Skip to content

World-Universe-Cosmos, Part 1

by Tony Willis    

In the predictive tarot, Trump 21, The World, has an uncomplicated meaning. Gypsy lore sums up the energies mediated by the card in glowing terms: Reward, Success, Fulfilment, and Triumph. The instructions continue by explaining that if the card is surrounded by other fortunate omens, the inquirer has nothing to fear; success is immanent and nothing now can prevent it from arriving in her life. But if The World is reversed or sandwiched between cards of an adverse disposition, there will be difficulties to overcome before the fruits of the inquirer’s labors can be enjoyed in their fullness; or as another account puts it, “Struggles and Obstacles before Achievement.”

As it is the last card of the numbered sequence, Trump 21 can be assigned the keyword Completion, signaling a satisfactory ending to a project or piece of work. Esoterically, the emphasis is on triumphant conclusion and the realization of aspirations, significances we will return to shortly.

Frank Lind’s delineations are typical of the late nineteenth- early twentieth-century readings of the card: “Worldly success. Material gain. Joy of living, indulgence in worldly delights; bliss amidst abundance; perfect contentment. Distant travelling.” The choice of words is striking – “worldly success”, “worldly delights” – linking the meanings to the card’s title, The World. Mention of distant travelling intimates that the expanded significance of this phrase would, in poetic terms, be “you will travel the world.”

tdm world 21  bota trump 21  21-the-universe-golden-dawn-magical-tarot

In recent times, the title of the card has evolved. On the Tarot de Marseilles, and in other early tarots, the card is called the World. The Golden Dawn school of tarot refers to it as The Universe, and other decks have taken up this nomenclature. Near the end of the twentieth century, I began to see the name The Cosmos appearing in some decks. There are reasons for these changes, some sound, some not, and it may help readers to grasp what is going on if those reasons are elucidated.

We need to start by looking into what people of the Renaissance understood by the term ‘world’. In this context they meant, first and foremost, the Earth. In 1410/1425, when the first tarots were produced, it was generally believed that the Earth was flat, which is to say, it was “all on one plane”. This flatness notwithstanding, the Sun, Moon, planets and stars circled the Earth, occupying a space designated by the science of the time as “the celestial region”. The Earth constituted one level of experience; above it came the celestial level, and above that lay the divine level. This structure remains the basis for the ways tarot cards are interpreted, a structure we have encountered many times in our passage through the Trumps. Traditionally, occultists give cards subtly different meanings on the physical, psychic and spiritual levels. (‘Psychic’ here corresponds to ‘soul’ and to ‘celestial’ – though occultist prefer the term ‘astral’ when referring to levels.)

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, an old rhyme tells us, Columbus sailed the ocean blue – and discovered the Americas, sounding the death-knell for flat-earthism. From today’s perspective, it is all too easy to imagine that, with the Earth proved not to be flat – to be, most likely, a sphere – the way people regarded  Nature, geography, and science in general would be turned on its head. Sure enough, opinions and attitudes changed over time but they did so with painful slowness. In the sixteenth century, Shakespeare and his contemporaries spoke of the Earth as a globe; maps began to be drawn on the basis that the Earth was an orb. Nevertheless, the Earth did not lose its status as “the physical world” with other “worlds” hovering above it.

The Earth was the home of the Four Elements as generally presented to the

4 elements illustrations

imagination: Fire burning up a pile of sticks (or as in the accompanying illustration, as the effulgent Sun), the Water of the seas and rivers, the clouds of the Air, and Earth in all its productive fullness,rich in forests and fertile plains.The association of Trump 21 with the Four Elements is acknowledged on the Tarot de Marseilles card (and in other packs exhibiting comparable symbolism) by the representations of what are known as the Four Holy Animals at the corners of the card.

On one level the Holy Animals correspond to the evangelists and through them form a link between the physical, astral and divine worlds. The evangelists were mortal men who in their day lived and moved and had their being here on Earth; at the same time, in Christian theology, they were each designated a sign of the zodiac and each zodiac sign represents one of the Holy Animals – St. Luke was assigned the sign Taurus, the bull, St. Mark Leo, the lion, St. John Scorpio, depicted as a eagle, and St Matthew Aquarius, a man. The signs of the zodiac, being composed of fixed stars, mark the boundary between the celestial and divine levels, being situated in the former but acting as a doorway to the latter. The evangelists, therefore, offer the faithful a direct route to Heaven, rising from the material and going straight to the realm of the fixed stars with the promise of entry into the divine world laying just beyond it.

harmony of spheres ptolemy

Science at the time believed that the celestial world was composed of a series of spheres, crystalline and thus transparent, nested one within the other, the Earth at the center of the arrangement. (See illustration above.) Immediately above the Earth came the sphere of the Moon which was succeeded by the spheres of the other planets up to that named for Saturn (the trans-Saturnian planets were yet to be discovered). The final sphere was that of the fixed stars; that, however, was considered so far distant, conceptually, that the minds of very few could comprehend its true significance, and fewer still could reach the sphere of the fixed stars save by the grace of God mediated by the evangelists. On the other hand, what the Moon symbolized, what Mercury or Mars or Saturn or any of the planets symbolized, was something the human mind could grasp. On some later versions of Trump 21, the sphere of the fixed stars is depicted as an oval of what appear to be pearls around the central figure. Behind this “string of pearls” are twelve colored circles representing the signs of the zodiac. The pearls themselves stand for the pentads into which esoteric astrology divides the zodiac signs, six divisions each spanning five degrees, total (6×5) 30.

universe-21 GD    21 Universe

In the Marseille tarot, the figure dances within an oval wreath of leaves, as it does in the Builders of the Adytum and Waite-Smith decks. (See above.) However it is depicted, the oval delimits the movements of the central figure. She dances freely but within the confines of the oval. Esotericists take this to be a means of describing the freedom the soul experiences once liberation from the wheel of birth and rebirth has been obtained. At this stage of development, although the soul may do whatever it pleases, it is more than content to act within the limitations the Divine has set upon it.

As humans gained a greater understanding of the Earth’s place, first in the solar system, and then in the universe, the older view of Earth as the only world our species could ever hope to explore physically became outmoded and new insights had to be accommodated into occult philosophy in order to keep abreast of popular opinion. Accordingly, the guiding lights behind the Golden Dawn system of magick adjusted the name on the card to The Universe. I’m sure no one in the Golden Dawn thought of there being more than one universe – ‘uni’ signifying ‘one’ in Latin. Today it is common to talk in the plural, of universes, but the Victorians were not open to the idea of a plenitude of universes. Once the idea has caught on, however, another term is needed to denote everything that is manifest, or in Christian terms, everything in creation. The chosen word is ‘cosmos’ and some modern decks that have discarded the traditional Trump titles have chosen to call this Trump The Cosmos. But whatever name the card is given, it is meant to describe All, the visible and invisible divisions of existence – everything, in short, other than that portion of the Divine that remains ever unmanifest.

A hundred years ago, Charles Platt, in The Art of Card Fortune Telling, set out this prime occult tenet in the following terms: “The Twenty-first card . . . is known as the Universe; but it does not refer to this par­ticular world of our own, which is often carelessly called the universe, but the entire Universe, Creation, everything that is or can be.”

Occult teaching aids frequently use the words ‘universe’ and ‘cosmos’ as if they were interchangeable. Some esoteric schools favor the first expression, others the second. Thus, we find Thomas Burgoyne (in his unoriginal book on the tarot) explaining: “Man is a microcosm – a universe within himself.” “Man,” he continues, “in his physical body, is a perfect epitome of the planet upon which he lives, while the celestial worlds find their perfect expression in his soul.” In two sentences, Burgoyne presents the esoteric view of the relation of the microcosm to the macrocosm succinctly and accurately. And he intends “universe” to be understood in exactly the sense proposed by Charles Platt. (We must forgive Burgoyne, a man of a former age, for his use of “man” to denote human kind; this way of talking was considered normal in his day.)

At about the same time as Burgoyne was writing, a scion of a different occult school, was informing his readers that “The cosmos is not dead matter but a living presence”, where Burgoyne and his like would have preferred the term “universe”.

The design of the Tarot de Marseilles World card presents the universe/cosmos as a living entity: she is female, and therefore capable of giving birth; she gambols within the confines of a leafy garland, identified with the laurel victor’s crown, a symbol predating the foundation of the Roman Empire; her progress is watched over and supported by revered representatives of the Four Elements, the four Holy Creatures associated with the Heavenly Throne of the Almighty. (See illustration.) Contemplation of this image draws the mind schooled in Christo-Judaic symbolism toward the notion that “the universe is built and ordered under the rule of sacred law”, and from thence to contemplation of the essential nature of the Intelligence that ordained the universe’s construction and rational ordering.

throne of god

In the concluding part of this article, I will examine the train of thought behind one of the esoteric titles of Trump 21, the Crown of the Magi.


The Day of Judgment

by Tony Willis    

The earliest examples of tarot cards come from fifteenth century Italy. Inevitably these decks show images pertaining to Christianity. One such image is to be found on Trump 20, and, though the card generally has the word Judgment printed on it, it is actually named either The Day of Judgment or The Angel of Judgment. In the Builders of the Adytum version of the card, the angelic figure, identified with Gabriel, blows a trumpet that has a flag attached to it. The symbol on the flag, a red cross on a white background, can be found on a banner in the hand of Christ as he rises from the tomb in numerous paintings of the resurrection. (See below.)



In the story of Christ, the resurrection occurs toward the end of the narrative, to be followed by ten or so brief appearances to Mary Magdalene and the Apostles, and culminating with His assentation into heaven. According to Christian theology, everyrw judgement-00 human soul follows in the footsteps of the Master Jesus; every one of us is born, lives our lives, dies, and then waits upon resurrection, due to occur on the day of Judgment, and sometimes referred to as the Last Day. On the day of Judgment, the archangel Gabriel will blow his trumpet, graves will open, and humanity will rise up ready to be judged. Have we lived well, or selfishly? Have we done good in our lives, even to those that hate us, as scripture dictates, or have we acted evilly, mindful only of our own interests at the expense of those of our fellow humans or to the detriment of the planet as whole? This is the scene we are confronted with in early tarots, on the Tarot de Marseilles Trump and others, including the illustration on the Waite-Smith card.

It is Christian belief that the soul deemed to have lived a good life will pass on to heaven while the soul that is found wanting will be consigned to hell. The esoteric teaching is more humane, and it is this esoteric teaching that is reflected in the tarot; for the cards coming after Judgement are not images of Hell and Heaven. In the Marseille tarot they are The World and The Fool, as they are in all published tarots prior to the appearance of the Waite-Smith deck in 1909. The Fool is not numbered zero: it is numberless and considered by a large body of tarot enthusiasts to follow The World. Art historians who have spent time looking into the imagery of the tarot have concluded that the image of The World card, as we have it today, is a mutation of an image of Christ enclosed within a mandorla (a roughly elliptical frame) presiding over paradise in the form of a new Jerusalem, a walled city on top of a hill. If these conclusions are correct, this would equate Trump 21 with the Heaven of the Christian paradigm, but The Fool, however one cares to interpret it, shows no sign of corresponding to Hell.

The esoteric view of Judgment does not postpone the weighing of the soul until the Last Day. It believes instead that souls are judged at the end of each incarnation. Those passing the test go on to the greater glory represented in the tarot by The World. Those who fail the test are sent back into incarnation to try again to perfect and discipline their souls and also to expiate wrongs done in the life just quitted. Far more fail this test than pass it. Thus we find the French magus, Eliphas Levi, moving The Fool to position number 21, on the grounds that most people encounter The Fool long before they finally attain the perfected state that will allow them to enter into the experience symbolized by The World. Though Levi shifted the position of The Fool, he did not renumber it. That change came later, possibly instituted by Levi’s pupil Paul Christian. In fact, tarots that number The Fool 21 and The World 22 are in the minority, even on the continent where Levi’s correspondences are more honored than those lying behind the Golden Dawn tarot card interpretations are.

tarot-vision-afbeeldingen-174     tdm world 21

The occult teachings attached to the Judgment card can be summed up in three phrases: the Protection of Divine Forces, Moral Rebirth, and Change of Condition. The Divine Forces referred to are the active wing of the Occult Hierarchy we encountered when looking into the hidden significance of The Moon tarot card. Their presence here reminds the student that, even if the Angel of Judgment requires the soul to return to the physical plane and take on matter once again, the process is not essentially a punishment; it is, on the contrary, a fresh start, another opportunity to live a life suffused with good deeds and charitable actions, and perhaps a chance to put right wrongs perpetrated in a previous life.

Those souls freed from the wheel of birth and rebirth experience a moral rebirth; for once judgment has been passed upon them, they move to the final stage in the quest for the spiritual perfection. But whether the soul is moving forward to the stage of evolution identified with the tarot’s World, or sideways to the transitionary experience symbolized by the Fool, it necessarily undergoes a distinct change of condition. The last two phases we will find reflected, at a lower level of human experience, in the meanings ascribed to Trump 20 by the predictive tarot.

The so-called secret titles for Judgment are, in Latin: Attarctio Divina, Transformation Astralis, and Mutationes in Tempore – Divine Attraction, Astral Transformation, and Changes in Time. The first flags up the fact that the Divine continually attracts the human soul as the magnet attracts iron filings. This may seem hard to believe at times when so many humans are reported on the daily news as acting inhumanely, but such outward seeming is what protects the greater occult secrets: by reading surface events only the uninitiated are led meekly away from the door to the sanctuary and by this means, the higher truths are insulated from their touch.

The term Astral Transformation touches on a deeper esoteric teaching regarding karma and reincarnation. The West has an imperfect understanding of both. The part of the teaching that concerns us here relates to the conditions required to guarantee that a soul no longer needs to incarnate. It is not the body that reincarnates, obviously. The body dies and decomposes. What survives, according to occult philosophy, are the soul’s astral and spiritual components. Of these, the latter is not only indestructible but immutable. On the other hand, the astral component changes constantly, as life progresses, and between incarnations. As the soul is perfected and disciplined, its astral component becomes more rarified, until, after much labor, it dissolves entirely. The body – the center of our outer sense-nature – gone, and the astral body – the center of our inner sense-nature – gone, all that remains is spirit. Entering fully into spirit, human consciousness encounters a state of timelessness, though time evidently exists. To those of us still in incarnation, this is the esoteric equivalent of the physicist’s Schrodinger’s Cat paradox. Or as one more knowledgeable than I am on these matters has put it: “On the physical level [Trump 20] represents the very structure of the dimension of time, so difficult to accept for those who have not reached the end of the long road.”

In the nineteenth century, the favored delineation for the Judgment card became “change of position.” It arises out of the interpretation of the Christian day of judgment as a leading to a definite move imposed on the soul; for judgment being passed, it must either ascend to Heaven or descend to Hell. On its own, the card could not be taken as an indication of the direction of travel; this might be up or down depending on the lie of the other cards in the spread; though should Judgment be reversed, it was presumed to portend an unavoidable fall from grace.

20-the-judgement1 Arcane-Arcana-20-jugement-judgement

Charles Platt, in The Art of Card Fortune Telling, sees the card exactly in these terms: “a change of position, or if reversed, loss of position. It will be noted that the change of position shown by the upright card can be for better or worse.”

Book T, the Golden Dawn’s tarot manual, says that Trump 20 signifies “Renewal, Result, Determination of a Matter; Reversed: Postponement of Result, Delay, Matter re-opened later.” This reading of the card derives from the idea of a sentence administered by a court against whose verdict there is no appeal. In G.D. lore Trump 20 is assumed to indicate a matter that has been determined once and for all. The delineation can be traced back to Etteilla, who allots to the card the meaning Outcome.

Sepharial takes up and embroiders the metaphysical aspect of the card: “Spiritual awakening, conversion; moral regeneration, new regime”, adding significances that blend the spiritual with the material, “Genius, aspiration, activity, utility, work, occupation; mission; office; elevation.” “Mission”, for instance, is here to be understood as denoting a divine mission or at the very least one divinely inspired, whether the subject of the reading recognizes it in those terms or not. A similar interpretation is intended for “aspiration” also. What Sepharial does not make explicit is that any mission or aspiration (or activity or piece of work) not divinely inspired is doomed to collapse, hence Platt’s pronouncement, atypical for a tarot Trump, that “the change of position shown by the upright card can be for better or worse.”

Other tarot masters also stress the card’s metaphysical facet, notably Frank Lind: “Awakening, Rebirth, Spiritual advancement by suffering.”

Minetta offers a fascinating delineation, which we should heed since it represents the distillation of a professional cartomancer’s perception of the Trump in countless readings all mainly concerned with mundane rather than spiritual matters: “The effort to overcome difficulties, the desire for success; aspiration, duty, response of conscience; exaltation, new enterprises, and a change in the sphere of life and work.” This interpretation, married to Lind’s, encompasses the two modes Trump 20 can assume in a predictive tarot reading.

Tarot numerology is a quite separate study from the usual form of the subject, namely that almost invariably focusing on the properties of the digits 1 to 9. The tarot numerologist counts, not in 9s but in 22s, each number from 1 to 22 having its own unique qualities.

One initiate has spoken of the number 20, interpreted according to the cannon of tarot numerology, in these terms: “This number has a peculiar interpretation: the awakening of new purpose, new plans, new ambitions; the call to action, but always for some great purpose, cause or duty. It is not a material number and consequently is a doubtful one as far as worldly success is concerned. If used in relation to a future event, it denotes delays, hindrances to one’s plans, which can only be conquered through the development of the spiritual side of the nature.”

From this exposition can be deduced the degree to which the energies associated with the Judgment card teeter on a knife’s edge, liable to fall either to the right or the left, signalling a dramatic fall from grace or dispersing success, happiness and fulfilment.

Lord of Light and Life

by Tony Willis   

The tarot is like a jewel with a dozen facets. There is a predictive tarot, a psychological tarot, a mythological tarot and an esoteric tarot, to name but four. It is possible to make readings with the predictive or psychological tarots while happily ignorant that such a thing as the esoteric tarot exists. Even so, the esoteric tarot impinges on the predictive tarot and for this reason I have included examinations of both in this series of articles.

From what I can see, the predictive tarot is something of dying art, its rationale and procedures often not understood or, worse, misunderstood even by those attempting to use the cards for divination. It takes a particular cast of mind to fathom how meaningful interpretations are to be extracted from a card that might have as many as seven distinct connotations. A recently published book gives us insight into how the process works. In Giuseppe Maria Mitelli and the Tarocchino Bolognese by Giordano Berti (Rinacimento Italian Style Art, 2017), there is a section written by the experienced cartomancer Greta Boni Dori. In it, Mrs Boni Dori provides numerous pointers as what goes on in the trained mind of a reader of predictive tarot. The Tarocchino Bolognese departs from the symbolism of most other tarots at times, and this alteration yields some meanings inconsistent with those that students of the Tarot de Marseilles or the Waite-Smith images are used to. Nevertheless, there is much we can learn from Mrs Boni Dori’s accounts of the significances of the Tarocchino Bolognese Trumps.

Concerning the Sun, for instance, she states first its name, Sun, and its keyword, By Day. The use of keywords requires an article all to itself. For the present, I will say only that this keyword relates, among other things, to the sun’s rays, and by extension, to the shedding of light on things both in the literal and metaphorical senses. Thus we find Mrs Boni Dori explaining that the card “represents an invitation to make things clear”; or as an alternative, that “it announces that light will soon replace darkness”, in other words that what is obscure at the time of the reading will shortly be made clear, as a consequence of which Mrs Boni Dori assures the person consulting the cards “you are likely to find yourself feeling freer than you have in a while”.

Mrs Boni Dori goes further and describes the type of person denoted by the Sun card: “An energetic person, vital, focused, passionate and at the same time rational. An intellectual, a designer, a writer, a clerk.” Every one of these meanings is linked to the root-idea of the physical sun – the sun’s vitality suggesting passion in the sense of enthusiasm for life, an appetite for action concerning any endeavor the individual forms an attachment to. Take a moment to go through Mrs Boni Dori’s meanings and to trace them back to the root-idea. If you are able to do this readily within a few moments, then you have it in you to be successful in interpreting the tarot predictively.

imageThe Tarocchino Bolognese Sun card shows Apollo standing upright, a golden aureole around his head, a lyre in his hand. In classical mythology Apollo was a Sun-god and one of his attributes was the lyre. The scene on the Tarot de Marseilles Sun card has the solar orb, a human face inscribed upon it, in its upper register; what might be drops of dew appear to be falling from the sun. In the lower register, two children, wearing only collars and loincloths, reach out to one another with, behind them, a low brick wall. The difference between the two images will generate differences of interpretation.

A.E. Waite, writing as ‘Grand Orient’, states that Trump 19 signifies “Full light, intellectual and material”, which is a long-winded way of saying Enlightenment and is comparable with what Mrs Boni Dori expects her readers to understand by her keyword, “By Day”.

tarot_logo  bota trump 19  knapp 19

One set of Gypsy meanings gives an alternative keyword, Unveiling, also indicating that something unknown is about to brought out into the open. That this revelation will have beneficial by-products is made clear by the phrase the gypsies attach to “Unveiling”, which implies that a solution to the inquirer’s current problem is at hand. In the same document, the message is repeated more emphatically, for we are told that the card indicates that “there will soon be an improvement” and signifies an “early clearing up” of difficulties.

However, since the children on Trump 19 appear to be dancing with joy, other meanings were added to the card’s portfolio. S.L. Mathers takes the Trump to signify “Happiness, Content, and Joy”, and because the children a presumed be boy and girl, authorities such as Papus and Waite give the card the meaning “Marriage”. Papus also associates the card with “Earthly Happiness”. Waite, making a fusion of both interpretations, declares that it is a “card of earthly happiness, but not attained individually.” Hence the Sun card comes to be associated with the idea of a happy marriage and since the words “earthly”, “material” and “physical” are close cousins conceptually, it is sometimes made a sign of a fruitful marriage, too. Esoterically, the Trump is associated with fertility, as we shall see in a moment.

Treating the picture on the card metaphorically, Frank Lind suggests “bright prospects” as a suitable meaning for the card. Translating “earthly” into “material”, Lind goes on to associate Trump 19 with material gain on the one hand and, having brought “gain” into the picture, to associate it with the more rarefied idea of “Paradise regained” on the other.

The card’s so-called Secret Titles are: the True Light, Philosophical Gold, and Prolific Truth (which is where we reconnect with Fertility). Symbolically, the sun represents the True Light. We see clearly by its rays, whereas the moon’s light presents a far more ambiguous scene to our senses, a dimmer vista in which it is difficult to distinguish a dog from a wolf.

le_jugementIn Western alchemy, the sun’s metal is gold. The purpose of spiritual alchemy is to transmute the leaden state of the untempered soul into pure untarnished gold. Trump 19, representing a step on the soul’s journey through the tarot that brings it very close to the end of the process, fittingly symbolizes spiritual purification from an esoteric point of view. Whether the soul’s cleansing is complete after this bout of spiritual purification is something that will be tested when it moves to the experience denoted by the next Trump, the Day of Judgment, where it will be weighed in the balance and have justice meted out to it according to the results of that assessment.

The term Prolific Truth, where the noun is juxtaposed with an adjective not normally assigned to it, may seem more impenetrable to the uninitiated. At the most basic level, it simply means that, when a truth dawns on us, the realization does not throw light on one piece of data only but will illumine a great many other aspects of our personal world-view, since all facts and opinions are interconnected in the realm of the psyche.

Another version of the “Secret Titles” retains Fruitful Truth and the Gold of the Philosophers but posits Human Virtue as the third factor, situating it on the level of soul. To understand this better, let us look at the action occult science says the energy mediated by The Sun card assumes on successive invisible levels.

One authority has written: “On the spiritual level the Sun represents the liberating power . . . the dynamic union of above and below.” At once, the thread connecting the esoteric and predictive meanings is blindingly apparent. The liberating power is, in one manifestation, an instance of the old adage “The truth will set you free” in action. At the same time it strikes a note identical with Mrs Boni Dori’s “you are likely to find yourself feeling freer than you have in a while”. The phrase “the dynamic union of above and below” appears at the predictive level as “Fruitful Marriage”.

The text continues, “At the level of the soul [The Sun] represents the affinity and balance between knowledge and emotion and their synthesis, the essential prelude to any harmonious conquest.” What is here called “conquest” refers to the adjudication the soul is about to face when it enters the spiritual stage of development represented by Trump 20, Judgment. If there is insufficient harmony between the individual’s knowledge and emotion – intellect and feeling – the soul is sent back to repeat some or all of the steps to self-knowledge, given another chance to pass through the purifying fire that will render the soul not only wholesome but complete.

“On the physical level,” we are told, The Sun “represents the balanced reconciliation of complementary energies which, instead of attacking and trying to overcome one another, find the path of creative and constructive synthesis.” The boy and the girl on the card correspond to the “complementary energies” of the text that, by working together in harmony, “find the path of creative and constructive synthesis”. On the physical level, this works out as a Happy Marriage and a Fertile Union. The remark can refer to the interaction of two people, in love or business, or to the harmonization of the conscious and subconscious minds which in the average person are locked in a state muted antagonism.

The truths of spiritual alchemy have been known to initiates of all nations and to all schools of the instituted mysteries for thousands of years. Thus we find Lao Tzu (China, sixth century BCE) writing: “If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly the greatest gift you have to give is your own self-transformation.”

Ah, Moon of My Delight

by Tony Willis   

From the relative uniformity of significance we encountered when reviewing Trump 17, The Star, where we found most predictive tarotists associating the card with Hope, a Promising Future, or a Fresh Start, we move to the varied, sometimes contradictory, meanings assigned by nineteenth and early twentieth century card-readers to The Moon.

The foremost significance associated with Trump 18 over those two hundred and fifty years was Deception, in its various forms. How it came to have that meaning is explained in a note that forms part of a collection of Gypsy delineations published around 1925. The first comment is “Darkness – ambush in the shadow”, and the second “Obscurity, unclear business. If reversed, be careful in your undertakings.” As the Book of Genesis tells us, the moon rules over the night, a time of darkness. When one is operating in the dark, one is more susceptible to ambush and also to error, for in the gloom one may mistake a bathrobe hanging on the back of a door for the forbidding shape of a lurking intruder. By this symbolism, the card comes to indicate others taking advantage of us and, as an alternative, our own errors perpetrated out of ignorance of the true facts of a situation. Both are covered by the Gypsy meanings: ambush in the shadow, and unclear business.

Charles Platt, in The Art of Card Fortune Telling (c. 1920), informs his readers that the Moon “represents hidden dangers, deception, error of judg­ment, and so on.” The emphasis is Platt’s. For the card upside down, Platt parts company to some extent with the Gypsy tradition. “Reversed,” he tells us “it makes the deception our own”, signifying that the inquirer will come to trouble or difficulty through his or her own deceit or falsehood.

It was common in that era to find these key phrases attached to Trump 18: Deception, False Friends, Secret Foes. They appear in C.C. Zain’s The Sacred Tarot (written 1918, published in book form in 1936), and are repeated, with minor adjustments, by Frank Lind, writing at the end of the 1940s: Deception. False friends. Foolish talk. Quarrelling. Disappointment.

Sepharial, in The Kabala of Numbers, thirty or so years earlier than that, assigns to the Moon the meanings: Darkness, doubt, hesitation, negation, imbecility, lunacy, an adverse change. Minetta, a contemporary of Sepharial and Waite, casting her net a little wider, has the card represent “Dissipation of psychic force, insanity, sickness, treachery, deception, uncertainty, error, and false friends.” “Insanity” should come as no surprise as the moon had long been associated with lunacy, a term derived from the Latin for moon, luna, and picked up on by Sepharial as well. “Sickness” may raise an eyebrow; however, Minetta earned her living from reading cards and we must therefore suppose that she had found Trump 18 to appear often enough in a spread pointing to an illness for her to include that meaning in the array she published for the edification of the general public. (Card Reading: a Practical Guide, 1913.)

Juan Eduardo Cirlot’s A Dictionary of Symbols (published in English in 1958 but greatly reliant, where the tarot is concerned, on the work of Oswald Wirth [e.g., Le Tarot des Imagiers du Moyen Age, 1927]) gives the keywords for The Moon as error, arbitrary fantasy, and imaginative sensitivity. Earlier still, Papus, in Le Tarot Divinataire (1909), had stated that The Moon pointed to the presence of Concealed enemies and Danger, later in the text speaking of Deceptions and Deceit. Evidently, the association with Trump 18 and Deception goes back a long way.

As we have seen, The Moon in reverse could be thought of as warning the inquirer to take care in all her undertakings, particularly with regard to the subject of any question she had put to the tarot. Alternatively, the center of attention is flipped over, and the source of the deception becomes the inquirer herself rather than some outside agency. The book of instruction that comes packaged with The Cagliostro Tarot offers a third possibility for The Moon reversed: Darkness Clearing Away. It suggests that the dim twilight of a befogged condition will soon be lifting, and in doing so continues to play with a metaphor we first encountered when looking at the Gypsy delineations – Darkness – and taking the same view of the card’s reversed meaning as the continental gypsies are supposed to have done.

What A.E. Waite (writing as Grand Orient) has to say on the matter is instructive. Waite associates the card with Half-light (reflecting Paul Christian’s name for the card – Twilight), mutation (since the lunar orb represents Change), intellectual uncertainty, the region of illusion; false-seeming. The combination of mental uncertainty, the half-light, and illusion is far from promising and aligns with the ambushes, snares, involved and obscure dealings, trickery, and concealed dangers we have already encountered. Madeline Montalban, one-time queen of the long-running tarot column in Prediction magazine, associated the upright card with illusion, agreeing with Waite in this. For the reversed card, she favored delusion, seeing the upright meaning as denoting an outside influence and the reversed one as implying that the inquirer was having a problem seeing the truth of a situation. On the one hand this echoes Minetta’s ‘insanity’(Minetta doesn’t distinguish between the normal and upside down positions of the Trumps). On the other, it is a restatement of Platt’s description of the Moon’s reversal – “it makes the deception our own – the enquirer will come to trouble or difficulty through his or her own deceit or falsehood.” – with a somewhat different emphasis on the manner in which the deception will manifest in the inquirer’s life.

Both the Bible and astrological lore associate the moon with the nighttime. Some older texts on the tarot go further, making a connection first between night and sleep and then between sleep and dreams. Fred Gettings, in his The Book of Tarot (1973) calls Trump 18 “the card of Dreams”. In certain circumstances, Trump 18 can refer to either sleep or the dream state when it appears in a reading.

moon jj swissSome older versions of the Moon card, depict a young man serenading his ladylove by moonlight. Evening was a time to pursue courtship when I was a child. A popular song of the era began “By the light of the silvery moon,/I want to spoon./To my honey, I’ll croon love’s tune.” Thus is pointed up the fact that an often overlooked meaning for Trump 18 is romance, which can, itself, in its early stages, be a form of illusion. Who has not worn those metaphorical rose-tinted spectacles at some time or other?

In some cultures the moon was used as an epithet for the beloved. It appears in that form in the 74th verse of FitzGerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam which begins “Ah, Moon of my delight.”

There is a fabled method of reading the tarot known as the Menkarian system. It is supposed to reveal the type of work that will bring the inquirer happiness, esteem and at the very least a living wage, but often more substantial material rewards. It is said that, if the final card left on the table at the end of the reading is The Moon, the inquirer would make a fine romantic novelist or writer of screenplays having the same theme.

In other circumstances, the Moon card can indicate a waiting period, even a necessary period of fallowness. Just as, in former centuries, fields that had yielded produce for three or four years were allowed to lay fallow for a whole twelve months to replenish the nutrients taken out of the soil by the agricultural process, the human mind needs also to be rested from conscious thought in order that it might recharge and replenish its psychic energies. Sleep is one method of causing the conscious mind to rest. A number of scientific studies have been carried out showing the debilitating effects of lack of sleep. Psychologists believe that valuable work is being done by the unconscious mind during sleep, integrating the experiences absorbed during the day, attempting to make sense of them. Dreams are supposed to reflect the unconscious mind’s efforts in that direction; that is why psychiatrists find them so interesting. So we see that those old tarot textbooks linking sleep and dreams to the Moon card were not so far off the mark.

With this wide spread of significances – deception in all its forms, errors of judgment, quarrelling, disappointment, sleep, dreams, romance, fallowness – the Moon is one of the hardest cards in the deck to interpret correctly in a reading. Thankfully, in many instances, context will clarify which meaning applies. If the question is about a love affair and the Moon appears adjacent to fortunate or generally beneficent cards then it speaks favorably of romance. But if a relative is harrying the inquirer into signing a document, the Moon asks that said relative’s motives be scrutinized with great care.

Trump18HTM  waite_moon_large  moon

When we turn to the so-called Secret Titles of the card, we find that the first is Twilight. Tellingly, a French definition of twilight is: “that period when it is not possible to distinguish a dog from a wolf”. It was in France that the design for the card took on the form we are familiar with from the Waite-Smith and BOTA tarots, and the dozens more that mimic them. It is at this stage that the dog and the wolf are added to the arrangement. The outer meaning of this title is that, as we have seen, the card denotes a time in one’s life when it is not possible to work out with any certainty who is a friend and who is an enemy or false friend. The esoteric meaning points us to liminal experiences as well as giving big clues as to how certain occult limins (thresholds) can be traversed.

18-moon-arcanum-latin titles

Once over these thresholds, the adept is in a position to make contact with the Hidden Hierarchy, the Masters, as some disciplines call them, the Just Men Made Perfect, as they are referred to by certain other mystery schools. Fittingly, Hidden Hierarchy is the next secret title we encounter. The two final secret titles touch on the meaning of the card in the predictive tarot, echoing phrases we are already familiar with. One is Hidden Enemies; the other is Hidden Hazard. The latter is generally found in manuals teaching tarot-reading in the form of such keywords as Danger and Hidden Obstacle.

These terms also have deeper significances. To understand what these are, we must take them in reverse order: Hidden Obstacle, Hidden Enemies, Hidden Hierarchy. In order to reach the Hidden Hierarchy, the student must first overcome the unseen, unnoticed or disguised obstacle. Should the student successfully navigate this hazard, she must then be on the alert for enemies masquerading as friends. The keys to the limins are closely guarded secrets. Though much has been written about passing these thresholds, there is hardly one in a thousand who, having read the instructions, has comprehended them. Of these, not one in a hundred will put the knowledge to good use.

Despite books like Astral Doorways by J.H. Brennan (Thoth Publications, 1996)teaching in broad outline how to cross the lesser thresholds and the countless hints scattered through the later works of Gareth Knight, there are few among the uninitiated who understand what way-markers are or how they are used. In the study of the occult tarot, once Trump 17, The Star, is reached, the focus becomes fixed on the Astral Plane. Remember that ‘astral’ comes from the Latin for star, ‘astra’. The first laws of the Astral an occult student is required to get to grips with are those governed by the physical moon, whose motion influences the astral tides in much the same way it does the tides of Earth’s oceans and the cyclical matting patterns of many marine creatures.

Many students of the occult are aware that the tarot Trumps can act as astral doorways, but to know that such a doorway exists is one thing; to have the technical skill to pass through it and cross over its threshold in such a way as to find oneself in the correct sector of that vast ocean of psychic energy known as the Astral Plane is quite another. And yet the clues are all present in the picture on Trump 18 from the Marseille tarot and any of the occult tarots. Meditation on the image will suggest ways of safely exploring the Astral Plane and learning its secrets to those seekers mentally and spiritually fitted for the experience.

Star of Hope

by Tony Willis

There is an occult tradition that, after every catastrophe, the Star of Hope rises in the east signalling that all is not lost, and that a meaningful future can be built upon the ashes of disaster. In the tarot Trumps, The Tower destroyed by Lightning is followed by The Star. Some call it the Star of Hope; almost every book on tarot divination declares it’s primary significance to be Hope. Only those, like Etteilla, who are a law unto themselves (and oddly enough A.E. Waite in The Key to the Tarot, treading in Etteilla’s footsteps) ascribe to The Star meanings incompatible with Hope.

htmfltrump17     Arcane-Arcana-17-etoile-star

The design of the Star has altered very little from the time of the Tarot de Marseille to the publication of the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot. Likewise, its divinatory significance has also remained constant.

 Arcane-Arcana-17-etoile-star          RWS_Tarot_17_Star

Continental gypsies passed down to their protégés studying the lore of the tarot this mantra for Trump 17: “It is the symbol of Hope. Tell your client not to be discouraged, however. A storm is always followed by a rainbow and fine weather.” When reversed, they took The Star to remain a fortunate omen, declaring it a sign that some piece of business or a love affair was nearing a happy conclusion.

S.L. Mathers, in his short work Fortune Telling Cards: The Tarot, its occult signification, use in fortune telling, and method of play, etc. (George Redway, 1888), assigns Trump 17 the keywords

Hope, Expectation, Bright promises; Reversed: Hopes not fulfilled, Expectations disappointed or fulfilled in a minor degree.

The British astrologer-occultist Sepharial is more pessimistic about the card’s portents when in reverse. In The Art of Card Fortune Telling, he states The Star’s meanings as

hope. Reversed: loss, theft, or privation of some sort.

The single attribution to the card when upright is what one would expect it to be. The reversed meanings appear to be an attempt to accommodate Etteilla’s interpretation of the card by shifting the significances he assigns to the upright card to its reversed position. Etteilla’s influence lingers on in some manuals on tarot reading to this day.

Crowley, as happens so often, comes closer to the pre-G.D. delineation in his Book of Thoth. There he gives it as his opinion that The Star represents:

Hope, unexpected help, clarity of vision, spiritual insight; if ill-dignified, can mean error of judgement, dreaminess, disappointment.

This is a slightly more comprehensive exposition of what Trump 17 portends than  supplied by Mathers’ in the G.D.’s tarot bible, Book T:

Hope, faith, unexpected help. But sometimes also dreaminess, deceived hope, etc.

In the 1950s, Frank Lind, having studied many of the tarot masters who had preceded him, gave the meanings for The Star as

Hope. Faith. Peace. Truth. Spiritual love. Selflessness. Promising outlook.

Sixty years on, published delineations for Trump 17 are not much different from this.

The occult titles of the card are: The Divine Powers of Nature; Nature (meaning either Nature as an impersonal force, or a personification of Nature employed as a metaphor, Mother Nature); and Fecundity. The nude figure on the card is seen by some occultists as pouring out Nature’s grace onto water and land, an act that cannot help but imbue both elements with fertility, each after its own kind.

The Latin phrases associated with The Star are Spes, Hope; Intuitio, Intuition; and Divinatio Naturalis, Natural Divination. I will start with the last of these, as it is necessary to have its meaning clear in order properly to understand the two preceding attributions. Natural divination in this context refers to astrology. The planets in their motions are a natural phenomenon. I might consult a dozen astrologers but they will all be looking at the same celestial diagram, for a horoscope is a map of the heavens set for a particular time and a particular place. Every astrologer will agree on that. But if I visit a dozen tarot readers, each will lay down a set of cards unique to the moment, the time and the place of the consultation. The same will be true of a reading made by means of geomancy or the runes. Thus astrology is designated a form of “natural divination”, which is not to suggest that the tarot or geomancy or the runes are “unnatural”. They do, however, belong to another branch of divination called sortilege, that is to say, the drawing of lots.

In Practical Occultism, Dion Fortune explains:

“In all discernment of the future three factors have to be taken into consideration and their relative influence assessed in any given case; these are, firstly, the cosmic or spiritual influences, which can be calculated astrologically because the cosmic forces correlate with the stellar rhythms; secondly, the astral conditions, which arise out of the interaction of cosmic and karmic influences; and thirdly, physical plane conditions, in which human free will and intelligence or the lack of it play a part.”

Notice that she puts astrology first. D.F. goes on to explain that although the cosmic influences playing upon any event or set of circumstances can be calculated astrologically, the astral conditions have to be discerned psychically, while the mundane conditions need to be “observed and judged by ordinary human shrewdness in the light of experience”.

Astrology operates at the cosmic level, sortilege operates at the astral or psychic level, while a specific type of intuition is at work on the mundane level. No one of these methods of seeing into the future is superior to any other; everything depends on the skill of the diviner. Some of us have the ability to interpret a horoscope, others possess the gift of clairvoyance, or second-sight as it once was known. Still others are able to apprehend the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, or to gain insight into specific areas of it that have become their speciality. Those people I have known who were blessed with this talent were all, oddly enough, entrepreneurs or business persons and not occultists; they didn’t even have any interest in esoteric matters.

Those who can read the signs of the times are a rare breed. On the other hand, those who profess clairvoyant ability are legion. Which no one should wonder at since most humans are born with some degree of talent in this direction. I have lost track of the number of times I was told by someone, in the pre-mobile phone era, that when their landline rang, they “knew” who was calling them before they picked up the receiver. It appears to be a latent faculty of the species homo sapiens. Without the correct training, however, clairvoyance remains a hit and miss method of working. Even the partly trained can go astray. It is important to recognize on which level of the astral one is operating. For the astral comprises an entire world just as our planet, the Earth, does. On Earth, Alaska is a very different place to the Sahara and different again from the Amazonian jungle. Just so the lower astral is to be distinguished from the upper astral and the region of the upper astral concerned with emotion working in tandem with intellect is to be distinguished from the region concerned with archetypal imagery.

It is a relatively easy matter to access the lower astral. Anyone with a good degree of patience and sufficient instruction can do it. Raising consciousness higher than the lower astral is a more taxing feat, and even when a person is able to make the transition, they also need to recognize the moment when transition occurs, otherwise they will mistake the images of wish-fulfilment and idle desire for the accurate and reliable symbols of futurity.

I know scores of tarot readers, for whom the cards are a predictive medium, who can correctly divine the past history of a client they have never met before, and when they proceed to discussion of future possibilities they have good news for the inquirer– a kind and thoughtful lover is on the horizon, or a hoped-for promotion, or a move to a more spacious house in a desirable neighborhood. But they are often not reading the future, they are reading the client’s hopes for what the future will bring. These events may be present in the cards that make up the reading, so there is no deliberate fakery involved. The cards themselves are mirroring what is in the inquirer’s mind rather than accurately portraying the future. This peculiarity is an aspect of tarot reading not much spoken of and it constitutes an unexplored area so far as most students of tarot are concerned. That is because the rules of occult tarot reading are known to only a few, despite the fact that many of them lie hidden in plain sight.

The factors employed in astrology are not affected in this way, corresponding, as Dion Fortune tells, to cosmic forces, with those forces aligned in turn to spiritual influences, all of which occurs on a plane superior to the astral. The superiority of cosmic forces linked to the movement of the planets outranks astral and mundane conditions. It is the occult principle behind the practice of talisman making: a spiritual influence is attracted into the previously prepared talisman by a magickal operation carried out at a time when the configuration of planets in the heavens corresponds to the qualities with which the operator wishes to imbue the talisman. As the symbolism of an astrological chart is fixed, with the planets paralleling known and well-defined archetypes – deities, Qabalistic sephiroth, or whatever – the possibilities for error are much reduced. Even so, accurate prediction through astrology depends on the ability of the astrologer to pick her way through the seeming contradictions found in the horoscope. A Jupiter/Saturn conjunction, for instance, can manifest on the material plane in a variety of ways, so many possibilities exist that in the past whole books have been devoted to the effects of this one planetary configuration.

One tarot master has given a clear explanation of the inner significance of The Star. It depends upon the idea of The Lightning-Struck Tower, in its highest manifestation, representing that “disruptive agency, an immediate blazing revelation”. This aspect of Trump 16 was discussed in my previous article. The tarot master I referred to earlier suggests that the intervention depicted on the Tower card is one of the ways the Absolute, or primeval unity, propels itself into our everyday lives.

On the spiritual plane, this same author informs us, The Star represents the second way that the primeval unity which stands above everything, projects itself ray-like into physical reality. Whereas the Tower denotes a caustic, disruptive  agency, that mediated by The Star resembles a gentle beam of light projected into consciousness from above, descending through the planetary spheres (signified by the seven lesser stars on the card) to the mundane world. At the level of the soul, this author continues, The Star represents the logical functions of consciousness, in other words the methods of mental programming that, used correctly, allow one to edge a little closer to the truth. He concludes: “On the physical level it represents astrology”, meaning astrology as a “natural” form of divination – divination from patterns found in nature, if you prefer.

Note how all the links in this chain of thought hold together (see previous articles for the occult significances of the Devil and Tower cards). In Mystic Tarot terms, the Devil represents Logic; the Tower represents the Elimination of Logic; and the Star represents Logic Reborn, cleansed and strengthened by the ordeal it has been through. This progression means there is hope for us all for that journey is open to everyone.

Myths & the Tarot’s Tower

by Tony Willis       

When the tarot first came to the attention of French occultists, the title for Trump 16, The Tower, and the image that goes with it (see below) were well established. However, the Trump was not always so named and not always so represented. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it had a variety of names: Il Fuoco, fire; La Saetta, translated as lightning or thunderbolt; La Sagitta, the arrow; and La Casa del Diavolo, the devil’s house. Later it acquired a title that is the opposite of the Devil’s House; it was called The House of God, disconcerting some tarot historians, as this was a term used, at one time, on the continent for a hospital. These alternative titles and the images associated with them play little or no part in the occult development of the tarot.

Occultists of the French Occult Revival of the eighteenth century accepted the Tarot de Marseilles symbolism of the card and the name attached to it in that deck, The Lightning Struck Tower, as basically correct, even if they desired to ‘rectify’ or ‘redeem’ certain aspects of the card’s imagery. This tendency continued into the twentieth century and beyond. Paul Foster Case, when he had the Builders of the Adytum tarot drawn, instructed that the tower be shown with twenty-two courses of brickwork. (Third image below.) Case wanted to align the tower with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, also twenty-two in number. The letters of the alphabet link to speech, for letters spell out words, and that concept in turn connects to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. The Bible tells us that humans attempted to construct a tower that would reach to Heaven itself. At the time, so the story goes, everyone on earth spoke the same language. In order to confound the effort to climb up to Heaven, God caused the builders to speak in different languages, so that they didn’t understand one and another, and the project had to be called off. Almost from the first, occultists assumed that Trump 16 depicted events in the biblical story and the card was named The Tower of Babel by some and assigned the meaning “the punishment of pride”.

visconti sforza 16    Arcane-Arcana-16-maison-dieu-tower    bota trump 16

Deriving their ideas from the design on the Tarot de Marseilles card, tarot masters such as Eliphas Levi, Paul Christian, Papus and Oswald Wirth interpreted the Tower as indicating “ruin, in all its various aspects”. The gypsies of the continent concur. They interpret the card as Catastrophe – a sign that danger is on its way. They said it heralded unexpected misfortune, but it could also be, more mildly, a sign of events that will surprise the inquirer, and which might be good or otherwise. S.L. Mathers, in the Golden Dawn’s tarot manual, Book T, gives the card these meanings:

Ruin, Disruption, Over-throw, Loss, Bankruptcy; Reversed: These in a more or less partial degree.

Frank Lind, writing half a century after the compilation of Book T, is in general agreement with Mathers:

Bolt out of the blue. Catastrophe. Ruin of one’s plans. Danger-signal. Disillusionment.

This is the broad consensus of opinion on the meaning of the card. A.E. Waite, outside the pages of The Key to the Tarot, gave Trump 16 the following significance, diverging hardly at all from the pronouncements of Mathers and Lind.

Destruction, confusion, judgment; also the idea of Divine Wrath.

The instruction book that comes with the Cagliostro Tarot, and which is grounded in the teachings of Levi and Papus, has:

Catastrophe, ruin, collapse, disasters, misfortunes. The punishment of pride, weakness of the soul Reversed: Pride Punished; Sudden Accident.

Basing his conclusions on the cited sources, the British astrologer-occultist Sepharial came up with a similar set of keywords for The Tower. What appears below is an amalgam of entries from his Manual of Occultism (c. 1910) and The Kabala of Numbers (1914).

Sudden calamity, the overthrow of spiritual pride. The pride of intellect and its consequence. Overthrow; reversal; ruin; fatality; sudden death; catastrophe; accidents.

In The Art of Card Fortune Telling (for which I don’t have a date), Sepharial says the same in other words.

Misery, adversity, disgrace, even ruin; some unforeseen or unexpected calamity. Reversed: it loses much of its malignity, though with bad cards near, it might show imprisonment.

The only meaning I would add to the list is “Enlightenment”, which topples false perceptions and calls for a fresh start as much as financial ruin does. In his book The Painted Caravan, Basil Rákóczi assigns the Trump the meanings “loss of faith” and “to see through hypocrisy, to gain freedom of body or mind at great cost”, both of which relate to the effects of enlightenment, which can be uplifting or temporarily (or so it is to be hoped) discouraging depending on how prepared for the blow a person is mentally and spiritually. There are also those who read the card, when it is appropriate to do so, as the eye-opening jolt of love at first sight. This certainly fits the symbolism of the Tower, interpreted metaphorically.

What I have called the Secret Titles of the Trumps are not really secret. It is just that, in most countries where English is the predominant language, these titles are relatively unknown, even those who have come across them affording them little regard. These titles were printed on the cards Papus used to illustrate his Tarot of Divination. Those associated with The Tower are: Destruction through Antagonism, Disruption of Material Equilibrium, and Ruin and Catastrophe. They can be seen, in French, under the picture of Lightning Struck Tower on the Papus card. (See below.) They have been interpreted as relating to the punishment of pride, the downfall of the spirit who attempts to penetrate the mysteries of God, and reversals of fortune respectively.

Arcane-Arcana-16-maison-dieu-towerAll three interpretations can be related to the story of the tower of Babel as related by the Talmud. There we are told that it was Nimrod who commanded the tower be built, with the intention of taking Heaven by arms. While the tower was still abuilding, Nimrod and his chief minister, who was the tower’s architect, climbed to the top of the unfinished structure and Nimrod, who the Bible tells us was a mighty hunter, loosed an arrow at the throne of God standing high above them. This was the last straw for the Almighty. He confounded the speech of the workmen so that they understood neither their overseers nor each other, but at the same time He smote Nimrod and his vizier with a bolt of lightning causing them to topple from the tower. There is an occult tradition that the two figures hurled from the Tower Stuck by Lightning are the hubristic king and his first minister. Nimrod was blinded by the lightning flash but lived.

There are echoes in this last detail of Greek myths where one of Zeus’s paramours asks to see him “as he really is”, in all his glory, only to be blinded when the god reluctantly accedes to the request. Those myths represent the opposite side of the coin. They convey a sense of the effect that the revelation of naked truth can have on unripe souls, while the myth – for this is surely what it is – of Nimrod and the tower of Babel illustrates the secret titles of Trump 16. Human pride is punished, those who sought to lay hands on God’s mysteries without the proper preparation meet, not with an increase of authority, but with downfall and disempowerment in a devastating reversal of fortune.

Other occult titles attributed to The Tower are the Elimination (or Expulsion or Exclusion) of Logic; Astral Constraint; and Physical Destruction. The first of these is a back-reference to The Devil card, for one of its secret titles is Logic. A good servant but a bad master, Logic must be kept in its place, and it is the function of the occult principle illustrated in the symbolism of Trump 16 to do exactly that. Whatever humans attempt to do, whether simply as an ordinary member of the genus homo sapiens, or as an initiate of the sacred mysteries, is subject to astral constraint. While the matter of which the astral plane is composed is pliable by nature and can be moulded by the human mind, there are limits to its elasticity, and restrictions concerning which images can survive on the astral once the force of the human will has been removed from them and they are left to fend for themselves in that great heaving sea of ethereal forces.

The third occult title, Physical Destruction, is easier to understand, being yet another reference to the ruin/catastrophe aspect of the Trump. Something on the material plane is destroyed – a career, a marriage, a friendship.

Like the preceding Trump, The Lightning-Struck Tower must be carefully handled in a divination. These days, when I read the tarot, I do so for others who, like myself, have been treading the esoteric path for many years. For them, Trump 16 is as likely to signify a realization of great importance to their spiritual evolution as it is to point to material ruin or the collapse of a close relationship. The diviner should always take into account the inquirer’s nature, her temperament and psychology, when constructing the narrative outlined by the keywords of the cards making up the reading. It can be as important a factor as their standing in life and their social condition – married, single, divorced, daughter, parent, and so forth. Diviners ignore this factor at their peril.

The Tarot’s Devil

by Tony Willis   

Although there are many unwilling to accept the fact, the evidence suggests that the tarot first saw the light of day, in the form we understand today as constituting a tarot deck, in fifteenth century Italy. The imagery of these early tarots reflected the ambient culture. It contained the representation of a Pope, the Day of Judgment, and of the Christian virtues, Justice, Strength and Temperance. The Female Pope, nowadays more commonly called The High Priestess, references a Christian legend about a woman who, having disguised herself as a man, was later elected pope – the infamous, and almost certainly unhistorical, Pope Joan. Another part of this stream of Christian symbolism is The Devil, Trump 15.

devil old 3f01  devil old f30d80  early15

Divinatory meanings associated with the card in the early years when the tarot came to the attention of occultists, and when Christianity was still the main religious force in Europe, take up aspects of the devil’s supposed attributes. There is a record of the tarot being used for divination in eighteenth-century Bologna. The meaning assigned The Devil in that text is ‘anger’. In our more secular culture, the designation may raise eyebrows, but biblically speaking the quality most often attached to the devil is anger.

The occultists who took up the tarot in 1800s adopted other characteristics attributed to the devil, echoes of which can be discerned in tarot delineations published today. One such modern meaning is: “Temptation to evil, irresistible if the card is reversed.” We will meet this significance again and again as we review the significances offered by a range of authors from various countries and a variety of backgrounds over the course of two centuries. Other recurring meanings are ‘the deliberate working of evil’ and ‘lack of principle’, as well as ‘deception, loss of virtue, lying, and sedition’, all devilish attributes.

Meanings assigned the Trump that are outside the ambit of Christian symbolism for the devil are Fate (sometimes rendered as Destiny), Materialism, Serious Illness, and the Instincts. In French texts, the term Force Majure is applied to The Devil card, and it appears in a few English texts, too, since the phrase cannot be succinctly translated into English. The occultist Sepharial defines Force Majure thus in relation to Trump 15:

some powerful influence working in our lives in spite of ourselves

Usually this ‘powerful influence’ is an outside force, but it can as easily be an internal one, and that is why the instincts are filed under the heading of The Devil. So, also, we find J.E. Cirlot (A Dictionary of Symbols, 1770) summing up this aspect of the card’s power as:

The instincts, desire in all its passionate forms, . . . perversion.

Sometimes – more often than is helpful – Force Majure is translated literally as Great Force, which fails to catch the flavor of the concept. At other times, instead of Great Force, we find Blind Force, possibly meaning a force applied unintelligently, and hence carrying the danger of being applied inhumanely.

Arcane-Arcana-15-diable-devilArcane-Arcana-15-diable-devil15 II

Another term frequently used by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century occultists about the Devil that occasionally trickles down to the twentieth century, is Fatality. Nowadays we reserve the word almost exclusively for a death. In earlier times, it referred to the workings of Fate. When S.L. Mathers, one of the founders of the Golden Dawn, writing, in 1888, without his G.D. hat, on assigns to The Devil the meanings

Fatality for Good. Reversed, Fatality for Evil.

he wants his readers to understand ‘Fate working, ultimately, for the inquirer’s good’, and when the card is reversed, ‘workings of Fate that will discomfort or inconvenience the inquirer in some way’.

When The Book of Occult and Fortune-Telling (c. 1925) reveals its predictive keyword for The Devil, it appends a brief explanation to clarify the matter.

Fatalism – your deeds are going to have their result (good or bad).

This is a cause-and-effect view of Fate – ‘as you sow so shall you reap’, or in the context of the Great Tempter, ‘be sure your sins will find you out’.

One dictionary definition of Fatality is

helplessness in the face of fate.

mmTarot 1515gd th15T_c46

Authors tend to favor one facet of The Devil’s power over the others, and who shall blame them, for Trump 15 is one of the most complex cards in the deck.

In the Golden Dawn’s tarot manual, S.L. Mathers emphasizes the Matter aspect of the Trump, not surprisingly, as he associates it with the Earth sign Capricorn.

Materiality. Material Force. Material temptation; sometimes obsession, especially if associated with the Lovers.

In The Key to the Tarot, A.E. Waite offers a collection of meanings for the cards gleaned from a wide selection of writers, some having more authority in tarot matters than others. When he reveals what he really believes The Devil to mean (in a book written under the pseudonym Grand Orient) he says it represents:

Fatality, evil, the false spirit; can indicate also the good working through evil.

The false spirit is Satan.

Frank Lind, writing forty years later, has taken on board part of Grand Orient’s delineation. He has he card indicate:

Blind force. Deliberate working of evil. Hatred. Lack of principle . . . Persuasive talker.

but adds

One may easily misinterpret the meaning of this card. Black magic is only one of its significations, and it has a far wider implication. Out of what at first appears to be evil may come good, and vice versa.

Ideas of evil and temptation – the weasel words of the lying spirit – are to be found in Richard Huson’s 1936 interpretation of the card.

This card is eloquent of temptation – not necessarily itself an evil omen, but evil if the fatal enticement is not resisted. Illness, weakness, and an unprotected condition are also implied. If the card is reversed, the temptation comes with a vast and malign power, and he will be a strong man morally who succeeds in repulsing it.

The theme of ‘illness’ and ‘unprotected condition’ was highlighted by Sepharial in The Art of Card Fortune Telling (undated):

some powerful influence working in our lives in spite of ourselves, or in some cases our own physical inability to help ourselves, perhaps owing to serious illness. It need not be an evil influence, but it is one that we cannot resist. In its normal position this fateful card can be either good or evil, but reversed, it is invariably a bad sign.

Huson’s delineation is basically Sepharial’s interpretation reworded.

The society cartomancer Minetta gave the card the meanings

Deception, trouble, loss of virtue, lying, sedition, and temptation. This card represents a warning.

These are significances worth taking note of. Minetta was a professional card reader who was expected to make concrete predictions for her clients. Her methods resembled those of Lenormand card readers today, though her preferred medium was ordinary playing cards. Her role was fortune-teller; she could divine that a child would be laid up with a minor aliment, or that her client would soon be moving house, or attending an important ball. The meanings she adopted, either for playing cards or the tarot, needed to be event-oriented; and the meaning she suggests for The Devil should be viewed in that light. Minetta also adds that the card is a warning. That was her experience, and it is mine, also. Trump 15 often appears prominent in a spread when an inquirer is contemplating doing something underhand or unethical. The Devil warns them not to succumb to temptation, otherwise, in a phrase I have already used, their sins will find them out.

J.E. Cirlot, in The Dictionary of Symbols, following the lead of the French occultist Oswald Wirth, assigns the Trump these meanings:

The instincts, desire in all its passionate forms, the magick arts, disorder, perversion.

The wise, but now little-regarded British witch, Arnold Crowther assembled a fine collection of significances for Trump 15 ranging from ‘the instincts’ and ‘the sexual drive’ to ‘something other people consider evil but which isn’t really’, and touching along the way upon ‘a fated happening, but not necessarily an unfortunate or unpleasant one’.

As already mentioned, the card encompasses a wide assortment of meanings. All, however, are linked together by the idea of The Devil, and it matters not whether the tarot reader or the inquirer believe in Satan: the card’s significances derive from that concept and all these years later remain anchored to it. It has been said that no religion apart from Christianity believes in the Devil, but other religions have deities that block or hinder the works of the gods and goddesses of their pantheon, and who disrupt the efforts of humans, too. In her book on the Cartouche cards (The Way of Cartouche, St. Martin’s Press, 1985), Murry Hope explains the meaning of Card No. 10, Set, saying that it

represents the negative force or anti-ray and all forms of opposition, delays, hindrances and unforeseen problems. Set can also indicate one’s personal opposition to an idea, to change or to a proposed project.

and pointing out the up-side of the card by saying

[Set] may, like Saturn in astrology, teach us through delays, difficulties and problems, [and] ultimately it helps us to correct our faults and mistakes and gives us a better understanding of the principles of cosmic law.

Exactly the same could be said of the function of The Devil card in the tarot.

Because this Trump carries so many disparate connotations, great care is to be taken in interpreting it when attempting predictions. It is important to take into account the cards that surround The Devil in the spread, the inquirer’s station in life, her character, and even, sometimes, the nature of the question posed. I once had a request for a reading from a mini-cab driver who frequently drove me home on nights when I had been working the late shift. I was aware, because he had told me himself, that he had been to prison. I had also picked up, sitting next to him in the cab, that he was by nature a chancer, a jack-the-lad, and that his stay in jail had done nothing to chasten him. I was not too astonished, therefore, to find The Devil in his reading, though I was saddened to see it placed between a reversed Coin/Pentacles card and a Sword card indicating confinement, loss of liberty.

I explained that his financial situation (Pence card) might tempt him to take what was not rightfully his (Devil) and that if he did so he would undoubtedly be found out (Sword card). I was as clear as I could be. Nevertheless, I had no confidence that my message had stuck home, and was dismayed but not surprised when, three weeks later, I learnt he had left the mini-cab company under a cloud. What became of him after that I have no way of knowing. Judging from the lay of the cards in his reading, it is probably that went back to prison. I hope not, while recognizing that he did not seem the type to heed the warning in the card. He was a man who trusting in his own luck, believing that he would not get caught, or if he were caught that he could talk his way out of trouble.

How do the Mystical, the so-called Secret Titles of the Trump relate to the foregoing? The first Secret Title is Logic, and it is applied to the Devil in the spirit of the occult tenet that defines the devil as analysis without synthesis. Reliance on logic alone leads to some decidedly off-kilter perceptions. The best example I have come across was encapsulated in a newspaper headline: Man Kills Mother To Preserve Parking Space. In the body of the accompanying article, the murderer explained to the court that residential parking spaces in his area were extremely scarce whereas human beings were ten a penny.

When the application of pure logic leads someone to take a life, we have clearly entered the realm of evil. Thankfully, the process of spiritual evolution embodied in the sequence of tarot Trumps does not end with The Devil and, one of the mystical titles of the next card, The Tower, is the Exclusion of Logic, allowing rational thought to proceed so far but no further before the necessary corrective is applied.

The Devil’s second secret title is the Serpent Nahash, this being, we are told, the name of the serpent in the Garden of Eden who tempted Eve to taste the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The link is, of course, to The Devil card’s meaning of Temptation. The association has a deeper significance in that the way into a labyrinth is also the way out of it: if Nahash, by his actions, brought about the Fall, then, so the thinking goes, he must hold the key, or one of the keys, that can release humanity from its fallen condition. The theory arising out of this proposition is beyond the scope of this series of articles, and the practice even more so.

The third secret title is Fate. As this is also given as one of the card’s divinatory significances, no further elucidation is required.

At the spiritual level, the card signifies Predestination. Only a few things in life are predestined: usually a challenge is an opportunity. But from time to time we encounter an obstacle that is truly insurmountable, and when we do, it is just as well that we recognize it as such, and reschedule our life-goals accordingly. At the intellectual level, the significance of the Devil is Mystery, referencing the occult mysteries, the secret knowledge of the laws of cause and effect, which, while they remain hidden from the majority, can be found, studied and put to use by those able to recognize them for what they are. These laws are present in the world for all to see, but are rejected as of no account by those in thrall to logic; and thus are the great secrets of magick shielded from the profane. At the material level, the card relates to unforeseen fatalities of a mundane nature – to natural calamities and convulsions of nature such as earthquakes and tsunamis – and to the same kinds of events but on a minor scale in the lives of individuals.