Introductory Note: The following is adapted from a paper written for a grade within a magical Order that I was once involved in. I have left some of the references to using Golden Dawn techniques of Banishing Rituals and God Names in, generally in parentheses or brackets, although I no longer believe that the paranoia and sterility of ‘Western Tradition’ magic is necessary or desirable. Any work within one’s sub-conscious is real and potentially dangerous. It is possible to spark off deeply repressed memories and traumas, which at the extreme can lead to a serious life crisis. Tattva work is no different, and many tales abound warning against becoming obsessed with one particular Tattva (element), which may lead to a state of imbalance. I highly recommend that anyone wanting to explore the Tattvas at very least be familiar with the concepts of ‘active imagination’, ‘visualisation’, or ‘pathworking’. It is a good idea to record details of all sessions in a journal or diary, for later reference.
Tattvas are a way of directly “experiencing” the 5 alchemical elements, so are therefore the logical progression of the previous elemental grade where the elements were first discussed and symbolic ways of working with them described. The student is now taught a method of directly learning the “theoretical” structure of the elemental worlds.
A Brief History of the Tattvas
There are six main schools of thought on Tattvic philosophy. The original Tattva system was developed by the Indian Kapila as part of his Sankhya philosophy. This was about 700BCE, but the roots of Tattvic philosophy go back to at least 2000BCE. Kapila’s Sankhya philosophy system divides the universe into five basic Tattvic shapes, which when countercharged become 25 Tattvas.
The word Tattva is comprised of two words, “Tat” (meaning “that”) and “Tvam” (meaning “thou”). Tattva basicially means “thatness”, that is, the real being of anything. It is generally translated as meaning “quality”. Further, “Tat” represents the Godhead and “Tvam” the individual, giving a meaning (which fits in well with Hermetic Philosophy) of “That (which is the Universe) art thou.” This is similar to the Hermetic axiom of “As above, so below”, and is directly related to the concepts of the Macrocosm (“Tat”, Godhead) and Microcosm (“Tvam”, individual).
The Hatha Yoga School of Tattvic Philosophy links the energy found in breathing (Prana) with the cycle of the five Tattvas. The eighth chapter of the “Shivagama” is “The Science of Breath and the Philosophy of the Tattvas.” It is written within this work that “The Universe came out of the Tattvas; it goes on by the instrumentality of the Tattvas; it disappears into the Tattvas; by the Tattvas is known the nature of the Universe.”
The Tattvas are the five modifications of the Great Breath, Prana, which is described as the life principle of the Universe (macrocosm) and man (microcosm). Prana consists of an ocean of the five Tattvas.
The Buddhist texts of Indian Tantra describe 7 energy centres (chakras) in connection with the five Tattvas. This finds its ultimate refinement in the Tibetan Buddhist fivefold chakra system, which is part of their fivefold division of esoteric symbolism for categorising the Universe. The Tattvas correspond to the five lower chakras in the Indian scheme of energy centres, and to all five psychic centres of the Tibetan chakra scheme.
H.P. Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society, based in Adyar, India, derived the bulk of their knowledge on Tattvas from Rama Prasad, who taught the Tattvic philosophy of the Hatha Yoga School. The Theosophists combined these teachings with those of the Esoteric Tibetan Buddhist tradition. On top of this they conjectured two more Tattvas, to make a total of seven, which allowed them to directly match the Tattvas to there sevenfold system, in particular to the seven Chakras.
The Tattvas they added were Adi, which is egg shaped, and Anupadaka, which is a crescent moon containing a radiant white sun.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn incorporated the Theosophical Tattva system, however discarding the sixth and seventh conjectured Tattvas, The Golden Dawn utilised Kapila’s Sankhya Tattva system of 25 countercharges. This was the only Eastern concept that the Golden Dawn introduced into their system. It was perhaps influenced by the mention of Tattvas in Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Zanoni, which was very likely the first mention of Tattvas in Western literature. In Zanoni the poisoning of the main character was neutralised by the magical visualisation of the Apas Tattva.
The Golden Dawn system parallels the five Tattvas to the Western Doctrine of the 5 elements, the four primary elements and quintessence.
The Tattvic Philosophy in Western Tradition
The Tattvas are the astral form of the Elements, upon which the Physical elements are based. The process of how the Tattvic elements become manifest is a complex process, which will be described briefly below.
From the Sun, a ‘solar wind’ constantly streams forth. It is a partially electro-magnetic nitrous gas, which is very subtle and non-physical in nature. This is the Prana (Life Matter) of the Eastern Mysteries. The Earth’s magnetic field captures this incorporeal nitre as the wind streams past our planet. This unmanifest substance circulates around the planet in a series of fivefold waves, each of which comprises five sub-waves. These waves are constantly rising and falling. It becomes more and more physical as it passes through our atmosphere. A salt is formed as this nitre passes through water vapour. This is “a most subtle virgin earth,” the Prima Materia of the alchemists.
The Tattva flows start at sunrise and flow from Spirit, to Air, to Fire, to Water, to Earth. Each sub-Tattva takes four minutes and 48 seconds to transit a given spot, meaning it takes a total of 24 minutes for each main Tattva. Thus it takes a total of two hours for a primary flow of all five Tattvas to transit. The Earth’s electromagnetic field and ley lines are vitalised by these currents.
(Note: There are different schools of thought as to the timing of the Tattva flows. This is just one school of thought and was used by the Golden Dawn system.)
All five Tattvas are considered to be “ethers.” The atoms of the ether bring the atoms of the atmosphere into the necessary state of vibration for us to perceive it. Each of the Tattvic ethers is related to one of the five senses. Rama Prasad gives the example that Light is the manifestation of the Tejas Tattva (the luminiferous ether) within the atmosphere, that is, matter is brought into the correct visual vibration for us to perceive it.
In “Nature’s Finer Forces” Tattvas are defined as the following: a mode of motion; the central impulse, which keeps matter in a certain vibratory state; a distinct form of vibration. Also, “every form and every motion is a manifestation of these Tattvas singly or in conjunction.”
The first statement reflects what hermetic science states of the nature of the alchemical processes, that is, “to raise the vibrations of matter” and thus bring it into the condition of harmony, Quintessence. Modern Physics concurs with this ancient knowledge that all matter is energy at various vibratory rates.
The second statement, that all matter and motion is a manifestation of the Tattvas is a direct parallel with the Western Doctrine of Elements, which also asserts that all matter is comprised of varying proportions of the subtle elements.
The other direct parallel between the Eastern and Western systems is that Tattvic philosophy asserts that Akasha is the “most important” Tattva. Akasha is what Western Tradition calls Spirit, or Quintessence, and like the four base elements all deriving from Spirit, “it is out of Akasha that every form comes, and it is in Akasha that every form lives.”
The Western Tradition’s Doctrine of Elements is exemplified by the Enochian system of magick. Compared with the Tattvas, the Enochian system has been more intellectualised. This seems only natural in that (in psychological terms) the Western tradition is one of “thinking” and the Eastern tradition is one of “feeling.”
Modern Enochian magickians have proposed a direct correlation between the Elements and the Forces of modern science. This is perhaps very relevant to the Tattvas, in that as “ethers” they are subtle and intangible, something that gives form to matter. Akasha/Spirit is correlated to the hypothesised “Superforce” of the Grand Unified Field theory of Relativity. Air and Fire are in juxtaposition in Enochian, compared to the Vayu and Tejas of Tattvic Philosophy, but are equated to the weak and strong nuclear forces of physics. Water/Apas is linked to electromagnetism and Earth/Prithivi is linked to Gravity.
Each of the Tattvas has a corresponding symbol and colour, which can be considered an atomic form of the element when it is viewed clairvoyantly. These symbols differ from the Western Tradition symbols and colour attributions, and also vary slightly between the various Tattvic philosophies. Each of the Tattvas and their attributes will be described separately below.
The Akasha Tattva is associated with the Spirit of Western Tradition and is the sonoriferous ether (sound). It is represented by some as a black or indigo Vesica Piscis, which is almond shaped. It represents the womb of the Universal Mother. In other versions, such as the Golden Dawn tradition, Akasha is symbolised by an oval or egg shape. Akasha is “every colour” or “clear.” Black can also be seen as the absorption of all other colours, and its “flashing” (complimentary) colour is luminous.
The quote given before, that Akasha is the most important Tatva, in that all forms come from and live in it, is of particular importance. The Akasha Tattva, when used as a “doorway” for scrying can allow one to scan for information within what Theosophists have termed the Akashic Record. The Akashic record contains, as the quote states, all forms. It could be compared with the “collective unconscious” of Jungian psychology. It contains all memories of human experience, but beyond it contains all future “history” in seed form.
Vayu is the tangiferous ether (touch). It is associated with the element of Air in Western Tradition. It is represented by a sky-blue circle.
Tejas is the luminiferous ether (sight/light/colour). It is associated with the element of Fire in Western Tradition. It is represented by a red equilateral triangle. The Fire of Tejas is considered to be Agni, which is the Vedic sacrificial fire and the interior fire of Kundalini Yoga.
Apas is the gustiferous ether (taste). It is associated with the element of Water in Western Tradition. It is represented in the Tibetan version as a purple half circle. The Golden Dawn depicted Apas as a white or silver crescent, with the two points up.
Prithivi is the odoriferous ether (smell). It is associated with the element of Earth in Western Tradition. It is represented by a yellow square.
The sub-Tattvas are represented by placing a smaller Tattvic symbol within the larger main Tattvic symbol. This gives a total of 25 Tattvas: Spirit of Spirit, Air of Spirit, Fire of Spirit, Water of Spirit, Earth of Spirit; Air of Air, Fire of Air, Water of Air, Earth of Air, Spirit of Air; Fire of Fire, Water of Fire, Earth of Fire, Spirit of Fire, Air of Fire; Water of Water, Earth of Water, Spirit of Water, Air of Water, Fire of Water; & Earth of Earth, Spirit of Earth, Air of Earth, Fire of Earth, Water of Earth.
Clairvoyance and the Tattvas
Within the Western Tradition, the Tattvas are primarily used to help develop the faculty of astral clairvoyance.
The symbol of the Tattvas is placed upon cards. Sub-Tattvas are placed within the larger Tattva image. The process of scrying is started by sitting comfortably and gazing fixedly at the Tattvic symbol until it is thoroughly assimilated. The edges of the Tattvic symbol will appear luminous after several minutes, as the flashing (or complimentary) colour appears on the retina. This complimentary colour is considered to be the astral counterpart of the actual colour. While meditating on the chosen Tattva, one should also “feel” the attributes of the associated element, letting the entire consciousness be filled with the appropriate sensations. For example with the Vayu Tattva, one could imagine a breeze blowing around and through them, concentrating on how this airy breeze feels, smells, tastes and sounds.
Once the Tattva has been completely assimilated the card can be set aside and the eyes closed. The Tattvas symbol should appear in its flashing colour. This symbol serves as a doorway through which one travels. When entering through the symbol one should feel themselves pass through a ‘veil’ or membrane. Once on the other side, one should take a moment to adjust to their new surroundings, taking note of what the new surroundings consist of.
A guide can be summoned to accompany you on your exploration of the surroundings, who can explain aspects of the environment to you, and take you to important entities who live within the realm (According to ‘safety’ and ‘protocol’ various esoteric groups insist on the following: when first met, a guide should be tested with elemental signs, and the highest magickal names associated with the element. If the guide responds correctly to the signs, then it can be followed in good faith.) It is important to show all due courtesy to a guide, and thank it for its time and co-operation and bid it farewell. It is also of benefit to ask its permission to summon it again when you next return to this Tattva.
This initial entry point is also where one departs from, stepping backwards through the portal. Once back on the other side, one should visualise the portal closing.
This process is intended to allow one to enter into the actual element (Tattva flow), initially via “active imagination” and eventually by spontaneous clairvoyance. By scrying the astral current we are attempting to see beyond the material manifestation of an element by transmuting the physical Element into its astral state. The intent is to learn about the vital principle, which the element represents. Within the astral this vital principle becomes perceptible to us as living beings of approximately human form. Everything within this astral environment is of a form and appearance that is highly symbolic of the meanings and intentions of what it represents. On the physical plane humans have obscured this process of dressing in a ways not symbolic of their true natures. Most animals however still retain a degree of symbolism, such as bright colours often representing the dangerous nature of the animal (especially in the case of tropical fish, tree frogs, and spiders).
On the astral, Elementals may masquerade for a while in deceptive form, buts its true form is always constant with its Element and character. (More from the ‘traditions': To try and ‘force’ them into assuming their true form one can test them by using God Names, Grade/Elemental signs, Invoking/Banishing forms of the Elemental pentagrams). Deep scanning of an entity’s core ideals and feelings allows one to compare how it “feels” with how it “appears,” and if the feelings don’t match with its outward appearance then deception can be detected.
[More from the 'traditions': Every opportunity to question entities encountered should be taken, being sure to respect and appreciate them as sentient beings. All due courtesy should be shown to them in accordance with their rank, deference and humility being shown to the Superior Orders, the Archangels, Angels and Rulers. Those of lower rank than oneself should be treated as equals, while those of the lowest ranks should be treated with the respect one would show to a servant, without allowing familiarity.
Elementals such as fairies, gnomes, salamanders, etc., must be treated with caution as they are often prone to mischievous although are generally free from malice.]
Through the use of the Tattvas great insight can be gained into the structure of the astral, and the mechanics which remain concealed from physical reality. No opportunity should be overlooked to learn and explore the environments, and wise and knowledgeable entities should be sought who may be able to impart knowledge of and insights into magickal and alchemical processes and concepts.
For Further Information, including the process of ‘Tattva Vision’ see the Tattva Vision exercise.