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The Thirteenth Principle

by on January 17, 2022

by Tony Willis     

The thing to note about the Hanged Man is that, although he is strung up by his ankle, he is neither dead nor dying. Had he been hanged by his neck the illustration would show him dead. But a person hanged by the foot doesn’t die. The Tarot de Marseille depicts the man with his eyes open as does the so-called Charles VI deck. All occult tarots I have examined show him open-eyed. The Oswald Wirth and Knapp-Hall decks do so as does the Waite-Smith deck, and so do the B.O.T.A. deck and the illustration of Trump 12 in Mouni Sadhu’s book on tarot. In addition, the Hanged Man’s eyes are open on the card in the Egyptianized version of the tarot found in the book Practical Astrology.

Arcane-Arcana-12-pendu-hanged-man    12T knapp hall

T12 rider waite smith           h-man

Papus employs the terms “Trial” and “Ordeal” in relation to Trump 12. Other authors say it represents trials and vicissitudes or they assign it the meanings of “Sacrifice, suffering and anxiety”, as Frank Lind did in the 1950s. These interpretations of the card fit the symbolism of a living man, eyes open, enduring the indignity of immobilization, hung by one ankle, a punishment or a test, from which he will, hopefully, be released at some time in the not-too-distant future. The next Trump in the series does represent death and we might ask ourselves what this juxtaposition signifies.

mouni-12    See the source image

In what circumstances does a trial or series of ordeals precede death? Many of those new to the Path of Occult Development will not be equipped to answer that question. To reach an informed conclusion, one must first understand that the death we are attempting to examine is metaphorical not actual. It is not widely recognized by those who stand outside the doors of the Temple of Higher Knowledge that all major initiations entail a symbolic death and resurrection. Nor is it well understood that the major initiations are preceded by a series of tests, sometimes presented as lesser initiations. This is the pattern of events we see unfolding in the Degree system of Freemasonry, where the major initiation is known as the Third Degree. Even though the death lying at the heart of this initiation is entirely symbolic, it is presented so violently that the expression “to be given the third degree”, used to describe a physical or verbal pummeling, is derived from it.

The ordeals that lead up to initiation into the Third Degree are not so well publicized. They do exist, however, and an indication of what they involve can be picked up by studying Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. In the course of the unfolding of the plot of the opera, the hero, Tamino, passes through three tests. The first is trial by silence, where he is forbidden to speak no matter what happens to him. This is followed by ordeals of fire and water. On successfully passing these tests, Tamino and his sweetheart Pamina are at last permitted to enter the Temple of Ordeal, presented in the opera as falling under the authority of the Egyptian deities Isis and Osiris.

Let us start unravelling this tangled skein by beginning with the part played by Osiris and Isis in the scenario. One facet of the Western Esoteric Tradition is called Rosicrucianism. Within this movement, the Greater Mysteries are at times spoken of as falling under the dominion of Osiris with the Lesser Mysteries being the provenance of his consort, Isis. In this metaphor Isis personifies Nature, the natural world as understood by physicists, except that personification suggests that Nature has a Mind, a notion put into words by Dion Fortune, who uses the expression “the mind-side of Nature”. Osiris is Lord of the OtherWorld, the strata of consciousness generally depicted lying above the level of normal consciousness that human beings spend the majority of their time operating on. The importance given to the OtherWorld by occultists depends upon the teaching that whatever exists on the physical plane has its origins on the next higher plane above it, where it exists as an Idea. Beyond the OtherWorld there is, so it is posited, a purely spiritual world. According to occult and mystical teaching, this spiritual world is the soul’s ultimate destination. But in order for any individual human soul to return to this purely spiritual world that person must raise their consciousness first so as to have it apprehend and then to encompass the OtherWorld. Only when that feat has been achieved can the person attempt to raise their consciousness once again and elevate it further into the spiritual world.

In Religion, Science, & Magic: in concert and in conflict, p. 210, we learn that the aim of the mysteries was union, enosis in Greek. Initially this was union with a higher being, a tutelary deity. Those who proceeded further into the mysteries rose higher up the planes and united with the energies of a force often called the Absolute, or the All, by occultists and mystics.

In order to attain the first goal, apprehension of the OtherWorld, the pilgrim seeking direct contact with the spiritual world must achieve some level of mastery over the natural world, the material world in which we all function on a daily basis. For occultists, this mastery is sought through strengthening the link between body and mind. This link is paralleled with the physical aspect of Nature (Physis) and its “Mind”, Dion Fortune’s “mind-side of Nature”. One of the key injunctions given to aspiring adepts is “know yourself”. One facet of this task consists of getting to know one’s shortcomings with the aim of strengthening one’s psychological weaknesses. When “the self” has been worked upon sufficiently, its new, and hopefully improved, condition is tested.

The self’s flaws are identified under the four headings of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. These are wide-ranging categories but broadly speaking negative Earth-energy manifests as undue severity, a gloomy outlook on life, miserliness, parsimony and love of wealth for its own sake. Negative Air characteristics are pseudo-intellectuality, cunning, cruelty and vacillation. Fire-energy manifests negatively as destructiveness, an authoritarian attitude, cowardliness and disloyalty. The negative face of Elemental Water is one of misused sexuality, the manipulation of others, self-pity and false psychism.

The tests are labelled according to the Elements in the same way. This is made clear in The Magic Flute, where the hero is subjected to ordeals of Fire and Water.

Having passed these tests, the seeker must endure an even greater trial, one which, if successfully overcome, will fit them for entry into the Greater Mysteries. This ordeal is presented as a symbolic death. Traditionally the candidate for advancement to the Greater Mysteries passes through an acted-out death. In fact, the initiation, correctly administered, correctly received, is a dismemberment of the aspirant’s psyche followed by its reintegration, with all its elements better aligned.

Egyptian mythology recounts that Osiris was murdered and his body cut into thirteen pieces and distributed throughout Egypt. His wife Isis searched for the pieces, then reassembled and reanimated them, effectively raising her husband from the dead. Thisdeath myth relates to the significance the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn give to Trump 13. The Order papers say that the card Death is “the sign of transmutation and disintegration”. Dion Fortune, an initiate of the Golden Dawn, associates it with “generation through putrefaction” as do other occultists. The Death card designed for Paul Foster Case’s organization, B.O.T.A., has in its upper lefthand corner a seed, as Case tells us in The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of  the Ages. This is a reference to the Biblical quote from John 12:24. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” The seed, the grain of wheat, goes into the earth where is “disintegrates” and “putrefies” before rising above ground level as a shoot which in the fullness of time bears an ear of wheat, that ear full of “much grain”.

As adepts throughout the ages have told us: “There is no growth without a previous death, or, as the alchemists liked to put it, there can be no generation without putrefaction.” Or even: “There can be no passage from one state of being to another without dying.” This brings us to another quote from the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 15:31, St Paul remarks: “I die daily”. St Paul is not speaking of physical death, obviously. It is a metaphorical death he is referring to. Frank Lind (How to Understand the Tarot) explains the symbolism of Trump 13 thus: “What is depicted here is the death of the old self, the sloughing of all fleshly desires. Man has at this stage come to the realization that all material manifestations are Maya (Illusion); he sees himself, in the physical sense, as a mere skeleton of his real Self, which has its true abode in a higher realm. There can be no spiritual advancement for him until he has discarded the limitations and encumbrances of the flesh, metaphorically speaking, and risen from the grave of his old earthly attachments. He must be born again, of the Spirit.” Another adept assures us that “with enough repeated practice of constantly dying and being reborn in the present moment without entering again into the habits, identifications and cycles of the mind, we experience a strong and profound inner transformation.”

This statement is reflected in one of the Latin phrases attached by occultists to Trump 13: transmutatio virum. It is translated as “the transformation of Man”, where ‘Man’, in the language of the time, meant all humanity. What is this “strong and profound inner transformation”? Since it is an experience, it cannot be properly explained to anyone who has not themselves undergone that experience. There are, however, indications of what the experience entails. M., in The Dayspring of Youth makes this statement: “People often wonder why occultists of all ages are told to renounce everything. This has been misunderstood. What they renounce is their personal will.” The emphasis on “will” hints at a link between Trump 13 and Trump 1, since the tarot’s Magician is regularly associated with will power. It should be noted in this respect that the word virum, used to signify man in the Latin phrase given to the Death card, is an echo of the vir attached to the Magician card and having the same meaning, ‘Man’, but signifying ‘human kind’ as whole. You can see this vir at the bottom of the card below.


This paralleling of Trump 13, Death, with Trump 1, The Magician, highlights the former card as heralding a new beginning. As the first numbered Trump signals the start of the entire series of numbers, so does the Death card mark the commencement of a new way of life for the soul proceeding along the Path that leads to self-knowledge. Those who pass this milestone begin again inasmuch as they get to see the world through new eyes. This means a reassessment of values, for what was once of vital importance is now seen as being of secondary or even tertiary significance. This “Seeing through new eyes” is also referred to as “birth into other conditions”. It marks a noticeable change of attitude and it can take place at any age. For St Francis of Assisi the realization came in his early twenties. Gautama, the Buddha, was likewise a young man when he had his inner awakening, but both these men were advanced souls. Usually, the rest of us do not reach this stage of inner development until we are much older, though we can be helped to it by being brought onto the Road of Initiation.

In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, we read, “I am Yesterday, and I am To-day; and I have the power to be born a second time.” Initiation into the Third Degree of Freemasonry and similar initiations performed in the Mystery Schools are spoken of, figuratively, as “a second birth”. The central figure in Initiations into the Greater Mysteries dies and is reborn or resurrected; the model laying in back of this narrative in the Western Mysteries is generally the Egyptian god Osiris. According to E. A. Wallis Budge, in The Gods of the Egyptians, Volume 2, Osiris experienced “destruction and regeneration”. Once he had been regenerated, it was noted that “his limbs had been reconstructed and he had become immortal”, that “his body never decayed like the bodies of ordinary men” and never diminished even in death.

See the source image

It is not the physical body that is referred to in these statements concerning Osiris. When interrogating the symbolism of Trump 13, one needs to bear in mind that, to the occultist, immortality is not the perpetuation of the body; it is an innate realization of the perpetuity of the Spirit. The first stage of this process, through which everyone must pass before initiation into the Greater Mysteries can be attained, is the deconstruction of the Psyche. It is a stage in which the Psyche is first broken down into its component parts and then reassembled to form a new and reconstituted whole. In tarot terms, Death, Trump 13, represents the “transmutation and disintegration” aspect of this process. Reintegration and revivification fall under the authority of Temperance, Trump 14. The reassembled Psyche is “brought back to life” and its transformation completed by the energies working through the 14th Trump, energies frequently spoken of as being alchemical in their operation.

From → occult tarot

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