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Correspondences – an Interlude

November 27, 2020

by Tony Willis       

Readers of my contributions to this blog will have noticed that I rarely mention correspondences. If I ever do, I do not pronounce in favor of one side or the other. In the previous article, concerning The Lovers, I noted that the French adept Papus associated the Trump with the sign Taurus. A fair proportion of continental occultism subscribes to that belief to this day, one hundred years after Papus’s death. At the same time, the English-speaking occult world by and large accepts Gemini as the astrological equivalence for the Lovers. Both attributions are part of wider systems of correspondences that stretch out their hands over all twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana.

T1Italian             bota trump 01

Above are two versions of Trump 1. The continental variant depicts the Hebrew letter Aleph at the top right of the card, here named Il Bagattel. The Anglo-American variant depicts the Hebrew letter Beth in the bottom right corner of the the card. What we are looking at is the same tarot Trump seen through lenses belonging to two apparently incompatible systems of correspondence.

Which system is right and which wrong? You may find my answer disconcerting. Neither is right, neither is wrong; and then again both are right; it all depends on one’s perspective. When investigating occult practices, we must apply common sense together with the evidence of our own senses and eschew prejudice and partisan attitudes. In my sixty years involvement with occultism I have operated with two entirely different sets of correspondences and I have had satisfactory working associations with other practitioners operating yet other sets of correspondences of which I myself have had no direct experience. I achieved results with both the sets of correspondences whose rationale I had been initiated into, and my associates did the same using the sets of correspondences with which they were familiar. My first conclusion, therefore, was that all systems generate results, with the proviso that any given system needed to be a genuine system and not a chimera invented on a whim by some over-vaunting charlatan or quack occultist. (Although, such is the power of the mind that even the quirkiest and irrational manufactured system can be made to work if enough people can be pursuaded to believe in it. But that is another story.)

Any system of correspondences applied to the tarot cards is a construct. The atheist and the materialist will say that all these constructs have been created by the human mind. The occultist likes to imagine that they have come about through the action of some higher mind upon the human mind; that the pattern behind the system emanates from a Being or group of Beings belonging to the Astral Plane, or even one of the Planes beyond the Astral, that of the Concrete Mind, for instance. Whatever its origin, the worth of a system of correspondences must be judged solely upon results. As I have already said, in my time, I have encountered many systems that work, that is to say, that produce the results expected of them once the operator has been initiated into their proper application.

The general public, and even persons having an interest in the occult but who have received no one-to-one instruction on esoteric matters, have no understanding of what a system of correspondences is used for. I have also come across some individuals who, while having been initiated into a mystery school, had no concept of how the astrological attributions assigned to the Major Arcana by their Order were to be used; they accepted the list of correspondences presented to them, copied it down or committed it to memory, and thought no more about it. The uses of the astrological correspondences are wide-ranging but this is not the place to go deeper into them. However, to slake, to some extent at least, the curiosity of my readers, I shall give an example.

The astrological correlations assigned the Tarot Trumps form part of a complex key giving access to those expanses of the Astral Plane that may safely be travelled by initiates of the Order working with that particular set of attributions. In Qabalistic organizations, the Trumps are associated with the twenty-two Paths on the Tree of Life diagram.


The Qabalistic ‘Tree of Life’ Diagram

The treading of those Paths “in vision” is known as Pathworking and along each Path there are three milestones or way-markers. As the Pathworking progresses, these milestones must be attained, for upon reaching them, travelers may assure themselves that they are headed in the right direction. As in a game of baseball the player must touch all the bases in order to come safely home and score a run, so must all astral travelers make contact with each of the three milestones in turn on their way to the location, often an astral temple, that represents the avowed goal of the journey. One of the three way-markers is the astrological correspondence assigned to the Trump that acts as a portal to the Astral. But to tread the thirty-second Path of the Tree of Life which leads from the material world to that of the psyche, as understood by Jungian psychology, and corresponding to Trump 21, The World, employing Golden Dawn symbolism is quite another matter to treading it using the symbolism advocated by Papus in The Tarot of the Bohemians. One of the reasons for this difference in symbolism is that, as previously mentioned, each occult school has, to a large extent, its own regions of the Astral Plane allotted to it, areas that have been explored and to a degree tamed by the journeying to and fro of the initiates of that Order and by their interaction with the flora and fauna that inhabit them.

Since results can be obtained by the use of any valid system, I do not, in my articles, promote any one of set of correspondences over another. Since they all function, each in its own fashion, my advice to any student working with a particular set of correspondences is: Get to know it (by which I don’t just mean ‘memorize it’), and gain the best understanding you can of the way it functions both in divination and as an aid to “in vision” projects centered upon the tarot Trumps.

A great many tarotists claiming to follow an established occult tradition do not, in my experience, properly comprehend the link between the Trumps and their corresponding astrological associations. When I hear someone who claims to be self-initiated into the Golden Dawn system of ritual magick say, “I can’t imagine why dour Saturn is assigned to The World, a card denoting success, attainment, and lasting happiness, as the two factors appear to have nothing in common,” then I know that this person does not understand the system they are working with. The same applies when I hear someone apparently steeped in the works of C.C. Zain, founder of the Church of Light, bewailing the fact that they cannot for the life of them see why Mr Zain associated Trump 17, The Star, with the sign Gemini when the tarot card and the astrological sign seem to have no obvious association. This person, too, lacks insight into the system they have chosen to embrace.

My overarching advice to anyone considering correspondences in conjunction with the Tarot and who is not an associate of a reputable esoteric school is to set the matter aside until you have a thorough grasp of both sides of the equation, the astrological and the tarotic, or until you come under the wing of a teacher who can explain the matter to you in person and give you a demonstration of the correspondences in action.

1t mercury 1t point

The first card represents the Magician corresponding to Mercury, with the sigil at the bottom right of the card. The second is the Magician (here called Il Mago, the Magus) symbolizing Air, with the sigil towards the bottom left of the card. This sigil does not represent the Sun, although it appears to. In fact, it signifies the geometrical idea of the Point – the point of departure from which everything else in the world issues forth while itself remaining invisible, just as the air around us is invisible.

For the record, the two Trump correspondences I have a working knowledge of are that of the Golden Dawn and that promoted by Papus. In my youth I was introduced to the same Golden Dawn system of correspondences as, in their time, A.E. Waite and Paul Foster Case had been initiated into. It is a system in which, to take three examples at random, The Magician corresponds to Mercury, The Emperor to Aries, and Judgment to the Element of Fire (or if one is a modernist, to Pluto). It is a system that agrees with Papus’s system hardly at all. For Papus, The Magician corresponds to Elemental Air, The Emperor to Jupiter, and Judgment to Saturn. In spite of their dissimilarities, it is possible to achieve effective results using either system, as I have witnessed many times for myself. I now work with yet another system of correspondences that is a modified version of Papus’s method.

4t Aries PapusWirth04

The Emperor corresponding to Aries, with the sigil in the bottom right corner, and The Emperor corresponding to Jupiter, with the sign in the bottom left-hand corner.

20t pluto  20t westcott

Judgement corresponding to Pluto, with the sigil in the bottom right corner, and Judgement corresponding to Saturn, the sign inscribed at the top left of the picture.

Finally, I think it is worth pointing out that, when I first began my study of tarot in the 1950s, I was introduced to a method of divination that recognized no astrological correspondences for any of the cards. The four suits were not associated with the Elements. Instead, Pentacles represented money, Cups love, Wands business affairs, and Swords setbacks. The Trumps, it was reckoned, needed no further embellishment, the resonances of their titles being explanation enough of the significances they held in divination. It is, after all, perfectly possible to read the tarot from the predictive angle without knowledge of or reference to astrological correspondences; many beginners in tarot reading function in that way. It is perfectly possible to read the tarot from the psychological angle without knowledge of or reference to astrological correspondences.

However, a Qabalist, on laying out a tarot spread for himself in which the 5 of Wands, 5 of Cups, 5 of Swords, and 5 of Pentacles appear along with Trump 4, The Emperor, will realized that he is operating under the influence of the Sephirah Geburah. In qabalistic lore, Geburah (or Gevurah) is the Fifth Sphere on the Tree of Life, and vibrates astrologically to the energy of Mars, the red planet; and, of the spot cards, the Fives of all suits are conduits of that energy, enabling its descent to the physical plane, as is The Emperor card, since the Trump is allied with Aries, one of the zodiac signs ruled by Mars. Understanding that the present period of his life is under the sway of Mars, an aggressive and contentious potency, the Qabalist might determine to counteract that energy by invoking, using ceremonial magick, the powers of some other planetary force: Venus perhaps, who offers Calm where Mars inclines to Agitation, or Jupiter, who counsels Mercy where Mars favors Severity of judgement. In this instance, knowledge of the astrological correspondences is a vitally important factor affecting the Qabalist/ceremonial magician’s decision of how he will deal with the situation in which he finds himself. But for the general reader, such knowledge is not necessary, since the general reader of tarot can get along very well without it.

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