website is one tangible result. The more I dig deeper into the system of Elemental Dignities, the more I appreciate its depth and subtlety. ED’s is greater than the sum of its parts. Studying Elemental Dignities impresses upon the student the need to have a greater understanding of other divinatory systems, such as numerology and astrology to gain that extra edge. Using EDs on a regular basis seems to create a change of consciousness within the reader – EDs is the thread that binds unity.
The Tree of Life and the Golden Dawn
One particular structure that stands out in the Golden Dawn: the Tree of Life. Many Tarot books contain diagrams of the Tree of Life, The 22 Major Arcana are the Paths, the Minor arcana are the Sephiroth, and the Court cards have their own placement on four of the Sephiroth. The numbered Sephiroth leads the eye of the reader from the top at Kether to the bottom at Malkuth – it is easy to see that the graduation of energies. We have the Zigzag of the Lightning path from top to bottom, and the sinuous path of the Snake that encompasses all 22 paths. For many Tarot students, the Tree of Life is a visual filing cabinet of the Tarot, a view that Tarot books who carry this information tend to encourage. Unfortunately, we are not told how to use this information.
The basis of Golden Dawn Grade system is principally on the levels of the Tree of Life, starting at Malkuth and working up to Tipareth. Malkuth has all four elements, and then the student goes through each element up to Tipareth, for the conversation with the Guardian Angel. The higher levels are more theoretical than practical, but that did not stop various Adepti claiming them! Although there are means of self-initiation, few of us have the time or inclination, and there are not many benefits (I would disagree with this, but that is another story). Initiation within a grade structure gives the candidate the elemental experience. This is a complex subject, but Pat Zalewski gives an admirable overview of the process in his Z5 series of books (Llewellyn). Basically the Officers at the initiation ceremony implant various elemental symbols within the aura of the candidate through the ritual. This is a crude description that will make GD initiates wince, but the point I am trying to make is that most Tarot Students have not undergone these experiences.
Akasha is the Fifth Element
The study of EDs impresses upon the student that the primary structure of the Tarot is not the Major/Minor/Court categories, but the four elements. When one considers the cosmological aspects of Tarot, this categorization extends to Five: Spirit or Akasha. There is internal evidence within the Tree of Life for such a class, and Liber 777 is most useful in this respect. Spirit is either the origin of the four elements, or a state when the four elements are present and in balance. Not only did the GD systems analyze these elements, but it categorized the four elements into 15 groups attributed to Egyptian Gods. For example, Osiris has four elements, while Horus has three out of four positions as Fire. The Chapters dealing with this topic are found in areas about Enochian Chess and the Enochian magical system, so few Tarot students are aware of them, but they are vital to comprehending the entire system.
The Opening of the Key Spread
The Golden Dawn system discusses only two Tarot spreads. In the Outer Order, we have the Gypsy Spread, popularized by A.E. Waite as the Celtic Cross spread. This spread is an introduction to Tarot only, and was quite rightly not taken seriously within the GD. The Celtic Cross spread is based upon the Tree of Life and the Cosmic Cube in the Sepher Yetisrah as there are ten positions on the ten Sephiroth, although this is not discussed. The Inner Order provided the Opening of the Key Spread, which is has five stages and was intended to practiced within ritual. The OOTK is intimidating, not helped by the fact that Elemental Dignities are the key to understanding the spread, something that is not clear in the documentation. The First Stage is most important, and it seems that for most Golden Dawn Adepti, this was as far as they went too. For myself, the First Stage is as far as I go. Within the First Stage there are several levels:
- Cutting the cards into four Piles
- Analyzing the Pile containing the Significator
- Card Counting
- Card Pairing
At each stage we can apply Elemental Dignities. Once the cards are into four piles and turned over, we can analyze the top elementally: excess or absence of an element; relating each one elementally, relating the element of the card to the elemental place. We can also consider the relative heights of each pile of cards.
The Significator is analyzed elementally according to the cards either side, and then the reading performs the counting exercise to develop a story of what is going on. Every card that is ‘landed upon’ is analyzed using the rules of EDs for the cards either side. Once we land upon a previously counted card, we have completed the sequence.
The last part of the First Stage is to ‘Pair’ the cards, starting at the extremities of the spread, and working inwards to the centre. If there are an odd number of cards, we will arrive at a single card at the centre, while if there are an even number, we have two cards. The Singleton has greater importance as we have a more definite outcome.
The next three stages are astrologically related: Zodiac signs, 12 Houses and 36 decanates, while the Fifth Stage has the ten sephiroth of the Tree of Life. This spread encompasses and unites the manifestation of the four elements in different systems, and it is very powerful.
The Eternal Triangle
When learning Elemental Dignitiess, the emphasis is on studying in groups of three, which we use as blocks to build up the reading. This Triplicity is vital as it links into fundamental concepts in Kabbalah that are not clear to the more superficial students. A simpler understanding is the Hegelian dialect of Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis, a process that was known to the Kabbalists who wrote the Sepher Yetsirah. If we deal out three Tarot cards, the centre is the Significator, either side are Modifiers. Looked at elementally, each card is modified by the other two. The Significator at the centre is considered either as the Originator, or the result – both are valid, and it depends on the nature and course of the reading . The number three immediately brings to mind the Triangle, the first geometric shape. The equilateral triangle can of course be rotated three times, which makes the three cards equal – it is up to the Reader to rank the relative importance and find the interpretation.
The fundamental structure of the Tree of Life is the Triangle – there are in fact three. The first, or Supernal Triangle is composed of Kether, Chokmah and Binah. The second triangle is composed of Chesed, Geburah and Tipareth, while the last triangle is Netzach, Hod and Yesod. Note that Malkuth is not part of the process, although we understand Malkuth to be “in Kether but after another way”. In other words, Malkuth completes the process, which starts again in Kether. The Supernal Triangle is upward pointing, while the next triangles point downwards.
The Triangle is related to Binah, the Third Sephirah.