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Frank Lind on the Tarot

July 21, 2011

The Tarot Symbols

By Frank Lind

Frank Lind, the world’s leading authority on divination by the Tarot, reviews the various attempts that have been made to usurp the Tarot symbols in order to reinforce other studies. He trenchantly criticises ill-conceived temptations to “adapt” the ancient Tarot to any pre-conceived idea.

According to Iamblicus, a Neo­platonist of the fourth century, the 22 cards in the Major Arcana of the Tarot were employed by the ancient Egyptians in their initiation ceremonies. They were represented by fresco paintings. Before each the neophyte had to pause while their symbolism was explained, after which he had to commit it to memory. Each pictorial representation had a hieroglyph attached to it and also the appropriate sign of the Zodiac.

If anyone can quote me chapter and verse from the works of Iamblicus showing where he gives this description I should be most grateful . . . and utterly astonished! So far as I can ascertain, the story emanates from the pen of Paul Christian (b. 1870), a man of fertile imagination. Christian even supplies twenty-two admonitions supposedly recited to the neophyte in the course of this ‘initiation ceremony’. Presumably he claims that these too are drawn from Iamblicus’s writings.

“Gipsy fortune-telling cards differ markedly from the Egyptian Tarot pack,” remarked C.C. Zain recently in the World Astrology Magazine, “but I am sure their symbolism is more correct in portraying the Gipsy philosophy and the Gipsy mode of life.” In this I concur. Mr. Zain went on to declare that “English, German, Italian, and French packs (of the Tarot) differ from each other, because of national characteristics, and from the Egyptian and Gipsy cards because Christianity has made its impress upon them. But each pack, through that sympathetic response to the minds of those who use it, more correctly than the others, portrays in symbolical pictograph the deeper convictions of those who have thus some­what altered its designs.”

It is worth paying attention to what Zain says before turning to Lind’s comments thereon. Zain’s contention is that the Tarot assumes diverse forms in distinct cultural settings – that of the gypsies for instance – and in different countries. He believes there to be a gipsy Tarot, an English tarot, a French tarot, German and Italian tarots. Just as the symbolism of the cards gypsies use for fortune-telling is “more correct” than any other “in portraying the Gipsy philosophy and the Gipsy mode of life”, so, one must conclude, the English tarot will be more correct than any other in portraying the philosophy and way of life of the English, the French tarot reflecting more accurately than any other the philosophy and way of life of the French, etc., etc. Having passed the post-war period (the era when Zain’s article was published) in the English university town of Oxford, I cannot begin to imagine what Mr Zain had in mind when he referred to an English tarot – unless he meant the Waite-Smith pack, the only available Tarot at that time that was the brain-child of a member of the English race. Not that anyone of my acquaintance possessed Tarot cards in those far off days. On the odd occasion when a reading was carried out, it was done with playing cards.

Zain countenanced an Egyptian origin for the Tarot. His remark that Christianity has made its impression on the designs of the Tarot cards signals that he envisaged the ancient titles of the Trumps to be The High Priest, The High Priestess, The Blasted Pyramid, Typhon and such like, rather than the fifteenth century equivalents, The Pope, The Pappess, The Tower struck by Lightning and The Devil. In Zain’s opinion, national characteristics, of which Christianity formed a major part in those days, have brought about alterations to the designs and titles of the Tarot cards. In which case, they have no doubt been diluted from their pristine purity and what they were intended to represent has been skewed by such ill-informed tampering with tradition. Had the Tarot survived from the age of Rameses II to the present, doubtless this would be the situation. However there is not a iota of evidence that something – anything – approximating the Tarot did exist at the time of the Pharaohs, Paul Christian’s citation of twenty-two fresco paintings gracing the walls of Egyptian temples of initiation notwithstanding.

This is, unfortunately, only too true, nor has it been due solely to the variations in national characteristics.

Lind accepts Zain’s assessment of the prevailing situation, adding that there is more to the matter than that. A theme he warms to in the next section of his article.

Keep to the Authentic Tarot

Too many cartomancers with a pet theory have been anxious to make it fit into the Tarot. Also, since there is a very natural desire for completion at all costs, which is a human weakness, the designs of the Tarot cards have been altered, added to, and sometimes distorted to a quite fantastic extent.

Quabablist [sic], Alchemist, and Astrologer have vied with each other in the attempt to make the Tarot essentially the handmaiden of their own science. Inevitably this has led to confusion, so that without instruction it becomes difficult to single out the original and true meanings of each card in the Tarot.

The second ‘B’ in “Quabablist” must be a typographical error. The addition of the ‘U’ after the ‘Q’ is not. Either Lind thought the word was spelled that way or some helpful type-setter has sought to correct what he took to be an error in Lind’s ‘copy’. For Qabalah is consistently reproduced as Quabalah in the article, all cognate words following suit.

But let us return to the train of thought Lind is following. He bemoans the fact that the Tarot has been interfered with at various stages in its history. He states correctly that the symbolism of the cards has been “altered, added to and sometimes distorted to a quite fantastic extent.” He also astutely points the finger at those who use the cards for fortune-telling as the perpetrators of the majority of these changes. More than that, Qabalists, alchemists, astrologers and those with an esoteric turn of mind have indeed been guilty of introducing the more outlandish of the alterations imposed on the cards. From Levi to Waite (keeping to the period under review in Lind’s article), occultists, who recognize card reading as a function of the cards no matter how frivolous they themselves might find the practice, have adjusted the symbolism in accordance with their own ideas concerning the Tarot. Generally, their excuse has been that they were revising or rectifying past errors of design. Looking to the Golden Dawn Tarot, wherein The Fool is represented as a naked child standing beside a rosebush and The Lovers card carries the scene of Perseus rescuing Andromeda from the sea-monster, Cetus, illustrations never before or since associated with these Trumps, one gets a fair idea of how much actual rectifying went on.

The alterations have more to do with the introduction of radical new symbolism in order to meet the needs of individual occultists rather than any honest revision of the images to bring them in line with earlier known illustrations found on particular cards. One example of where it would have been helpful to reinstate an image from the past is Trump 10, The Wheel of Fortune. The oldest forms of this card show human figures set around the circumference of the wheel. Most frequently there are four: one atop the wheel, one ascending, one descending and one at the bottom. The uppermost figure is often crowned, the one at the bottom in rags. On occasion legends beside these figures read ‘I reign’ (top of wheel), ‘I shall reign’ (ascending), ‘I reigned’ (descending), and ‘I am without reign’ (bottom). This simple depiction, with its clear message, has been consistently rejected by esotericists ‘rectifying’ the Tarot. They have preferred to see three figures on Dame Fortune’s wheel: a sphinx above and, rising and falling on either side, other shapes, animal or a blend of human and animal, an Anubis figure and a snake being the most favored. This arrangement allows occultists to pontificate on the subject of esoteric triads such as the gunas of Hindu philosophy and Alchemy’s Three Principles.

There is no doubt that analogies can be drawn with regard to much of the symbolism of the Major Arcana and the teachings of the ancient Quabalah, and of Alchemy, and of Astrology. But it is easy to carry such comparisons too far. That no exact parallel exists is clear from the fact that those who make them are so much in con­tradiction.

Aleister Crowley, for instance, has drawn up a table of the Tarot trumps with the corresponding Hebrew letter and Astrological sign for every one of the cards. In this he agrees with another authority, “Papus” upon scarcely any point. Now, although I would not subscribe to all the latter’s conclusions, he is undoubtedly the more accurate of the two.

I endorse Lind’s statement that no exact parallel exists between the teachings of the Qabalah, alchemy and astrology and the symbolism of the Major Arcana. Granted, there are twenty-two Trumps and the same number of letters comprise the Hebrew alphabet, but the coincidence of one set with the other goes no further than that. Had there been an incontrovertible parallel between the two, there would not have been so much contention over the years about how the Trumps were to be aligned with the Hebrew letters, nor would the debate have been so hard fought.

The reason why the Tarot deck was first created back in the fourteen hundreds is lost in the mist of time. Was it no more than an artistic bon bouche given as a wedding present to a member of the noble house of Sforza? Did it have a moral purpose, embodying ethical or even spiritual truths, most particularly in the designs of the Major Arcana? Or, since it incorporates the Minor Arcana, which, in a slightly different form, was irredeemably associated with games of hazard, was the Tarot also intended for that purpose? Because the reason that led to its creation is not known for certain, from the moment the Tarot came to the notice of occultists, two things happened. First, they wanted to take ownership of it and then they wanted to colonize it.

They were beguiled by the coincidence of there being twenty-two trumps and twenty-two letters to the Hebrew alphabet. As I have noted, there did not appear to be a straightforward match between the two. Certain connections can be found but they are not consistent, and besides, different ‘clues’ were pounced upon by different authorities. As we will find Lind saying later in his article, the letter Aleph can be discerned in the posture of the Marseilles Tarot Juggler (though the consonance is absent in the earliest tarots’ depictions of this figure). The letter Beth, meaning a house, can be thought of as having resonances with The Female Pope card on the grounds that the lady appears to be inside a building whereas the figures on the Trumps that flank it – the Juggler and Empress – are in the open air. These associations, attenuated to begin with, run out quite soon, with some matches being attained only by elaborate mental convolutions of the kind that would have given Ockham apoplexy! William of Ockham, it may be recalled, devised a rule which states that “the simplest explanation for any phenomenon is more likely to be accurate than more complicated explanations.”

In the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most Tarot experts accepted that the Trumps and Hebrew letters should run in tandem, starting with: The Juggler equals Aleph. Some disagreement centered upon the correspondences of the final two Trumps. There were those who continued the sequence through to the end so that The World and The Fool were paired with the letters Shin and Tau respectively. Then there were those who, disrupting the Trump order that had by then become traditional, and therefore, one might have thought, sacrosanct, assigned The Fool to Shin and The World to Tau. This is the order adhered to by Waite in the book written to accompany the Waite-Smith deck when it was first published, The Key to the Tarot. It remains the order of the Trumps in all reprints of Waite’s book.

At the same time, there were a good many occultists who were uncomfortable with both of these solutions to the “Trumps equal Hebrew letters” problem. Lind typifies one camp of dissenters. In his view there is no connection between the two series; the Tarot is to be judged on its own merits and kept separate from the Hebrew letters and their accreted associations. It is the minority view. In the opposite camp were those consumed by the desire to see a perfect match between cards and letters, rejecting the solutions given above as imperfect. This led to the belief that a secret correspondence existed, one which the diligent researcher might uncover it for himself if he sought it long enough. Alternatively, it was thought that the elusive formula was part of the legacy of the ancient schools of magic, and as such vouchsafed only to initiates who guarded the secret zealously.

For many, the Golden Dawn arrangement was that perfect solution to the “Trumps equal Hebrew letters” conundrum. It fits the bill so well that, at least so far as the English-speaking world is concerned, it has swept the board, and left no serious contenders standing.

As so much modern Tarot lore is based on this arrangement, it is as well that I tabulate it for inspection by those unfamiliar with it. For I find a good many Tarot readers are ignorant of its existence even though its influence on the way the cards are interpreted is at the time of writing well neigh all-pervasive. A depressingly significant number of today’s Tarot students are unaware that for centuries Justice was numbered 8 and Strength 11, whereas in Lind’s day the Waite-Smith deck was exceptional in that it was the only published tarot to incorporate the exchange of positions and was viewed in most quarters as heretical.

Let us look first at the correspondence between the Tarot Trumps and the Hebrew letters generally accepted prior to the arrival on the scene of the Waite-Smith pack.

Trump

Letter

Type

 

Trump

Letter

Type

Juggler Aleph A Mother Hanged Man Lamed L Single
Papess Beth B Double Death Mem M Mother
Empress Gimel G Double Temperance Nun N Single
Emperor Daleth D Double Devil Sameck S Single
Pope He H Single Tower Ayin O Single
Lovers Vau U, V Single Star Pe P Double
Chariot Zain Z Single Moon Tzaddi Tz Single
Justice Cheth Ch Single Sun Qoph Q Single
Hermit Teth T Single Judgement Resh R Double
Wheel Yod I, J Single World Shin Sh Mother
Strength Kaph K, C Double Fool Tau Th Single

The Hebrew alphabet is by tradition divided into three unequal portions: the Mother letters, of which there are three, the seven Double letters and the twelve Single letters. The common consensus among occultists is, and always has been, that the Single letters correspond to the twelve signs of the zodiac, the Double letters to the seven planets of ancient astrology and the Mother letters to the Elements Fire, Water and Air. This schematic arrangement derives from the Hebrew classic, the Sepher Yetzirah or the Book of Formation. Earth is omitted from the plan because, according to Dion Fortune, humans function on the Earth plane while the Hebrew letters denote factors lying above that plane that existed before it came into being.

Although the testimony of the Sepher Yetzirah was accepted with regard to the division of the alphabet into Single, Double and Mother Letters, it was widely believed that the correspondences set out in the Book of Formation were intentional blinds. In the often secretive world of occultism, intentional blinds were used to mislead the uninitiated. An author might reveal, say, that seven alchemical processes corresponded to the actions of the seven Planets of the Wise but he  would then proceed to equate the former with the latter in the wrong order. It was a device intended to keep supposedly potent knowledge out of the hands of the irresponsible and the unscrupulous. Due to this strongly held belief in the presence of intentional blinds in the Sepher Yetzirah, it came about that various occult groups embraced a variety of attributions. Below I set out the correspondences advocated by Papus alongside those given in the Book of Formation. They agree in respect of the Single Letters but diverge widely concerning the Double Letters.

Trump Letter Papus Seph. Yetz.
Juggler Mother Letter Mother Letter Mother Letter
Priestess Double Letter the Moon Saturn
Empress Double Letter Venus Jupiter
Emperor Double Letter Jupiter Mars
Pope/High Priest Single Letter Aries Aries
Lovers Single Letter Taurus Taurus
Chariot Single Letter Gemini Gemini
Justice Single Letter Cancer Cancer
Hermit Single Letter Leo Leo
Wheel Single Letter Virgo Virgo
Strength Double Letter Mars Sun
Hanged Man Single Letter Libra Libra
Death Mother Letter Mother Letter Mother Letter
Temperance Single Letter Scorpio Scorpio
Devil Single Letter Sagittarius Sagittarius
Tower Single Letter Capricorn Capricorn
Star Double Letter Mercury Venus
Moon Single Letter Aquarius Aquarius
Sun Single Letter Pisces Pisces
Judgement Double Letter Saturn Mercury
Fool Mother Letter Mother Letter Mother Letter
World Double Letter The Sun Moon

The most logical arrangement of Trumps and Hebrew letters is that which runs through the Major Arcana from Trump 1 to Trump 21, tagging The Fool on at the end and aligning them in that order with the Hebrew letters from Aleph to Tau. The problem with it is that such a distinctive card as The Fool is thereby made to equate with the Double letter, Tau, and thus with one of the planets. This perceived mismatch may have prompted the swapping round of The World and The Fool so that the latter could be made to correspond with a member of that more elite group of letters, the three Mothers. This was the preferred arrangement in occult circles until the Golden Dawn correspondences became common knowledge. It even impinges on the Golden Dawn’s explanation of its Trump order; for the G.D. alleged that Eliphas Levi, who had championed the earlier arrangement, was privy to the ‘true’ order, but was prevented by his vows of secrecy as an adept from revealing it. It was suggested that, although Levi did not break his oath, he hinted at the ‘correct’ attribution for The Fool by aligning it with a Hebrew letter, Shin, known to symbolize the Divine, or Holy, Spirit. The only other letter to denote the Holy Spirit is Aleph. Therefore, it was claimed, by pairing The Fool with Shin, Levi was creating an intentional blind; an incorrect attribution that the initiated or the enlightened would see through in an instant, and using his clue, could work out the ‘correct’ attribution – that The Fool corresponds to Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Whoever created the Golden Dawn arrangement made two changes to the order of the Trumps, both in their day alarmingly radical. Nowadays we are so used to the Golden Dawn order that it can be hard to grasp how shocking it would have been when this order was revealed to entrants to the Order back in late-Victorian Britain. The first bold change was to take the Fool from the end of the Major Arcana (whether it had previously been thought to hold the final or the penultimate place is immaterial at this juncture) and to place it at the head of the Trumps. It was also given the ‘number’ zero. Once it is accepted that The Fool is numbered zero, the way is open for observations to be made such as this from Crowley: that the card numbered zero ought to be positioned in the Major Arcana “where any mathematician would put it” – i.e., ahead of the card numbered 1.

The second bold change was to exchange the positions of the Trumps Justice and Strength, so having Justice fall between The Wheel and The Hanged Man and re-numbering it 11, and causing Strength to  fall between The Chariot and The Hermit, re-numbered 8. These alterations are highly audacious, so much so that someone of Lind’s mindset cannot get to grips with it. It seems to him illogical: elsewhere, he complains that the trump numbered 0 has been made to equate with the Hebrew letter universally associated with the number 1; the trump bearing the number 1 with the Hebrew letter corresponding to number 2, and so on. (See also How to Understand the Tarot by Frank Lind (Bazaar, Exchange and Mart, Ltd., U.K., 1958), p. 19.) However illogical the Golden Dawn correspondences appeared from a rational point of view, they were accepted because they possess one overriding virtue: they align the Trumps very neatly and convincingly with the attributions of the Hebrew letters. By this system Strength, on which a lion is depicted, corresponds to Leo, and Justice, a female figure holding a pair of scales, corresponds to Libra. The Hermit now equates with Virgo allowing parallels to be made between solitariness and the unmarried state. Death aligns with Scorpio, a sign associated with mortality; The Star, which shows a woman pouring water from two ewers, corresponds to Aquarius, the water-bearer. And so on.

Trump

Letter

Attrib.

Fool Aleph Air – Uranus
Magician Beth Mercury
Priestess Gimel Moon
Empress Daleth Venus
Emperor He Aries
Hierophant Vau Taurus
Lovers Zain Gemini
Chariot Cheth Cancer
Strength Teth Leo
Hermit Yod Virgo
Wheel Kaph Jupiter
Justice Lamed Libra
Hanged Man Mem Water – Neptune
Death Nun Scorpio
Temperance Sameck Sagittarius
Devil Ayin Capricorn
Tower Pe Mars
Star Tzaddi Aquarius
Moon Qoph Pisces
Sun Resh Sun
Judgement Shin Fire – Pluto
World Tau Saturn

But that wasn’t to be the end of the matter. The Golden Dawn arrangement could still be considered imperfect. The Great Beast, Alistair Crowley proposed yet one more change: “All the letters of my book are correct, but Tzaddi is not the Star.” So says the Book of the Law. This led Crowley to exchange the positions of The Emperor and The Star, following the precedent set by the Golden Dawn in exchanging the positions of Justice and Strength. Crowley’s alteration caused outrage amongst those convinced that Mathers’ arrangement could not be improved on. But he is not alone. Others after him have tried to ‘rectify’ the order of the Trumps, which only adds more power to the argument that the Tarot has no inherent affinity with either Qabalah, astrology or any esoteric art; that all such affinities have been artificially grafted on to it since the eighteenth century after the Tarot had been taken up by occultists, as part of a process by which they attempted to absorb and subsume it.

Disparity and Confusion

For example, Crowleystarts his list with the Fool, to which card he assigns the Hebrew letter Aleph and the element Air. Papus, on the other hand, gives Aleph to the Juggler, who is in the highest sense Adam-­Kadmon, (Man with all his potentialities for good and evil). This seems to me more logical, since the Juggler has his right hand bent towards Earth and the left towards Heaven; thus roughly forming by his posture the letter in question. And as this card stands for the primal cause it should certainly be placed first.

Since Lind has the same opinion of Trump 1 as Papus does, it is unsurprising that he is more comfortable with the attributions Papus gives to the card that those cited by Crowley. If one adjusts ones perspective, however, the picture may look very different. The Golden Dawn correspondences that Crowley is using equates Trump 1 not with Adam-Kadmon but with the planet Mercury. The G. D. interpret the ‘right hand up, left hand down’ gesture as symbolizing Mercury’s powers of transmission, as when the herald of the gods takes a message from Zeus and delivers it to a human being. And supporters of the G.D. arrangement never so much as hint that the Juggler’s posture resembles in shape the letter Aleph.

The Juggler has in Italian the name of Pagad, that is to say “the master of fortune”; or the controller of his own fate.

At the very opposite pole, and therefore rightly to be considered as the last card, is the Mat, i.e., Fool; who is dead to the world. This word, like the former, is of Arabic origin, and means “death”; while matto is the Italian for “fool.”

Between these two cards, symbolizing the ruling of one’s own destiny, and that final dissolution which can not be avoided, evolves all life. We may take it that the Fool is, in the loftiest sense of the card, one who is proceeding to a higher spiritual state, or on the way to a fresh incarnation. The Juggler is Alpha (the Beginning), the Fool is Omega (the End). In a broad sense the first card stands for evolution, the last one for involution (Manvantara and Pralaya, or Einstein’s expanding and contracting Universe).

Lind contrasts the associations given The Juggler and The Fool, concluding that the former embodies the powers of Life, the latter those of Death. The Italian name for Trump 1 he translates as “master of his own fate”. The word mat, seemingly related to the Italian for fool is linked also to the Arabic word for death encountered in the expression shah mat – the king is dead – from which the chess term checkmate is derived. The Juggler engages with the world; the Fool is, in Lind’s words, dead to the world. Though dead, the Fool is not inert; in a spiritual sense, he is preparing for rebirth or possibly for ascent to higher level. Not that either alternative fits him to engage in the game of life, and in divinations Lind takes the card to indicate foolish thoughts and ambitions. (See How to Read the Tarot by Frank Lind.)

Whereas Papus gives the letter Daleth to the Emperor, and Gimel to the Empress,Crowleyassigns the former letter to the Empress; he furthermore makes Aries the astronomical affinity of the Emperor, while Papus chooses Jupiter. InCrowley’s view Jupiter should be related to the Wheel of Fortune, but Papus decides on Virgo. And so on, and on, to worse confusion.

In reaction to the contradictory ways of equating the Major Arcana with the Hebrew letters, Lind bangs heads together with a cry of “a plague on both your houses!”

The Tree of Life

To make the Sephirotic Scheme fit in with the Tarot, some Quabalists have argued that there are really only twenty-two and not thirty-two paths on the Tree of Life. Properly, though, there are no less than 400 Sephiroth in the complete world scheme; Tau (400) the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet completing the cycle of the creative Voice or Logos.

It is true that Qabalistic philosophy countenances 400 ‘worlds’. Proponents of the Golden Dawn methodology would say that this concept is dealt with by the way the spot cards of the Minor Arcana are handled. This is not the place for an exposition of Qabalistic teachings; briefly then, the spot cards correspond to ten spheres of the Tree of Life on four planes while the Trumps correspond to the twenty-two paths that link the various spheres, thus covering the main concepts associated with the 400 worlds, the lesser concepts being little more than reflections of the major ones. In this way, the 400 worlds are considered to be adequately represented by the energies embodied by the 78 cards of the Tarot deck.

A student has written informing me that the Quabalists placed on the Tree of Life the signs of the Zodiac. “Upon the physical plane we are ourselves in the element of Earth, therefore that symbol does not appear upon the paths which lead into the Unseen. Remove this, and we are left with 22 symbols (3 Elements, not counting Earth, 12 signs, 7 planets), which fit accurately and, correctly placed, correspond perfectly with the Tarot.”

This is precisely the Golden Dawn view of the matter. Lind dismisses it as “not being at all conclusive.”

However, this does not strike me as being at all conclusive, for Ardha-nari, the Hindu deity, is represented holding in four hands a sceptre, a cup, a sword and a ring; which symbolize the Four Elements (including Earth), and the suits of the Minor Arcana. On Card 21, too, the World of the Major Arcana, the Four elements are shown; the Ox standing for Earth. These four creatures of Ezekiel and the Apocalypse are in my view the Element of Fire (Lion); Water, Man, Earth, the Ox, and Air, the Eagle. In the Tarot they are represented by the Swords, Cups, Wands and Pentacles, respectively. These affinities do not agree with those of Papus.

Having kicked the Golden Dawn exposition into touch, Lind enters onto shaky ground of another kind in discussing the Elements. The fact that there are Four Elements doesn’t preclude the possibility that one of them is distinct from the other three in certain ways. Nor, moving in another direction, would everyone agree that the Element Water is to be associated with Man and Air with the Eagle. Air and bird sounds like the right combination, but the symbols Ox, Lion, Eagle and Man as easily, if not more easily, equate with the Fixed signs of the zodiac – Taurus, the bull; Leo, the lion; Scorpio, whose spiritual side is said to be represented by an eagle; and Aquarius, a man bearing a water jug. Lind has the grace to admit that other interpretations are possible.

I think that Jean Chaboseau is right, when in his book Le Tarot, he suggests that the Cup, which is the chalice of the clergy, makes also an allusion to the Grail; the Air is well figured by a ring (or the Pentacle); the Sword for Fire conforms to the universal symbolism; while Earth is depicted in the form of a stick with three knobs, or the peasant’s cudgel. These correspondences fall well into line with the four principal Hindu castes: the Brahmans or Priests, Kshetriyas or Warriors, the Vaisyas or merchants, and the Sudras or labouring class.

Air is here associated with the Ring and Pentacles or Coins; Fire with Swords; Earth with Wands or Rods; and Water with Cups. This was another area of Tarot lore riven by dissention until the publication of the Waite-Smith deck seemingly settled the matter, with Wands assigned to Fire, Cups to Water, Swords to Air and Pentacles to Earth.

But there is no object in complicating things and reading into the suits and the designs of the cards a vast amount of fanciful imagery to satisfy one’s precon­ceived ideas.

This article was written on the cusp of a shift of opinion. Fifty years earlier, the bulk of opinion would have been firmly and vociferously on Lind’s side. Fifty years later, the majority of taroists don’t even comprehend the point he is making, their stance being How is one to understand a card if not by interpreting the imagery of which the illustration it bears is comprised?

Far better concentrate on recapturing the ancient science of divination by the Tarot. Recent research has done much both to simplify and confirm this. We can safely leave the esoteric symbolism to the experts to wrangle over and concentrate on using the Tarot as a guide in facing the problems of our everyday life.

It is Lind’s opinion that the average person should leave the experts to their never-ending debates about the way in which esoteric teachings correspond to Tarot symbolism. Better by far for those who are not experts in the field to focus on the Tarot as a means of divining future possibilities; this, at least, he believes, is something every person can prove to themselves by putting the cards to the test. I wish Lind had seen fit to dilate further on the ‘recent research’ that ‘has done much both to simplify and confirm’ Tarot divination. Sadly he does not; nor so far as my study of his other writings goes, does he do so in the Insight Institute course he authored (published under the title How to Read the Tarot) or in How to Understand the Tarot.

Here, fortunately, there is less confusion. One does not need to become involved in endless, high-sounding mysticism. For the Tarot, despite its undoubted antiquity as the father and mother of all Occult Sciences, can be read and used without any excursions into the realm of mysticism. What a wonderful device it is, though, that it can be so profitably applied by the simplest of people – and yet inspire philosophers and mystics with unlimited data for speculation!

Putting the disputes of occultists behind us, we are on firmer ground, Lind insists, when we turn to the matter of Tarot divination. He sees the Tarot as a guide when facing the problems life inevitably throws up for everyone from time to time. It is an effective method of divination and can be read by anybody without reference to mystical or esoteric concepts. Although such concepts lie behind the deck and inform the process of divination, one can look into the future with the aid of the cards whilst remaining contentedly ignorant of what any of those concepts are. That, at any rate, is Lind’s estimation of the position.

[Prediction (UK), March, 1949]

From → tarot history

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