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Nine & The Hermit

by Tony Willis     

The Tarot de Marseilles Hermit card depicts an old man with long white hair and beard. He wears a robe and a cloak with a pulled-back hood. In his left hand, he carries a walking stick and his right hand is raised up, holding a lighted lantern. The divinatory keywords given to the card by nineteenth century tarot experts were Wisdom and Prudence. The image was taken to represent a man searching for truth while engulfed by the darkness of ignorance. As questing for truth is self-evidently a wise thing to do, the Hermit was thought of as wise. As walking in darkness with only the weak light of a lantern for a guide is an undertaking fraught with danger, it was assumed that great caution was needed while one was looking for truth, and so Caution, or Prudence, became a keyword associated with the Trump.

tdm hermit    Arcane-Arcana-09-hermite-hermit

Nineteenth century tarotists with occult leanings adapted the simple Tarot de Marseilles image, having the Hermit preceded by a snake. No doubt they had in mind the Biblical quote, “Be ye gentle as doves and wise as serpents.” They also had the Hermit shroud his lantern with the folds of his cloak; in the Tarot de Marseilles version, the cloak hangs to one side of the lantern. This shielding of the light was supposed to indicate that the wise man protects his knowledge, and does not share it with fools or those not yet ready to receive it. Wisdom used often to be symbolized as a pearl, the Bible’s Pearl of Great Price, and there were adages about not casting pearls before swine.

PapusWirth09    9 knapp hall

The idea that one ought to shield one’s knowledge from the sight of others influenced another of the divinatory meanings the card accumulated over the years, that being, not to share one’s plans with other people as they may attempt to subvert them. Over time, the above notions became condensed into a simple formula: “Prudence and wisdom are the leading ideas conveyed by this card; badly aspected by other cards, however, it enjoins the necessity of secrecy, watchfulness and caution against hidden enemies and subtle intrigues.” This is from Richard Huson’s The Complete Book of Fortune.

Huson took as his template interpretations from The Book of the Occult & Fortune Telling, c. 1925 (“Someone is seeking to harm you, but the spitefulness at work against you will fail. If reversed, it means the opposite”), and Card Fortune Telling, c. 1921 (“Prudence and wisdom; but if the other cards are not good, it may merely mean trickery and lying. Reversed: secrecy, fear and needless caution”).

In reverse, confusingly, the card can signify either that the inquirer is in great danger of having her secrets revealed or of being duped by someone she trusts, or that she has become unnecessarily fearful, and is being held back by her over-cautious attitude to life. My experience is that readers adopt one or other of these interpretations, and that it works for them, whichever it is, with the alternative interpretation rarely if ever coming into play as far as that particular tarot reader is concerned.

Geometric symbols associated with The Hermit are the Circle and three Triangles arranged as shown in the diagram below. The Circle denotes the completion of a cycle. The cycle referred to is that of what are sometimes called Arabic Numbers. These run from 0 to 9, the common or garden single digits we use every day. After the number 9, these ten basic digits are repeated in various combinations in order to denote numbers higher than Nine – 10, 11, 12, 13, and so on. Nine is, therefore, the end of a sequence. As such it implies Completion and Perfection, insofar as that which is complete is also whole and may therefore be considered perfect.

In the same vein as Completion, the Greeks of past times called the number Telesphoros, “bringing to an end”, and associated it with the ninth month of pregnancy, in which birth most often takes place. At the same time, however, it is worth bearing in mind that the Eleusinian ceremonies of initiation were called Teletai, “perfectings”. Esoterically, the Hermit is regularly associated with initiation. If you look to the Papus version of the card (the second example given above), you will see the French word for Initiation inscribed above the Trump’s divinatory meaning, Prudence.

One other point, in relation to the divinatory meanings of the Hermit, is that the end of a cycle is a precarious time, on account of it being a disconnect. The uo-coming cycle might bring happiness and fulfillment into a person’s life but it might as easily usher in a period of distress, illness, or money troubles. All of which is reflected in the divinatory significances assigned the card by the wise tarot masters of former years.

Three Triangles can denote prolific fruitfulness where they stand for 3×3. As we have seen, the energy of the number 3 is concerned with abundance and multiplication. This message is also carried by the Empress in the tarot, Trump 3. Three times three, therefore, symbolizes a high level of abundance in whatever it touches. Hence, when we turn to the Minor Arcana, we find the 9 of Pence (or Pentacles) signifying, “Much increase of money or goods”, for Pence is the Earth suit, representing all things material. The 9 of Cups signifies “Complete success in emotional matters”, for the Cups suit deals with the affections. The 9 of Rods signifies “Great strength, energy, and health”, for Rods cards reference dynamism and vitality. Swords, being an unfortunate suit, the 9 denotes “Malice, cruelty, and despair”. In each case, a simple concept, such as love or material happiness, has been magnified or elevated, that being the effect of the number Nine when in fruitful mode on everything it comes in contact with. (I have had recourse to the card meanings favored by the Golden Dawn, but most books of instruction follow a similar pattern where the nines are concerned.)

scan0003But it is not Nine in fruitful mode that is represented by the diagram we find accompanying the Hermit in tarot decks such as those favored by Papus. (See right.) Here the central triangle is inverted. Only when all three triangles are upright does the energy denoted by the number 9 flow unhindered on the material plane. Were all three triangles standing on their apexes a most injurious figure would be produced, a figure wherein the whole of 9’s positive energy was turned back upon itself. Two triangles so positioned would describe a less severe, but still extremely thorny, state of affairs.

In the diagram associated with the Hermit only one triangle is reversed. The top- and bottom-most triangles are upright, the central triangle alone being upside down; but as it is sandwiched between two upright triangles, its power to damage, disrupt or cause chaos is mercifully diminished. It therefore mirrors the card’s meaning, “Someone is seeking to harm you, but the spitefulness at work against you will fail”, encompassing all similar delineations along the lines of “Trickery and lying from which the inquirer is protected.” As ever, though, the context is all-important. Even an upright Hermit laying between the Moon and the 10 of Swords can take on a negative connotation, the whole sequence predicting loss of goods or reputation (10 Swords) through the underhand dealings of others (Moon plus Hermit). But in other circumstances, the Hermit may denote nothing more than a blip, the evil designs of others thwarted by the inquirer’s vigilance or overturned by the hand of Fate herself before any real harm has been done.

In the Knapp-Hall tarot (see the fourth Hermit card above), the artist surrounds the sage unequivocally with the darkness of ignorance, but he presents a novel geometric representation of the number 9, namely a Pentagram (5) within a Square (4). The symbol resonates to the Hermit as a combination of High Priest and Supreme Monarch, Trumps 5 and 4. While this is a true representation, esoterically, of an initiate of the Grade Exempt Adapt, this geometric arrangement is rarely seen outside of instructional papers in the safe-keeping of certain schools of the Western Mystery Tradition. As it bears no relation to tarot reading as it is customarily performed, I shall say no more about it.


Restoring the Balance

by Tony Willis       

For tarot enthusiasts of the French Occult Revival (c. 1770-1900), the second septenary of Trumps began with the card Justice. Today, most people think of Strength as the eighth Trump but back then nobody considered that Justice in eighth place was odd or in any way untoward. The eighth numbered Trump in the Tarot de Marseilles was, and is, Justice; and 8 seemed an appropriate number for it, as 8 was widely associated with concepts such as:

Alternating cycles, the active administration of law, redressing of balance, poise, impartiality, exactitude and accuracy.

One interpretation of “alternating cycles” is that reflected in the template of crime and punishment. A crime is committed, the miscreant apprehended and brought to trial. In court, justice is done, a sentence is pronounced, and societal order restored. Unsurprisingly, then, we find words like “retribution”, “rectification”, “judgment”, “equity”, “compensation”, and “rewards and punishments” applied to the Justice card.

The occultist Cheiro (1866-1936), interpreting the number purely on the material plane, has it represent human justice. Cheiro’s contemporary, Sepharial (1864-1929), suggests “human justice” as one of the meanings for the equivalent Trump, Justice. Operating at a higher level, the card can signify either Divine Justice or its occult agents, the Lords of Karma. For most individuals, however, Justice in a tarot reading will refer to justice of the human kind, whether it be meted out in a court of law, or in a broader context, in the court of public opinion.

Cheiro, still speaking of the number, informs his readers: “The occult symbol of 8 has from time immemorial been represented by the figure of Justice with a Sword pointing upwards and a Balance or Scales in the left hand.” (Cheiro’s Numbers.) Paul Christian, a pupil of Eliphas Levi’s, names the Trump “The Scales and Blade”. Other tarot experts name it “Balance”, referring to the harmony that is restored to the world whenever justice is done, and everyone involved receives their just deserts.

As well as Balance, the Trump was at times known as Harmony, the two concepts being analogous. In Greek myth, the wife of Cadmus bore the name Harmony, and W. Wynn Westcott, in Numbers, their Occult Power and Mystic Virtues, explains: “The Greeks called [Eight] “Cademia,” because Harmony was looked upon as the wife of Cadmus . . .”

In his book Numbers: their meaning and significance, Kozminsky, follows Cheiro in giving 8 the meanings protection and justice. For when justice is done, the weak are protected against bullies, and the fortunate are protected from the envious.

David Allen Hulse, in The Truth About Numerology, gives 8 the significance “success in material endeavors”. This connects to one of the predictive meanings assigned the tarot Trump, namely “Success in business matters, [or] the winning of a lawsuit.” Should the card be reversed, the opposite was indicated – great disappointment in business or the loss of a lawsuit.

One meaning given to the card by tarotists with occult leanings is “reactionary balance”, which is an obscure way of indicating restorative justice, things brought back into balance by the enacting of human or divine justice. Broadly speaking the card can signify the restoration of balance, or equilibrium, to the inquirer’s world. All these ideas go back to Eliphas Levi, who give the Justice card the meaning “the equilibrium of attraction and repulsion”, an expression that points up the circularity of the formula “crime and punishment”, or of any set of circumstances where order becomes disordered and is then returned to order once again.

8 as 2 squares       ogdoade1

This “equilibrium of attraction and repulsion” is presented visually in one of the diagrams attached to the Justice card – two squares, one on top of the other. The diagram is mirrored, to some extent, in the Arabic numeral for Eight, which is essentially two circles set one atop the other. The idea behind the diagram finds common expression in such sayings as “What goes up must come down.” Those who believe in karma understand that any good deed will be rewarded, in the right time and under the right circumstances, and that bad deeds will be dealt with in the same manner, and that in the great scheme of things, nobody “gets away” with anything. Somehow, balance will always be restored.

Occultists who are also tarot masters at times assign the meaning of “good karma” to the upright card, and “bad karma” to the reversal. For the Trump can indicate that an event is the result of one or the other. Justice reversed falling in conjunction with The Tower, for instance, might show that an upcoming damaging event is the result of past karma catching up with the inquirer. However, it is only for the highly experienced tarot reader to make such pronouncements, as distinguishing between a karmic event and a non-karmic one is a task for a fully trained occultist.

The other geometric symbol associated with Justice as Trump 8 is one square within another. It is a reference to the even-handedness of divine justice or of human justice conscientiously performed. One square within another is a symbol of the Ogdoad. The Greek writer Macrobius said of the Ogdoad that it was “the type of Justice, because it consists of evenly even numbers, and on account of its equal divisions.” The inner square divides the lines of the outer square into eight equal parts. These eight could themselves be divided into sixteen equal parts and those sixteen into thirty-two; that is what Macrobius was getting at. The division is always equal, and where equality prevails there is neither favoritism nor special treatment. No one experiencing this kind of justice is likely to come away dissatisfied.

The reversed card gives warning of the exact opposite: Unfairness, sometimes coupled with unjust accusations and criticism.

The First Septenary, part 3

by Tony Willis    
Card Interpretation

Reading the tarot is an art. No two painters will depict a landscape in exactly the same way, and no two tarot-readers interpret cards identically. For some tarotists, The Chariot reversed does not bear a disturbing significance; it means only that the assistance promised by the upright card does not arrive until the very last minute.

There is a long-standing tradition which maintains that The Chariot in reverse represents merely the delay of what the upright card pledges. That same tradition applies this principle also to Trumps 19 and 21, The Sun and The World. Naturally the tenor of the whole spread has to be taken into account. If the cards following the reversed Chariot point to loss (5 of Cups), hardship (5 of Pence) or failure (10 of Swords), then other interpretations of the card will apply: Plans fall apart; Danger of defeat; Overthrow; Obstacles prove insurmountable.

But my own experience of The Chariot reversed (and of The Sun and The World reversed, too) is that victory can be snatched from the jaws of defeat, and immanent failure transformed into success eventually, often after considerable delay, so long as other factors in the reading confirm that interpretation.

Arcane-Arcana-07-chariot     Arcane-Arcana-05-pape-pope

Trump 5, The Pope (High Priest or Hierophant) is a card that throws many beginners in tarot interpretation into a panic. Depending on the book of instructions the novice tarot-reader is working from it may not be entirely clear how the card is to be construed.

It can signify a man to whom the inquirer can turn for unbiased, honest advice; or it can show the inquirer herself “doing the right thing”, acting charitably, with a generous spirit, towards another person – following her conscience, in other words. Or it can indicate marriage or other form of union.

In interpreting The Pope, the fledgling tarot reader must rely on his intuition, guided, as ever, by the lay of other cards in the spread. Following the Empress (falling in love) and the 3 of Cups (a celebration, as it might be, an engagement party), The Pope will almost certainly predict marriage. Following The Moon (not being able to see a clear way forward) and the 2 of Pence (financial instability), The Pope suggest the need for professional advice, from a bank manager or an accountant, for instance. Nine times out of ten, the other cards in the spread will give a huge hint as to which interpretation of The Pope is appropriate.

Other times, the subject of the inquiry will provide the hint. Should the question be “Will I marry X?” then it is more than likely that The Pope card upright will be giving an affirmative answer. Should the question be about business then The Pope might well carry the message, “Seek advice”. Should the question be about an ethical dilemma, the probable answer is “Follow your conscience.”

So much for interpreting cards in a divination. In the next post we will return to the main theme of the current series, namely how the Trumps come to have the significances they do.

The First Septenary, Part 2

by Tony Willis     

In Part 1, we learned that the ineffable One divides itself into Two equal and opposite complimentary potencies, Yin and Yang, Force and Form, according to the terminology employed. In the process of division, energy descends one rung on the ladder leading to manifestation. The interplay of dynamism between these Two complimentary potencies gives rise to the Three Alchemical Principles, and the interplay between the Three principles produces the Four visible Elements as well as a Fifth invisible Element, Æther or Spirit, again depending on the terminology employed.

The Emperor

The Emperor, Trump 4 in the Tarot, was associated by the tarot masters of the nineteenth century with the geometric symbol the Square. They also associated it with the equal-armed cross, although nothing is made of this in the occult literature of the period that I have perused, possibly because the equal-armed cross is also assigned to The Papess, Trump 2, and in the program of occult instruction that rigidly follows the numerical order of the Trumps, the major features of this symbol have generally been dealt with under that heading long before The Emperor’s attributes come up for consideration.

On the one hand, Trump 4 stands for the Hermetic Elements of Fire, Air, Water and Earth taken as a group; in fact, a cross with arms of equal length was used in old alchemical texts to denote the Elements as a collective. In concert with this attribution, Trump 4 also stands for the entire plane of Earth, the stage, as it were, on which the Four Elements display their most recognizable modes of physical expression in the forms of electricity and the gaseous, liquid, and solid states of matter. At the same time, the Earth plane is intimately connected in occult thought with the planet on which we live, so that Mother Earth herself is assumed to be the product of a four-fold interaction of agencies. This mindset is embedded in phrases current even today, such as ‘the four corners of the Earth’, and is also in familiar concepts like that of the four cardinal directions, North, South, East and West.

In tarot lore, the Square represents “the Earth and all that’s in it”, and by implication, authority over the world of matter, the capacity to control it, or some part of it, be it a nation or a small personal fiefdom, such as the head of a typing pool might hold sway over. As a result, in divination The Emperor signifies temporal power and the qualities required to maintain it: leadership, physical strength, either strength of the body or, more likely today, strength in the form of wealth, arms or manpower, as well as a degree of moral potency, since nothing causes popular support to evaporate faster than deliberate, undisguised favoritism or looking the other way when illegal acts are committed. The link between temporal power and Mother Earth, in the shape of the mother-country or the fatherland, needs no explanation, I feel sure.

4marseille  4 II  bota trump 04

Examination of the Trump’s secondary symbol, the cross, draws us once more toward the four cardinal directions; for many maps are marked, for purposes of orientation, with a cross, at each point of which is printed a letter corresponding to one of these directions. Most weathervanes are marked similarly. A good many spatial divisions are divisions into four, and both the examples I have just given relate to that concept, a notion so fundamental to the human mind as to be ingrained in us to the extent that we tend automatically to cleave the world spreading out all around us from beneath our feet into four sectors, even if these are only before, behind, to the right and to the left.

Having stated already the connection between the occult principle assigned to The Emperor and its divinatory significance, I will move on to the next number, Five.

The Pope

Just as the number Four in tarot lore relates both to Mother Earth and the Four Hermetic Elements, so does Five relate firstly to the Fifth element, Æther, as the animating factor that enlivens the four visible Elements, which, without its influence would be nothing but dead matter. Secondly Five relates to Spirit envisaged as the polar opposite of Matter. In this arrangement, Matter corresponds to the number 4, Spirit to the number 5.

The geometric symbol given to Trump 5 is the Pentagram, or five-pointed star. When the sigils of the Elements are assigned to the points of the Pentagram, that for Æther is always set beside (or sometimes within) the uppermost point.The illustration below reproduces this idea in diagrammatic form.

pent with elements

When the head, or the powers of common-sense and wisdom, hold sway in an individual, that person functions in the way Shakespeare describes in the “What a piece of work is a man!” speech from Hamlet. “How noble in reason [he is], how infinite in faculty . . . in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god — the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!” Such a person’s actions manifest in the world in a variety of ways but are always rooted in sentiments of goodness, compassion and generosity of nature. Three hundred years ago, in an ideal situation, the person most expected to exhibit these qualities was a man of the church. This would also be the individual many turned to for advice when difficult decisions were in the offing. In Part 1 of this article, the synopsis I gave of Trump 5’s divinatory significances read “Goodness, compassion, generosity of spirit; an advisor or counselor.” Clearly, the card’s occult connotations directly affected the predictive meaning that the great tarot masters of the nineteenth century assigned it.

Throughout the world of western occultism, the Pentagram is universally considered to represent the human being. The symbol is often depicted superimposed over the figure of a man, his arms outstretched and his legs parted so that each of his five extremities coincides with one of the pentagram’s arms, as in the following  illustration.


What is rarely understood is that the pentagram relates – Shakespeare’s eulogy notwithstanding – to the unperfected human being lacking in spiritual enlightenment, the unredeemed man or woman of Christian theology, there often designated ‘the Old Adam’. The traditional symbol of the perfected spiritual human being is the six-pointed star, of which more in a while.

Shakespeare, a master of words if ever there was one, uses simile to describe rational human beings. In action, they are “like an angel”; in understanding, they are “like a god”. Like an angel but not an angel; like a god but not one. Shakespeare, himself an initiate, knew that human beings stand at the center of a scale, and are capable of either rising above that level or sinking below it. The latter propensity we find revealed all too vividly in the reversed meanings given by the tarot masters of another generation to Trump 5 in reverse.

“Self-seeking in religion rather than the helping of one’s fellow-creatures. Another person’s tyranny and selfish interference in the inquirer’s life. Or the inquirer will meet with craftiness, guile, where she expected to meet with loyalty and trust.”

The Lovers

Trump 6 is assigned as its geometric form the Hexagram, two triangles, one apex upwards, the other apex downwards. At times one triangle is superimposed over the other, at other times the triangles are interlaced. Occasionally, the triangles are of different colors, in which case the colors represent opposites such as: White and Black, day and night, action and repose; Red and Blue, fire and water, heat and coolness. In the Hexagram, however, the opposites are not at odds; they are in harmony, that being one of the prime meanings of The Lovers on whatever plane we examine it.

Even so, as Dion Fortune says:

“Force in equilibrium is static, potential, never dynamic, because force in equilibrium implies two opposing forces which have perfectly neutralized each other and thus rendered each other inert, inoperative. Upset the equilibrium, and the forces are freed for action, change can take place; growth, evolution, organization can occur. There is no possibility of progress in perfect equilibrium; it is a state of rest.”

The Mystical Qabalah, p. 301.

The occultist must always have it mind that the potency represented by Trump 6 is temporary, and therefore to be regarded as unstable. Dion Fortune again points us in the right direction.

“Equilibrium is the result of the balance of contending forces; consequently, they must pull one against the other.”

The Mystical Qabalah, p. 301.

This pull, or tension, must prevail eventually. When the equilibrium of the hexagram is upset the two forces that composed it are liberated and the immediate result is growth, evolution, and the organization of the lesser but more complex forces generated in the process, just as Dion Fortune has indicated.

It was with reference to the harmonious aspect of the Hexagram that the early tarot masters gave Trump 6 the divinatory significance of Attraction, Affection, and Love. It was with reference to the pulling of two triangles one against another that they gave the Trump such meanings as Temptation, Two ‘loves’ or rival interests, and Ordeal. The picture on the Tarot de Marseilles version of the card depicts the latter of these meanings while the design of the Waite-Smith card depicts the former.

In divination, when The Lovers denotes an ordeal and is upright, the meaning is “some kind of test that the inquirer will pass successfully”. If the card is reversed, then sadly the chances are that the inquirer will fail the test, in whole or in part. Any ordeal, great or small, that we overcome leads on to a victory on some level, moral, intellectual, or material; and the more rigorous the test, the more illustrious the reward. It is no accident that the Trump coming after The Lovers is The Chariot, the main keynote of which is Victory.

Only where the hexagram symbolizes the perfected human being does it become an emblem of stability. In that instance, it points to a paradisiacal, Eden-before-the-Fall, state. It is this condition we are shown in the Waite-Smith illustration, whereon Adam and Eve, naked to demonstrate their innocence, live in harmony not only with each other and Nature but with the Divine, symbolized by the angel in the upper portion of the card. In this picture, the accent is on the love/affection/harmony facet of the Trump’s energies, and, giving for once his personal view of the card, Waite says that it signifies:

“Material union, affection, desire, natural love, passion, harmony of things; contains also the notions of modus vivendi, concord and so forth; equilibrium.”

bota trump 06   mmTarot 06

Paul Foster Case follows Waite in this, just as he follows him in the use of the Garden-of-Eden-before-the-Fall image for the Trump. In The Tarot, a Key to the Wisdom of the Ages, Case gives The Lovers the meanings:

“Attraction, beauty, love. Harmony of inner and outer life.”

The thinking of both men is that this equilibrium, this harmony of inner and outer life, existed in the Edenic state and will exist again once all human beings have ascended to spiritual perfection. In the Waite-Smith and B.O.T.A. cards, temptation, represented by the serpent coiled up the tree behind the woman, is present but not heavily accented. Conversely, on the Tarot de Marseilles card, temptation, in the form of choice, is emphasized while love/affection/harmony aspect of the card is barely hinted at.

The Chariot

Trump 7 has two geometric symbols associated with it. The first is the Heptagram, the seven-pointed star, and the second is a Triangle standing on a Square    –           3 + 4 = 7.

The Trumps are assigned “grams” and not “gons”. By this, I mean that you will find the pentagram, the hexagram, the heptagram, the octogram, etc., linked to certain Trumps but not the pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, octagon or any other kind of “gon”. The ’gram is considered the more appropriate symbol for a tarot Trump because it signifies an active, out-reaching energy, as denoted by its spreading arms. The “gon” indicates a self-contained and inward-looking force, a state again denoted by the “gons” shape, which encloses, womb-like.

The Heptagram associated with The Chariot generally has the Seven Planets of the Ancients (i.e., the planets one can see with the unaided eye) inscribed upon its arms. (See diagram.) The planets are always distributed in a particular order, such that, if one starts with the Sun and follows the lines of the Heptagram across and back, over and over until one arrives again at the Sun, one will have touched all the planets in their weekday order – Sunday, Monday (Moon day), (what follows is easier to understand if the days are given in French) Tuesday/mardi (the day of Mars), mercredi (the day of Mercury), jeudi (the day of Jupiter), vendredi (the day of Venus), and (back to English again for the final day of the week) Saturday (the day of Saturn). In those occult schools where teaching is given out in accordance with the order of the tarot Trumps, the qualities of the planets are imparted under the heading of the seventh Trump, The Chariot.

planets days of week

The card’s other geometric figure, a triangle standing on a square (see diagram), symbolizes Spirit (the Trinity, represented by the triangle) governing Matter (the square). It is the state of affairs described by the poet Browning as “God’s in his heaven; all’s right with the world.” In most cultures seven is a lucky number, as are multiples of seven. In the tarot Trumps, those numbered 7, 14 & 21 are considered particularly fortunate.


mmTarot 07  07 II  GDtrump7

The condition represented by Trump 7 is preceded by a situation marked with tension or disquiet, as embodied by the Ordeal or Choice aspect of The Lovers. With the ordeal passed, the right choice made, it is as if a page had been turned in the Book of Life. What presents itself now can be described as Advancement, Unhindered Progress, Triumph, Victory, or Success. This advancement or victory is like as not arrived at by the overcoming of obstacles. All of this was encapsulated in the divinatory meanings allotted The Chariot by the tarot masters of old. They remain, by and large, the meanings associated with the Trump by modern day tarot readers, probably because, with the exception of decks from the recent po-mo era, the subject matter of the card has not altered at all. The chariot may face to the side (as in the G.D. tarot) rather than to the front; the charioteer may wear a helmet rather than a crown, or he may wear the double crown of the Egyptian Pharaohs instead of the one decorated with pentagrams that Eliphas Levi gives him; sphinxes or horses or bulls may pull his triumphal car, but essentially the picture presented is of a person in motion, going somewhere, and thus embodying keywords associated with Trump 7 such as advancement and progress.

It is taken as read that the man in the chariot is riding in triumph, and this assumption accounts for the remaining keywords attributed to The Chariot: Victory, Triumph, Attainment, Success.

The occult principle associated with this card corresponds to these keywords, for it is imbued with the will to triumph, to stabilize the unstable, to put errors right. In order to understand the symbol of the Triangle, not only above a Square, but standing on it, we must imagine both shapes first as separate entities, not conjoined, not even in alignment; in a word, disordered. Matter has lost its contact with Spirit; Spirit lacks a role, a raison d’etre. Order must be reestablished if the work of evolution is to continue. It should be realized how much effort has gone into placing the Triangle on top of the Square. That feat accomplished, however, the blocks are off, and it is all systems go, on the spiritual, ethical, and material planes alike.


There is an interesting divinatory peculiarity to Trump 7. I will deal with that, and one other anomaly, in the final part of this article.

To be concluded.

The First Septenary, pt. 1

by Tony Willis     

Having reviewed the significance in the predictive tarot of the first seven Trumps, it is time to pause and take stock. The meanings of these cards can be classed as traditional in that they remained more or less unaltered for three hundred years, from the point in the eighteenth century when Antoine de Gebelin brought the tarot to the attention of French occultists until the second half of the twentieth century. Those meanings can be summarized as follows.

1. Physical control of a situation; success through effort.

2. Intellectual control of a situation; mastery through understanding.

3. Fruitfulness of plans. Something coming to fruition. Abundance. Plenty.

4. Stability.Support. Realization of aims.

5. Goodness, compassion, generosity of spirit. An advisor or counselor.

6. Attraction. Affection. Desire. Temptation. Two ‘loves’ or rival interests

7. Triumph, Victory, Overcoming obstacles.

From the standpoint of practical occultism, however, the Trumps have more profound significances and these we can access by examining the various geometrical figures associated with them.

As explained in the previous post, Trump 7, The Chariot, has a particular geometrical shape assigned to it: a triangle standing on a square. Let us examine now the geometric shapes associated with the other six Trumps of this septenary.

Trump 1, The Juggler, is assigned two symbols: the point and the straight line. To understand their significance, we must turn to the definitions given by Euclid in his Elements (of Geometry). A point, as defined by Euclid, has position but no dimension; that is, it exists but cannot be seen, being an infinitesimally small speck in space. If you have difficulty with the concept, imagine yourself in a perfectly rectangular room. There will be a spot somewhere in that three-dimensional space that can be described as the exact center of the room. The room will certainly have a central spot, it must do; but that point cannot be seen with the naked eye: it is the same for the point in geometry, according to Euclid. When a human geometrician makes a mark on sheet of paper to identify the place from where she will commence her measurements, the point is made manifest; it is, however, now a dot, and no longer a point as defined by Euclid.

The father of geometry further defines a line as “the shortest distance between two points”. In all primitive cultures, and some not so primitive, One is represented by a straight line, as it is in Roman numerals. Occultism takes One to be synonymous with Divinity. That Divinity may be called God or Allah, Jehovah or Yahweh, Jove or Brahman. The occultist assigns all such concepts to the number One, also termed Unity and the Monad (unit, Gr.). Occultist also designate Divinity the Macrocosm, literally the great world.

In Monas Hieroglyphica, John Dee upholds the supremacy of the point, and by inference the supremacy of the One from which all else descends.:

The circle without a straight line cannot be artificially created, nor a straight line without a point. Consequently, everything, properly, began from the point and the monad. And whatever is strived for by the periphery of the circle, no matter how big it is, can in no way succeed without the ministry of the central point.

The point exists but has no dimension. Trump 1’s other symbol is the line, which both exists and is apprehendable by the senses. One is invisible, the other visible. To highlight these properties of Trump 1, in some occult tarots the words Visible and Invisible are printed on the card. (See illustration below.)

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

The occult significance of Trump 1 is that each member of the human race is a perfect Microcosm of the Macrocosm, a small universe replicating in miniature the great universe that is the Divine.

Trump 2, the Female Pope or High Priestess has, like the Juggler, two geometric figures assigned to it. One of them is two straight lines standing parallel to one another. This figure may either be depicted horizontally, in which case it resembles an equals sign (see illustration above), or vertically, as in the Roman numeral Two or the astrological sigil for Gemini.

The second geometric figure assigned to the Papess is the equal-armed cross, formed of two straight lines of equal length, one laid transversely across the other. In some versions of the card, the Female Pope wears a cross of this type on her breast. (See the illustrations below.) Although Trump 2 is almost universally associated with the Moon, there are occult schools that insist on calling this symbol a solar cross.

The occult significance of the Papess is that manifestation takes place when the One divides into Two and those Two act and react on each other. Often this proposition is represented on the card as twin pillars, alike in form but differing in color, set either side of the seated Female Pope. Occult schools the world over acknowledge the existence of these two factors. In the west they may be classified as Force and Form, in China as Yin and Yang, in India as Ida and Pingala. It is their interplay that gives rise to the world as we experience it. As the Tao Teh Ching puts it:

One gives birth to Two.

Two gives birth to Three.

Three gives birth to everything.

One of these factors is credited with a positive charge, the other with a negative charge; and on the physical plane they are apparent in the phenomena of electricity and magnetism. One factor emits energy effulgently, the other receives energy and by turns absorbs it and reflects it outwards. These propensities are represented symbolically by the Sun and Moon placed at the tops of the pillars in some representations of the Papess. (See illustrations below.)

mouni-02  2-priestess

As a codicil to the above, it should be remembered that Manifestation ends when Multiplicity is resolved or absorbed back into Unity.

Any person who grasps the relevance of the occult principles laying behind Trumps 1 and 2 has the key to practical occultism in their hands. The action of inserting that key into the corresponding lock and turning it comes under the governance of the Empress, Trump 3.

This card has only one geometric figure assigned to it: the Triangle. In the first illustration below, a triangle stands at the top of the first card, next to the number three above the image of the Empress. In the second, the Empress bears on her breast a triangle painted red, the most dynamic of colors. The triangle is the first example of what geometry calls a plane figure. With the introduction of plane figures, a step change occurs in the process that Christo-Judaic theology terms Creation. Remember what is written in the Tao Teh Ching: “One gives birth to Two. Two gives birth to Three.” A slow, laborious process is being described, which suddenly speeds up when we reach, “Three gives birth to everything.”

In eastern occult thought, the triad of forces behind The Empress card are known as the Three Gunas; in the west they are generally denominated the Three Alchemical Principles: Salt, Sulfur and Mercury. None of these name refer to any physical substance; they merely suggest properties the Alchemical Principles possess. Alchemical Salt is slow to change; Alchemical Sulfur, on the other hand, is volatile. Alchemical Mercury represents a condition midway between the other two; neither too resistant to change nor too apt to flare up at the least provocation.

In tarot terms, the Empress herself forms a triad with the two preceding Trumps. The Juggler stands for Will, the Papess for Intelligence. The Empress stands for Action based on Will and directed by Intelligence. Will enacted unintelligently fails. Intelligence unsupported by Will can never be translated into action.

Arcane-Arcana-03-imperatrice-empress   BOTA Empress

In some older books on the tarot, you will find the Empress assigned Action as a divinatory keyword. However, Action is more usefully reserved as a name for the occult principle the Empress represents. A better divinatory meaning would be Fruitful Action, this being in line with the flow of energy signified by Trump 3 as described in the phrase “Action grounded in Will directed by Intelligence”.

The number Three is a highly productive potency in occult thought, as the quote from the Tao Teh Ching makes clear, Numerically, Two plus Two equals Four, and Two times Two also equals Four, the results of addition and multiplication being the same; But while Three plus Three equals Six, Three times Three equals Nine, and so Three is regarded as the first fertile number, mystically the mother of all subsequent numbers.

Her occult significance is variously named Fertility, Multiplication or Generation. But it should be ever remembered that she gains that significance by being the third member of the triad Juggler, Papess, Empress, where the Juggler and the Papess denote male and female forces respectively, or more accurately, positive and negative charges, the Force and Form of Western occultism. The Empress is the result of their interaction. The value of this process can be grasped by meditating on the sequence Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis. One sees this process in action throughout the history of science: someone comes up with a workable hypothesis to explain a certain phenomenon which seems to satisfy the known facts; but eventually, perhaps because further data has become available, the hypothesis is challenged and a state of doubt prevails until somebody comes up with an explanation encompassing the original facts and the newly discovered ones, at which point a new hypothesis, a synthesis of all currently available knowledge, is created, and stability reigns again     . . . until newly discovered data upsets the balance once more. The Empress represents the “Synthesis” part of this equation.

While from one standpoint it is true, as the Tao Teh Ching tells us, that

One gives birth to Two.

Two gives birth to Three.

Three gives birth to everything.

from another it is possible to say: One by transmutation becomes Two, Two becomes Three, Three becomes Four, and so on. Thus it is that, In the terminology of the ancient alchemists, the Three Alchemical Principles are said to give rise to the Four traditional Elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth. Therefore, through the examination of the occult implications of the Empress, Trump 3, we are ineluctably drawn towards a study of the Emperor, Trump 4.


Before I move on to the remaining cards comprising this septenary, take a moment to look back at the divinatory meanings given for Trumps 1, 2, and 3 at the beginning of this article, and compare them with the occult principles associated with these same cards. You will see that the former are instances of the latter manifesting on the physical plane.

To be continued.

The Chariot of Hermes

by Tony Willis    

Unlike the situation with Trump 6, the Lovers, when we come to Trump 7, we find that the image on the card appears, with the extremely rare exception, to have been that of a single figure riding in a chariot; and the title appears universally to have been The Chariot, and not as one might have expected, the Charioteer. Some depictions have the chariot travelling right to left across the card, others have it travelling from left to right; less frequently in the earliest cards it is shown head-on, as if it were coming straight at the observer. The gender of the person riding in the chariot is sometimes indeterminate, the contours of the body masked by clothing, and long hair being as applicable to a young male as to a female in a Renaissance setting. A selection of depictions of Trump 7, from the fifteenth century up to and including the Waite-Smith version (twentieth century), are shown below. I include one example of a design with five figures riding in the chariot, but as I have already remarked, it is atypical for there to be more than one person in the chariot in any decks dated between the early fifteenth and the early twentieth centuries.

early chariotearly21issychariot

caryyalechariot07 II7ChariotRiderWaites

Just as the image and title of Trump 7 have a simple history when compared with that of most other Trumps, so are its divinatory meanings relatively simple, too. They are all tuned to the same note, so to speak. Most commentators assume that the charioteer is riding in a victory parade, a form of celebration common in ancient and classical Rome. A Roman general, having won a series of battles, or having made one highly significant conquest, was allowed to ride the streets of the capital wearing all the panoply of triumph, with a slave standing at his shoulder murmuring in his ear, “Remember you are but a man.” The slave is absent from the tarot card and so, therefore, is that part of the symbolism. The rest remains in tact, and in textbook delineations for The Chariot one finds the words “victory”, “triumph”, and “conquest” repeated over and over again.

S.L. Mathers, for instance, puts forward the meanings: Triumph, Victory, Overcoming obstacles. Frank Lind re-words the core idea as: Conquest, Progress, Driving ahead, Achievement in a big way. Mathers echoes Papus and Paul Christian, both of whom assign Victory and Triumph to the card. Lind, inspired by the image of a chariot apparently moving forward adopts the terms Progress and Driving ahead, and substitutes Achievement for Triumph.

At the time Mathers was writing (1888), an “occult” title had been attached to the card: The Chariot of Hermes. The Greek god Hermes, whose Roman equivalent is Mercury, was accepted as a symbol of human intelligence, and as a result Trump 7 became associated in some schools of esoteric thought with the idea that what the card emblemized was the human mind obtaining a victory over some portion of the material world. Reflecting this concept, Sepharial assigns the card the meaning: “Victory gained by the intelligence, the subjugation of the elements by the work of man”, and he is not alone in doing so. When writing under the pseudonym Grand Orient, A.E. Waite reveals what he actually thinks about the individual Trumps. Grand Orient’s reading of the Chariot is, “Triumph of reason; success in natural things; . . . conquest, and all external correspondences of these.”

These notions go back to Paul Christian, and possibly to his teacher Eliphas Levi. They rest on the symbolical representation of the number 7 employed by the Mysteryimage4 Schools. Occultly speaking, Seven is embodied, in its positive aspect, as a triangle (3) above a square (4). The triangle is Spirit, as we find it represented in the Christian Trinity and in Divine Triads the world over, such as the Hindu Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The square symbolizes Matter with its Four Elements, Four “Corners”, Four Cardinal Directions – North, South, East, and West. A triangle standing on a square indicates Spirit directing or guiding Matter. For this reason, Paul Christian describes Trump 7 as signifying “The dominance of spirit over natural force”; and, at a lower level, as denoting “The submission of matter to the intelligence and will-power of man.”

One gypsy meaning I have come across offers, simply, a one word meaning: Victory. Another gypsy meaning, drawn from a different source, is that the card “Announces great honor for the client.”

Levi also introduced to the meanings of this card the idea of providential protection. This was taken up by Paul Christian and later by Papus. In The Tarot of the Bohemians, Papus gives the card the meaning Providential Protection, while in The Tarot of Divination, he says it denotes “Protection through divine providence”. This is not a meaning with much currency among today’s tarot readers, not in the English-speaking world at any rate.

As is often the case, the reversed meanings of Trump 7 are the plain opposite of its upright meanings.

Sepharial has it signifying defeat or quarrelling. Mathers gives: Overthrown, Conquered by Obstacles at the last moment. “Quarrelling” may be assigned to the reversed card image5because it signals division in contradistinction to the upright card which symbolizes Spirit and Matter working together, the former directing or acting as mentor to the latter. The geometric image associated with the Trump reversed is a square standing over a triangle with its apex pointing downward. In this figure material requirements dominate spiritual impulses, the result, it is to be presumed, being an antagonistic relationship between the two in contrast to the image of a triangle resting on a square, where all is assumed to be as it should be, Spirit and Matter cooperating in harmony and equilibration. This interpretation of the geometric figure is reflected in a gypsy reading of the card reversed, namely that “the client will be unhappy at home”, no doubt due to a lack of concord on the domestic front.

One school of thought has the reversed card signifying rescue from pressing difficulties at the eleventh hour, the total opposite of Mathers’ reading of the card. This interpretation is linked to the upright significance assigned the card by Levi that I just mentioned: Providential protection. Here Providence is assumed to be willing to allow the inquirer’s woes to pile up, the situation becoming steadily more precarious until, at the very last moment, she steps in to save the day. Again this is a meaning one doesn’t encounter very frequently in tarot circles in the English-speaking world.

From time to time, but not often, one finds the two views yoked together, as in the following delineation put together by Richard Huson, father of Paul Huson (himself the author of two books on tarot, The Devil’s Picture Book and Mystical Origins of the Tarot).

This card symbolizes victory, triumph over snares and obstacles, and the help and protection of Providence. Reversed, it indicates discouragement, quarrels, defeat.

Qabalah, the Tarot and me

by Tony Willis     

Some readers have shown an interest in my attitude toward the Qabalah. For the benefit of those who have not heard of it, the Qabalah is a spiritual-philosophical system having its roots in mystical Judaism. Over the centuries a Christianized form of Qabalah emerged and it was in this mode that it was employed by the Order of the Golden Dawn.

The pseudo-occultist treats the Qabalah as little more than a virtual filing system. That is to do it an injustice. There is an exercise Qabalistic students are expected to undertake whereby an idea, such as an ocean-going liner considered conceptually, has its component parts, from galley to bridge, projected on to the Tree of Life; but that is a method of training the mind, not the be all and end all of Qabalism. To maintain that the major ration of Qabalistic practice lies in its function as a filing system is as absurd as insisting that the major part of portrait painting consists in color-mixing. In both instances, one is a the necessary preparation for the hard work of the other. As Dion Fortune so aptly put it: “The value does not lie in the prescribed exercises as ends in themselves, but in the powers that will be developed if they are persevered with.” The Mystical Qabalah, p. 16. Elsewhere in the same book, D.F. explicitly states: “The Tree of Life is a method of using the mind, not a system of knowledge.”

One of the ways this method works out in practice can be demonstrated with an anecdote from my own life. In the 1970s, I became interested in the Runes, the magickal alphabet of the Norse and Anglo-Saxon races. As one who had undergone a G.D. training in Hermeticism along much the same lines as Dion Fortune herself, one of the first things I did was attempt to place the twenty-four runic letters onto the twenty-two Paths of the Tree of Life. I had to work out from first principles the Paths to which the runic letters should be ascribed, taking into account that there are more letters than Paths. That is where the hours of arduous training in assigning apparently arbitrary factors to the Tree paid off. By formulating these correspondences, I added considerably to my understanding of the Runes on the one hand and of the Paths on the other. This is an object lesson in the manner in which the Tree may be used as a clearing house for otherwise uncategorized information, or for the verification of data whose classification has, for whatever reason, become doubtful or adulterated.

Three Steps on the Path of the Mysteries

My occult life may be divided into three unequal portions. In the days of my early studies I knew nothing whatever of the Qabalah; I hadn’t even heard the name. At the age of twenty-one I entered a G.D. Temple and there I put on the mantle of a Qabalist; I became for a time a die-hard, died-in-the-wool exponent of Qabalah. Twenty years later, my primary Inner Plane Contact suggested that I forsake Qabalism, offering sound and rational reasons why it would be beneficial for me to do so. I explained what I had been asked to do to an occultist friend and her response was that she could never under any circumstances abandon the Qabalah. She would not, she said, be in a position to orient herself if all the familiar landmarks were removed.

Frankly, I felt much the same. But my IPC had put forward the suggestion and I therefore felt it my duty at least to give it serious consideration. At this point, one of Aleister Crowley’s reminiscences floated up into my conscious mind, something to the effect that the Qabalah is a ladder by which the occult student may ascend to a certain psycho-spiritual vantage point, but that once that vantage point was gained, in Crowley’s opinion, the ladder should be kicked away. Curious to know what would happen if those circumstances were invoked, I kicked out at the ladder . . . and became a lapsed Qabalist – albeit one freighted with a solid comprehension of Qabalistic lore.

Before I joined the G.D., I had had three great loves: magick, astrology and the tarot. Cutting my ties with the Qabalah made not one speck of difference to my attitude to magick and astrology. It did, however, transform my relationship with the tarot. First and foremost, it freed the Trumps from the Paths of the Tree of Life, and from the Hebrew letters and their esoteric associations. It also freed the Trumps from their G.D. ordering. I no longer had to accept The Fool as leader of the Trumps, nor Strength as Trump 8 and Justice as Trump 11. This realization led to further insights that I have neither the time nor the space to go into here.

I was free to explore, unencumbered by GD preconceptions concerning the tarot, a method explained by Papus whereby the twenty-one numbered Trumps are considered as three septenaries, or groups of seven cards, with the Fool separated from these septenaries, a factor distinct in a number of ways from the rest of the tarot deck. I also experimented with the Naples Arrangement (see The Tarot For Today by Mayananda, 1963) in which the Trumps are set out in a circle, making the Fool both the beginning and the end of the sequence of Trumps, an idea much loved by the British occultist Madeline Montalban. Slowly a different understanding of the tarot started to build up, and another method of using the Trumps for guided visualizations was developed that was not the same as the Path-workings D.F. speaks of in The Mystical Qabalah but which yielded results nevertheless.

However, one thing I want to make clear is that, in divorcing myself from the Qabalah, I was in no way repudiating it. The Qabalistic system affords an effective blueprint for the training of an Adept, and I will be forever grateful for the esoteric grounding it gave me. At the same time, it is well to remember that Qabalah is but one system among many. Indeed, it should be borne in mind that there are a number of competing Qabalistic training systems in existence besides the plethora of non-Qabalistic ones. Judging from what I have seen, all do the job they set out to do.

The Qabalistic schools fulfill a need, but not every mind finds Qabalistic training congenial. It is not a Path for all. Thankfully there are other mystery schools available to those who are tuned to a wavelength other than the Qabalistic one. The sincere seeker will always find her- or himself led to the training method appropriate to her/his temperament – though the quest itself can on occasion take the form of a minor initiatory experience.