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The Magical Tarot

January 11, 2020
Two articles by Madeline Montalban with commentary

by Auntie Tarot      

While I am not in a position to stage a come-back just yet, I haven’t been idle. In moments I’ve had to myself, I’ve continued to delve deeper into the lore of the tarot. One gem of a discovery I made consisted of two articles by Madeline Montalban on the tarot, magic, and the approaches made by the tutelary deity of the tarot deck, the Egyptian god Thoth, to those would-be students of the occult uses of the cards. These articles start off a series that Ms Montalban wrote devoted to the Trumps. Unfortunately, after the second one, Ms M. shifts her focus onto the wisdom lying behind the cards and ceases to describe the specific steps of spiritual development to which each individual Trump corresponds. Nevertheless, because what she has written sheds light on the initiatory process, whether yoked to the tarot or not, and because information of this sort is not often given out, I thought it would be a service to tarot students interested in setting out upon the magical path to have the information available to them.

First I will post Ms Montalban’s preliminary article. For convenience of reference, I have numbered the paragraphs. In a day or so, I will post my own comments and explanations of the beliefs and concepts Ms M. presents in this article. I suggest you read the article and think about its contents before turning to my exposition. Later on I will post the second article followed by my commentary on that too.

After that, I will be returning to the back-seat again, leaving Tony Willis to continue his admirable curatorship of the blog.

Knowledge is Magic: Beginning of a new series on The Tarot
by Madeline Montalban    

1. With this article I am starting a new series on the Tarot; one which is designed to answer the hundreds of questions that have been put to me over the years I have writing on the subject. The new series will deal with the Tarot in its aspect as the Book of Thoth, for that is what it is. Hidden in the pictures and symbolism is all the accumulated arcane knowledge of the ages, for Thoth was the name of the ancient Egyptian Recorder, the preserver of all knowledge, both arcane and otherwise.

2. Because this is a mighty study we are all beginning together. I am not going to deal with the Tarot from the predictive point of view. It is, and always has been, for more than a mere fortune-telling device. For looking into the future, the method that uses an ordinary pack of playing cards is much simpler to learn than is the Tarot. Books and methods abound on reading the Tarot as a predictive medium. Those who just want to study it for this purpose are recommended to a booklet called The Tarot, written by McGregor Mathers, which can be supplied by John Watkins of 21 Cecil Court, London, E.C.2, price 7/6. This is one of the most comprehensive and cheapest books on the fortune-telling side of the Tarot and, having recommended it. I feel that for the purpose of this series of Tarot articles we can turn to the magic of the Tarot itself.

3. For the Book of Thoth is the book of knowledge, and knowledge, when properly applied, is magic, inasmuch as it can work wonders.

4. The person who really wants to understand the magic and mystery of the Tarot has taken the first step to gaining this wisdom and magical knowledge. The second step is to be aware that the pictographs of the Tarot are manifold; as is its wisdom. There is no such thing as a complete book on the magical side of the Tarot in existence. It could not be contained in one book, or a hundred; a whole library would be needed to give even any idea of its immensity.

You start as a fool

5. As a beginner wanting to understand the magic power of the Tarot; you are represented by Trump No. 1, or the Juggler. The name “juggler” is applied to the aspect of Trump 1 that represents an uninstructed person (sometimes called the Fool). He is trying to “juggle” with what he knows about life and the hidden powers within himself, some good, some evil, which can cause him to make mistakes, and through them come to wisdom.

6. The other name for Trump No. 1 is The Magician, or Adept, which represents the instructed, aware and magically-powerful student of the occult who has learned of the powers behind Nature, its laws and lore, and the Universe itself, and who has the wisdom to apply them. We shall wind up this series by dealing with the Magician-Adept side of Trump No. 1, when we have come full circle through the mysteries of the trumps. But we must begin at rock bottom, by dealing with the lesser side of the trump, known as The Juggler, and by finding out what he represents.

7. Briefly he stands for the curious and inquiring mind that is desirous of leaning the magic of the Tarot, but which admits that it knows nothing. This is the beginning of all magical learning. To admit you know nothing is the beginning of wisdom.

Not an escape from life

8. The first step is to acquire a balanced mind about it. All juggling implies balance and dexterity, and from the Tarot point of view it is mental balance and dexterity that is implied. So you must begin by laying aide all preconceived notions that magic is necessarily black magic, that powers can be obtained with no effort or study, or that even the knowledge of an Adept will free you from the limitations and trials that life imposes on us all. It will not. Life is experience; from experience comes wisdom. Wisdom is magic, when you learn to use it.

9. Again, as the beginner, the juggler with words, ideas, conceptions and symbols, you must avoid falling into a very obvious trap; that of wanting to talk about it when you stumble on a secret of importance. Conversational get-togethers on the subject of magic, when the student is in the initial stages, do far more harm than good. Nobody who knows a great deal more than you do will want to talk to you about it. Those who know less, or just the same amount, have nothing of value to contribute.


10. The wise student must learn to keep what he learns to himself. This is the symbolism of the little seal on the right-hand side of the Juggler diagram. It represents the Egyptian God of Silence, called Harpocrates, seated on the lotus of knowledge, with his finger to his lips.

Learn not to talk

11. In ancient days the student occultist was bound to silence by a series of most sacred and terrible vows, and his life was at stake if he revealed what he learned. And for a good reason. Knowledge and power, if put into the hands of fools, can be very dangerous. Fools will not be taught, cannot learn, and will not be parted from their folly. Moreover, they are unscrupulous. Their own folly makes them so.

12. Even today, any occult school that teaches things of worth asks for a pledge of secrecy from its students. They still follow the old system, because they have found it is good. Nobody can teach you when to talk, but you can learn not to talk . . . until you have attained Adept degree, when, oddly enough, you won’t want to talk about it!

13. The seal on the left-hand side of the Juggler represents Hermes, or Mercury, god of communications, intelligence and magic, whose name in ancient Egypt was Thoth. He bears in his hand the winged caduceus, representing mental, spiritual and physical expansion, and he is raising from the Pit of Ignorance the psyche, or soul, always represented as a female figure.

14. Taken together the whole pictograph means: “You, the beginner, the Juggler, are about to learn the mysteries and powers that lie within you, and which will emerge as the result of an instructed mind. To this end you are enjoined to silence. Reflect upon what you learn, but do not talk about it. Then the God of Wisdom and Magic will lift your soul from the pit of ignorance and materialism. With this promise to yourself, and the will to learn, you have embarked upon a path that winds ever upwards, and when you reach the summit you can understand the mysteries of the Gods.”

Your mind as power-house

15. It sounds a tall promise, but is no more than a fact. If you have read this far, you are already interested, which means that you feel the need for such lore and learning.

16. The most powerful weapon you have in your armoury is your mind. Again, this is represented by Hermes-Mercury-Thoth. An uninstructed mind is one without power to guide its owner through the labyrinth of life. An instructed mind is a power-house that can sway events and forces.

17. All magic, or occult force, works upon mental power allied to knowledge. It is not a matter of magic circles and diagrams, of mystic signs and strange pacts. Those are but the methods by which you learn. The only pact you make is with yourself and the creative power that brought you into being. The pact is that you will learn, and not abuse what you learn. That you will value knowledge and applied mind-force, and realize that by so doing you can improve not only your own lot, but that of others about you.

18. If you stretch out your hand from the Pit of Ignorance, the God of Knowledge will grasp it, and lead you by simple but enthralling ways to possession of powers you did not know existed.

19. In the next article, I will tell you of the subtle approaches that Thoth, Recorder and God of Knowledge, will make to you.

[First published in Prediction, Oct. 1965]

From → occult tarot, tarot

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