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The High Priestess, Bisbee Tarot

One reader of the blog, Giovanni, has come back to me with the information that the Tarot Trump I wanted more information on is from the Bisbee Tarot. More about the deck can be found here:

Many thanks to Giovanni.

                                Tony Willis

The Second Principle, Part 2

by Tony Willis

At this stage of our exploration of the Occult Tarot, it is worth pausing for a moment to plot the changes made to the image on Trump 2 from the Popesses of the Milanese Visconti-Sforza decks of the early fifteenth-century to the Waite-Smith-High-Priestess clones found in so many twenty-first-century tarots.

2_papessa_fournier      2t tdm

My first illustration is the Popess from the Sforza-Fournier deck. The figure is indisputably a female Pope – a woman in nun-like robes, wearing the distinctive papal triple-tiara over a white wimple. She is seated on a dais, a tapestry or patterned wall behind her. In her right hand she holds a long staff topped by an equal-armed cross. With her left hand she clasps a closed book. There is nothing written on the cover of the book; for all we know it could be a bible. This is a far cry from the Waite-Smith High Priestess. It is instructive to track down how the transformation came about.

The French occultists who took up the tarot worked with the Tarot de Marseille as their model. They accepted Court de Gébelin’s proposition that the Marseille deck was a direct descendant of the Egyptian Book of Thoth. Over the passage of almost two millennia, so they believed, the loose leaves of this pharaonic tome had survived with its images relatively intact but misunderstood and misinterpreted by the masses who were using them to play games of chance with. Our next object of study must, therefore, be the Tarot de Marseille Popess.

Again we have a straightforward representation of a female pope crowned with a papal tiara. Like the Sforza-Fournier Popess, she is not veiled. On the Marseille card, however, her book lies open on her lap. Behind her hangs a piece of cloth that would appear to be held in place by two clasps or nails high above her and outside the scope of the illustration.

Eliphas Levi, prime mover of the French occult revival, accepted the Tarot de Marseille cards as a starting point for further investigation into the tarot’s esoteric dimensions. Accordingly, he ‘revised’ or ‘improved’ the designs of one or two Trumps but, as he didn’t ‘rectify’ the image on Trump 2, his opinions need not detain us at this juncture. When Papus published his Tarot of the Bohemians, he included two versions of each Trump. One was the appropriate card from the Marseille tarot, the other a re-drawing of the Marseille illustration done by Oswald Wirth. Wirth made significant, if subtle, changes to the design of the Popess card. While she remains a recognizable female Pope, Wirth draws a lunar crescent at the summit of her tiara. Drapery falls from the tiara on either side of her face. This detail is present in the Sforza-Fournier and Marseille cards but is not as noticeable there as it is in Wirth’s design. His Popess wears two sashes that cross on her chest, a little below the breasts, though you may have to look closely to see them.

PapusWirth02     Arcane-Arcana-02-papesse-high-priestess

Wirth’s Popess holds a book in her left hand. It is partly open and she seems to mark her place in it by the insertion of finger. In her other hand are two keys, crossed, though not in the broad ‘X’ formation usual for two keys when presented as the insignia of St Peter, who, according to legend, was the first Pope. Wirth’s Popess sits between two pillars, a veil stretched between them, held up by two rings attached to the capitals of the pillars. At her feet is a chequered pavement, resembling a chess board.

Later on, Wirth further revised his designs, making them more explicitly esoteric. In the more recent colored rendering of Trump 2, one of the Popess’s pillars is red, the other blue, the veil between them being white. One of her keys is gold and the other silver. The Yin-Yang symbol is imprinted on the cover of the book she holds. The introduction of the pillars and chequer-work floor onto this card are suggestive of Freemasonry. The furniture of a Masonic Lodge include a pair of pillars and a carpet or floor-cloth marked with black and white squares and said to represent the paved interior of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, usually referred to as the First Temple.

2t Egyptian Tarot       2 b of light

Seven years after the publication of The Tarot of the Bohemians, in 1896 the first ‘Egyptian tarot’ was published: the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana redrawn in a quasi-Egyptian style. The ‘reforms’, along with a set of new names for the Trumps, were taken from works be a one-time student of Eliphas Levi who used the nom de plume Paul Christian. In M. Christian’s opinion, Trump 2 was known to the Egyptians as The Gate of the Sanctuary and the seated female figure is guardian of that gateway. She is no longer a female Pope but has become a Priestess. However, she continues to be crowned with a papal tiara, though now there is a crescent moon at its top. One text explains the symbolism in this way: “The tiara upon her head is the emblem of the power of intelligence lighted up by wisdom represented by the crescent.” The motif of intelligence is adverted to again by the sigil for Mercury on the priestess’s chest, evidently affixed to her robe. A veil covers the upper portion of her face and a patterned cloak is draped over her right shoulder. The scroll spread out on her lap is partly obscured by her cloak which falls across it. She sits between two pillars, necessarily so as she is now vaunted as the guardian of the gate to the sanctuary: the Sforza-Fournier and Marseille Popesses do not have pillars at their backs, but the priestess of the ‘Egyptian’ tarot must, so as to underscore the function Paul Christian has assigned to her. In one colored version of the card, the pillars are painted red and white. In penny-pain versions, the pillars are presented in simple black and white. No veil is suspended between the pillars.

In 1910, Papus published Le Tarot Divinatoire (known in English as The Tarot of Divination) illustrated with tarot card designs executed by Gabriel Goulinat. While Goulinat’s Trump 2 is named La Papesse, she no longer bears any resemblance to a female pope. She wears a headdress emphasizing three lunar phases, waxing, full, and waning, and a veil falls over the top half of her face. Her robe is pale violet. There is a symbol on her chest colored yellow or gold. It is difficult to make out what the symbol is. It is possibly a solar cross, another addition suggested by Paul Christian. One text informs us that the solar cross is “emblematic of universal generation”. The scroll on the knees of this popess/priestess is partly unrolled and also partly obscured by the sleeve of her robe. The pillars before which she is seated are red and blue in the colored version of the card. There is a white veil stretched between the pillars. Goulinat’s card is a model for all Popesses, Priestesses and High Priestesses that follow.

Arcane-Arcana-02-papesse-high-priestess         2 knapp hall

The Revised New Art Tarot created by J. Augustus Knapp under the direction of Manly Palmer Hall was published in 1929. It was later reissued as the Knapp-Hall Tarot and it is by that name that the deck is best known today. The card continues to bear the name La Papesse but the design has more in common with the Waite-Smith interpretation of Trump 2 than it does the Tarot de Marseille’s Popess. Given the date of publication, it is possible that Hall had seen the Waite-Smith cards, which came out in 1910. However, as is apparent from Gabriel Goulinat’s design, French occult tarots were at this time moving away from depictions of a Popess and favoring symbolism more suitable to a Priestess of a pagan pantheon.

Like the Goulinat representation, the Knapp-Hall Popess is kitted out with a papal tiara surmounted by a lunar crescent. A white veil covers half her face. On her pale blue robe there is the sigil for Mercury at chest height. Her cloak is white, trimmed with gold. White and blue, be it noted, become almost the de rigueur colors for High Priestess’s vestments in tarots following the Waite-Smith tradition. On the Knapp-Hall card the pillars are dark and light grey in color. The veil between them is red and opaque. The book the Popess holds in her left hand is closed. In her right hand she carries the two keys we have become familiar with, one gold, one silver. As on the Wirth card, the keys are crossed but not as the keys of St Peter’s insignia are. Also in keeping with Wirth’s symbolism, there is a chequered floor at the Popess’s feet. The finials on her throne are in the form of owls, the bird sacred to Athena, goddess of wisdom.

The Waite-Smith tarot, first published in 1910, names Trump 2 The High Priestess. The woman on the card wears a headdress representing the three lunar phases, as on Goulinat’s Papesse card (see above). True to her new title, she is very much a priestess and can in no way be construed as a female Pope. In Pamela Coleman Smith’s illustration, the High Priestess’s face is not covered, as the woman’s face on the ‘Egyptian’ tarot card is. Instead, a white veil falls from her crown either side of her face. Her robe is white, her cloak pale blue. At her feet, the robe might be dissolving into water. She bears a white equal-armed cross on her chest and she is seated on a stone cube. There is a crescent moon at her feet on her left, the viewer’s right. At her back are two pillars. The one to her right is black with the letter B painted on it in white. The one on her left is white and has a black letter J painted on it. A veil is hung between the pillars bearing an arrangement of green palm leaves and red pomegranates, the latter distributed so as to hint that they are describing the layout of the spheres of the Qabalistic Tree of Life, the lower part of the veil being obscured by the High Priestess’s body. The scroll on her lap is partly unrolled and in part it is covered over by a portion of her cloak. It has the word TORA on it in capital letters. This word has been interpreted as a reference to the first five books of the Old Testament, known in Judaism as the Torah, and as an anagram of Taro, or Tarot, if one is allowed to use the letter T twice.

r-w priestess 2        mouni-02

The pictures of tarot Trumps used to illustrate Mouni Sadhu’s book The Tarot: A Contemporary Course of the Quintessence of Hermetic Occultism were drawn by Eva G. Lucas some time between 1948 and 1962. They are a fusion of elements found in the Oswald Wirth and the Waite-Smith tarots with the occasional additions of features suggested by Paul Christian.

Mouni Sadhu tells us that “the vulgar name” for the card “is ‘the Priestess’,” and that is how the illustration presents her. As on the Waite-Smith card, Mouni Sadhu’s Priestess wears a headdress referencing the three lunar phases of waxing, full, and waning. As on the Wirth card, the upper half of her face is veiled. A broach in the form of a solar cross acts as the clasp to her cloak, a detail taken from Paul Christian, as previously noted. She holds a partly open book in her right hand as she does in the Wirth tarot. Her left hand is empty. The pillars to her rear are colored red and blue in one version of the image. There is a Sun on top of the one pillar and a Moon above the other. As with the ‘Egyptian’ tarot, there is no veil between the pillars. At the priestess feet is a tessellated floor, all its squares white, not decorated so as to resemble a chess board.

The High Priestess from the B.O.T.A. tarot (drawn under the supervision of Paul Foster Case) is a re-envisioning of the Waite-Smith illustration with a few minor adjustments. The crescent moon placed by Pamela Coleman Smith at the High Priestess’s feet has disappeared and her headdress is presented somewhat differently. The capitals of the pillars on the B.O.T.A. card have the form of lotus buds and their bases are cubes, which on the Waite card they are not. While the letters on the pillars remain B and J, they are now in Hebrew rather than in the Latin alphabet.

The main facts for the student to take on board at this juncture are that the woman on Trump 2 has been transformed from a female Pope into a pagan priestess and that, rather incongruously, the space around her is now firmly identified as the entrance to King Solomon’s Temple. On the continent, where in some areas the game of tarot continues to be played using Tarot de Marseille-type decks, tarots still have a Popess in the pack, but elsewhere in the world it is the High Priestess, under that name or some other, who reigns supreme.

BOTA HPS       mmTarot 02

The Trump cards of the B.O.T.A. deck were used as illustrations for Paul Foster Case’s The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages (Macoy Publishing Co.) when the book was published in 1947. A little prior to that, in 1935, the Thomson-Leng tarot was issued in the UK. The designs for this pack represent a fusion of ideas taken from the Waite-Smith cards on the one hand and from the French occultist Eudes Picard on the other. In this deck, Trump 2 is named The Great Priestess, suggesting that the artist, who was plainly also an esotericist, had studied tarot from the perspective of the French occultism, for in French the card is sometimes called La Grandpretresse, literally ‘Great Priestess’. The picture on the Thomson-Leng card resembles the Waite-Smith High Priestess; her headdress has been redrawn and the symbolism of the veil between the pillars distorted (the artist was evidently no Qabalist), but the close relationship between the two images is obvious. The two pillars of the Thomson-Leng card are not differentiated in any way. However, the Priestess has a scroll on her lap with the letters TORA written on it, although the word is hardly discernable, and the scroll is partly unrolled and partly hidden by the High Priestess’s robe, exactly as depicted on the Waite-Smith image for Trump 2. The Thomson-Leng deck is printed using a limited palette of colors; this may account for its Great Priestess wearing a red, rather than a blue, cloak, although it appears to have been the artist’s decision to color the solar cross on the lady’s breast, which on the Waite-Smith card is white. The half-hidden scroll with the word TORA on it and the cross on the Priestess’s chest both come from the Waite-Smith tarot.

In the recent modern tarot designed by Theofanus Abba, the representation of the t2 alk trtHigh Priestess is named ‘Isis’. Abba’s Alchemical Tarot is an occult tarot in the continental tradition. His Trump 2 is essentially the earlier Wirth image redrawn apart from the way Abba has elected to depict the veil between the pillars. The Priestess’s robe is blue and spangled with stars. She wears no cloak and while folds of red material fall from her triple tiara, they do not cover her face, although a white, sheer veil does, obscuring it completely. An owl, the totem of Athena, is perched on her left wrist. On the arm of her throne is the carving of a face possibly representing a bewigged judge or lawyer. (English barristers and judges wear such wigs to this day.) As already remarked, the main difference between this image and Wirth’s is that the veil between the pillars is here patterned with a series of concentric circles in an array of colors.

Occult tarots of the twenty-first-century continue to depict the woman on Trump 2 as a Priestess figure, the Popess of the early tarots all but forgotten now in esoteric circles. A faint echo of the Popess’s presence sometimes remains, as it does in Abba’s illustration, when the Priestess is depicted wearing a papal tiara, but otherwise the fact that she once existence is all but erased from modern occult tarots.

It seems as though at least one new tarot deck comes out every year nowadays. But for a long time now I haven’t seen any that I would consider an Occult Tarot. Some of these decks are works of art – I call them Art Tarots – but they add nothing to the tarot student’s understanding of the esoteric tarot. Even the most inventive packs tend to have illustrations that are essentially restatements of the divinatory meanings that have been assigned to the cards, particularly the spots, by common consent as a result of study of the Waite-Smith designs.

old english trt 3 coins        pentacles 3

Take the Old English Tarot’s 3 of Coins, for instance. In the foreground, if you look hard enough, you can see a man laboring in an orchard. He looks to be pruning one of the trees. This image is just another way representing the ‘story’ told on the Waite-Smith 3 of Pentacles, where a stone-mason is working on the arch of some palatial or ecclesiastical building. A quick check on the Net leads me to these attributes for the 3 of Pentacles: hard work, determination, dedication and commitment. Another website gives the significance of the card as: Excellence and success acquired through productive teamwork or simply by being industrious. “It relates directly to being a master of your trade and great career accomplishments,” this text continues. Most of the meanings quoted for the 3 of Pentacles could be applied to the Old English Tarot’s 3 of Coins if one is “reading the picture on the card”. The one meaning that cannot be extracted from the OET design is “teamwork”. It is a meaning that crops up a lot on other websites I consulted. It comes about because people have “read the picture” on the Waite-Smith card, observed that it depicts a workman and two other men apparently holding the plans of the building, and interpreted this image as a symbolic representation of teamwork. The OET’s card is the depiction of a lone worker. Those tarotists who “read the picture” therefore lose the meaning “teamwork” when using the Old English Tarot deck, it becomes inaccessible to them; but they get to hang on to “hard work, determination, commitment, etc.” Here, once again, we see demonstrated one of the prime rules of Occult Tarot: If you change the picture on a card you will alter the way people interpret that card.

Modern versions of the High Priestess are often, to my mind, of great artistic merit but superficial in their symbolisms. Key points are omitted from the design while others, though present, are downgraded in importance. Below are examples of the Trump 2 card from three Steampunk tarots.

2t steampunk1  2t steampunk2  2t steampunk3

In the first, the pillars are depicted as cogs and gears affixed to metal shafts. The symbolism of the High Priestess’s headdress has been relocated to the foot of a crystal ball near the bottom of the card. Tarot cards replace the TARO scroll and a stray lock of hair, rather than a veil, falls over part of the lady cartomancer’s pretty face. This card is a re-envisioning of the Waite-Smith High Priestess design, but the second example card has been given the minimalist treatment. In it the High Priestess has become a robotic nun and renamed “Samaritan”.

The third card in the set has been endowed with the most inventive symbolism. Behind the female figure is a gigantic crescent moon “laying on its back”, in the form it has when placed atop the Popess’s tiara in continental Occult Tarots. The two keys that so often feature on continental versions of the card have made a comeback and double as the pillars, the letters ‘B’ and ‘J’ visible in the hoops of their handles. The mechanism that is almost obligatory on Steampunk tarots has been relegated to the foot of the image. The veil of the Temple has gone, the TORA scroll has gone, the symbolism of the Priestess’s robe turning to water has gone, and the figure on the card is standing, not sitting.

The simplicity of the High Priestess from the Whimsical Tarot (the first card below) is to be admired as is the ingenuity of the design on the card lying next to it. I don’t know which tarot this card is from. If anyone could enlighten me, I would be most grateful. I assume the High Priestess on this card is modeled on the actress Angela Lansbury in her role as amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher, an appropriate embodiment of what Trump 2 represents: a woman of knowledge and insight able to ferret out the secrets of others. This illustration, like that of the first of the Steampunk High Priestesses above, is Pamela Coleman Smith’s design redrawn. As with the second and third Steampunk High Priestesses, the woman in the final example card is standing, and in making that change the artist loses a detail that was of vital importance to the first generation of occultists to study the tarot.

2t plain simple2        2t modern trt

French occultists of the nineteenth-century occult revival made use of the symbolism of the Tarot de Marseille deck, the only tarot deck of which they were aware, drawing conclusions from the imagery they found there. Thus the pictures on Trumps 1 and 2 were thought to highlight the distinctions between the potencies of the numbers One (Unity) and Two (Duality). It was quickly noticed that The Popess of the Marseille Tarot is a seated, female, sacerdotal figure in stark contrast with that deck’s representation of the preceding card, there called The Juggler (Bateleur in French). He is the antithesis of the Popess, seeing that he is depicted as a standing, male, secular figure, the opposite in every sense of the lady depicted on Trump 2.

1t tdm          2t tdm

I have spoken at length about the Popess/High Priestess card for the simple reason that it is not possible to properly comprehend the principle of the Dyad without comparing it with the Monad. We learn more about both the Monad and the Dyad by comparing them to one another than we would learn from studying each of them separately. The Popess from the Occult Tarots, and even more so Waite and Case’s High Priestesses, are unmistakably lunar cards. If Trump 2 is the symbolic mate of Trump 1, then it follows that the Magician/Juggler must have some kind of solar connection. However, the Sun in not represented overtly on Trump 1. In place of a solar sigil, or an image of the actual sun, we find the infinity sign. The mystic meaning of this symbol is that it references “the Sun behind the Sun”, a term implying God, or the Original Energy that existed before the Created universe as we experience it came into being. As Paracelsus wrote:

“There is an earthly sun, which is the cause of all heat, and all who are able to see may see the sun; and those who are blind and cannot see him may feel his heat. There is [also] an Eternal Sun, which is the source of all wisdom, and those whose spiritual sense have awakened to life will see that sun and be conscious of His existence; but those who have not attained spiritual consciousness may yet feel His power by an inner faculty which is called Intuition.”

Quoted by Manly P. Hall in The Secret Teachings of All Ages, 1928, p. 51.

Artists who present the High Priestess as standing are losing one of the points of contrast between Trumps 1 and 2 that were of great importance to occultists of the nineteenth-century. I am saddened by such changes of symbolism, although I recognized that, in today’s tarot community, I am in the minority – and that it might be a minority of one!

The Second Principle, Part 1

by Tony Willis    

Occultism has special names for the numbers One and Two. One is called the Monad (from the root ‘mono’, meaning ‘single’). Two is called the Dyad or Duad (from the same root as ‘dual’). The first principle presented to the would-be initiate by the tarot Trumps is that of Unity, as previously discussed. The second principle, indicated by the Popess or High Priestess, is that of Duality, the Dyad, and is a somewhat more complex concept. To begin with, the Dyad can be viewed in two ways. It can be seen as the opposite of the Monad or as its complement. Both aspects are embodied in the Roman numeral for Two, in which the symbol for One is repeated: II.

Occultism teaches that all matter – from its invisible and immaterial expression to its later appearance in a form apprehendable by the five senses – is nothing other than an elaborate display of the dyadic principle in action. In other words, that which is generally termed ‘the material world’ is merely a manifestation of the dyadic principle.

This second occult principle, the Dyad, gave birth to what Taoist philosophy poetically calls ‘the ten thousand things’, or what the Bible refers to as ‘Creation’. Biblically speaking, at first there was God, immortal, invisible and alone; then God said ‘Let there be Light’. At God’s command Light came into being and God separated the Light from the Darkness. At a later stage, God made the sun to rule the day (Light) and the moon to rule the night (Darkness). That is why, in some esoteric tarots, one of the Priestess’s pillars has a Sun perched on top of it while the other has a Moon in the same position.

mouni-02         targom02

The figure on Trump 1 is male; the figure on Trump 2 is female. The Magician, as a representation of the first of the occult principles is symbolized by the Sun; the High Priestess as a representation of the second occult principle, is symbolized by the Moon. The solar nature of the Magician is indicated only obliquely even in esoteric tarot packs. It is hinted at by the infinity sign (a figure 8 on its side ) suggested by the way the brim of his large hat is depicted in Tarot de Marseille-type tarots. In later tarots it becomes clearly visible, no longer hinted at. The B.O.T.A. Magician is an example of this development. The infinity sign links Trump 1 to the western concept of God and the idea that He was always present, even before the event the Jewish and Christian faiths name the Creation. The High Priestess is more definitely identified with the Moon in esoteric decks by the appearance of a crescent moon somewhere on the card, usually topping off her headdress, though sometimes lodged at her feet, resting against one of her legs or caught up in the hem of her garment.

PapusWirth02       r-w priestess 2

This way of looking at the first two Trumps associates The Magician with the male principle in nature and the High Priestess with its female principle. Building on this idea, early on in the nineteenth century revival of occult knowledge, tarot enthusiasts associated the Magician with the male inquirer and the High Priestess with the female inquirer. If you study nineteenth-century literature on tarot you will find this notion referred to many times. Papus assigns exactly these meanings to the first two Trumps in his The Tarot of the Bohemians (p. 316).

In esoteric tarots the High Priestess is depicted seated between two pillars. Generally, the pillars are distinguished one from the other. French occultists tended to color one red and the other blue. Red equates with Fire and solar energy; blue equates with Water and lunar energy – the Sun and Moon motif again. At other times one pillar is white and the other grey. A.E. Waite, in the Waite-Smith deck, has them colored white and black, and here the reference is to the Light and the Darkness of the account of Creation given in the first chapter of the biblical Book of Genesis. The majority of modern tarots follow Waite and Smith in this.

However the difference is presented, the accent is upon two opposing forces, exemplifying the esoteric teaching that “there is nothing in existence in which opposition is not present.” Yet, at the same time, another teaching is that within the Cosmos “there is a combination and unification of disagreeing parts and a harmony of things naturally at war.” How that “harmony of things naturally at war” can be brought about artificially, through human intervention, is part of Sacred Mysteries, entrusted to students of the mystery schools in the higher degrees. Without human assistance, Nature will Herself produce this harmony over time. One has only to look at the cycles She has initiated to recognize that fact. The seasons form a cycle – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. The moon’s phases pass through a cycle, too, from the crescent of the new moon, to quarter moon, and full moon, the waning quarter moon, the moon’s disappearance, to be followed by her rebirth as a new moon once again. Cycles are everywhere in Nature, if you care to look for them.

With human aid, Nature’s aims can be brought to fruition more rapidly and in a smoother, more efficient fashion, for, left to Her own devices, Nature’s approach to the work is of the rough and ready kind. Humanity’s destined role was to cooperate with Nature and help Her in Her efforts, to assist Her in the fulfilment of Her ends. In the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries, humankind focused to an ever greater extent on its own desires, and often those desires entailed mastering Nature, turning Her to our ends, and profiting from Her, rather than helping Her to attain Her ends. Because of this, harmony in the realm of Nature on planet Earth has been lost and the “things naturally at war” have not been held in check. Heat battles against cold and lands previously temperate are nowadays suffering blisteringly hot summers and freezing cold winters. Either that or April and May are unseasonably warm while high summer plays out more like early spring, with autumn and winter likewise respectively over-cold and mild in defiance of the previously settled order of things.

The archetypal opposing forces, which Taoist philosophy names Yin and Yang, are always in motion, forever subject to change. That is the lesson taught to students starting out on the Path to Occult Knowledge when the symbolism of the second card of the Major Arcana is explained to them. This explanation comes with an objective and an assurance. The objective is expressed in this way: “The work of the adept is to find a balanced point within the motion of Yin and Yang, for the purpose of creating and sustaining harmony in the world.” The assurance is that, through diligence and discipline, the trainee adept can forge within themselves the ability that will allow them to play an active part in maintaining balance and order in the universe. How does the fully fledged adept achieve this great undertaking? At this stage of the neophyte’s esoteric career, the answer to that question is best summed up in the words of St Francis of Assisi. “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you will find yourself doing the impossible.”

At the start of their study of all things esoteric, neophytes are instructed to carry out the first of St Francis’s injunctions and to do what is necessary on the material plane: to feed themselves, to keep themselves clean, to practice order in their home lives, to be honorable in all their dealings with their fellow humans, and in their interactions with the world of Nature. If you, reader, have been sending love to all humanity on a daily basis since reading the first article in this series, then you are ready to take the next step and do what is necessary. In the world around you, what is necessary will make itself known to you. A child, absorbed in her own thoughts, is about to step off the sidewalk into traffic – it is necessary that you reach out a hand and wake her from her reverie.

Taken as two separate things, the occult energy that esotericists maintain is personified by the High Priestess is given the names Yin and Yang by some mystery schools. By others it is called Positive and Negative, the analogy being electro-magnetism. At other times it is given titles such as Father and Mother, and as we have seen, in this context it may be awarded the symbols of the Sun and Moon. Taken as one thing, this energy can be likened to the Tao itself. The Tao contains within it both Yin and Yang, as the symbol for the Tao illustratesyinyang. That the Yin and Yang are in motion is denoted by the appearance they have in the symbol, where they seem to be swirling, each of them pushing against the other resulting in what appears to be a circular motion. That they are not ultimately inimical is shown by the dot of Light within the Yin half of the symbol and the dot of Darkness within the Yang half. Each holds within itself the seed of the other; Yin continually gives birth to Yang, and Yang to Yin, the proportion of one to other determining the energetic state of the World at any given moment. The trainee occultist must first learn how to calculate what that energetic state is for a particular person or situation, and then how to deal with it: when to push it forward, when to restrain it, and most important of all, when to leave it to its own devices. This is a great undertaking and not surprisingly therefore a genuine occult training is a lengthy and onerous business.

The occult energy personified by the High Priestess and named in the Far East as the Tao, is called in the West the Prima Materia, the First Matter. It can be compared to a completely fluid and pliant substance. Out of it evolve the Taoists’ “ten thousand things”, the created universe of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. In the Bible story of the Creation, God works upon the Prima Materia to produce Light and Darkness, the earth, the heavens, seas and rivers, and the animals, insects, birds and marine creatures that populate them. As we have learnt from our study of Trump 1, the human mind has much in common with the mind of God. If the mind of God can work upon the Prima Materia it follows that the human mind can do so as well. That is the basis of what today is commonly called ‘magick’. On only the second step of their journey of discovery, the neophytes are not yet in a position to manipulate the Prima Materia themselves. They are taught about it at this stage because the need to know of its existence, just as, on the first step of the journey, they needed to know that God existed. They will return to both these concepts by and by, and review them from a variety of perspectives. But for the present these basic concepts must be accepted as, at the very least, working hypotheses or the teachings that are to come will make no sense at all to the neophytes as they take further steps along the Path of occult knowledge.

In Pythagorean philosophy, the first and highest principles appear to equal the numbers 1 and 2. Quite apart from that equivalence, however, the two principles are called the One and the Many. The second of these, the Many, is, of itself, able to bring about division. The One is the paternal monad, while the Many is the mother of divine numbers, presenting us with a father-mother dynamic. To the Pythagorean mind, One and Two stand apart from the myriad of numbers they give birth to. The teachings of many occult schools depend upon this view of One and Two even where the school makes no open declaration of the fact. Our view of numbers today is radically removed from the view Pythagoras had of them. One and Two are indisputably numbers so far as mathematicians are concerned and that is what is taught in schools. There is a case to be made for claiming that zero is a number: binary mathematics operates with only two factors, a one and a zero; if the one and the zero have equal force, while representing opposite qualities, presence and non-presence, then zero can be considered a number alongside one.

While true for the mathematician, to some extent, these concepts have to be put aside by the aspiring student of occultism simply because in magickal philosophy One and Two are treated differently at times to all the other numbers that they are imagined as symbolically giving birth to. So as far as occultism is concerned, from one angle, the Dyad is the Monad split in two. From another, the Dyad is the Monad’s reflection, holding the same relation to it as the Moon holds to the Sun. The two pillars on the High Priestess card represent the Monad sundered in twain so as to create two distinct qualities. The presence of the Sun and Moon on the card, or of the pillars being given colors such as red and blue or white and black, is a reference to the complimentary natures of these two qualities.

bota trump 02       2t Egyptian Tarot

At the highest level of interpretation, the Magician stands for the Will of God and the High Priestess for the Prima Materia, the primitive form of pre-matter upon the Will of God acts to produce the whole of the created universe in both its visible and invisible aspects. Beyond the High Priestess, figuratively speaking, lie the mysteries of Creation. If the student is permitted to pass by her seated form and proceed through the entrance way she guards, many wonders await. To gain her approval, the student must be able to name this guardian of the sanctuary, name the High Priestess herself. It used to be taught, and rightly, that the key to entry to the inner sanctum of initiation was to answer the question “Why do you seek out this knowledge?” with the words, “I seek to know in order to serve.” That response, now being widely known, has become a formulaic response, a mantra recited automatically by the candidate for initiation with no real understanding of what it means. Today, the required answer is something else . . . and yet it is the same. When you can solve that conundrum, you are free to move on, to stand between the pillars, and wait for the veil hung at their farther side to part.

02 church light

Many esoteric decks present the High Priestess in the guise of Isis. Trump number 2 may even bear the name Isis or, more probably, Veiled Isis. The distinctive headdress she is shown wearing in several occult tarots has been identified by Court de Gébelin with that worn by Isis during the Féte des Pampylies, at which she is reunited with the resurrected Osiris. This is Isis as Mistress of Magick, the female counterpart of Thoth. However, the High Priestess on Trump 2 is not Isis; that persona is but a mask. I have scattered enough clues. From what I have said, you, reader, can work out the High Priestess’s name, if you have not done so already.

02 II       thoth HPS 02

Principle #1

by Tony Willis    

One of the simplest and most effective ways of imagining the interaction of the visible and invisible worlds is to picture them divided into three zones set one above the other. In the West, these zones are at times described as the metaphysical world, the world of incarnation, and the world of matter; or they may be named: the world of Spirit, the world of human beings, and the world of Matter. In the Far East, they were more poetically called the realms of Heaven, Humankind, and Earth. According to this analogy, Heaven stands above the others, and Earth below, with the world of human beings situated in the middle. Implicit in this arrangement is the fact that a human being has the capacity, when properly prepared, to perform the function of mediator between Heaven and Earth. The diagram below lays out the positioning of the three zones together with the names they are given in Western and Eastern thought.

Western Occultism


The metaphysical world of Spirit


The world of incarnation – i.e. the human world


The elemental world of Matter


Human beings have, as it were, a foot in both worlds. They possess physical bodies but also, not just a mind, but a particular type of consciousness distinct from all other forms of consciousness found on planet Earth; a consciousness capable of reaching up into the world of Spirit. This consciousness is by some designated the soul and by others the psyche (from the Greek word for soul).

The first numbered card of the Major Arcana (variously titled the Magician and the Juggler), emblemizes this state of affairs. The figure depicted on the card is a human being, representative of us all. On the Marseille Tarot version of the card, one of his hands is raised up, wielding the magick wand by means of which the Higher Powers are invoked. His other hand, holding a coin, symbolic of the world of matter, is sited lower down the card, below his waist. The one hand reaches up toward Heaven, the other is directed downward toward Earth. A similar arrangement is found on the Waite-Smith card.

1t tdm     RWS-Tarot-Magician-01

Unity in the Three Worlds

Whether we name the card Magician or Juggler, Trump 1 represents the principle of Unity. This principle can be summed up in the phrase ‘All is One’. However, these expressions are encapsulations of the principle not explanations of it. They are helpful mnemonics for anyone familiar with the principle but for the novice in these matters they are frequently meaningless, or worse still they lead beginners to project their own wrong-headed ideas onto established terminology.

The Magician card symbolizes Unity in each of the three worlds. In the world of Spirit, it denotes the Original Energy, the Self-Existing One. In the West, most religiously-inclined people name it God. The Greek philosophers of old called it the First Cause. Theosophist and astrologer Alan Leo describes it as “the Absolute, God unmanifested, the source of all”. (Esoteric Astrology, Alan Leo, p. xviii (Destiny Books, USA, 1983), p. 1.) In the world of Matter, it denotes the Cosmos, the whole physical plane containing our Earth, our solar system and all the other solar systems that comprise the material universe. The word ‘universe’ is used loosely today. Strictly speaking there can only be one universe, as the prefix ‘uni’ implies.

In the intermediate world of Soul, the Magician card denotes humankind, that singular creature who alone in all the world, so far as we are aware, is in possession of a consciousness capable of reaching up to the world of Spirit and at the same time down (or outward, if you prefer) into world of Matter, and to understand the latter in ways that other life-forms on planet Earth do not. As the psychologist C.G. Jung wrote: “the only equivalent of the universe within is the universe without; and just as I reach this world through the medium of the body, so I reach that world through the medium of the psyche.” Or, to put it another way: Knowing ourselves leads to understanding the world around us, and in turn, knowledge of the world leads to greater comprehension of the self. Exploration in both directions is required. To proceed in any other way leads to unbalanced progress, a truth of which Jung was well aware. It is a state of affairs to which the current situation on Earth amply attests, with, on the one hand, climate change threatening disaster for the human race, and on the other, corvid-19 decimating the population.

The world around us in both its visible and invisible manifestations is, by occultists, called the Macrocosm – the Great Cosmos. The individual human being they call the Microcosm. A human being is, they claim, a Cosmos in miniature. The microcosm is a mirror of the macrocosm, formed in its likeness. This is how occultists interpret the Biblical statement, “So God created man [Adam] in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them [humankind].”

1 knapp hall     BOTA Mag

The Three Aspects of Unity

Esotericism considers every human being to be unique, like the universe, and God, the First Cause, is also One. This is the first aspect of the principle of Unity. The second is that each human being is a psychophysical unity. The terminology employed makes it clear that humans possess a physical dimension, a body, but also a psychic dimension, a soul. The third aspect of the principle of Unity is: All souls are part of the Universal Soul. Occultists of every country the world over have been investigating the links between the visible and invisible worlds, the worlds of Matter and Spirit, for more than three thousand years. They have come to certain conclusions that as a beginner one has to take on trust, just as a child accepts that, at the press of a button, their laptop springs into life without having the faintest idea of what electricity is or how wi-fi works. But the propositions of the occultists can be proved, subjectively at any rate. And the student of Occult Tarot is encouraged to seek out such proof themselves.

In the current age, anyone wishing to join a mystery school has only to apply for membership. Certain mystery schools advertise their presence and solicit applications; entry at the neophyte level is practically guaranteed. This was not the way of things back in the time of pharaonic Egypt. Candidates for instruction in the mysteries were carefully selected, their behavior observed for months, even years, before they were invited into the temple and given their first initiation. Then began a lengthy, arduous training that not everyone managed to complete. That is the stark truth behind the saying “many are called but few are chosen.”

Memorializing Unity

One of the first tasks set for those intent on making progress in a school of the instituted mysteries even today is that they perform an act of faith. This act is an outward and visible expression of the teaching that All is One. Some schools ask that the neophyte performs three daily salutations, one in the morning upon rising, the second at noon, and the third in the evening before sleep. These salutations link the individual carrying them out to the Original Energy through contemplation of Its symbol in the heavens, the Sun, nurturer of all life on Earth. It is only one way of forming this connection.

Another is the method we will follow. If you desire to set out on the road leading to the Doors of the Mysteries, I invite you to carry out this simple exercise once a day. Remember that in the great scheme of things All is One. At another level, you are a human being and all human beings are one, which is to say, you are part of a collective. The third manifestation of the principle of Unity is “all souls are part of the Universal Soul”. You, the seeker of truth, have a soul, and so does every human being on the planet. Those souls form a collective and that collective, in turn, resides within the Universal Soul. As the poet wrote: “No man is an island.” To which today we must add, for clarities sake, “and no woman either.”

On the face of it, the exercise is a simple one. For a few minutes every day, pause and send out love to the rest of humanity. There are to be no exceptions, the disagreeable neighbor is to be included alongside your favorite aunt or dearest friend. Do not think in particulars as that will interfere with the process. Think only of humanity and send out love from your heart. Let it flow out into the world resting where it may, giving succor to those who need it, whoever they may be, wherever they may be. Concentrate on emitting love and pay no heed to where that love goes or who it benefits. If, by day three, you find you are forgetting to do the exercise then your will-power is weak and you will need to work at strengthening it. This exercise, which you will be expected to keep up for the rest of your life, is an elementary test of will. All texts on the Occult Tarot agree that, esoterically, the Magician card represents the Will. Naturally, therefore, the first exercise the neophyte is set tests their will-power and also their will to persevere on the Path of Initiation. It is easy to say “I want to learn the secrets of occultism” but when it comes to putting the precepts into practice, many fall by the wayside.

An Agent of God

When a person becomes an adept, they act as an agent of God. That is the meaning of the three levels in relation to the first Trump. On the highest level stands God, the Original Energy; below is the material universe; in between is a human being. For a moment, let us give the human being a gender and say that, as on the card, this individual is male. The man has both feet planted firmly on the earth; his head, symbolically, is in the heavens. It is in his power to act as mediator between God and the Earth, to be God’s instrument on Earth. Sadly, when anyone gets the idea into their heads that they are God’s instrument a tendency develops whereby that person starts to speak in terms of “God agrees with me” rather than “I submit myself to the will of God.”

Arcane-Arcana-01-bateleur-magician      mmTarot 01

Occult training, properly carried out, drives out that kind of thinking. It is not consist just of the learning of data – of knowing, for instance, that Mercury represents communication and corresponds to the eighth sphere on the Tree of Life, etc., etc. That information is available in books where anyone can find it. What an occult training obtained in a bona fide mystery school gives the seeker is first wisdom and then understanding. As the Book of Proverbs puts it: “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them.” Knowledge without wisdom and understanding is a potentially dangerous weapon. Authentic occult training works to develop both in the aspirant. In the initial stages of training the accent is not on the amassing of facts, it is on another type of knowledge entirely, knowledge of the self. One of the key maxims of esotericism is “Know thyself”. In exploring the self, one cannot but help accumulating wisdom and understanding. For you, as a newcomer to the Occult Tarot, the first step in that direction, if you choose to take it, is to subscribe to the simple exercise I have given above.

The Major Arcana and the Three Worlds

Something tarot readers are frequently unaware of when they first turn to the occult side of the tarot is its relation to the tripartite division of the Universe. As I started out by saying, for purposes of closer scrutiny, the Universe can be divided into three ‘worlds’: the metaphysical world, the human world and the elemental world. The Tarot Trumps can also be divided into three parts, but in their case, we are working upwards from the elemental world, assigned to the first septenary of Trumps, through the human world, assigned to the second septenary of Trumps, and finally reaching up to the metaphysical world to which the third septenary of Trumps are assigned. The Fool, as already explained, remains outside the ranks of the Trumps as it serves another purpose.

Lay out the cards in septenaries and you will see the truth of my statement. The first seven Trumps depict figures from the everyday world at the time the major arcana were created. There is an emperor and a pope, a man deciding which of two women to marry, another man, driving in his chariot. The second set of seven card show human traits in emblematic form: the desire for justice, an admiration of wisdom and moral strength, as well as the ability to make sacrifices for others in the face of fickle fortune and the certainty of death. The final seven cards, however, represent conditions even more elevated than death, including the stars, the moon and the sun, all part of the celestial world, high above the terrestrial one. Also among these cards we find the day of judgment, that fateful day upon which those found worthy will be drawn up into heaven and the presence of God.

Although students of the Occult Tarot rarely pass through the stages of initiation in the order indicated by the numbers on the Trump cards, I intend to approach them in that way because then the principles they represent unfold in a natural, logical manner. Having asserted a belief in the unity of the human race, the student of Occult Tarot may find that events lead them by strange coincidences to the Doors of Mysteries, there to be confronted by the guardian of the sacred teaching, the High Priestess.

Introduction to the Occult Tarot, Part II

by Tony Wiliis       

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

The First Septenary

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

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

The Second Septenary

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

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

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

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

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

The Third Septenary

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

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

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

18t tdm         19t tdm

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

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

The Principles of the Fool

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

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

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

Introduction to the Occult Tarot

by Tony Willis      

During this period of social distancing and self-isolation, opportunities to make face to face tarot readings are much reduced. It is a time, too, when many students of tarot are questioning their purpose in life as well as their individual usefulness to the evolutionary process of the planet. “Why is the pandemic happening?” and “What lessons are we humans supposed to learn from the turmoil and dissention my nation is going through at the moment?” are questions I hear regularly. Whilst I can’t answer those questions, I can point tarot students at a path that may lead them to an answer. That path is the Occult Tarot.

On Correspondences

The Occult Tarot has been around for as long as the predictive tarot has. In some older books, one sometimes finds occult significances for the Major Arcana mixed in with the predictive and psychological meanings of the cards. For tarotists who have never explored the field of Occult Tarot, it can be a puzzling place. Bemusement often begins when the student embarks on an investigation of what are called the “Correspondences” associated with the tarot Trumps. These are astrological attributions given to the Major Arcana cards by occultists. There are several schools of thought on the matter, with one occult school tending to contradict the teachings of all the others. At this point in their researches into the Occult Tarot, some students throw up their hands in irritation and simply walk away from the subject. There is an explanation for these apparent discrepancies, however, one covered in part by remarks made by Dion Fortune concerning the attribution of the deities of particular pantheons to the spheres of the Tree of Life.

In Dion Fortune’s opinion, a hard and fast attribution of these deities to the different spheres is impractical. This, she informs us, is because aspects of, for instance, the Egyptian goddess Isis are to be found in the spheres of Binah, Netzach, Yesod, and Malkuth. Likewise, aspects of the god Osiris, husband to Isis, are to be found in the spheres Chokmah, Chesed and Tiphareth. The British occultist Murry Hope has said the same thing. Unlike Dion Fortune, Ms Hope was not a Qabalist, and so her terminology was not the same as D.F.’s, but her conclusions were identical. Both women, high adepts in their own traditions, set out the guideline to making attributions, which was articulated by D.F. thus: “We must look for the principle behind the multiform manifestation, and realize that it assumes different forms at different levels.”

To the newcomer to the Occult Tarot this may sound like a high-flown phrase, clever word-play that leaves the novice wondering how the pronouncement works out in practice. To understand the process better, let us look at attributions given to just one of the Major Arcana.

When the French occultist Oswald Wirth gives it as his opinion that the card Temperance corresponds astrologically to the zodiac sign Aquarius, it is because he recognizes a correlation between the Trump and the sign. Since Aquarius is the sign of the Water Barer, usually depicted as a kneeling man dispensing water from a large ewer, and the image on the tarot card is that of a figure carefully decanting water from one vase into another, it is obvious where Wirth got his inspiration for the attribution from.

Arcane-Arcana-14-temperance            Arcane-Arcana-14-temperance

When Papus, author of The Tarot of the Bohemians, assigns Scorpio to Trump 14, it is because he detects a resonance between the two factors, the sign Scorpio and the card Temperance. The key to Papus’s thinking can be found upon perusal of Paul Foster Case’s B.O.T.A. version of the Trump. Symbolically the B.O.T.A. card is an alchemical interpretation of the concept of temperance – which in this instance does not indicate a total abstinence from alcohol. The eagle found on the B.O.T.A. card represents water, while the lion represents fire. Therefore one interpretation of the symbolism is of fire being plunged into water and of water being poured onto fire. In neither case does the water evaporate or the fire become extinguished. The elements blend, forming a third distinct quality – although that outcome is not depicted on the B.O.T.A. card. Aleister Crowley’s version of Trump 14 is a variant of Case’s. In the imagery of both cards we see the Scorpionic concepts of transmutation and transition vividly illustrated.

bota 14T_t          14T thoth

Then again, when an organization such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn ascribes Sagittarius to Temperance, it is because the Order’s founders recognized a parallel between the sign of the Archer and Trump 14. Sagittarius is ruled by Jupiter, a highly fortunate planet. The card Temperance is universally accepted as signaling a beneficent result. In the B.O.T.A. version of the card, a rainbow arches above the central figure. This rainbow, at times referred to as the bow of promise, is identified by the G.D. with the archer’s bow, and this accounts for its appearance at the top of the B.O.T.A. card. In the Cicero Golden Dawn Tarot pack, the rainbow has been painted onto an actual bow, with an arrow set in it ready to be fired upwards. In this case, also, the reference is to the G.D.’s association of Sagittarius, the bowman, with tarot Trump 14.

14 trad

All these correspondences are valid to some degree. It isn’t a question of one set of attributions being ‘right’. As with the divinatory significances assigned the cards, it is of little moment which set of attributions the student chooses to adopt in their investigation of the Occult Tarot. The most important thing by far is to stick with the chosen system until it is mastered and not to chop and change between one method and another. No good will come of accepting that Trump 14 corresponds to Sagittarius (as per the Golden Dawn system of attributions) while at the same time accepting that The Chariot corresponds to Gemini (in line with the Papus attributions).

I chose to name the sign Gemini in my previous comment because it is the opposite sign in the zodiac to Sagittarius. The energies of opposing signs are also polar opposites. For that reason, a ceremonial magician might seek to counteract an over-plus of Sagittarian energy by applying, as a corrective, a Geminian force to the situation. Where Temperance is accepted as mediating a Sagittarian vibration, The Lovers will represent the appropriate Geminian antidote. The Chariot, the Papus equivalent to Gemini, will not restrict an out-of-control Sagittarian force in any magick performed by someone following the Golden Dawn path. The group mind of the Golden Dawn accepts The Lovers card as having the same vibratory rate as Gemini; it associates Cancer with Trump 7, The Chariot. Therefore, bringing Chariot energy to bear on the matter is more likely to inflame the situation since Cancer energies foster those of Jupiter, ruler of Sagittarius. To the beginner this may seem an abstruse point, but at the higher levels of ceremonial magick disastrous results can be obtained by the uninformed intermixing of systems.

An early question to be answered, then, becomes: Which system ought I to follow? There are a number of esoteric schools of thought to which one might turn to in search of enlightenment on this point, but, thankfully, a good many of them can be discounted right away. Wicca, for instance, does not have its own esoteric tarot tradition. The wiccan forms of tarot reading I’ve had sight of have been borrowed from elsewhere. Early convert to the modern manifestation of Wicca in Britain, Arnold Crowther, produced an insightful set of divinatory meanings for the Major Arcana. It was published by his widow Patricia Crowther. I commend it to my readers. Mr Crowther’s meanings are excellent, although they are purely exoteric – that is to say they are fortune-telling meanings, not ones pertaining to High Magick. In consequence, one doesn’t have to be a wiccan or a witch to find them practical as well as intellectually satisfying.

The four main sets of esoteric attributions in use today are those of Oswald Wirth, Papus, the Golden Dawn, and C.C. Zain’s Church of Light correspondences. There have been others put forward over the years but few have stood the test of time. Most tarotists adopt the G.D. correlations. These are readily available (because almost every author in the English-speaking world covering tarot divination has written about them) and in addition they fit the images found on the Waite-Smith cards. These meanings are often taken up by beginners purely because they are presented to them in virtually every book produced on the tarot from the middle of the twentieth century onwards.

A newcomer to the Occult Tarot may understandably be led to adopt the correspondences associated with their favorite tarot pack. Those who are happiest working with the Waite-Smith deck or one of its many clones, from the Aquarian Tarot (artist David Palladini), published early on in the explosion of interest in the cards that occurred in the 1970s, through to the Sharman-Caselli Tarot Deck (2005) and beyond, would manage well enough working with the Golden Dawn correspondences.

On the other hand, anyone who works most often with a deck that declares itself to be of G.D. origin – whether it be the Cicero cards or those designed by Robert Wang – should obviously stick with the Golden Dawn correspondence that inform the design of those decks. By the same token, anybody with a deep devotion to the Church of Light cards should enter the realm of Occult Tarot with that group’s attributions etched upon their memory. The packs designed by or for the French masters of tarot tend not to be so popular in the anglophone world but they are available. They don’t have the appeal for the twenty-first-century mind that the Waite-Smith pack and some of the modern tarots have. This is largely because of their unorthodox Trump order. The Fool is often placed between Judgment and The World, and sometimes it is numbered 21, in which case The World is numbered 22. It is, however, worth looking these packs over before making a final decision as to which system to follow. You never know, one of those decks that you have never examined closely before may just ‘speak’ to you or impact on your psyche with such force that an undeniable bond is formed between yourself and it.

A final option worth given serious consideration to is the Tarot of Marseilles. The designs may seem quaint and even old-fashioned compared to the decks being published today but some find it immensely liberating to work with. The lack of images on the spot cards frees one from pictorial representation and throws one back on number symbolism: the Fours of any suit, for instance, being interpreted as aspects of what we might call ‘the archetypal concept of ‘fourness’, however the practitioner choses to interpret that term. As with most decks from continental Europe, the Trump Justice is numbered 8 and the Strength card is numbered 11. If you definitely cannot get your head around this ordering of the Major Arcana then the Tarot de Marseille is not for you. But before dismissing it out of hand, pause and remind yourself that this was the original numbering, successfully employed by tarot experts and occultists of note from Court de Gébelin to Eliphas Levi and Papus.

Following years of neglect in the English-speaking world, the Tarot of Marseilles is currently gaining more support. Anyone used to relying on the illustrations borne by the spot cards for inspiration concerning meaning and interpretation is likely to be put off at first by the paucity of clues in that direction appearing on the Tarot de Marseille spots. Working with the Marseilles tarot demands another way of viewing the cards, one possessing its own rationale. But the method functions remarkably well if the student is prepared to embrace it. Moreover, it was the way of approaching the spots for two centuries, from the time that Court de Gébelin brought the tarot to the attention of occultists up until the publication of the Waite-Smith cards, the first fully-illustrated Occult Tarot, a span, as said, of approximately two centuries. During that period our tarotist forebears worked exclusively with this system and achieved perfectly acceptable results through it. Don’t dismiss it before trying it out.

It is likely that some of my readers will have been shocked to find me saying that essentially it doesn’t matter which tarot pack one adopts when setting out to study the Occult Tarot. I understand that reaction only too well. It was my reaction when the same instruction was given me at the outset of my attempts to investigate tarot from an esoteric perspective. However, I bit the bullet and did as I was bidden, and I can tell you that the advice proved to be sound. I started by familiarizing myself with one Tarot deck, and my thinking branched out from there in what always seemed to me a very natural process. No one tarot pack bears all the esoteric data on its cards. The occult tarotist is doomed forever to work with a deck that is to a greater of lesser degree deficient in that regard. What is missing from the physical cards occult tarotists have to supply themselves, from memory.

This means that the student of Occult Tarot is involved in mental effort, in memorizing information, and in the retrieval and application of data to individual cards as circumstances demand. That may be why so few tarot readers today set out on a serious study of the Occult Tarot. Committing information to memory tends to be regarded as an unnecessary waste of time by many who have been taught to draw what they need to make a tarot reading from the details of the illustration on whichever card they have under review. Those inured to this way of working can find the demand to commit information to memory taxing, frustrating, and boring. It is easier to terminate one’s studies than submit to the discipline required to master the technique. But for those who persevere, there are untold benefits to be gained.

You may take your time choosing a deck because we will start our investigation into the Occult Tarot by examining the Major Arcana, and, apart from post-modern packs such as the Steampunk Tarot and the like, the symbolism of the Trump cards does not alter greatly from deck to deck. The Tarot de Marseille Empress, for example, is undoubtedly a close cousin of the Gabriel Gouilinat, Oswald Wirth and Knapp-Hall Empresses laid out below. (M. Gouilinat’s designs grace the pages of Papus’s The Divinatory Tarot.)

3t tdm               Arcane-Arcana-03-imperatrice-empress

Arcane-Arcana-03-imperatrice-empress       3 knapp hall

In the next article, we will take up a closer study of the tarot Trumps, inspecting them from an esoteric perspective.

Magickally Charge Your Tarot Cards

by Tony Willis      

Another plea has reached me: “I’ve only recently taken up tarot and I haven’t handled my deck so often that it has picked up my ‘trace’. I mean, I don’t think it has. Still, I would like to be part of your project. Is there a way I can quickly impregnate my deck with my personal energy?”

mmTarot 78And another, on an allied theme: “Don’t look down on me, please. You see, I have tarot pack that I frequently use and I don’t want to give up using it. Okay, that indicates I’m not cut out to be a top-flight magician. But I have another pack and I would be willing to sacrifice that for the duration if there was some way I could energize it sufficiently. Is there, perhaps, a way of doing that?”

The answer to both correspondents is that there is a method of “charging” a tarot deck quickly and reliably. However, while it is quicker than constantly handling the card over a number of months, it is not instantaneous. It would take about a week, in which case, the deck would be “energized” in time for my correspondents to start the magickal operation next Friday, 10th April.

Select your deck and carry it with you by day as much as possible. A woman may mmTarot 50carry it in her handbag; a man can place it in the pouch of a hoodie. There are ways of keeping the deck with you during the day, just give the problem a little thought, something will occur to you. At night, sleep with the deck under your pillow. It helps in both instances if the cards are wrapped in a man’s handkerchief or a scarf or muffler, so long as the wrapper isn’t made of silk as that will insulate the pack from you. Stick to these instructions until next Friday and the deck will be sufficiently impregnated with your personal magnetism for you to be able to participate in a magickal working.

I hope the two people who wrote me follow my advice because the more there are involved in this endeavor the stronger the magick will be.