Awakening the Eld in Tarot

“Awakening the Eld” is a phrase from a narrative that Aleister Crowley uses to explain the ways that the court cards in tarot are associated with the Tetragrammaton and how that name models divine power. If you didn’t understand any of the words in that sentence, don’t worry! That’s typical. It’s a very useful model of how to think of the court cards, but it takes some unpacking. So here am I, to unpack! Join me as I describe what the hell the “Eld” is, why we want it to wake up, and how that’s useful when you’re staring a client in the face.

The Story

I am summarizing the story as told in Crowley’s Book of Thoth, though it’s also described in a few other places as well. I’m also trying to clarify it, but I’m not trying to rewrite it, at least not at this time. So here goes!

The idea is that there is a king on his throne, bowed down with age. His queen has a son, the prince, and she sends the prince on a quest to revitalize the kingdom. The Prince finds the Princess, marries her, and they become the King and Queen? Sort of? The spark of the divine in the King is reawakened, but sometimes the Princess marries the Prince and sometimes it’s the King? And in both cases, it’s the same thing? As a parable it’s not exactly the Good Samaritan, things are confusing. But this actually – and sorry in advance – this makes sense. Because it’s demonstrating how the four parts of a single entity are interacting. For example, sometimes the Princess is also the daughter of the Queen, so it’s kind of incestuous? But since these are really all emanations of the same figure – God – it’s not really incestuous as much as it is the self working on the self.

Here’s the longest bit from Book of Thoth that’s not broken up by other considerations:  

no sooner has the Princess made her appearance than the Prince wins her in marriage, and she is set upon the throne of her Mother. She thus awakens the Eld of the original old king; who thereupon becomes a young Knight, and so renews the cycle.

Crowley, Aleister. Book of Thoth. p. 151.

So! The story is, at its core, about a sexual union that sparks off a new generation, over and over and over. And this symbolizes the way that the four elements of the Divine Name (YHVH) interact, working each with the next to maintain the system of the world, so to speak.

Tarot

Tarot cards. Remember those? So each court card corresponds to a letter of the Divine Name.

King: Yod

Queen: He (“primal” – the first one)

Prince: Vav/Vau

Princess: He (“final”)

The courts are all engaged in this process of aging and reawakening. As a practical note, this is why some decks arrange things so the King comes first and the courts lead to the Princess, rather than going “up” the court. The process begins with the aged king and ends with the Princess revitalizing things.

There are a number of other attributions that come into play when looking at the courts, such as elements and zodiac signs, but we’re isolating this thread of imagery today. The King is the beginning, not the end, of the story, since it’s a quest. The Holy Grail story begins with King Arthur’s court, it doesn’t end with it. That’s the thing to keep in mind.

And yes, it assumes a kind of “mapped to nature” ideology of sex and power, but it’s about 100 years old at this point, cut it some slack. Do not, by any means, tell clients or friends that the appearance of the Princess means they should either get pregnant or get someone pregnant! But – anticipating the next section a bit – you should feel free to discuss how the Princess points to the need for a vital spark, and what do they think that could be in their life?

Praxis

So what, you should ask, so what? If you use tarot as a meditation aid then this symbolism is immediately useful, whether you’re overtly devoted to YHVH or not – the cards symbolize the way that energy moves in a system; that can be an ecological system, or your body, or your community, or The Divine Whatever. But it’s also useful in divinatory readings.

Let’s take a typical question we might get: “should I look for a new job given XYZ?” And let’s say we’re going to pick just a single card, and for purposes of this piece it’ll be a court card. I’ll randomly select one now.

Princess of Wands.

So the stuff we might say before he have to resort to the Awakening of the Eld narrative include

  • Wands indicate passion and desire. They can also mean our higher thoughts, like spiritual matters.
  • Princesses are beginnings.
  • Anything indicated by the image. The Thoth deck’s Princess of Wands is basically naked (of course she is), rising up near a flaming altar, bearing a wand with a sun on the end. This could indicate all sorts of things, but going up, altar, and fire are important keywords.
  • Princesses are the earthy part of fire, which we might think of as the coal required for the fire to burn.

Even before we get to the Eld, we see some clear indicators that the querent should probably get on the job hunting site of their choice!

The Eld gives us a little more nuance. Look for something that isn’t just a new job to you, but new to the field in some way, no matter how small. Princesses bring back that divine spark to the system, adding energy to keep it going for another cycle. It’s the push your friend gives you as you swing back towards them on the playground. It’s the act of pulling the batteries out of your remote to charge them. The new beginning is more than just looking for better pay or a boss who isn’t an asshole – though definitely also do those things, Querent! In this case the card can also be read as saying you should either look for a way to revitalize things or be that thing yourself. Maybe it’ll be working at a startup you genuinely believe is trying to improve your field. Maybe it’s actually getting a qualification in something new before you start the job hunt. The practical answer to the question will always depend on the querent’s situation and background. But in this case the Princess of Wands indicates that the querent should be looking for ways to revitalize and being energy back to the system that’s associated with their passions and dreams (as opposed to, say, the Princess of Disks, which might be pointing toward more material matters).

And, of course, this doesn’t take into account that the Eld changes suit as well, which is a topic for another day!

Resources

As is often the case, I recommend the work of T. Susan Chang to help you get to grips with tarot attributions.

And this idea is pulled from the work of Aleister Crowley, particularly The Book of Thoth.

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