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From ‘Vicarius’ to Hierophant

by Tony Willis      

The image of The Pope that graces Trump 5 of the Tarot de Marseilles doesn’t reference any specific pope. It is more a general symbol of the papal office; a symbol of a type that was perfectly acceptable in the fifteenth century, the era to which the earliest examples of tarot imagery are assigned.

05_le_pape_millennium  Arcane-Arcana-05-pape-pope

05 II  Visconti-sforza-05-pope

What did The Pope mean to the Europeans of that age? First and foremost, he was the Vicar of Christ, the word ‘vicar’ coming from the Latin vicarius, deputy or substitute. Put bluntly, the Pope was Christ’s representative on earth. As far as Christians were concerned, Christ was one of the three aspects of God, commonly known as the Trinity. It is for this reason that, on the Ghent altarpiece (see below), God is shown wearing a papal tiara, swathed in papal vestments, one hand raised in benediction, sharing many of the attributes of Pope tarot cards stretching from the first quarter of the fifteenth century to the creation of the Marseilles tarot in eighteenth century, and beyond (see above).


Another of the pope’s titles is Supreme Pontiff. The latter word is another derived from Latin and has a curious derivation. It means ‘bridge builder’, from pons, bridge. The pope, as God’s representative on earth, is, or should be, the organ via which the Almighty makes his will known to the people. In short, he acts as a bridge between Deity and the masses. This is the theological position behind the doctrine of papal infallibility, the idea that what the pope says is in effect the word of God.

In a broader sense Trump 5 represents the office of the priest. It must be borne in mind that in Christian Europe only a priest had the authority to marry people. We shall see in a moment how this affected the interpretation of the card.

Trump 5 has a number of divinatory meanings associated with it in the predictive tarot. They may not seem to sit happily together but all have their roots in the thinking outlined above.

Since the pope is, self-evidently, a man of God, the card can stand for an individual endowed with spiritual or moral authority. It can represent someone possessing the qualities of kindness, goodness, compassion, and generosity of spirit; somebody with an understanding of human frailty, and who at the same time can be relied on to treat others fairly; wise and gentle but firm. The Trump can also indicate an advisor or counselor, some dependable person the inquirer can go to for understanding or guidance.

The Pope doesn’t necessarily represent a person, however. Sometimes the card can mean that a bridge has formed between the Higher and Lower Selves of the individual consulting the cards, and that a message will come through into the conscious mind, if space is given for it to do so. In which case, the inquirer will have a hunch, presentiment or intuition that will lead them to a way out of the difficulties they are currently experiencing.

Because, back in time, only a priest could perform a marriage ceremony, The Pope can forecast marriage. Nowadays, positioned near other cards signifying marriage, Trump 5 can point to a church ceremony. Since marriage is a union, by a linguistic twist The Pope can also indicate a reunion (re-union) of some kind.

In reverse, Trump 5 can highlight the misuse of spiritual or moral authority, the desire to control others rather than guide them. Alternatively, it can signify over-kindness, and the foolish exercise of generosity, such as letting someone off the hook who later proves unworthy of being given a second chance.

Yet another meaning the card can sometimes carry is the opposite of ‘good advice’; thus ‘misinformation’, ‘bad advice’, which may not necessarily be delivered with malicious intent. By the same principle of “reversal of card equals reversal of meaning”, The Pope is not a happy omen for either marriage or reunion.

And, just at the upright card may signify a useful hunch or presentiment, in reverse it may portend a warped inspiration or inner prompting which the inquirer would do well to resist giving in to.

In his book The Key to the Tarot, A.E. Waite gathered together all the meanings he could track down that had been applied to the Trump cards by his predecessors and contemporaries. For Trump 5 – which he calls The Hierophant – he records the following.

Marriage, alliance, captivity, servitude; by another account, mercy and goodness; inspiration; the man to whom the Querent has recourse. Reversed: Society, good understanding, concord, overkindness, weakness.

Most of the areas already explored are to be found here, though the upright and reversed meanings appear somewhat scrambled.

The Waite-Smith design for Trump 5 appears below.

r-w-hierophantIn adopting The Hierophant as the name of the Trump, Waite was adhering to the practice of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, of which he was at one time a member. The title had a special meaning for members of the Order: all initiations in the Golden Dawn proper, often referred to as the First Order, were carried out by an officer named the Hierophant.

Today’s widespread interest in the tarot was sparked by the publications of French occultists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They regularly assigned the keyword Teaching to Trump 5, on the grounds that, according to the Catholic church, the only place to turn for guidance in matters spiritual was the clergy, priests having received instruction in that notoriously thorny subject, theology. In the Golden Dawn hierarchy, the hierophant was also a teacher. It is worth remarking that not only does the Order assign the meaning Teaching to Trump 5 but its ex-members, such as Paul Foster Case and Aleister Crowley, do also. I have found the attribute useful when the cards are consulted by someone “on the Path”, as occultists say, but not otherwise.

Because the card carries so many apparently disparate meanings, it can be one of the hardest to interpret. Back in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, continental Gypsies, having no attachment to Catholic ideology, solved this Gordian knot of a problem with a single stroke. They associated the upright card with “the courage to escape from temptation”, and took the reversed card to counsel wariness, adding the warning “beware of deceivers and intriguers”.

The Holy Roman Emperor

by Tony Willis    

The Emperor on the Tarot de Marseilles version of Trump 4 (first illustration below) is seated, and he wears a helmet that serves also as a crown. In his right hand, he holds a scepter incorporating the symbolism of the orb, both emblems of royal power. His left forearm rests on the arm of his throne, and around his neck is a chain of office with a medallion hanging from it. He is turned to one side, bearded, and his right leg is crossed over his left. Beside his throne is a shield carrying the image of an eagle, wings outstretched. This marks him out as following in the footsteps of the Roman Emperors, the eagle being one of the chief emblems of imperial Rome. Converting the symbolism into words, the tarot’s Trump 4 is intended to represent the office of Holy Roman Emperor, a title assumed by Charlemagne in 800 C.E. and which remained in use until the early nineteenth century. It represents the office only, not any particular emperor.

The second illustration below is of Trump 4 from the Waite-Smith tarot deck. Note how at odds it is with the Marseilles’ version. While there are some similarities, the Waite-Smith Emperor faces out of the card. The shield with its eagle emblem is gone and in its place are rams heads adorning the throne.

4marseille      w-s-emperor

The Tarot de Marseilles image itself differs from those found in earliest tarot decks still in existence. The Cary-Yale Emperor (mid-fifteenth century, first card in the row below) is presented looking straight out from the card, seated, surrounded by servitors, and with a thin staff of office in one hand. He has a forked beard and on his head is a hat on which appears the all-important eagle, signaling his imperial status. The Visconti Emperor (also mid-fifteenth century, second card in the row below) shows an enthroned man, bearded, holding a scepter and an orb, and on his head is a large hat again imprinted with the image of an eagle. In the so-called Charles VI tarot (late-fifteenth century, third card in the row below) the Emperor is seated, crowned and furnished with a scepter, its upper end fashioned to resemble a fleur-de-lis, and an orb. He is bearded and there are two servants kneeling at one side of his throne. On the upper part of his torso he wears armor and he is seen side on.

4 cary yale  4 visconti  charlesV 4

While the Cary-Yale Emperor crosses his legs at the ankles, none of these early emperors have one leg crossed over the other in the manner of the Tarot de Marseilles’ Emperor. The leg-crossing is a detail added innocently to the design of the Marseilles card, and originally it possessed no hidden significance. However, occultists of the nineteenth century made much of it. They saw, buried in the picture, a triangle whose points were the Emperor’s head, the hand in which he holds his scepter, and the elbow of his other arm as it rests upon the throne. His crossed legs were regarded by those same occultists as intended to form a cross. The two geometric shapes taken together produce an upright triangle set above a cross, replicating a sigil used by alchemists of Middle Ages to denote the element Sulfur.

More importantly, it is the sigil of the occult principle known as Sulfur. According to alchemical lore, there were three primordial principles: Salt, Sulfur and Mercury. It was from these that the Four Elements were born, and the Elements in their turn produced by their interaction everything that exists in the physical universe. The principle Salt has much in common with the Elements Earth and Water; Mercury is similar, though not identical with, Elemental Air; and Sulfur is likewise similar, but not identical with, Fire.

Having discovered the sigil for Sulfur “hidden” in the design of the Tarot de Marseilles rendering of the Emperor, these occultists felt certain that the card must refer to that principle and to Fire, the Element most associated with it. This assumption unfortunately sets the qualities assigned to Sulfur at odds with ages old resonances given to the number Four, for that number has its strongest affinity with the Element of Earth. The connection is discussed by Michael S. Schneider in his A Beginners Guide to Constructing the Universe: The Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science (HarperCollins, New York, 1994), p. 66.

“The planet earth below us, solid ground, terra firma, is the supreme symbol for substance, mass, volume, strength, and stability. We organize space on the ground by the four cardinal directions of the compass and our body, dividing the circle of the horizon around us into four quarter in front and back of us, to the left and right. The four-cornered cross in a circle has long been the astronomical symbol for planet Earth. The four traditional winds blow across the four corners of the globe. We quarter not only our space but time, naturally dividing the year into four seasons based on the relationship of the sun with the earth around two equinoxes and two solstices.”

Let us next look at the divinatory meanings assigned The Emperor by some of the earliest commentators concerned with the predictive value of the tarot cards. There we will find the qualities Michael Schneider associates with Earth, such as substance, strength, stability, making a reappearance.

Trump 4 can represent a secure or stable situation. As one of its keynotes is Stability, it may indicate that matters in a certain area continue “as they were”. The Emperor in the fourth house of a horoscope spread, for example, would suggest that now was not the time to contemplate a house move, as the fourth house signifies the inquirer’s home and Trump 4 for continuance, or things remaining unchanged.

Moving forward through the trumps from 1 to 4, all four Elements are revealed, or manifested in the tarot cards. For this reason, Trump 4 equates with Completion or Realization, and can forecast the completion of a task or phase in life, as well as the realization of an ambition. Due to its associations with Earth, The Emperor is reckoned a fortunate card where material things are concerned.

While it stands for Stability in all the various areas of life, it can, by extension, indicate a person who is protective of the inquirer and who is ready to lend his support, should it be required. Thus, in books concerned with the predictive tarot one comes across such delineations as “A man of power who affects the inquirer’s future life” and “A man who can be relied on”. Similarly, in connection with the keyword Realization, one encounters interpretations such as “The realization of the inquirer’s desires depends on someone more powerful than himself.”

When the card is reversed, the opposite indications are apparent: Obstruction to plans, failed ambition, support not to be relied upon. In place of a firm foundation we find shifting sands, upon which no one is encouraged to erect an edifice since it would certainly come tumbling down ere long.

4marseille  bota trump 04  w-s-emperor

Up until the free-for-all of the post-modern period of tarot design, the Tarot de Marseilles had an enduring influence on the way the Trumps were drawn. When Paul Foster Case came to have the Builders of the Adytum tarot created in the 1930s, he often took as his model the pictures of the Waite-Smith deck. In those instances where he deviates from this formula – The Emperor, Death, The Sun – Case turns to the Tarot de Marseilles for inspiration. It will be observed, by studying the row of cards above, how Case has overlaid the Tarot de Marseilles’ template with features from the Waite-Smith depiction. The Emperor’s posture is copied from the Marseilles card, as is his headgear, albeit with the addition of the sigil for Aries on the top. The bleak mountainous background is borrowed from the Waite-Smith card, along with the scepter and the use of rams heads as adornment; but Case’s orb is modeled on the one that tops the scepter of the Marseilles’ Emperor’s.

Case and Waite took it as an article of faith that the Emperor corresponded to the astrological sign Aries. Occultists of a generation earlier, however, allied him with the planet Jupiter because the eagle, so prominently displayed on the Emperor’s shield in the Marseilles card, was sacred to the king of the gods. Thus Waite and Case banish the eagle from the design and instate in its place the ram’s heads of Aries, leaving behind no clue to the card’s former astrological attribution. Here we see, heavily underlined, a fundamental rule of symbolism: A change of design will cause a change of meaning; and its corollary: A change of meaning will prompt a change of design.

Lady Bountiful

by Tony Willis   

In the Marseilles deck, the Empress is presented as an enthroned woman bearing all the trappings of power. (See the first illustration below.) She is crowned, and in her left hand holds a scepter with, at its upper end, a globe topped by an equal-armed cross. In her right hand she cradles a shield with an eagle, heraldic symbol of the Holy Roman Empire, emblazoned upon it. The Empress’s body, her throne which can be seen behind her and her accoutrements, take up most of the space on the card.

tarot-de-marseille-version-millennium         3EmpressRiderWaite

             Fig. 1 Marseilles Tarot                          Fig. 2 Wait-Smith Tarot

The image is prosaic as well as being a cliché of Medieval art. Compare it with the Empress from the Waite-Smith deck (second illustration). Behind the central figure trees and waterfall can be seen. In the foreground lies a wheat field. The Empress’s shield, however, now displays the sigil of the planet Venus while the Empress herself is crowned with stars. She is seated, as she is on the Tarot de Marseilles card, and carries a scepter topped by an orb and cross as in the earlier version. But when the cards are placed side by side, the differences are striking. The Waite-Smith Empress is a far more symbolic, even mythological figure, where the Tarot de Marseilles image is a straightforward representation of an empress, albeit a generic one.

In the sphere of divination, occultists of the nineteenth century tended to associate the Empress with Action and Initiative. The less high-flown interpretation, and the one preferred by practitioners of the exacting art of predictive tarot, was Fertility, Fecundity, or Generation. How these keywords translate into concrete predictions is illustrated by an entry in a book on gypsy fortune-telling: “Fertility – hence fruitfulness of current plans”. Further on in the book, Trump 3 is inspected from a slightly different angle. “Fertility and happiness at home. But reversed, she denotes disunion, serious or passing, according to the cards which are near.”

These are the meanings assigned the Empress in the predictive tarot in a nutshell. One can go further and expand on these basic significances: –

Fruitfulness of one’s plans. Favorable to every type of production. Something coming to fruition. Abundance. Plenty.

Pregnancy. Motherhood.

Partnership. Marriage.

Happy domestic situation. Happiness at home.

However, all these conditions are merely extensions of the concise and apposite gypsy interpretations already cited.

From the perspective of the predictive tarot, the Empress is a relatively uncomplicated card. Esoterically her history is as complex as that of Trumps 1 and 2, or of any of the Trumps we are yet to investigate. One occult faction identified the Empress with the woman in the Book of Revelations who was “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars”. A.E. Waite thought of her in this way and had his artist Pamela Colman Smith depict her wearing a diadem of stars,although he did not go the whole hog and present her with the moon at her feet. He appears to have deemed it better to have a crescent moon at his High Priestess’s feet than at the feet of his Empress. (Figure 4.) Paul Foster Case, who adopted many of Waite’s ideas, departed from the Waite-Smith template in this instance, and removed the crescent moon from Trump 2, relocating it on the Empress card instead. (Figure 3.) Evidently nobody found a way of indicating that the Empress is “clothed with the sun”.

BOTA Empress       r-w priestess 2

      Fig. 3 BOTA Empress                Fig. 4 Waite-Smith Priestess

Perhaps the most striking innovation brought in by esotericists was in making the Empress a winged figure. (See Figures 7, 8 & 8.) This came about because the two sections of the Empress’s throne visible behind her shoulders on the Tarot de Marseilles card were mistaken for a pair of badly drawn wings. This was not some unsubstantiated flight of fancy, however. It was prompted by the way the number three is interpreted occultly. In Christian thought three is the number of the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. It is particularly associated with the last of these, the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is by convention a feminine force. At times the Holy Spirit is represented in religious art as a dove, which explains the presence of a dove on the Empress’s shield on the B.O.T.A. card.

Arcane-Arcana-03-imperatrice-empress     mouni-03

Fig. 7 Oswald Wirth Empress             Fig. 8 Mouni Sadhu Empress     

As well as its associations with the Holy Spirit, Trump 3 is associated with Spirit plain and simple. Esoterically humans are tripartite in nature. They are composed of Body, Soul, and Spirit, and the number three answers to the spiritual part of the human constitution. As spirit is the most elevated part of human nature great things are expected of it. This attitude accounts for a meaning given the Empress by some continental tarotists. They see it as the strongest card in the deck, a happy omen capable of overriding any negative indications that threaten to blemish a reading. To my mind this is taking things too far, but the Empress is certainly a force for good in a divination, always provided she is the right way up, of course.

mmTarot 03               3 triangle on breast

          Fig. 9 Thomson-Leng  Tarot              Fig 10 Alternative Marseilles Empress

Another change to the design of Trump 3 favored by occultists is small in comparison with the addition of wings. In some versions of the Tarot de Marseilles card, at the center of the Empress’s bodice a tall thin triangle can be detected. As one might have imagined, this detail was a godsend to the esoteric community. Case converts it into  an equilateral triangle, the better to make his point. (Figure 3.)

The addition of the wings and the lunar crescent aside, most changes made to the design of Trump 3 by occultists have found acceptance in popular consciousness, with the Waite-Smith version of the card as the model for most of the revisionings. As always, I draw my exposition of the card’s design to a close before the advent of the postmodern period as I have yet to encounter a pomo deck securely anchored in esoteric symbolism.

Trumps as Significators

by Tony Willis    

In my last article I explained the, mainly continental, tradition of using Trumps 1 and 2 as significators of the male and female inquirer respectively. All seasoned tarot readers have developed their own methods that work brilliantly for them. If you have a tried and trusted way of allocating significators then stick to it. However, novices in the art of tarot divination who have not as yet adopted a particular method of assigning significators may benefit from my own experience in this field.

When working exclusively with the major arcana, I take the Emperor to signify a male inquirer and the Empress to signify a female inquirer. The Emperor may also represent the male interest in a woman’s reading and the Empress the significant female in a divination made on behalf of a man. I find that this latter rule applies especially in questions relating to romance or, in the case of a married inquirer, marital problems.

I have found this way of approaching the designation of a significator useful and for me it yields accurate results.

Arcane-Arcana-01-bateleur-magician   Arcane-Arcana-02-papesse-high-priestess

Arcane-Arcana-03-imperatrice-empress    Arcane-Arcana-04-empereur-emperor

Mother and Father

In his book The Tarot of the Bohemians Papus identifies Trumps 1 and 2 with the inquirer’s father and mother. In France, at the time the book was written,Trumps 1 and 2 were regularly taken to indicate the male and female inquirer. However, it would be confusing to have the woman for whom the cards are being read and her mother represented by the same Trump. That is why I favor using the Empress to signify the female inquirer and the Emperor to signify the male inquirer. Other Trumps can then be used to signify the mother and the father. While I agree with Papus that Trump 2 can stand for the mother, or a mother-figure, a caring woman with a degree of life-experience, I baulk at assigning the role of father to Trump 1. The Pope and Popess are so obviously a pair that it seems more logical to treat them as such and allow the former to represent the father or a father-figure.

Elemental Associations

The first four Trumps are assigned to the Elements in the following manner: le Bateleur (or Magician) corresponds to Fire, la Pappesse (or High Priestess) to Air, The Empress to Water, and The Emperor to Earth.

There are two distinct ways of ordering the Elements; Fire, Air, Water, Earth is one of them. The rationale behind this arrangement is perhaps best understood by working in the direction from Earth to Fire. We walk on a solid crust that supports our weight and is composed of rock and soil. This corresponds to the Element our forbears labeled Earth. Over this, covering two thirds of the planet, are the seas and oceans of the world representing Elemental Water. Above Earth and Water lies an airy domain, the atmosphere comprised of breathable Air. Turning our attention higher still we encounter the heavens, made bright by day by the presence of the sun and glorious by night when the stars put on their magnificent, awe-inspiring display. These lights in the upper reaches of the celestial realm our ancestors equated with the qualities of Elemental Fire. To primitive minds the night sky appeared like a covering pierced with numerous holes through which a great fire, burning beyond the dome of the sky, could be glimpsed.

The significance of the Elemental attributions will become clear later on, when we have examined the symbolism of the first five numbered Trumps.

The Female Pope

Occultists of the French esoteric revival accepted the Tarot de Marseilles as a much revised version of the famed Egyptian Book of Thoth. It was, therefore, their starting point for any analysis of the cards. The Tarot de Marseilles names Trump 2 La Papesse – the Popess or Female Pope – and that is how she is presented in the illustration on the card. (Figure 1.) She wears the distinctive Triple Crown otherwise known as the Papal Tiara. For centuries this headgear had been associated exclusively with Popes. Its three crowns represent sovereignty over Heaven, Hell and the mundane realm laying between them.

Today, the English-speaking world almost universally thinks of Trump 2 as The High Priestess. This is a modern appellation. The Tarot de Marseilles echoes the very earliest surviving examples of the card from the first quarter of the fifteenth century. The Trumps in these decks did not have names printed on them. Nevertheless, what was represented on the cards was instantly recognizable to audience they were directed at. The late fifteenth century manuscript Sermones De Ludo Cum Aliis readily identifies Trump No. 2 as La papessa. Little wonder, since the oldest surviving tarots created for the Visconti and Sforza families depict the woman on the Trump dressed in a nun’s habit, holding a scepter topped with a cross in one hand, a closed book in the other, and crowned with the papal tiara. (Figures 2 & 3.) Everything about the images in these packs suggests a female pope. Nor are the Visconti-Sforza tarots exceptional in this regard. Three fifteenth century tarots printed from wood-blocks also depict the woman on Trump 2 in the same unmistakable manner.

2papesse          Visconti-sforza-02-popess

         Fig.1. Tarot De Marseilles                            Fig 2. Visconti-Sforza Tarot         

2_papessa_fournier   Trump2HTM

    Fig. 3. Museo Fournier Tarocchi                    Fig. 4. Modern Tarot Design

Three centuries later, the Tarot de Marseilles image lacks the cross, and the book is open on the woman’s lap, but the papal tiara has been retained, again marking the figure out as a female pope. Her status would be indisputable even if the card’s name wasn’t included at the bottom.

Once Court de Gébelin “recognized” that the tarot’s roots lay in ancient Egypt, however, occultists were quick to advocate a change of name. As readers of these articles will be well aware by now, a change of name will precipitate alterations to the card’s design, just as significant modification of a card’s design will usher in the adoption of new name. The card shown in Figure 4 dates from late in this period. It draws upon the version of Trump 2 found in the first of the “Egyptian” tarots produced in 1896 (Figure 5). The “Egyptian” Trump bestowed an Egyptian name on the card. Since the Egyptians knew no pope, they could not possible have had a female pope – so the thinking goes. Accordingly, the card was renamed Veiled Isis, a veil covering the upper part of the lady’s face being conspicuous in the illustration.

2 b of light    Da ath mytree

       Fig. 5. Egyptian Tarot                                 Fig. 6. The Tree of Life

Although the card in Figure 4 is labeled La Papessa, there is nothing about the design that suggests a connection to Christianity let alone Roman Catholicism. The other words on the card are Hebrew. The scroll half unfurled on the popess’s knees is the Tora, the Book of the Law, tora meaning ‘law’ in Hebrew. The pillars are inscribed Boaz and Jakin, the names tradition gives to the two pillars that stood at the entrance to the Temple of Solomon. The crescent moon at the popess’s feet associates her with the lunar forces, as does the Greek cross on her breast, if taken as a reference to the moon’s four quarters. On her head this popess wears a crown mimicking phases of the moon: a full moon in the center flanked by waxing and waning crescents. It is purportedly the headdress worn by the Priestess of Isis in the Fete des Pampylies. (See Frank Lind How to Understand the Tarot, first published in the mid-1950s). The lunar crown links Trump 2 to the Moon on the one hand and the goddess Isis on the other. None of this symbolism is apparent in earlier tarots right down to the Tarot de Marseilles deck published circa 1760, the symbolism of which has been adhered to by all Tarots de Marseilles up until the present day.

When A.E. Waite had Pamela Coleman Smith draw the Trumps of the Waite-Smith tarot, he instructed her to produce an image similar to that shown in Figure 4. (See Figure 8.) The only significant change is to the design on the veil stretching between the two pillars. The symbolic quality of this alteration is lost on most people, as Waite intended it to be. The design is made up of palm leaves and pomegranates. If the High Priestess did not obscure our view, we would see that the pomegranates are set out in the form of the Otz Chiiam, the Tree of Life of Hebrew mysticism (Figure 6). One would have to be familiar with this diagram in order to recognize it as it is depicted on the Waite-Smith card, otherwise one wouldn’t make the connection at all. With the body of the High Priestess in the way, one would have to be remarkably prescient to pick up on the presence of the Tree of Life diagram on the card as so little of it is visible. But in this deck, Waite was as intent on concealing knowledge he believed should be kept secret as he was on explaining the tarot to an audience with little prior experience of it.


Fig. 7. Oswald Wirth, The Tarot of the Bohemians

More than two decades before the Waite-Smith tarot appeared, Oswald Wirth created a set of Trumps for Papus’s Tarot of the Bohemians (1889). Wirth’s illustration (Figure 7) honors the spirit of the early tarots. He names the card La Papesse and crowns her with a papal tiara. His popess not only carries a book, in addition she holds the crossed keys, emblem of St. Peter, the first pope. A short veil hangs between the pillars just as a piece of opaque material reaching no lower than the middle of the popess’s back can be seen suspended between the pillars of the Tarot de Marseilles’ Papesse card. At the top of the popess’s headdress Wirth places a crescent moon, again pointing up her supposed lunar connections.

The exact correspondence between the Trumps and the planets and the signs of the zodiac is hotly disputed in esoteric circles. However, most occultists identify Trump 2 with the Moon. And if not with the Moon directly, then with water, for as is well known, the Moon’s gravitational pull affects the ocean’s tides. The High Priestess in the Builders of the Adytum tarot (Figure 9), designed to the instructions of Paul Foster Case, dispenses with the crescent moon at the priestess’s feet, though in all other respects the illustration conforms to the pattern of the Waite-Smith card. Instead, the BOTA High Priestess’s robe dissolves into water as it descends to the floor. The curiously horned headdress is retained, a clear indication that Case, like Waite, associated Trump 2 with the Moon.

r-w priestess 2      BOTA HPS

Fig. 8. Waite-Smith Priestess                    Fig. 9. BOTA High Priestess

For French occultists of the nineteenth century, la Papesse was Eve to le Bateleur’s Adam. (See previous post.) I mention this because these attributions affected divinatory practice in most countries speaking a Romance language. Not only did le Bateleur represent the first man but all men descended from him. Likewise la Papesse stood for Eve together with all “daughters of Eve”. Therefore some diviners took Trump 1 to signify the male inquirer and Trump 2 to signify the female inquirer. Papus makes this designation in The Tarot of the Bohemians; the concept can be traced back to Eliphas Levi. These attributions were sometimes encountered in Britain, for instance in Fortune-Telling by Cards by P.R.S. Foli (1904), wherein Professor Foli repeats Papus’s ideas concerning divination with the tarot. The attributions were included in The Complete Book of Fortune, first published in 1935 and still in print. More recently the American author Zolar, like Foli, recycles Papus’s meanings for Trumps 1 and 2 in the booklet that comes packaged with Zolar’s Astrological Tarot Fortune Telling Cards (U.S. Games System, Inc., 1963). These examples of the French tradition being conveyed to the Anglophone world notwithstanding, the use of la Papesse and le Bateleur as significators has never taken hold in English-speaking countries.

In fact the alterations and adjustments to the design of Trump 2 had little effect on the card’s divinatory meaning until the mid-1960s. Up till then the predictive aspect of the card was more influenced by the esoteric belief that the Trump was allied to the Element of Air, symbol of thought and intellectual pursuits. When I was learning the tarot, Trump 2’s positive virtues were summed up under two headings: intellectual control of a situation, and mastery through understanding. These qualities produce results in the predictive tarot in the following ways. The Trump may signify that the inquirer is in the process of constructing a plan that will alleviate her troubles, solve her most pressing problem, or significantly promote her ambitions. Alternatively, it may indicate that a scheme has already been formulated and is ready to be put into action, or that the inquirer is about to embark on new project. Either way, she will have planned astutely and pragmatically and in consequence the project will have every chance of being successful.

In reverse, Trump 2 has three possible indications. The inquirer’s scheme may be hare-brained, it may be predicated on misinformation, or it may be based on too little information. It is not a plan with realistic hopes of bearing fruit and the inquirer would do well to reassess and if necessary reformulate it.

A good many books on divination I’ve looked at assign meanings to Trump 2 that are not helpful from a predictive angle. They often refer to the card’s esoteric or mystical facet. Frank Lind, in How to Read the Tarot (c. 1949), assigns Trump 2 an assortment of meanings: Science, Art, Profound knowledge, Critical faculty, Penetration into the Mysteries. None of these can be applied directly in a predictive setting. The tarot reader has to adapt Lind’s meanings if she is to forecast any concrete occurrence. She must say, for instance, that it will be necessary for the inquirer to employ his critical faculty if his search for a solution to his problem is to bear fruit. Or that it is through the exercise of profound knowledge on some level that he will attain his goal. These are little more than re-framings of meanings already encountered, the former corresponding to “mastery through understanding”, the latter to “intellectual control of a situation.” “Penetration into the Mysteries” alludes to the esoteric aspect of the card. While this is a valid meaning for the Trump, it hardly ever applies predictively as most inquirers aren’t interested in initiation into the sacred mysteries even if they have heard that such a thing exists.

Trump 1’s Occult Aspect

by Tony Willis  

If all aspects of tarot lore were to be taken into account, a book could be written on each individual tarot Trump. I don’t intend to do that. However, I accept that it would be helpful to add something more concerning the esoteric side of the first numbered Trump, if only so as to shed light on the change of title – Le Bateleur/Juggler to Magician – and on the concomitant alterations to the card’s design.

1 juggler early 02  1 juggler italian 5  RWS-Tarot-Magician-01

From Juggler to Magician

The French occultist Eliphas Levi was largely responsible for the revival of interest in occultism that flowered among the bourgeoisie of France in the nineteenth century. Levi identified Trump 1 – le Bateleur as he knew it – with both God and Humankind, and also with the concepts of Being, Spirit and Creation. These last three terms were expanded on by his pupil Paul Christian, in whose hands ‘Being’ became ‘Absolute Being’, or sometimes just ‘the Absolute’. In the language of theology, both ‘Absolute Being’ and ‘the Absolute’ are ways of referring to God.

In Levi and Christian’s philosophy, humans were distinguished from animals by their power to create. Whether they are painting or sculpting, writing poems or novels, making movies or inventing the wheel, humans are operating creatively. This trait they share with God, the Creator, and it can be summed up in the word Activity; for to create anything, one must ‘do’; i.e., there has to be physical activity of some kind in order for a tangible result to be forthcoming.

As is apparent from the first two cards shown above, the Bateleur or Juggler was early on depicted as an actor in both senses of the word. He is a performer, drumming up trade with his witty, engaging patter. In this role he wears a mask, a persona, never presenting himself as he truly is. He is also “one who acts”; it is the Bateleur who makes the first move, calling people over to a stall strewn with his wares.

When Levi assigns to Trump 1 the significances God, Humankind and Creation, he is referring to a three-tiered model recognized by occult philosophies the world over. The alchemist and physician Oswald Croll wrote in 1609 of the this triad in his influential book Basilica chymica:

“Heaven and Earth are Mans parents, out of which Man last of all was created; he that knows his parents, and can Anatomise them, hath attained the true knowledge of their child Man, the most perfect creature in all his properties; because all things of the whole Universe meet in him as in the Center, and the Anatomy of him in his Nature is the Anatomy of the whole world . . .”

Note the connection between ‘Man’ (Humankind), signified by the first numbered Trump, and ‘the world’, the name given to the last of the numbered Trumps. The connection is meaningful in occult terms.

The idea of the triad of Supreme Being (Heaven), the material plane (Earth), and Humankind was further elaborated upon by Paul Christian. He associated le Bateleur with “Unity, as the origin of action”. In the language of occultism, Unity is an epithet for the one God, the God who issued to Moses the directive “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”, and whom Jewish mysticism described gnomically in the following words: "One is His Beginning; One is His Individuality; His Permutation is One." At a deeper level, Trump 1 is associated with the inner meaning of Unity in which All is One, no matter how disparate the elements constituting the All may be. It is this concept that Croll is referring to when he says: “all things in the whole Universe meet in him as in a Center.”

Another French occultist, ‘Papus’ (Dr Gérard Encausse), associates Trump 1 with the idea of the Visible and the Invisible. (The Divinatory Tarot) Initiates are sometimes referred to as ‘those of the two levels’, and these levels are the visible and invisible facets of the Universe. For the occultist, all this is part and parcel of the theory of Unity.


A long, long time ago, when I was a young man, most occult schools would not accept for training anyone unable to affirm, “I believe in a Supreme Being.” In today’s world the rule is not applied so strictly. But it is necessary that anybody seeking occult training believes in the Universe’s twin aspects, Visible and Invisible. Those who accept only its material expression cannot get to grips with teachings dependent on the presence of another, supersensible level of existence.

As Papus makes clear in The Divinatory Tarot, human beings are equipped to operate on both levels. The relevance of this facility is obvious once we recall that Levi’s definition of magick is “the ability to cause changes in nature in conformity with the will”. When a human being affects physical reality through the exercise of mind-power alone, the Invisible influences the Visible and an act of magick has occurred. In respect of which, note that a prime tenet of occultism is “the unseen is always the parent of the seen.”

Everything I have said so far is summarized in the following quote: –

“Hermetic philosophy saw God, the cosmos and humanity forming an organic whole. God as One can never be known completely but is manifested in the universe, particularly in humanity. As the Corpus Hermeticum put it: ‘A human being is a great wonder, a living thing to be worshiped and honoured: for he changes his nature into a god’s as if he were a god.’ By studying man, one can understand the universe, and by studying the universe one can understand man. Since invisible God is revealed in visible nature, through the exploration of matter, one can see the divine light. The heavens moreover mirror the earth: as above, so below. It follows that phenomena are all interconnected and correspond to each other.”

The Mercurial Emperor: the Magic Circle of Rudolf II in Renaissance Prague by Peter Marshall (Pimlico, 2007), p. 90.

Mouni Sadhu (The Tarot) phrases the last sentiment differently. Harking back to the teachings of Paul Christian, he says, “The First Major Arcanum contains the idea of Unity and Activity.” The property of Unity explains why Trump 1 can simultaneously be attributed to God and to Humanity. In Peter Marshall’s words, “phenomena are all interconnected and correspond to each other.” Or, approaching the subject from another angle we might say: “In the Absolute there are no contrasts or contraries as there are in the lower worlds.” (Occultism frequently refers to ‘levels’ as ‘worlds’.) In addition, humans are presumed to have been created, in the words of the Book of Genesis, “in the image of God”. Not in His physical image, obviously, but having their nature, or essence, modeled on His.

In Biblical terms, Trump 1 corresponds to the first man, Adam. Paul Foster Case says of the figure on Trump 1: “He is shown as a gardener, like Adam, of whom an old legend says he was put into the Garden of Eden to grow roses.” The Tarot, a Key to the Wisdom of the Ages, p. 45.

Case aligns Trump 1 with what he terms “the powers of the self-conscious phase of personal mental activity”. He goes on to say: “These powers are directed to the control of forces and things below the self-conscious level. The energy utilized comes from above, from superconsciousness. It is fixed and modified by acts of attention . . . in which personality becomes a free, unobstructed channel for the passage downward and outward of the superconscious radiant energy.” (My italics.)

If you read widely on the tarot, you will find Trump 1 associated with both phrases: “Invisible and Invisible” and “Above and Below”. These are key concepts in the understanding of the occult interpretation of Trump 1. There is more to be said on this point but this is not the place to say it as in this series of articles I intend to focus mainly on the divinatory aspect of the cards.

Paul Foster Case, like A. E. Waite and Aleister Crowley, identifies the man on the first numbered tarot Trump as a magician. It is on account of this attribution that Waite describes the card’s image thus: “On the table in front of the Magician are the implements of the four Tarot suits, signifying the elements of natural life, which lie like counters before the adept, and he adapts them as he wills.” This description holds true for most occult tarots and, while the array of objects on the table is more uncertain in the case for the Tarot de Marseilles’ Bateleur, occultists assume it to be true, either intentionally or conceptually, in that instance also.

BOTA Mag   juggler-1

At this point, however, we are a long way from the fairground huckster, quack doctor, or traveling salesman of the early tarots. (See the first two cards in this post.) These changes of design were brought about by the interventions of occultists. As we have seen, in perceiving le Bateleur as an adept they first altered the items on his table to a sword, a cup and a coin, before having a staff or magician’s wand join them there. They next altered the direction of his hands, so that the right, now holding the stick, pointed upwards, the left downwards. Finally, they dress him in the robes of an adept and set an infinity sign over his head in place of the distinctive overlarge hat he wears in the Tarot de Marseilles illustration.

A striking change of tone occurs in the transition from Bateleur/Juggler to Magus/Magician. It is accompanied by an augmentation of rank. Le Bateleur is an itinerant performer, of far lower status to the figures that come after – the Papess, Empress, Emperor, and Pope. As a magus (as Paul Christian names him) or an adept (as we have just seen Waite call him), the Magician surely ranks alongside the Christian pontiff (the bridge between God and Mankind) and the Greek Hierophant (revealer of the sacred secrets), initiator in chief of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Interestingly, the changes of name and design have made little or no difference to the way Trump 1 is interpreted in a divination. The meanings S.L. Mathers assigns to Trump 1 in his short thesis The Tarot, published in 1888, are:

Will, Will-Power, Dexterity; Reversed: Will applied to evil ends, Weakness of Will, Cunning, Knavishness.

Those given by Paul Foster Case, Oracle of the Tarot (1933) are:

Well-dignified – Skill, adaptation, constructive power, initiative, subtlety. Ill-dignified – Craft, the power of sense-illusion, lying, deception, cunning.

While Frank Lind in How to Read the Tarot (c. 1948) supplies:

Mental activity. Versatility. The resolute pursuance of some aim. Trickery. Reversed: Lack of mental alertness. Want of resolution in the pursuance of some aim. A blundering trickster.

Fifty years later, what Rowenna Stuart (Tarot, HarperCollinsPublishers, 1998) has to say about Trump 1 is not so different from the expositions given by Mathers, Case, and Lind.

This card signifies that the Querent is an intelligent and skilful communicator and possesses the self-confidence and drive to translate ideas into productive action. These talents should be used in a new opportunity presenting itself in the practical rather than the theoretical sphere, most likely in business or politics. It may be a risky venture but the Querent’s strength of will and ability to channel his energies into achieving desired results will ensure success.

Actually, where Trump 1 is concerned, there has been a return in recent years to the earliest meanings we have records of. In books published since the millennium, Nigel Jackson and Paul Huson look back to Paul Christian, Oswald Wirth (1860-1943), and Mathers for the inspiration for their significances for the card.

Nigel Jackson, Fortuna’s Wheel (Renaissance Astrology, U.S.A., 2006):

Eloquence. Skill. Subtlety. Quick-wittedness. Initiative. Dexterity. Ideas translated into activity. Occult power and practice. Legerdemain.

Paul Huson, Mystical Origins of the Tarot (Destiny Books, U.S.A., 2004):

Skill. Dexterity. Diplomacy. Reversed: Deceit. Quackery. Swindling.

Thankfully, the metamorphosis of the image on Trump 1 outlined above is an atypical development. Until the free-for-all of the post-modern era, none of the other Trumps altered their designs so drastically as Trump 1 did in the relatively short period between 1888 (when Mathers’ The Tarot was published) and 1909 (the first appearance of A.E. Waite’s Key to the Tarot), all of which occurred because, to occultists, the card represented, not a mountebank, a quack doctor or fairground salesman, but a magician, or in Waite’s words an adept.

Trump 1, Divination

Equal-Armed Cross Spread

The Equal-Armed Cross spread is a positional spread. (See Spreads). In this type of spread, each position has a specific meaning assigned to it. Such spreads are used primarily to answer questions.

equal armed cross spread

The card in the first position reveals how the inquirer’s conscious mind regards the problem under review. That in the second position reveals how the inquirer’s unconscious mind sees the problem. The third position relates to actions over which the inquirer has no control; the fourth offers advice; and the fifth indicates the probable result.

Trump 1 and the Equal-Armed Cross Spread

The Juggler in the first position informs the reader that the inquirer wishes to know about something of great important to her (or him) – i.e. the question relates to some goal, ambition, or desire. If the card is upright, the inquirer is confident of her own powers, and any doubts she has may have center on what other people might do to frustrate or derail her plans (revealed by the card in the third position). If Trump 1 is reversed, the inquirer questions her own abilities, capability, or faculties.

Upright in the second position, The Juggler shows that the inquirer’s unconscious mind is unperturbed by the problem, whatever it is. It sometimes happens that the card in the first placement shows the inquirer to be fearful of, or anxious about, the resolution of the problem but the card in second place proclaims that the unconscious has no qualms about this at all. Reversed in the second position, The Juggler tells  tarot reader that the inquirer’s unconscious feels that she is following a wrong path.

In the third position, Trump 1 indicates that another person has a part to play in the resolution of the problem. Where the card is upright, that person will further the inquirers aims. In reverse, Trump 1 suggests that somebody will block the inquirer’s path. Alternatively, The Juggler in position three may point to the intrusion of the hand of Fate, either for good or ill, depending on whether the card is right way up or on its head. Upright, it may signal a redirection of the flow of events that swings conditions in the inquirer’s favor. In reverse, it forecasts the opposite kind of result.

What The Juggler portends when occupying the fourth and fifth positions in an Equal-Armed Cross spread is too complex a subject to go into here as the interpretation of cards in these places is to a great degree dependent upon the nature of the symbols falling in the preceding three places.

Trump 1 and the Horoscope Spread

As I have tried to make clear in previous posts, the predictive tarot reflects not actual events so much as the trends playing out in the inquirer’s life. In a horoscope spread (see Spreads), the inquirer’s desires and expectations concerning the field of experience denoted by the house in which The Juggler falls are undoubtedly traveling along an upward trajectory. Such trends are expansive and fulfilling, and the events portended will be agreeable and life-enhancing. The Juggler reversed signals that the matters signified by the house in which the card is found are blighted, that attainment in those areas will not be easy, and that obstacles and delays stand in the way of the inquirer making any significant impact in those areas.

In the first house, The Juggler indicates that the inquirer is, for the time being at any rate, in control of her life, and poised to put plans into action, with every chance of them succeeding.

In the ninth house, one of whose areas of governance is foreign travel, The Juggler may forecast a trip abroad, the results of which will be wholly to the inquirer’s liking.

Reversed in the twelfth house, The Juggler proclaims the inquirer to be her own worst enemy, holding back diffidently when she out to be acting decisively , or relying on stratagems to attain her aims rather than pursing them through the more legitimate means of demonstrating her talents.

to be continued