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Merlin the Magician

October 31, 2011
The Juggler


Hidden Lore in the Tarot

The Knights of the Round Table went in pursuit of the Holy Grail, or Cup of Knowledge and Perfect Happiness, in which they were aided by the wisdom and art of the magician Merlin. That sentence, paraphrased from the Morte d’Arthur hides very deep meanings, for in Malory’s book many occult secrets lie buried.

A knight is one who fights evil and pursues good, thereby hoping to attain the Holy Grail, and every sincere student of occultism can be compared to a knight setting forth on the Mission Perilous. It has never been denied that the search for occult power is dangerous, and should only be attempted by those who are, like Galahad, “pure in heart and mind”. This does not mean that students must be saints, for saints have attained to the Holy Grail; but they must be clear thinking (pure in mind), and determined to use the powers they attain for constructive good (pure in heart), or they will fall by the occult wayside.

The first card of the Tarot Trumps, The Magician, tells us this in picture form, and describes what knowledge the occult student must attain to embark on her or his own Mission Perilous. In the lower right hand corner of most esoteric versions of card No. 1 are roses and lilies. These signify Divine love, and spiritual integrity. In one version of the Trump, the magician’s altar (or table) is round, signifying the serpent with its tail in its mouth, or wisdom without end. Whatever its shape, the table bears the Sword of Truth (representing the magician as wielder of power), the Staff (which aids the pilgrim and equates with faith in one’s own ability); the Platter (Ace of Pentacles, signifying spiritual and material riches), and the Ewer, or chalice, which represents the physical and spiritual elixir of life. The Magician is shown lifting his right hand to Heaven and pointing the left down to Hell, thus describing the two ways open to students of magickal power, and pointing this lesson. To vanquish evil forces it is necessary first to understand their powers and limitations (which are many). Any practitioner who attempts to “lay” an evil spirit without knowing all about it invites trouble.

Merlin, magician to the Court of King Arthur, used both white and black magick to assist and guard the knights in their quests. He juggled these two forces so as to forward the Divine Plan, hence the name of the card in some older decks, The Juggler.

When Merlin took Vivienne as his pupil (represented by No. 2 in the Tarot Trumps, The Great Priestess) he taught her the elements of sorcery, warning her that the misuse of these powers could eventually cause her downfall. Black magick is an undesirable practice, largely because its results are necessarily ephemeral; BUT it can have no effect whatever on a person who is both good living and good thinking. The Eternal Parent will not allow Its plans for any of us to be altered or retarded by an evil adept. Such practitioners are punished swiftly and terribly by the same powers they invoke.

Nor, by the same token, may a white magician decide to use occult power to “do good” without ensuring, by prayer and meditation, that the “good” she or he intends to do is in line with the plan of the Supreme Deity, Who has ordained that each of us has certain lessons to learn. Consider your own life for a moment. Has not good often resulted, in the long run, where, at first, only trouble was apparent? Had you been spared these troubles by occult intervention, you would have also been denied the ultimate benefit. True white magicians understand this, and also that their power is granted to them to alleviate and soften apparent disaster. They do this by helping the afflicted to understand the reasons behind their woes. To know all is to realise the necessity of certain troubles through which we must all pass — to know that they do not come haphazardly, nor are they endured in vain.

Caput Draconis, the Moon’s North Node, has an astrological connection with No. 1 of the Tarot Trumps. It has the power to reshape good as evil, evil as good, and the power which the magician wields is truly in the same mould. The North Node is not a planet but an invisible point in space which nonetheless carries an effect, and that in itself describes occult power. The adept alone may command, and understand it.

The message of No. 1 in the Tarot is clear. All knowledge, and therefore all power is there for the earnest seeker to find, but it is revealed in the exact proportion to her or his understanding. No more, and no less. “Knock and the door shall be opened unto you.”

Magickal powers are not granted until the mind of the student is sufficiently widened to accept God’s Plan. Each of us has different lessons to learn in this life, and therefore has both fortunate and unfortunate periods to pass through to attain this end. None will be consistently lucky or unlucky if they apply their gifts vigorously. We reap only what we have sown, but that reaping is always tempered by Divine clemency and generosity. Prayer is a force which brings results if you are sincere. A certain great adept prayed not that a bitter cup should pass from Him, but that He should be given the strength to bear it and so fulfil His part in the great Plan. Given fortitude, we can endure anything. Given hope, the burden is lightened. All suffering can be borne if we know that it is for an end and not in vain.

Those are a few of the lessons which Merlin taught the knights who embarked on the Siege Perilous. Each pursued the Holy Grail of knowledge and happiness in his own way, meeting ordeals and adventures most suited to his particular nature, as do all students of the occult. Each of us is tried for will and intention, as against desire and self-glorification. Before attempting to don the mantle of Merlin and study occult powers, you must first try your own fitness to do so, being your own judge and jury. Should you then decide to embark on the magickal path, you will have many ordeals yet to pass.

Initiation does not take place behind locked doors in a man-made temple, but comes via the trials of life itself, and each one is harder than those which have preceded it. As understanding develops, great knowledge and power are granted to the student, but never easily. No one is allowed to teach until they have first been taught by the great Initiator called life, and the school is a hard one. Merlin himself endured innumerable troubles, made terrible mistakes, and had to pay for them. But his intentions were sincere.

When a student has a desire for occult knowledge and, above all, a good intention, the Path is steep, but safe. Should our intention be selfish, the Path may appear easy, but dreadful snares line the way, and one of these, eventually, may prove our undoing. These hopes and warnings of No. 1 in the Tarot are symbolised by the figure and trappings of Merlin, magician to King Arthur’s Court; and the card which represents both occult student and adept.


Take the Juggler/Magician card from your Tarot pack and place it before you on a table. While contemplating the card, think on these words from Chapter One: “Each of us is tried for will and intention, as against desire and self-glorification. Before attempting to don the mantle of Merlin and study occult powers, you must first try your own fitness to do so, being your own judge and jury.”

To put it another way, you should meditate on your fitness to be a Major Adept, and on the trials that may come your way should you decide to take that path. And you should do this while contemplating “the figure and trappings” of the Juggler/Magician; that is, while looking at the design of the Trump.

Repeat this meditation for seven days.

When the first part of the exercise is completed, put away the Juggler/Magician card and remove the four Aces from the deck. Meditate on them all in turn for two days each in the order given below. As you do so, bear in mind what is said of these implements in the chapter you have just read. The Sword is the sword of Truth and represents the power wielded by the Major Adept; the Rod or staff gives support to the seeker after knowledge and signifies faith in your own ability; the Platter (a form sometimes taken by the Ace of Pentacles) signifies both spiritual and material riches. The Cup, or chalice, has been taken out of order because it is so important a symbol in the Arthurian legends. It represents the physical and spiritual elixir of life.

As you contemplate one by one the four Aces, try to grasp the inner significance of each magickal tool.

If, at the end of this fifteen days of meditation, you are determined to proceed with the training intended to make of you a Major Adept, you may go on to the next chapter.

© Madeline Montalban, 1954

© Tony Willis, 2010

From → tarot

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