Skip to content

Introduction to the Occult Tarot, Part II

June 19, 2020
by Tony Wiliis       

Studied from an occult perspective, the tarot’s Major Arcana are taken as representing a set of esoteric principles. The Fool card stands a little to one side of the arrangement. He represents humankind, and so in one of his aspects stands for the individual seeking initiation, or to put it another way, the raw material upon which the other twenty-one principles act. At the start of the process, the Fool indicates someone in ignorance of the occult laws that govern the invisible worlds in the same way that the laws of physics govern the material world. As the process of refining the soul reaches the stage of Judgment (symbolized by Trump 20), the Fool represents either the purified soul, capable of achieving adepthood, or the soul still marked with blemishes of materialism, in need of further cleansing. Once the principle symbolized by the World card is fully embraced, the Fool becomes an adept of the highest order. In terms of western religion, the person attaining this level of spiritual advancement is called a saint. In the east they may be called a bodhisattva, though other titles are employed also. In some Rosicrucian traditions, the term is Magus, or on occasion, more explicitly, the Magus of the Rose Cross.

The First Septenary

The Magician card represents the principle of Unity, that everything in existence issues from a single source. The High Priestess is the symbol of the Dyad, the principle that two equal and opposite forces are needed in order for manifestation to take place. These forces are the Yin and Yang of Taoism, with the Tao itself as the Unity out of which they arise. They are present in the physical world as the nyinYangorth and south poles of a magnet, as positive and negative electric currents, as the acids and alkalis of chemistry, and the cycles of day and night marking the passage of time. The Empress mediates the principle of multiplicity. The interaction between Yin and Yang brings into being the myriads of things contained in the created universe: the plants, the trees, the insects, the fish, the mammals, the water in the oceans, the clouds that float in the sky, the sun, moon, planets and stars.

The Emperor embodies the principle of organization. Under the presidency of the Empress, the physical elements – Hydrogen, Oxygen, Carbon and all the rest – are created. The force symbolized by the Emperor organizes the elements, so that, for instance, a certain combination of Hydrogen and Oxygen produces water. In the process of creation, the Emperor represents the formation of the material universe. Once matter exists in this fashion, it is spiritualized, blessed one might say. This process comes under the governance of the principle mediated via the energy symbolized by Hierophant card. The next stage, represented by the Lovers, is the harmonization of all the various parts: on planet earth, night follows day, ebb is balanced by flow; in the human being, inspiration is followed by expiration. The Chariot represents a temporary state of rest, a condition where Spirit manages Matter and directs it into appropriate channels.

The Second Septenary

In the Tarot de Marseille and many early tarots the eighth Trump was Justice. The eighth principle is, correspondingly, that of balance and of the processes necessary for the maintenance of balance. The Hermit embodies the principles of Wisdom and Circumspection, otherwise known as Prudence. Eight principles precede that mediated by the Hermit and contemplation of these, rightly done, will make one wise. More than that, understanding that history repeats itself enables one to calculate future events, albeit in a rough and ready manner. Thus St Thomas Aquinas wrote that “to obtain knowledge of the future from knowledge of the present or past . . . pertains to prudence.”

You may discern a pattern in the above. It is a pattern of stasis followed by a period of anabolic (building up or burgeoning) activity and then a period of katabolic (destructive or waning) activity. Next comes period of balance usually associated with consolidating activity. Once the balance has been formalized, it in turn crystalizes into stasis after which the entire sequence begins all over again. The Wheel card represents the principle of revolution or cyclical movement, the principle that everything in creation passes through cycles.

The principle mediated by the Strength card is that of Endurance, indicating that throughout all the constant changes that the cycles are comprised of something endures. The Hanged Man exemplifies the principle of Sacrifice, the idea that nothing in life comes free. The card Death, represents the principle of Transformation. In older books on tarot, and in some more modern ones, the keyword Transformation is often associated with Trump 13, alongside other, more predictive keywords. On the physical plane the card usually signifies loss or endings. The Occult Tarot deals not with the physical realm but with the metaphysical, the invisible world that lies beyond the physical. In the metaphysical world nothing is ever lost, just as, on the physical plane, at the highest level, everything is energy which is forever transforming itself, taking on new forms. The concept is summed up in the laws of thermodynamics, one of which states: Work is heat and heat is work. The occultist maintains that death on one plane is birth on another, so that physical death can be treated as a liberation if approached in the right spirit.

For the occultist, Death and Temperance work together. The first indicates Transformation, the second Transmutation. It is on account of Temperance embodying the principle of Transmutation that some occultists have named the card the Alchemist. Energy, having been transformed from one condition to another, is then transmuted, purified through the action of the law of synthesis.

Arcane-Arcana-13-sans-nom-without-a-name                  Arcane-Arcana-14-temperance

The Third Septenary

Trump 14 marks the end of the second septenary of Trumps. After the angelic figure on the card has done its work, a new current in the evolution of the soul begins to flow. The arising of this new current is represented by the Devil and the principle of Opposition. Some occult schools call this the principle of Inertia, the sensation of coming to a full stop, because encountering it can feel like running into a brick wall. No one likes to have their desires opposed, whether by another person, an organization, or by Fate, the intrusion of ill luck into one’s activities. All these eventualities can be denoted by the Devil card in a divination. On the metaphysical levels, the effects are much the same but apply to one’s ethical or spiritual development. The Devil marks the return of a familiar condition, stasis, now in its most challenging form. The occultists and poet Dante presents his readers with a description of the devil eternally buried up to his middle down in the depths of hell so as to picture him as the epitome of stasis.

To accept stasis is to invoke decay, for if stasis does not give way to growth, only degeneration and deterioration can ensue. In that case, the result is the ruin of one’s hopes of making further spiritual progress. Where the opposite is the case, the seeker of enlightenment makes a supreme effort to come to terms with reality as it is and not as they have up to that point thought it to be. These are the actions of the Tower and the principle of the Overthrow of Settled Assumptions. Looking at reality afresh, the energy of the Star comes into play along with its principle of Recovery. It depicts a starting over, as like as not beginning again from the ashes of a raised life. The Star in the tarot is at times is equated with the morning star, heralding the dawn. At other times it is called the Star of the Magi, and under that name it announces the birth of the Messiah, who brings with him a new world era, a new dispensation. Either way the message is the same: the Sun of Glory is about to make is appearance.

Before that can happen, however, the spiritual seeker must come to terms with the Unconscious, symbolized in tarot by the Moon. C.G. Jung refers to the Unconscious as “cosmic night” and speaks of its “all-uniting depths”. He further states that: “our consciousness does not create itself – it wells up from unknown depths. In childhood it awakens gradually, and all through life it wakes each morning out of the depths of sleep from an unconscious condition.” Integration with the Unconscious is a momentous step. This Unconscious is not merely what Jungian psychologists call the personal unconscious but the greater collective unconscious also, for that is where the all-uniting depths of cosmic night are to be found.

18t tdm         19t tdm

Once integration with the Unconscious is attained, the spiritual seeker may proceed safely to the state of Higher Union represented by the tarot card the Sun. In psychological terms this is the union of the anima and animus, the alchemical marriage, the conjunctio oppositorum. In this Higher Union all the unreconciled dualities in the human psyche are brought together and integrated, the result being something that Jung termed individuation. The principle embodied within the Judgment card is that of Spiritual Awakening, sometimes termed Attraction to Divinity. At this stage of development, the soul is drawn to the Source of All in much the same way as iron filings are drawn to a magnet.

The last of the numbered Trumps, the World, represents the highest degree of initiation, a oneness with that Source of All Things. It describes a condition where the soul has been refined and scoured of all imperfection and, in the symbolism of alchemy, has, after many trials, been transmuted into pure gold. In some schools of the mysteries this card is named the Crown of the Magi. The idea behind this title is that the soul is crowned ruler of its own kingdom – the psychic world, from the Greek psyche, soul – and is awarded the exalted title Magus of the Rose Cross. The rose referred to is the Rose of Spirit and the cross is the Cross of Matter. The soul, or psyche, is the mediator between the two.

The Principles of the Fool

Not everyone passes through this circuit of the Trumps and achieves the Crown of the Magi at the first attempt. At the stage of development represented by the Judgment card, the soul is judged. Most religions prefigure this occurrence in their myths. The priesthood of pharaonic Egypt represented it as taking place in the Judgement Hall of Osiris, where the aspirant’s soul was weighed in a balance. The aspirant was only allowed to move on if the soul weighed no more and no less than the Feather of Truth. Christianity teaches of a final judgment that will take place “in the last days”. So far as anyone can tell, tarot symbolism was put together in Christian Europe around 1420. Consequently its imagery is drawn from that era, including common religious motifs of the day such as the Pope, the Devil and the Da22 IIy of Judgment. Aspirants failing the examination of the soul made in the Hall of Judgment were returned to the beginning of the cycle. They started out once more as the Magician and were set to review again the twenty-two occult principles that order the worlds, visible and invisible. This state of affairs was symbolized by the Fool, one of whose occult significances is “expiation”. Having strayed from the path, the aspirant must find their way back to it. They are returned to the beginning and required to walk the path again, this time without deviation. However, if the soul passes the test in the Hall of Judgment it receives its reward and is drawn into ceaseless cooperation in the furtherance of God’s Great Plan. This eventuality is also denoted by the Fool card, this time operating at the highest level possible.

Although it has been truly said that number implies order, aspirants for the Magi’s Crown do not necessarily encounter the twenty-two occult principles in the sequence in which they appear in the Major Arcana. The first (Trump 1, The Magician) and the last (Trump 21, The World) are frequently stable points but the other principles are encountered in the way that is appropriate to the temperament and character of the aspirant. This is markedly the case when the soul is treading the path to spiritual attainment for the second or third time. Some lessons will have been learnt, and learnt well, on the first traveling of the path, and the aspirant will glide by those principles or encounter them at some moment of need when memory of them will assist with the overcoming of some barrier to spiritual progress. At such points the aspirant brings those principles to mind, or, in the language of the mysteries, the aspirant “recapitulates” them, dragging them up out of the deep unconscious wherein lessons assimilated in previous incarnations are lodged.

Next we will examine the principles mediated by the tarot Trumps in greater detail.

From → occult tarot

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: