Tattwa Cards • Tattwa Cards 2.0 with borders

This is one of the most popular posts on my website.  If you download these cards and find them useful, consider making a donation or a gift using the link at right (PayPal) to thank me.  It would be appreciated.

The link above will take you to a PDF, which have 25 of the common Tattwa symbols on them. You can cut the cards apart, four to a page, and then you’ll have some tools for meditations. Something Gordon said in his most recent post made me sit up and notice.  He said that he feels like magical blogging is dead except on Tumblr, but that he intended to stay where he was. And that comment made me feel like I wanted to do something that brought some magic back to this blog. I’ve just recently gotten involved in a Tumblr-based magical writing project, but that doesn’t mean I want to neglect this blog, either.

The teachers who read this blog, and the people who come for the daily tai chi updates, probably don’t know about magic or my interest in the occult probably have no idea what Tattwa cards are.  They were common enough in turn-0f-the-century magical orders, I guess, where they served as a training exercise for people to develop their powers of observation and meditation.  Each card consisted of a colored symbol which originated somewhere in “the East” which was probably either code for “we made this up yesterday” or “we completely misunderstood what the guru in India was trying to tell us.”

I don’t know which one it is.  There appear to be two Hindu systems of Tattwas, one with 25 symbols (as here in the set I made tonight), and one with 36 symbols (adding a symbol for Air of Air, Water of Water, Earth of Earth, Fire of Fire, Spirit of Spirit, and … apparently another six on top of that? Not sure where those would come from. Hmm. Something to look into).  The Order of the Golden Dawn worked with the 25-symbols system, where a blue circle stood for Air, a red triangle stood for Fire, a silver moon stood for Water, and a yellow square stood for Earth. The black egg or oval was the symbol of Akasha or Spirit.

Each of these main symbols got a card, and then a subsequent series of cards each got a smaller version of the other symbols superimposed on the big symbols.  Thus, you’d have Airy Earth (a blue circle on a yellow square), and Spirit Fire (a black egg on a red triangle), and Fiery Water (a red triangle on a silver moon).  The idea was that these symbols were not commonly known in the western world, although the ideas behind the symbols were. Thus, you’d know when you’d meditated properly on the theme of each card when the imagery associated with the elemental forces came into your mind without you trying to summon it to mind.

Here, the idea is that you can print and cut apart the cards,  and do your own Tattwa meditations if you like.  Or you can use mine as an inspirational guide for making your own.  Or you can ignore the cards completely.

The Implications for Design

For me, there’s a larger implication of these cards. There’s an implication of cultural appropriation in the existence of the cards; they were Hindu concepts of elemental forces first, before either the Golden Dawn or Theosophy sunk their teeth into them and dragged them into western consciousness.  Is it acceptable to use them?

Beyond cultural appropriation, beyond the question of whether or not this is robbing another culture, there’s the larger implication of the power of symbol to affect consciousness.  Students who get stuck on a design project at school have a tendency to start decorating their work. Geever Tully has talked about this in regards to the Tinkering School; it’s sort of a feature of Chaos-style sigil magic; and I’ve observed it in students who get lost — they tend to start making doodles on their papers.  We are a visual people, us humans.

I wonder what happens, though, when we don’t have any symbols to work with?  If my Latin students are any indication, we doodle aimlessly.  We also tend to be captured by any wandering symbol or vagrant meme that floats by, looking for a host mind. If we have symbolism to work with, though, beauty is possible.  The symbols we know and understand tend to give us a framework for creating further beauty.  I tried to create this with the Design Manifesto and Diagram for my school. By basing it on geometry, I hoped to awaken the people who saw it to the beauties of relationship and proportion.

I’m not sure anybody read it outside my own circle of friends.

But as I meditate these days on the power of symbol, my mind keeps coming back to my original thoughts about Tattwa cards, and how unfamiliar symbols could nonetheless key me in to certain elemental awarenesses which were non-obvious and yet powerful.  It may be time to revisit these cards in the near future.

How to Use Them

Say you decide to print them and use them yourself… and then you discover they have no instructions!? Then what?

Try this.

Each day, take a card.  Study it carefully for a few minutes with your eyes open.  Then look away from it, at a bright white wall or other surface.  You should find that the reverse-color image manifests in your vision on the white wall.

When you can reliably achieve this vision with any card in the deck, close your eyes, and try to imagine the image becoming a doorway.  Walk through that doorway, and experience the landscape beyond. When you have finished studying that landscape, return to your body and write in a journal what you have seen.  Note down whether you think the visionary landscape you encountered actually matches the symbolic intent of the card.

You may discover that with some practice, your visionary experience, and the symbolic intent of the card, match up surprisingly well.