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Minor Arcana–Divinatory Meanings

The vast majority of the divinatory meanings ascribed to the cards of the Major Arcana found in the earliest publications concerning the tarot have stood the test of time. Only a very few have undergone a drastic overhaul. The qualities each Trump symbolizes have been almost universally accepted because the parallels between the image on the card and the qualities allocated to it are so blindingly obvious. The symbolism of the card Justice suggests a law suit, and that of the card Death, the end of something; the Hermit, since he is a sage, specifies wisdom (sagacity), and so on for each of the twenty-two Trumps. Until relatively recently, the logic behind these associations safeguarded them from ill-informed tampering. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the meanings dispensed to the cards of the Minor Arcana.

r-w-JUSTICE            image

The tarot masters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries tended to focus their attention on the Trump cards at the expense of the minors. Oswald Wirth designed an impressive tarot deck, but it consisted only of the 22 Major Arcana. The original “Egyptian” tarot (the brainchild of two nineteenth-century Frenchmen) likewise was limited to the 22 Trumps. This imbalance of explanation left a vacuum that had still not been adequately filled when A.E. Waite published his Key to the Tarot in 1910 (expanded into The Pictorial Key to the Tarot in 1911). Over the decades, various attempts to fill the void found their supporters. However, no one method attained widespread popularity, and there was certainly never one set of meanings that looked remotely as though it would gain ascendancy over all others.

Some tarotmancers adopted the meanings for the Minor Arcana put forward by Etteilla (A way to entertain oneself with the pack of cards called Tarots, 1785), even though most occultists branded him a fraud and an esoteric carpetbagger. Papus presented his own ideas for interpreting the Minor Arcana in his The Tarot of the Bohemians (1889). Yet when he came to write The Divinatory Tarot (1909), he returned to Etteilla’s meanings for those cards. In England, Charles Platt’s meanings built up a decent following (The Art of Card Fortune Telling, 1921). S.L. Mathers had published a set of meanings for the Minor Arcana in 1888 (The Tarot: Its Occult Signification, Use in Fortune Telling, and Method of Play, Etc.) based on Etteilla’s, though with a few alterations; these meanings, too, acquired adherents.

In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, cartomancy by means of playing cards was popular in the British Isles while the tarot pack was practically unknown. It was only those who had an active interest in the occult – here signifying something beyond the fortune-telling aspects of palmistry, astrology and crystal gazing – who had heard of it. In the late nineteen fifties, no one in my social circle knew what a tarot deck looked like, though a handful had come across the name. At that date, the situation in the United Kingdom regarding the Minor Arcana, among those who were familiar with the tarot, was much as it had been in Waite’s day – which is to say, confused. In some ways the situation was more confused since other methods of interpreting the minors had come into play since 1910, when the Waite-Smith deck was first published: the Brotherhood of Light’s meanings, Richard Huson’s (similar in many ways to those gathered together by Charles Platt); there was Frank Lind’s method, and also the Golden Dawn’s interpretations of the minors, made available through the writings of Paul Foster Case and Aleister Crowley. Confusion flourished because the more recent additions tended neither to agree with one another nor with those interpretations already in circulation. To make matters more impenetrable still, methods loosely based on Pythagorean numerology, as often as not imported from playing card fortune-telling, had gained a foothold, too.

The rise in popularity of the Waite-Smith deck, where scenic images appear on all seventy-eight cards, changed all that. Sometimes, tarot packs of the Waite-Smith stamp are termed “fully illustrated” decks. It is these scenic images that fueled a new development in tarot reading, which I shall come to in a moment.

In the late nineteen sixties, interest in all things occult, from astrology columns in daily newspapers and monthly periodicals, to radiesthesia and astral projection, was growing in the public’s mind. The tarot was part of this blossoming of interest in matters esoteric. Tarots had been hard to come by in the Britain of the nineteen fifties, but a growing demand stimulated supply.

If tarots of the Tarot de Marseille type were available in the UK in the fifties and sixties, I never came across them. Virtually the only deck one could lay hands on in post war Britain was the Waite-Smith tarot, or a de Laurence rip-off imported from the States. For several years after I was introduced to the tarot, I assumed that all tarot cards were illustrated with scenes like those on the Waite-Smith cards; that is how pervasive a presence the Waite-Smith tarot was in those days.

As the second half of the twentieth-century wore on, it became normal practice to pentacles 5interpret the Waite-Smith illustrations rather than to assign meanings to the Minor Arcana that may or may not have been in agreement with the image on the card. Adhering to this formula, the picture on the Waite-Smith 5 of Pentacles, depicting two unfortunates battling their way through a snow storm, would be interpreted as symbolizing poverty, loss of money, or financial difficulties. The 2 of Cups, whereon a young couple toast each other with golden chalices, was seen as an image of mutual love. Having pictures on the spot cards made learning their meanings easier. At the same time, however, the pictures direct the meanings. Someone attempting to memorize the significances given in C.C. Zain’s Sacred Tarot, which do not line up with the symbolism of the Waite-Smith spot cards, would be constantly wrong-footed by the Waite-Smith illustrations.

The go-with-the-flow approach is to relinquish all attempts to commit to memory meanings that do not concur with the illustrations, and many tarot students adopted that attitude. So many people came to rely on the Waite-Smith illustrations to indicate what the spot cards portended that, by the end of the twentieth century, meanings dependent on those illustrations were all but standard, at least throughout the English-speaking world. Gradually, voices began speaking up for what we might call “traditional meanings”, until at the time of writing there are books available such as Caitlin Matthews’ Untold Tarot, which is a compendium of lore and techniques applicable to non-fully-illustrated decks. The wheel has almost turned full circle, for it looks as though we are on our way to the return of the broad spread of any number of different methods of tarot interpretation that held sway in Waite’s day.

Inevitably, this raises the question: Is one method of reading the tarot intrinsically superior to any other? I would say not. I base my opinion on personal experience and my observation of tarot readers at work over a fifty-year period. I, myself, have learnt three quite distinct approaches to interpretation of the spot cards. All of them achieved results. I moved from one approach to the next from necessity, not because I found any particular method ineffective. That is what happened when I entered a Golden-Dawn-type mystery school. I accepted an invitation to become a member of the Order and was then trained in its Qabalistic method of interpreting the spot cards, even though this meant I had to abandon the meanings I had learnt previously. In order to progress within the Order, it was expedient that I embrace its teaching on the tarot along with everything else it was giving me instruction in.

I’ve known people who read the tarot successfully using all manner of meanings. Thinking the matter over in the nineteen-nineties, I decided that there were no “true” attributions; that it made no odds which of the sets of meanings was employed. What did make a difference, it seemed, was the type of deck the reader worked with. Once a person had moved away from meanings dependent on the pictures on the Waite-Smith suit cards, that deck became more of a hindrance than a help. Somebody convinced that the suit of Swords is under the rulership of the Fire Element will find the symbolism of the Waite-Smith Swords court cards jarring because it revolves around the Element of Air. The Queen of Swords wears a cloak embroidered with a pattern of clouds, butterflies and the head of a winged cherub are carved on the side of her throne, while a bird soars overhead. The airy symbolism of clouds, butterflies and birds is picked up, too, on the cards of the Knight and King of Swords. At the same time, the Waite-Smith Wand court cards are imbued with fiery symbolism. All of this is a distraction to the tarot reader who associates Wands with Air and Swords with Fire.

swords queen   swords king   swords knight

Similar distractions arise when the reader has a sincere belief that, let us say, the number 5 possesses affirmative connotations. In the Waite-Smith pack, the brawling youths on the 5 of Wands, the figure mourning the tipping over of three chalices on the 5 of Cups, the beggars hurrying through the snow on the 5 of Pence, and even the aftermath of battle, with a man collecting up discarded weapons, shown on the 5 of Swords, are not easily capable of positive interpretation. The images pull in the opposite direction to the significances the reader is attempting to bring to mind. Even if they distract only a little, it would be better that the obstruction be removed. Today, many readers are doing exactly that by putting aside the Waite-Smith images in favor of one or other of the Tarot de Marseille-type decks so as to have no distraction when attempting to interpret the Minor Arcana cards.

wands 5  swords05  tarot-cups-05

The answer to the question “Why has there never been a broad agreement on the meanings of the Minor Arcana cards?” is simple. There is no tradition behind them such as lies behind those of the Major Arcana. The Minor Arcana come to Europe from Arab nations where different symbols were employed: the Swords were curved scimitars, and the suit we call Wands or Rods were polo mallets. The Minor Arcana arrived in Europe bearing much the same form that modern playing card decks have. The Major Arcana were grafted on to it, though nobody can say for certain why this new pack – that we now call ‘the tarot’ – was created.

Early attempts at assigning meanings to the suits do not concern themselves with the Elements, whereas modern introductions to the tarot often fixate on the correspondence between the suits and the Elements the moment the Minor Arcana comes under discussion. In the mid-sixteenth-century (that is to say approximately one hundred years later than the earliest tarots still in existence), one author aligns the four Tarot suits with what he terms the four “goals of human life” – riches, arms, literature and pleasure. The correspondences are self-evident: Riches refers to the suit of Coins (that being its name long before anyone thought of calling it Pentacles); the bearing of Arms refers to Swords; and, of the two suits left, Cups must be pleasure – love, fornication, time spent with friends or loved ones – leaving literature to the suit of Wands or Rods.

Another set of correspondences, later taken up by Etteilla, imagined a link between the four suits and the renaissance class system. In this interpretation, Swords are equated with the nobility – i.e.,all those who are allowed to bear arms (not everyone was); Cups symbolize the priesthood (the chalice holding the blood of Christ offered by the priest to communicants during the Mass); Pence/Coins the merchants; and Wands or Staves the farmers. These designations had a small but noticeable effect on some sets of meanings. Because Wands/Rods were associated with farming and the countryside, the King of Rods often had bestowed upon it the interpretation “a man living in the country”, and the Queen, similarly, “a woman who enjoys country life”. Occasionally, the effect reached as far as the spot cards, with the 8 of Wands at times regarded as predicting “a trip to the country”.

Despite the assertion by occultists of today that the deck was explicitly designed along Qabalistic lines, the spot cards, ace to 10, were not initially associated with the ten spheres of the Tree of Life. This, again, is a correspondence all modern books covering the esoteric aspect of the tarot tend to make much of. It does not, however, appear to have been adopted by tarot commentators of the eighteenth century and didn’t gain credence in the nineteenth century until Eliphas Levi advocated the idea in his books on magick.

That strange publication Practical Astrology (1901) (which, despite its title, contains a good deal of information about the tarot) aligns the spot cards with the first ten numbered Trumps, an approach later adopted by C.C. Zain in his Sacred Tarot (1936) and which can still be encountered from time to time in books on tarot published today. According to this practice, the four aces are deemed to have qualities identical to some, at least, of those attributed to the Bateleur/Juggler. The four twos, likewise, are thought to share qualities identical with certain traits assigned to The High Priestess, and so on down to the four tens, which are considered as reflecting the qualities of The Wheel of Fortune. Vestiges of this practice can be found in those sets of meanings that make the 10 of Pentacles signify alternate financial loss and gain; Frank Lind and C.C. Zain being two authors who accept this as a meaning for the card.

Papus’s The Tarot of the Bohemians is crammed full of recondite Qabalistic data concerning such things as the Four Lettered Name of God and the correspondences between the Hebrew letters and the twenty-two Trumps. When he turns his attention to the spot cards, however, he does not align them with the spheres of the Tree of Life. Papus’s tortured language when describing his system for assigning meanings to the spot cards has befuddled many a tarot student for the past century and more. To anyone wishing to gain a better understanding of his method, I recommend Fred Gettings’ The Tarot: How to Read the Future where there is a chapter devoted to it (though Mr Gettings does not say where the interpretations he describes originated). Mr Gettings (an accomplished occultist) possesses a thorough grasp of Papus’s method and explains it more clearly than Papus himself managed to do in his chef-d’oeuvre, The Tarot of the Bohemians.

To sum up, Papus has his interpretations for the spot cards, Etteilla has his; Charles Platt has another set; and there are those who align the spots with the first ten numbered Trump cards. Into this quagmire of conflicting information stepped A.E. Waite when he came to write his Key to the Tarot. As a consequence, the wands 10descriptions of the meanings for the spot cards Waite records in that book are often chaotic and confusing to the reader. Of the 10 of Wands he writes that one tarotmancer invests it with the significance of “honour and good faith” before continuing: “it is also fortune, gain and any kind of success of these things. It is also a card of false-seeming, disguise, perfidy.” Later in the book, he records it as having, in some quarters, the significance “[d]ifficulties and contradictions, if near a good card.” To this hodge-podge of ideas he attaches his own meaning, or rather the meaning he had absorbed whilst a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Order gave the 10 of Wands the title “Lord of Oppression”, and Waite dutifully records, “It is oppression simply”. Accordingly, the image on the Waite-Smith version of the card is that of “[a] man oppressed by the weight of the ten staves which he is carrying.”

For several decades, I have marveled at the popularity of The Key to the Tarot and its illustrated companion, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. The text always struck me as not fit for purpose. Waite has a tendency to make assertions about the tarot or about its symbolism but refuse to back up his claims. He will say that he himself is satisfied with the truth of his statement but go no further than that. When it comes to the divinatory meanings of the Minor Arcana, Waite simply lists a miscellany of interpretations drawn from any number of sources, whether they are in agreement or not. I have given an example of his method in the paragraph above on the 10 of Wands. The result is that the novice tarot reader has no clear guidance from Mr Waite as to what the minors signify. One would do better to base one’s interpretations on the images on the cards – which is what most newcomers to the tarot have been doing for the past one hundred years.

A publicity blurb for Key to the Tarot reads: “The symbolism of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck is based on profound occult studies by Waite, and his exposition in this book of its use and meaning is unexcelled. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the Tarot.” I could not disagree more. My opinion of the book closely resembles that displayed in a review posted on the Amazon website: “I find this book useless apart from information about what the various contained symbols depict. At best it is rambling and incoherent (left brain), at worst it is misleading. There is a suggestion that he deliberately "veiled" his secrets. I think he was just a poor analyst.” And yet the book has never been out of print since it first saw the light of day in 1910! I surmise that in every generation, students who have acquired a Waite-Smith tarot pack have turned to The Key to the Tarot hoping to find instruction there, and that this desire for guidance accounts for the book’s apparent popularity. But how popular is it? How many people, having bought it and read it, have actually found it useful when attempting to interpret a tarot spread using the meanings Waite supplies? And yet it is not entirely without worth.

Waite has an unfortunate way with words, being inclined to set aside a one syllable word wherever English has a three syllable synonym for it that he can replace it with. When writing about The Fool, he gives one meaning for the card as ‘bewrayment’. My teenage self went through every dictionary in the house looking for the word. (This is circa 1960, when dictionaries took the form of books – imagine that!) I couldn’t find it. Eventually I consulted an eight-part Oxford English Dictionary at the local library and discovered that it meant “betrayal or to be exposed”, whether to criticism or as a fraud wasn’t made clear. As an aside, let me remark that my 2018 spellchecker doesn’t recognize bewrayment either!

But there are some valuable comments in The Key to the Tarot as well as some diktats that, though we now know them to be false, were widely accepted by the best minds studying tarot in the early years of the twentieth-century. By an odd turn of fate, probably fueled by a never-ending supply of human perversity, the valuable comments have been ignored by most readers and the errors of fact fastened upon as key examples of Waite’s brilliant scholarship. The book could benefit from a being given a good dusting-down, the obscure passages explained, the errors and shortcomings exposed. As no one has taken up this task, I intend to pass on fa ew observations of my own in my next post.


“Don’t Call Me Stupid”

From the time occultists started to write about the tarot, The Fool was given the significance of ‘foolishness’, however defined. For is it not logical to assume that a figure labeled ‘Fool’ and depicted as a vagrant in tatters being seen on his way by a neighborhood dog would represent mistaken choices, silly, even idiotic decisions? The design on the Waite-Smith card (which, let us remember, was an innovation back in 1910 when the deck came out, an innovation so novel that many wanted to know from whence the image derived) presents the Fool as a carefree youth, unconcerned that he is about to stride off the edge of a precipice as his attention is elsewhere. With change of image comes change of meaning; and sure enough, Waite’s picture of the Fool invokes in the tarot reader far kindlier thoughts and emotions than does the original image of a ragged beggar.

early Fool 1  early Fool 2  early Fool 3

The Waite-Smith deck didn’t really catch on in tarot circles until the late fifties/early sixties. Even then it took a while for it to become widely accepted. Right up to the start of the seventies, some manuals of tarot divination continued to cite the earlier interpretation of the unnumbered Trump.

What was this earlier interpretation? In what terms was ‘folly’ described by our predecessors in tarot lore? I have on record two gypsy meanings for the Fool from different sources. One is ‘Foolishness’ pure and simple. The other is ‘Aberration’, a term suggesting that the inquirer is going to do something totally out of character and not to his credit or his benefit – an act that can thus be categorized as foolish. Another interpretation is: “A thoughtless act may come back to haunt you.” These readings of the symbolism set the tone for the various interpretations of the idea of “folly” I am about to set before you.

It is debatable how old any of the gypsy meanings are. Some experts say that as late as the 1950s, gypsies didn’t make readings using the tarot at all. It might be worth noting, then, that Etteilla, writing in 1785 gave ‘Aberrations’ as one of the Fool’s meanings. The so-called gypsy meaning may actually have been adopted from Etteilla’s lexicon, some time in the nineteenth century or even later.

S.L. Mathers, in his short work The Tarot (1888), assigns the following meanings to the Fool card: Folly, Expiation, Wavering. Reversed: Hesitation, Instability, Trouble arising herefrom.

In The Tarot of the Bohemians, Papus reports that the card signifies “Inconsiderate Action, Madness”. However, another translation of his text gives “Impulsive act, Folly”, in which we clearly hear echoes of the ‘Foolishness’ and ‘thoughtless act’ recorded above. In his Tarot of Divination, Papus is more succinct but the message is the same. He writes, simply, ‘Impulse, folly’. Later in the book he speaks of ‘Expiation’ in relation to the Fool, and is here following out the same line of thought as Mathers. What both authors mean is that, whatever it is that is about to befall the inquirer, it represents the expiation of some act she has committed in the past. Thoughtlessness and blind impulse inevitably give rise to failure in one department of life or another. Which accounts for the appearance of ‘Failure’ among the meanings put forward by The Church of Light and also by British occultist Frank Lind. The former gives the meanings as ‘Failure, Folly and Mistake’, the latter as ‘Extravagant idealism. Folly. Mistake. Failure. Excess – which is the general meaning of this card; and so it lays emphasis upon the rest of the cards [in the reading], particularly those in its vicinity.’ Lind has taken on board significances assigned the Fool by Charles Platt (Card Fortune Telling, c. 1921), who says the card “represents the extreme in anything and everything, but not in a good sense. Reversed: the total neglect of duties, negligence, carelessness, vanity.” (This is a paraphrase.)

fool 0 allternativefool 0 frenchmodern tdm 22t

Sepharial, when not following C.C. Zain of the Church of Light to the letter, gives the Fool the meanings: “Necessity, privation, ruin, egotism; selfishness; vanity, credulity, blind credulity; ignorance, blindness, error, conspicuous folly, insanity. Unrestrained passions. Inconsequence; danger; detachment, isolation.” In this, he covers all the bases, delineating almost every form folly may assume in everyday life (from privation and danger at the lower end of the scale to complete ruin at the upper) and every cause of folly – from the blind credulity that leads some to invest their savings in get-rich-quick schemes to the selfishness and egotism that leads other people to conclude that they know what is best under all circumstances and on that basis to reject every entreaty or morsel of good advice offered them no matter how well intentioned or supremely rational those entreaties or morsels of advice may be.

Almost the entire English-speaking portion of the tarot world now embraces an upbeat meaning for the Fool. It is taken as indicating: Fearlessness, courage, joy of life, a new beginning, hidden potential about to be revealed, a higher than usual level of intuition, and being in the right place at the right time

Against this background, I stick with the significance I was first taught for the card: Folly, pretty much as defined by Mathers and Papus above. Why have I chosen to go against the trend? Two reasons. Firstly, the interpretation fashioned in the second half of the twentieth century for the card is based primarily on the Waite-Smith image. Having spent time in a Golden Dawn-type esoteric school, I am aware that the G.D. allowed this Trump two interpretations, one positive, the other negative. It is the positive G.D. meaning that is applied most often to the Waite-Smith card today. In Book T, the G.D.’s tarot bible, this meaning is given as “Idea, thought, spirituality, that which endeavours to rise above the material.” The Fool’s negative side is said to manifest as “folly, stupidity, eccentricity, and even mania, unless with very good cards indeed.” The constraint applied to the use of the positive meaning appears in Book T as: The card “is too ideal and unstable to be gen­erally good in material things.” The instruction in the school I trained in was that, unless the subject of a reading was purely spiritual (on the understanding that precious few reasons for reading the tarot are purely spiritual), the more negative meaning was the one most likely to apply.

Aleister Crowley, in The Book of Thoth, follows Book T almost to the letter: “In spiritual matters, [it] represents ideas, thoughts, spirituality, that which endeavors to transcend earth. In material matters [it] may show, if badly dignified, folly, eccentricity, even mania.” Similarly, Paul Foster Case, in his book The Tarot, lists the divinatory significance of the Fool as: “In spiritual matters: Originality, audacity, venturesome quest. In material affairs: Folly, eccentricity, inconsiderate action”. Both Case and Crowley received a G.D. training, and in respect of the Fool remain true to Order’s comprehension of the card.

My second reason for keeping to the older interpretation is that, by removing the concept of folly from the tarot we prevent the cards from giving us a rounded picture of the world we live in. We inhabit an era in which it is not politically correct to show disrespect to another person, and so a familiar cry of modern times is: “Don’t call me stupid!” Contrast this attitude with what you will hear blurted out every five minutes in the course of a typical car journey. “Idiot!” “Learn to drive, you moron!” And worse. There is a post on FaceBook that reappears every few weeks or so: “You can’t fix stupid.” Inconsiderate acts and foolish mistakes are alive and well in the twenty-first century and in my opinion it is as well not to exclude their appearance from our tarot readings. Especially when there is already a card to signify fearlessness and courage – Strength – and another to represent a higher than usual level of intuition – The High Priestess.

The duality expressed by the card, as well as the way opposing meanings are allocated in the Three Worlds, is conveyed by the Fool’s "Secret Titles”. At the highest level, the Divine World, the title is Radiatio meaning “radiation” or “to shine”. At the most basic level, that of the Material World, the title is Materia, “matter”. These attributions present the tarotist of an esoteric inclination with a paradox. Light shines; matter, considered esoterically, does not. Emission of light is a property of the sun and the stars; the Earth (matter) is illuminated by them, it does not itself radiate light. Esoterically, matter is often referred to as blind matter. Alchemically, it equates with the base metal lead. Light, on the other hand, is equated with gold. At one end of the Fool’s spectrum, we have lead, at the other gold. Alchemists believe there is an essential link between the two metals, and it is that link that would, under the right circumstances, permit lead to be transmuted into gold.

Between the Divine and Material Worlds there lies the Intellectual World, the world of mind and the imagination. In this world, the Fool’s Secret Title is Signum, “sign”. The sign generally associated with the card by occultists is called, in Latin, Furca, meaning a fork, and is typically represented as a capital Y. It represents a fork in a road. One path will lead the seeker to the radiant Divine World while the other leads to dark world of matter from whence she or he set out in the first place. One branch of esotericism places the Fool after the Judgment card and before The World, using this ordering of the Trumps to illustrate a parable. On reaching the interior experience marked by Trump 20, they say, the seeker’s soul is judged. If it is sufficiently developed in wisdom, compassion and understanding it passes on the state represented by The World, identified in this tradition with the Crown of the Magi. But if the seeker’s soul still contains impurities, it is returned to Earth and given another chance to climb the ladder of initiation.

The initiatory system is not a matter of receiving instructions in occult practice behind closed doors and having mystic titles bestowed on one. As one who knows has revealed: “The process of initiation is one of regeneration. It means developing our inmost essence, first to birth and then to full growth. This involves a rejection and mystical death of all the lower principles that obstruct your growth.” With each incarnation, the human soul starts this process over again from the beginning. Those who find their way to the path of initiation move forward by means of instruction and discipline; one is impotent without the other. It is by this blend of teaching and discipline that the schools of initiation purify and rectify the soul. The method is sometimes referred to as spiritual alchemy. Alchemy itself is known to the Wise as “the work of fire”, and in spiritual alchemy fire is applied to the soul so as to burn away impurities.

It the present age many profess a desire for initiation without understanding what they are asking for. Even in the twenty-first century, the old adage remains true: When the pupil is ready, the master appears. Often the complaint is made that true occult knowledge – which is instruction combined with activities based on the instruction – is reserved for a favored few, and kept under wraps by them. This is not entirely the case. The alchemist Artephius wrote that he had resolved to publish the whole truth of the alchemical method “sincerely and truly; so that men may have nothing more to desire concerning the work [i.e., the Great Work]. I except one thing only, which it is not lawful that I should write, because it can be revealed only truly by God, or by a master. Nevertheless, this likewise may be learned from this book, provided one be not stiff necked, and have a little experience.”

Artephius invokes qualities the Fool does not possess. The Fool is inexperienced and ignorant in the worst possible way because he depends for his knowledge on his own opinions, understandings, interpretations. Such a person cannot be taught and must endure incarnation after incarnation until he realizes that he cannot ascend the ladder of initiation unaided. This endless round is one of the meanings behind that arrangement of Major Arcana popular in certain schools of initiation where the Trumps are laid out in a circle, the unnumbered Fool between Trumps 21 and I, where he is at once the first and the last card.

22 aos     Arcane-Arcana-01-bateleur-magician

The circle is broken when the Fool grasps the significance of a Being greater than himself. On occasion the Fool is retitled The Foolish Man, bringing to mind the Bible verse: The foolish man says in his heart “There is no God”. Contrast that attitude with this remark about the great occult philosophers of old, Raymond Lully, Alain de l’Isle, John Trithemius, H.C. Agrippa, and others: “Faith was the beacon of light that led them on to conviction, by a free perspicuity of thought beyond things seen, to believe and hope truthfully, which is the distinguishing prerogative of all great minds.”

This insight comes from a school that imagines the Trumps in circular formation. In this arrangement the card is set on a knife’s edge, at the point at which faith dawns and the soul becomes truly aware of the realm “beyond things seen”. Esoterically speaking, the Fool is essentially a materialist. But the Juggler – the Magician, Trump 1 – is given the occult attribution Visible and Invisible (see card above). The Fool apprehends only the visible world; the Juggler recognizes both worlds, has access to both, can operate in both. The step from Fool to Juggler is the first step on the ladder of initiation.

The Place of the Fool in the Tarot

Due to the astonishing popularity of the Waite-Smith pack and the ubiquity of its images as reproduced in ‘tribute’ decks such as the Morgan-Greer and Fez Morocco tarots, modern understanding of the Fool in English-speaking countries is deeply-rooted in the portrait of a young man blithely striding toward a precipice, a satchel on a pole slung over his shoulder, a rose in one hand, a dog leaping playfully beside him. The card is numbered zero and its symbolism is interpreted as depicting the soul at the start of a great adventure. Stepping off the precipice is a metaphor for the soul’s descent into matter, the Trump emblemizing the beginning of the Fool’s Journey, a quest that will end when he reaches Trump 21, The World, symbol of attainment and completion.

The master tarotists of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries viewed the card through a lens composed of other distinctive symbols. The gaily caparisoned youth of the Waite-Smith and BOTA decks displaced an earlier image of more mature, bearded male, dressed in rags. In this picture, the dog is not capering beside the fool, it is attacking him from the rear and he is fleeing from its bite. The only factor the two representations have in common is the pack tied to a stick resting on the fool’s shoulder.

The foremost tarot experts prior to the twentieth-century relied upon the images from the Tarot de Marseille for their inspiration, believing them to be the most accurate representations of a fondly imagined, but mythical, ‘original tarot’. Whether they were mistaken or not in their belief need not detain us now. What is important, from the point of view of the history of tarot divination, is that those tarot savants took as their starting point the pictures on the Tarot de Marseille Trumps. Tarot de Marseille-style decks show the fool as bearded, his bundle at his back, in ragged clothes, pursued by a dog biting his hose, as in the examples that follow.

tdm fool z  ital qbl 22t  22 II

<beggar, vagrant>

Up to the time that Eliphas Levi took an interest in the tarot, occultists of every stripe placed the Fool at the end of the run of Trumps. In those days the Fool was unnumbered and thus stood out as something separate from the other Trumps. This led to a tendency to treat the Fool differently. A symbolic way of representing the whole deck was to project the minor arcana on to the four sides of square, one suit, fourteen cards, to each side. The numbered Trumps were project as the sides of a cards to each side. The Fool was designate by a dot at the center of the figure. The arrangement suggests that the tarot is made up of three parts – the minor arcana, the numbered cards of the major arcana, and the Fool. Instances where the Fool is treated as a special case can be found in A.E. Waite’s instructions of how the tarot should be read in The Manuel of Cartomancy and Occult Divination (first published under the pseudonym Grand Orient) and in Charles Williams’ occult novel The Greater Trumps.

glyph trt 2  glyph trt1

Both these figures depict the same energy, but each directs it in a different way.

The Fool placed at the end of the Trumps would have been Levi’s starting point. When he came to align the Trumps with A. Kircher’s interpretation of the Hebrew letters, he found that the unnumbered Trump and the significances assigned the last Hebrew letter were incompatible and he concluded that the Fool needed re-siting. By transposing the positions of The Fool and The World, Levi felt he had resolved the issue once and for all. Not wishing to disturb the Trumps’ traditional numerical order, Levi retained the number 21 for The World and the numberless state for the Fool.

Some who came after him altered the numbers too, making The Fool Trump 21 and The World Trump 22. <one papus deck, with the three levels at bottom – Divinatory Tarot>

Those who came after him had no such compunction. In 1936, a tarot was printed in Britain, designed by an artist under the joint influence of the French occultists Paul Christian and Eudes Piccard. Its Fool is numbered 21, its World 22.

mmTarot 22    mmTarot 21

The steps leading to this radical revision had been tentative at first. Once Levi had announced his opinion that the Fool ought to precede the World, supporters of both arrangements fought their respective corners with equal zeal and determination. Below are two examples of the World card from Tarot de Marseilles-type decks. Both images are identical but the Hebrew letter stamped in the bottom right-hand corner is, in the one case, Shin, the penultimate letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and in the other, Tau, the final Hebrew letter. The version with a Shin imprinted on it tells us that whoever is responsible for the creation of this deck considered the proper place for the World to be between Judgment and The Fool. The version with a Tau on it indicates that whoever is responsible for the creation of this deck saw the World as the final Trump, coming after the Fool.

21_monde_shin            21_monde-tau

The “correct” placement of the Fool was a matter of heated debate throughout the nineteenth century. Proponents of both hypotheses defended their stances with closely argued explanations which they themselves found entirely convincing while adherents of the opposing theory found them ludicrous. Then, around 1888, the Englishman, S.L. Mathers, came up with a revolutionary “solution” to the puzzle. He incorporated his discovery into the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an esoteric school of which he was a founder member. His solution remained a secret for decades although it became very much an open secret upon the publication of the Waite-Smith tarot deck in 1910.

In the book he wrote to accompany that deck, The Key to the Tarot (later published so as to include line drawings of the cards and retitled The Pictorial Key to the Tarot), A.E. Waite assiduously sites the Fool between Judgement and the World in his commentary on the deck. However, by numbering the card Zero he encourages anyone scrutinizing the deck to bring The Fool to stand ahead of Trump 1, The Magician. Waite also gave the number 11 to Justice, previously numbered 8, and the number 8 to Strength, previously numbered 11. The switching out of these two trumps was the second key factor in Mathers’ re-arrangement of the Trumps. He reasoned that, since the sign Leo (the lion) preceded Libra (the scales), it made sense to set Strength (whereon a lion is depicted) ahead of Justice (who carries a pair of scales). Once this simple adjustment is made, and the Fool promoted to being first of the Trumps, Mathers argued, all the other symbolism falls effortlessly into place. The Emperor, in his war-bonnet, comes to correspond to Aries; The Hermit, an anchorite, to Virgo, the reserved virgin; The Star, with its water-pouring woman, to Aquarius; the mysterious Moon to dreamy Pisces.

Some of the other correspondences were not so exact but the images of those cards were adjusted to accommodate their new attributions. Temperance, for instance, equates in Mathers’ system to Sagittarius. Nothing about the Tarot de Marseilles version of Temperance or any of the early depictions of the Trump suggests this but Mathers had a rainbow added to the Order’s depiction of the card, intending to depict a connection between the rainbow and the bow carried by Sagittarius, the archer. Waite omits the rainbow on the Waite-Smith card, substituting instead an iris. For those with a classical education, the flower will suggest the Greek deity Iris, goddess of the rainbow. Not that Trump 14 had been associated with the rainbow before Mathers’ had his epiphany. There are no rainbows on any early representations of Temperance. No rainbow appears on Trump 14 in the “Egyptian tarot”, 1896, or on the Knapp-Hall deck, 1929. Paul Foster Case follows the Golden Dawn tradition by putting a rainbow on his Temperance card (c. 1930) but, as most modern tarot designers take the Waite-Smith deck as their point of departure, one rarely sees a rainbow on Temperance in more recent decks, though the iris may still be in evidence.

As a result of Levi’s and Mathers’ changes to the ordering of the Trumps, today there are three major ways of situating The Fool in a tarot deck: At the end of the Trumps, treated almost as pendant to them; between Judgment and The World; and as the first of the Trumps.

What individual tarot masters concluded about the divinatory significance of the Fool can be ascertained by examination of the changes of symbolism they accepted for the card, including the number they assigned it. Paul Christian, attempting to restore the tarot to its presumed Egyptian roots, added a broken obelisk to the design. In Christian’s description, ahead of the fool, lurking behind the obelisk, is a crocodile. The received wisdom is that the crocodile is lying in wait and will devour the fool as he attempts to pass. Versions of this image can be seen in the deck Papus used to illustrate his Tarot of the Bohemians, the Oswald Wirth and Moni Sadhu tarots and the British tarot from 1936 already referred to. The first three of these cards can be found below. Note that, while all are unnumbered, two have the letter Shin printed on them.

PapusWirth22  Arcane-Arcana-22-mat-fool  mouni-00

The final example gives the Fool the number 21. In the same pack The World is numbered 22. Many of the French tarot masters situated the Fool between Judgement and The World without altering its number. The Knapp-Hall tarot, in a bid to be all things to all tarot students, labels The Fool 21/22 and The World 22/21.

T22 equal shin christian influence    T21 knapp-hall

In the Fool card above, its divinatory meanings are sketched out by the single words written at the top of the card, and at the bottom, upside down. They are Italian for Ignorance and Stupidity respectively, and they reflect the significance allotted to the card prior to S.L. Mathers’ epiphany moved it to the front of the Trumps.

Today, thanks to the imagery of the Waite-Smith card, the Fool is normally read as predicting positive-tending events. It is taken to indicate new beginnings, inexperience, “expect the unexpected”, beginner’s luck, spontaneity, a thirst for life, endless possibilities, a leap of faith, or a calculated risk. The negative connotations the card originally bore tend to be relegated to its reversed position. Then it is said to indicate naivety, poor judgement, lack of direction, folly, stupidity, and the chaos brought about by foolish or silly acts and decisions; though in almost all the modern tarot manuals I’ve consulted, the first three meanings are the ones promoted; folly and stupidity and the results thereof are downplayed or don’t appear on the list at all. More significantly, one of the key meanings of the Fool reversed under the old dispensation is ignored entirely, and that is ‘neurosis’ or ‘mental health problems’. The modern world is acutely aware of both conditions and yet they have been removed from the tarot lexicon. This situation will be examined more closely in the second part of this discussion which will center on The Fool’s predictive meaning. 

World-Universe-Cosmos, part 2

by Tony Willis   

Let us take a moment to examine in greater detail the dancing figure on Trump 21. Occultists interpret her as the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World. (It is worth noting that in Latin, the word “mondo” can signify “the Universe” as well as “the World.”) The Anima Mundi is the invisible aspect of Mother Nature, where physical reality is her visible vehicle. For Paul Foster Case, the figure is hermaphroditical, the scarf not protecting a lady’s modesty but concealing male genitalia. In the realm of symbolism, a dual-sexed figure is given the amoeba-like property of being able to reproduce itself without recourse to the medium of fertilization from without. That is one way of presenting the teaching. Crowley, in his Thoth deck, availed himself of another way of presenting it. The symbolism of his Trump 21 (here named The Universe) is of a nude woman dancing with a giant serpent within a circle on which the constellations of zodiac are imprinted. It mirrors an ancient Greek creation myth. Robert Graves (Greek Myths) explains:

“In the beginning, Eurynome, the Goddess of All Things, rose naked from Chaos, but found nothing substantial for her feet to rest upon, and therefore divided the sea from the sky, dancing lonely upon the waves.”

Her gyrations bring into being Orphion, the Great Serpent and they dance together until he fertilizes her after which the goddess gives birth to the physical universe. That is the event pictured on the Thoth card. The Marseilles tarot, and those tarots adhering to its pattern, present the teaching as already described – the dancing figure, being an hermaphrodite, fertilizes itself, and as a result gives birth to All, that is, to everything occupying space on the plane of physical existence.

THOTH world 21  21-monde  21T 1835

Paul Christian, with typical overkill, gives the Trump the motto ‘All in All’. He also renames the card (his Trump titles deserve an article to themselves). He calls it the Crown of the Magi, the laurel wreath being presented as a chaplet, evidently waiting for a head to set itself upon. True to the dictum “change of name invokes change of image”, someone took Christian literally and redrew the wreath as a regular crown. trump 21 Had the nomenclature caught on, the picture on Trump 21 might have ended up looking nothing like the one we are used to. Thankfully, it was rarely adopted in Christian’s day, and as soon as his influence waned (which it did rapidly among all English-speaking nations) the title Crown of the Magi disappeared from the tarot lexicon and thereafter ceased to have any impact on later revisionings of The World’s design.

Soon after I commenced my study of the tarot, at the end of the 1950s, I read an article on numerology in which the number twenty-one was extolled as The Crown of the Magi. The reference mystified me. Even though by then I knew the names and numbers of the Major Arcana cards, I had no reason to associate the title with Trump 21. It wasn’t until three decades later that I discovered Christian and his distinctive, highly individual interpretations of the tarot Trumps. Today his influence lingers through the proliferation of so-called Egyptian tarots – tarots whose Christian symbolism has been replaced by scenes from Egyptian mythology; wherein, to cite one example among many, Typhon is substituted for the Devil. When I turned my attention to the tarot teachings disseminated by the Church of Light, I entered the world of Egyptian tarots that, up till that time, had been a closed book to me. It took me a while to wake up to the fact that much of what C.C. Zain has to say in his Sacred Tarot relating to the cards is taken with very little alteration from the works of Paul Christian. At that point, I began to investigate Christian himself, no easy task as I couldn’t find an English translation of any of his books, and I don’t speak French.

But to return to the World card. What bearing, if any, does identifying the figure on the card with the Anima Mundi have on the occult interpretation of the Trump? It is simply that the soul that has passed the judgment of the Angel Gabriel (Trump 20) and been allowed to proceed to Heaven is identified with the figure on the card. That soul is now free to dance as it will, where it will, so long as it remains within the compass of the laws that order the universe. At this stage of development, the soul has a natural desire to do this because in essence it is now one with the Anima Mundi. In this ‘heaven’ everyone is doing exactly what they want to do, which happens to be precisely what Divine Intelligence requires them to be doing.

The ‘Secret Titles’ of Trump 21 are: Absolutum, Adaptatio Operis Magni, and Omnipotentia Naturalis. They refer to the Metaphysical Absolute (which is a theologian’s way of referring to God), Adaption of the Great Work, and the Omnipotence of Nature. The first title needs no elucidation, save the pointing out that esoterically the card signals a clear run though of power, from God to the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World, and from thence to the human soul. The connecting thread identifies all three as representing the same potency manifesting on successive levels of being.

‘Adaption of the Great Work’ does need some explaining, however. Firstly, one needs to be aware of what the Great Work means to the occult fraternity. In a word, it is self-perfection – perfection on all three levels, the physical, the psychic/mental, and the spiritual. Obviously, perfection on this scale is a vast undertaking and occultists don’t imagine that it can be achieved in one lifetime. On the contrary, the teaching is that it takes three lives to make an adept. Only once they have attained adepthood can an individual set out on the quest for perfection in all three worlds. There are no guidelines as to how many lives the soul of an adept must endure before the Great Work can be brought to completion; each case in unique in that respect.

Anyone intending to go on this quest will make no real progress unless they can grasp the inner meaning of the phrase ‘the Omnipotence of Nature’, for the Great Work can only be accomplished through cooperation with Nature. The destiny of the human race was to work with Nature to bring the physical world to perfection. The current state of our planet demonstrates how far short we have fallen of that goal.

This thread flowing from God through the Anima Mundi to the human soul, this urge towards perfection operates on all souls throughout the course of each and every one of their incarnations. ‘The World’ is a school into which souls descend, espousing a body on the way, for the purpose of imbibing a series of lessons. Thousands of years ago, a mechanism for speeding up this process was fashioned, the ancients called it initiation. This is not the place to explain the rationale or technique of initiation. Any reader not already in the know is advised to take The Secret Science of Masonic Initiation by Robert Lomas as their starting point. Once the message of that book is understood, further reading matter will suggest itself to the sincere seeker. The formula of initiation is as Herman Hesse presented it: “The true vocation of man is to find his way to himself” Hesse was writing long ago, when it was still permissible to use ‘man’ to signify ‘humankind’. But what he had to say was true when he said it and remains so to this day.

So far as the tarot card The World is concerned, in the present context, as last of the numbered Trumps, it signifies the end of the path – ‘end’ in both senses of the word: ‘to complete’ and ‘the goal’. It describes the point at which the soul is ready for its coronation, when it shall at last wear with pride the Crown of the Magi fashioned from pure Gold. The other numbered Trumps (1-20) represent staging posts along the way. All must be met and the trials they represent overcome before the Crown of the Magi can be set upon the adept’s head. A common mistake is to assume that the soul will visit these waystations in sequence, starting with Trump 1 and proceeding in linear fashion to Trump 20. Not so. As I have said, the journey to Trump 21 is unique to every soul. For one thing, a soul may fail the test represented by, let us say, The Hermit and be brought back to it again and again in the same life, or over the course of several lives, until the lesson is learnt. Another soul, sailing through the Hermit’s test with alacrity, may then stumble at the next hurdle, whatever that might be. The once born, as the uninitiated are known in occult terminology, might not be called upon to face every one of the twenty tests in a single life. As already stated, the uninitiated move forward at a slower rate. The initiated soul, on the other hand, is almost guaranteed all twenty encounters in the present incarnation.

At the higher levels of occultism, The World symbolizes the soul at the end of its wanderings, when, having passed through the twenty waystations successfully, it reaps its final reward. So much for the numbered Trumps but what of the unnumbered card, the Fool? It represents a fork in the road, one branch of which leads to The World and the possibility of Heaven, the other leading back to Earth, the physical plane with all that that entails. The Fool and that fork in the road, Furka, as one occult school of thought terms it, is the subject of the next article.

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.

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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”.

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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.”