- THE TAROT AND THE UNIVERSE
The TAROT is a Pictorial representation of the Forces of Nature as
conceived by the Ancients according to a conventional symbolism.
The Sun is a star. Around him revolve a number of bodies called
Planets, including the Moon, a satellite of the Earth. These bodies
revolve in one direction only. The Solar system ~ not a sphere, but
a wheel. The planets do not remain in exact ~ but swing to a certain
(comparatively small) extent from one side of the true plane to the
other. Their orbits are elliptical. The Ancients imagined this wheel
very much more clearly than modern minds are wont to do. They paid
particular attention to the imaginary rim. Within the limits of this
rim, they conceived that the Fixed Stars beyond were in a special
way connected with the apparent motion of the Sun. This rim or belt
of the wheel they called the Zodiac. The constellations outside this
belt did not seem to them to matter so much to mankind, because they
were not in the direct line of the great whirling force of the
wheel. (T.A.R.O. R.O.T.A. = wheel.)
THEORIES OF THE ANCIENTS
1. In old times, it was
supposed that the Earth was the centre of the Universe. The
Heavens being above the Earth-they did not realize them as being
equally below it-they were accounted as of the Divine Nature.
And as they recognized imperfections and irregularity in mundane
affairs, they thought that the movements of the Heavenly Bodies,
which they observed to be regular, must be perfect.
They then started some a priori thinking. Their mathematicians
had the idea that a Circle was a perfect figure; therefore (they
said, with characteristic theological reasoning) all heavenly
bodies must move in circles. This religious assumption caused
great trouble to the astronomers. As their measurements became
more extended and accurate, they found it increasingly difficult
to reconcile observation with theory, at least to do so without
putting themselves to vast inconvenience in their calculations.
So they invented “cycles” and “epicycles” to explain the
Ultimately Copernicus was goaded by this annoyance to suggest
that it would really be very much more convenient (if only the
idea were not so wicked) to imagine that the Sun, and not the
Earth, was the centre of the System.
In mathematics there are no fixed facts. Bertrand Russell says
that in this subject “nobody knows what he is talking about, and
it matters to nobody whether he is right or wrong”.
For example: Begin with the assumption that the Moon is the
immovable centre of the Universe. Nobody can contradict it; one
simply switches the calculations over to suit. The practical
objection to this is that it would not facilitate the work of
navigators. It is important to have this idea in one’s mind,
because otherwise one fails to grasp the whole spirit of modern
Science-Philosophy. It does not aim at Truth; it does not
conceive of Truth (in any ordinary sense of the word) as
possible; it aims at maximum convenience. They did not
understand that the Circle is only one case of the Ellipse: that
in which the foci coincide.
2. To return to the picture of the Solar System.
is the Hub of the Wheel; the outermost Planet is on its rim; and
beyond, but laterally within that rim, are the Twelve
Constellations of the Zodiac. Why twelve? The first rough
division of the circle is into four, according to the observed
seasons. This choice may also have been influenced by the
division of the Elements into Four-Fire, Air, Water, Earth.
(These do not mean the objects now understood by these words, as
Perhaps because they thought it necessary to introduce so sacred
a number as Three into everything heavenly, or else because the
observed constellations happened to be naturally divided into
twelve groups, they divided the Zodiac into twelve signs, three
to each Season.
The Influence of the Sun upon the Earth was observed to change
as He passed through the Signs. So did quite simple things like
the measure of time between Sunrise and Sunset.
When one says that the Sun enters the Sign of Aries, one means
that if a straight line were drawn from the Earth to the Sun and
prolonged to the Stars, that line would pass through the
beginning of that Constellation. Suppose, for instance, that one
observes the Full Moon on the first day of Spring, one will be
able to see, behind her, the stars of the beginning of Libra,
the sign opposite to Aries.
It was observed that the Moon took approximately twenty-eight
days to pass from Full to Full; and to each day was assigned ~w
hat was called a Mansion. Her mysterious influence was supposed
to change in each Mansion. This theory does not enter directly
into the Tarot, but it must be mentioned to help to clear up a
certain confusion which is about to complicate the question.
3. Early astronomers calculated that the Sun took 360
days to go round the Zodiac.
This was a closely guarded secret of the learned; so they
concealed it in the divine name Mithras, which adds up,
according to the Greek Convention (M 40---I 10---Th. 9---R
100---A 1---S 200) to 360. Better observation showed 365 days to
be more accurate; so they decided to call it “Abraxas” (A 1---B
2---R 100---A 1---X 60---A 1---S 200). When the others found
this out they put themselves right by altering the spelling of
Mithras to Meithras, which adds (like Abraxas) to 365. In this
there is still an error of not quite six hours; so that, in the
course of centuries, the Calendar kept slipping. It did not
assume its present form until the time of Pope Gregory.
The Point of all this, that they divided the Circle of the
Zodiac into 360 degrees, is that this is a convenient basis for
Each angular measure of 10 degrees was called a Decanate. Of
these there are thus thirty-six, dividing each Sign of the
Zodiac into three sections. It was supposed that the influence
of the Sign was very swift and fierce in the first Decan,
powerful and balanced in the second, spiritualized and deciduous
in the third.
A short digression. One of the most important doctrines of the
Ancients was that of the Macrocosm and the Microcosm. Man is
himself a little Universe; he is a minute copy of the big
Universe. This argument was, of course, worked backwards; so the
characteristics above given of the qualities of the Three Decans
in the sign were probably due to an analogy with the course of a
4. The above remarks constitute a fairly complete idea of
the arbitrary, or mostly arbitrary, presentation of the Cosmos
by the Ancients. First of all, the division into Four Elements.
These Elements pervade everything. They would argue something
like this about the Sun. They would say that he was principally
Fire, for obvious reasons; but he would have also in him the
Airy quality of Mobility. The Watery part would be shown by his
power to create Images; and the Earthy part, his immense
Similarly, of a Serpent, they would call his power of Death
fiery; his Swiftness, airy; his undulatory motion, Watery; and
his habit of life, Earthy.
These descriptions are obviously quite inadequate; they have to
be filled up by attributing planetary qualities and zodiacal
qualities to all objects. Thus, the Bull in the Zodiac is an
Earthy sign, and this is the central sign of the three through
which the Sun passes during Spring. But the bovine nature is
also gentle; wherefore they said that Venus rules the Sign of
Taurus. The Cow, moreover, is the principal milk-giving animal,
so they made her the Great Mother-Goddess, thus identifying her
with the Moon, the Mother of Heaven as the Sun is the Father.
They represented this idea by saying that the Moon is “exalted”
in Taurus-that is, that she exerts the most beneficent aspect of
her influence when she is in that sign.
5. It is confusing at first, but most instructive and
illuminating when the principle is thoroughly assimilated, to
note how all these Elements subdivide and coalesce. One can only
reach the comprehension of any one of these Symbols by making a
composite picture of it, one composed of all the others in
varying proportion. Thus each of the planets gives a certain
portion of its influence to any object. This habit of thought
leads to an understanding of the Unity of Nature (with its
proper and spiritual exaltation) which could hardly be attained
in any other way; it produces an internal harmony which ends in
an acceptance of Life and of Nature.
It is now almost time to analyze and define the traditional
characteristics of these symbols; but perhaps it would be
better, first of all, to build on a sure foundation by
consideration of the number Two, which hitherto has not been
taken into account.
There are only two operations possible in the Universe, Analysis
and Synthesis. To divide, and to unite. Solve et coagula: said
If anything is to be changed, either one must divide one object
into two parts, or add another unit to it. This principle lies
at the basis of all scientific thought and work.
The first thought of the man of science is Classification,
Measurement. He says, “This oak-leaf is like that oak-leaf; this
oak-leaf is unlike this beech-leaf”. Until one has grasped this
fact, one has not begun to understand Scientific Method.
The Ancients were fully cognizant of this idea; The Chinese, in
particular, based their whole philosophy on this primary
division of the original Nothing. One must begin with Nothing;
otherwise the question would arise, Whence came this postulated
Something? So they wrote the equation---Zero equals plus one
plus minus one 0=(+1)+(-1).
“Plus One” they called the Yang, or
Male Principle; “Minus One”, the Yin or Female Principle. These
then combine in varying proportion, giving the idea of Heaven
and Earth in perfect balance, the Sun and the Moon in imperfect
balance, and the Four Elements in unbalanced form (See diagram
at right: The Chinese Cosmos). This Chinese arrangement is thus
tenfold, and has been shown to be admirably equivalent to the
System which has been here examined.
6. The ancient scheme of the Elements, Planets and
Zodiacal Signs, was summarized by the Qabalists in their Tree of
This identity between the two systems was masked, until quite
recently [The present author discovered this fact during his
study-still incomplete-of the Yi King], by the fact that the
Chinese continued with their doubling-up system, and so turned
their eight trigrams into sixty-four hexagrams, while the
scholars of Western Asia joined together their ten numbers on
the Tree of Life by twenty-two Paths.
The Chinese have thus sixty-four principal symbols as against
the thirty-two of the Tree; but the Qabalists have a
concatenation of symbols which is capable of very subtle
interpretation and handling. It is also better fitted to
describe the internal relations of its Elements. Moreover, each
can be multiplied or subdivided at will, as convenience may
THE TREE OF LIFE
1. This figure must be
studied very carefully, for it is the basis of the whole system
on which the Tarot is based. It is quite impossible to give a
complete explanation of this figure, because (for one thing) it
is quite universal. Therefore it cannot mean the same to any one
person as to any other. A’s universe is not B’s universe. If A
and B are sitting opposite each other at table, A sees the right
side of the lobster, and B the left. If they stand side by side
and look at a star, the angle is different; although this
difference is infinitesimal, it exists. But the Tarot is the
same for all in the same way in which any scientific fact or
formula is the same for all. It is most important to remember
that the facts of science, though universally true in the
abstract, are still not precisely true for any one observer,
because even if the observation of any common object is made by
two people of identical sensory reactions from the same spot, it
cannot be done directly at the same time; and even the smallest
fraction of a second is sufficient to move both object and
observer in space.
This fact is to be emphasized, because one must not take the
Tree of Life as a dead fixed formula. It is in a sense an
eternal pattern of the Universe, just because it is infinitely
elastic; and it is to be used as an instrument in one’s
researches into Nature and her forces. It is not to be made an
excuse for Dogmatism. The Tarot should be learnt as early in
life as possible; a fulcrum for memory and a schema for mind. It
should be studied constantly, a daily exercise; for it is
universally elastic and grows in proportion to the use
intelligently made of it. Thus it becomes a most ingenious and
excellent method of appreciating the whole of Existence.
2. It seems probable that the Qabalists who invented the
Tree of Life were inspired by Pythagoras, or that both he and
they derived their knowledge from a common source in higher
antiquity. In any case, both schools agree upon one fundamental
postulate, which is as follows: Ultimate Reality is best
described by Numbers and their interplay. It is interesting to
note that modern Mathematical Physics has been finally driven to
some similar assumption. Further, the attempt to describe
Reality by a single definite term has been abandoned. Modern
thought conceives Reality under the image of a ring of ten
ideas, such as Potential, Matter, and so on. Each term has no
meaning in itself; it can only be understood in terms of the
others. This is exactly the conclusion which appears earlier in
this essay, with regard to the way in which the planets,
elements and signs were all dependent on each other, and
composed of each other.
But the further attempt to reach Reality led the Qabalists to
sum up the qualities of these rather vague and literary ideas by
referring them all to the numbers of the decimal scale.
Numbers, then, are the nearest approach to Reality which is shown in
this system. The number 4, for instance, is not so specially the
result of adding one to three, or squaring two, or halving eight. It
is a thing in itself, with all sorts of moral, sensible, and
intellectual qualities. It symbolizes such ideas as Law, Restraint,
Power, Protection and Stability.
In the Qabalistic system the original idea is Zero, [it is
intentional to repeat here, in other language, the ideas explained
already in this essay] which appears under three forms, rather as
(in Chinese philosophy) the Tao becomes manifested little by little
through the Teh, or as (in the best of the Hindu systems) the god of
Destruction and Annihilation, Shiva, becomes manifested through the
Infinite Energy, Sakti. The system begins therefore with Am-Nothing,
Am Soph-Without Limit, and Am Soph Aur-the Limitless Light.
One may now proceed to imagine any point in this “light”, to select
it for observation; the fact of doing so makes it Positive. This
gives the number I, which is called Kether, the Crown. The other
numbers arise by reason of the necessity of thought as explained in
the following table:
THE NAPLES ARRANGEMENT
[So called because first worked out in that city]
61 +146=0 as Undefined (Space).
61 +146+207=0 as basis of Possible Vibration.
1. The Point: Positive yet indefinable,
2. The Point: Distinguishable from I other.
3. The Point: Defined by relation to 2 others.
The Abyss-between Ideal and Actual.
4. The Point: Defined by 3 co-ordinates: Matter.
5. Motion (time)---He’, the Womb; for only through Motion
and in Time can events occur.
6. The Point: now self-conscious, because able to define
itself in terms of above.
7. The Point’s Idea of Bliss (Ananda).
8. The Point’s Idea of Thought (Chit).
9. The Point’s Idea of Being (Sat).
10. The Point’s Idea of Itself fulfilled in its complement,
as determined by 7, 8 and 9.
It will be seen from the above that by means of these ten positive
numbers, but not by any lesser number, one can arrive at a positive
description of any given object or idea.
So far, the argument has been erected on a rigid, mathematical
basis, with only the slightest tincture of philosophy to give it
form. But it is at this point that, for the purpose of describing
the objects Thought and Sense, one is compelled to join hands with
the astrologers The problem now is: to assign to Pure Number the
moral ideas which go with it. This is partly a matter of experience,
partly tradition derived from older experience. It would be unwise
to discard tradition with complete contempt, because all thinking is
bound by the laws of the mind itself, and Mind has been formed rough
thousands of years of evolution in each man by the thoughts of his
ancestors. The cells of all living brains are just as much the
children of the great thinkers of the past as the development of the
organs and limbs.
There are very few people today who have heard of Plato and
Aristotle. Not one in a thousand, perhaps ten thousand, of those
have ever read either of them, even in translations. But there are
also very few people whose thinking, such as it is, is not
conditioned by the ideas of those two men.
In the Tree of Life, therefore, is found the first attempt to
connect the Ideal with the Actual. The Qabalists say, for example,
that the number 7 contains the idea of Venus, and the number 8 that
of Mercury, that the connecting path between I and 6 refers to the
moon, and that between 3 and 6 to the Sign of Gemini.
Then what is the true meaning, in the category of the Real, of these
planets and signs? Here again one is faced with the impossibility
exact definition, because the possibilities of research are
infinite; also, at any moment in any research, the one idea merges
into the her and clouds the exact definition of the images. But
this, of course, is the objective. These are all blind steps on the
way to the real Light: when the Universe is perceived as one, yet
with all its Lights, each necessary and each distinct.
The beginning of this work is, however, easy enough. One requires no
more than elementary classical knowledge. Roughly taking, for a
start, the natures of the planets are described by those of the gods
after whom the actual bodies in heaven were named, according to the
old astrological ideas of their influence on the affairs of men. The
same is true, to a less extent, of the Signs of the Zodiac. There is
not so much information available about their natures; but it is
helpful to note which planet rules which sign, and in which sign
which planets are exalted. The individual Fixed Stars do not enter
into the system of the Tarot.
THE TAROT AND THE TREE OF LIFE
The Tarot, while based on these theoretical attributions, was
designed as a practical instrument for Qabalistic calculations and
for divination. In it is little place for abstract ideas. The
subject of the book -the Tarot is called The Book of Thoth or
the influence of the Ten Numbers and the Twenty-two Letters on man,
and his best methods of manipulating their forces. There is there
fore no mention of the Three Veils of the Negative, which was
discussed in the description of the Tree of Life. The description
begins with the “small cards”, numbered 1 to 10. These are divided
into four suits according to the four elements.
Thus the Ace of Wands is called the Root of the Forces of Fire. It
pertains to Kether, and purports to represent the first positive
manifestation of the idea of Fire.
The 2 pertains to Chokmah. But here is already no more the
simplicity of the idea of fire. An Idea in action or in
manifestation is no more the pure Idea.
This card is attributed to the first Decan of the fiery sign Aries,
which is ruled by Mars; this, then, gives the idea of a violent and
aggressive force. The card is therefore called the Lord of Dominion.
This progressive degradation of the idea of Fire goes on increasing
through the suit. Each successive card becomes less ideal and more
actual, increasingly so until, with the number 6 which corresponds
to the Sun, the centre of the whole system, the fiery idea resurges,
balanced; hence pure, although complex. Beyond this, the force is
beginning to expend itself, or to spiritualize itself, in the cards
of the Decan of Sagittarius. But the best fixation of the fiery
force is found in the 9, which number is the foundation of the
structure of the Tree of life. Thus the card is called The Lord of
Strength. The fire has been purified, etherealized and balanced. But
in the 10, showing complete materialization and nimiety, the effect
of fire is pushed to its extreme limit. Its death is impending, but
it reacts against this as best it can by appearing as the Lord of
Oppression, formidable on the surface, but with the seeds of decay
already sprouting. The above summary can easily be applied by the
student to the other suits.
The Court cards are sixteen in number, four to each suit. There is
thus a subdivision of each element into its own system. The Knights
represent the element of Fire, so that the Knight of Wands
represents the fiery part of Fire, the Knight of Cups, the fiery
part of Water. Similarly the Princesses or Empresses represent
Earth, so that the Empress of Disks (Coins, or Pantacles) represents
the earthy part of Earth.
These cards have many manifestations in natural phenomena. Thus, the
Knight of Wands has the attribution of Aries, and represents swift
violence of onset, the lightning flash. But the airy part of Fire is
sympathetic with Leo, the steady force of energy, the Sun. Lastly,
in the watery part of Fire, the harmony is with Sagittarius, which
shows the fading, spiritualised reflection or translucence of the
image of Fire, and this suggests the Rainbow. (See table of the
Triplicities of the Zodiac).
THE ATU OF TAHUTI
Or: The Twenty-two Houses of
Or: The Twenty-two Trumps of the Tarot.
[Atu: House or Key, in Ancient Egyptian. Tahuti: Egyptian God of
Wisdom, magick, Science, also Illusion. In Coptic, Thoth: in Greek,
Hermes: in Latin, Mercury. The Hindu and Scandinavian Gods
corresponding are debased forms.]
Twenty-two is the number of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It
is the number of the Paths of the Sepher Yetzirah. These paths are
the paths which join the ten numbers on the figure called the Tree
Why are there twenty-two of them? Because that is the number of the
letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and one letter goes to each path.
Why should this be so? Why should these paths be arranged on the
Tree in the way that the diagram shows? Why should there not be
paths connecting the numbers 2 and 5 and the numbers 3 and 4?
One cannot answer any of these questions.
Who knows “How A got leave an ox to be, No camel, quoth the Jews,
like G”. (Browning)? One knows only that this was the conventional
arrangement adopted by whoever it was that devised the Tarot.
What is worse, it seems very confusing, very annoying; it shakes
one’s faith in these great sages. But at least there is no doubt
that this is so.
The letters of the Hebrew alphabet are twenty-two. There are three “
Mother” Letters for the Elements, seven “Double Letters” for the
Planets, and twelve “Single” Letters for the Signs of the Zodiac.
But there are four Elements, not three. Or, including the element of
Spirit (an important matter to initiates), there are five.
There are therefore two letters of the alphabet which have to do
double duty. The element of Fire is very close kin to the idea of
Spirit; so the letter Shin, belonging to Fire, may be taken to mean
Spirit as well. There is a special reason why this should be so,
although it only applies in later ages, since the introduction of
the dogma that Spirit rules the four elements, and the formation of
the “Pentagram of Salvation” connected with the Hebrew word IHShVH,
With regard to Earth, it was considered adequate to make the letter
Tau, belonging to Saturn, correspond also to Earth.
These additions are clear evidence that the Tarot took definite and
arbitrary steps to assert the new discovery in Magick some two
thousand years ago; for no system is more rigid than a Hebrew
system. And the system of the Sepher Yetzirah is the deepest rooted
of all the elements of the Hebrew system, the most dogmatic of them
The Tarot is justified not by faith, but by works. The departures
from the original bone-dry Qabalah have been justified by
experience. The point (raised above) about the way in which the
paths are selected to join certain numbers and not others, is found
to express important doctrines connected with the facts of
initiation. It must always be borne in mind that the Tarot is not
only an atlas for recording facts, but a guide-book showing one how
to travel through these countries previously unknown.
Travellers in China are somewhat bewildered at first when they are
told that it is 100 li from Yung Chang to Pu Peng, but only 40 li
from Pu Peng to Yung Chang. The answer is that the li is a measure
of the time of marching, not of miles. The difference of calculation
informs one that Pu Peng is a long way up the hill.
It is very much the same with the Tarot. The 6 of Wands is referred
to Jupiter in Leo, and called the Lord of Victory. This dictates not
only what victory is like, but also the conditions to be fulfilled
in order to obtain victory. There is need of the fiery energy of the
suit of Wands, the balance of the number 6, the stubborn courage of
Leo, and also the influence of Jupiter, the little bit of luck that
tips the scale.
These considerations are particularly important in dealing with the
Atu, or Trumps. The Planets are already represented in the numbers
or Sephiroth of the Tree of Life. But they have also attributions to
certain of the Paths.
Some etymologists of a singularly idle disposition have tried to
derive the French word “atout” from the ATU meaning House. It may
seem simpler to suggest that “atout” is short for “bon atout”,
meaning “good for anything”, because a Trump will take any card of
The Atu of Tahuti, who is the Lord of Wisdom, are also called
They are guides to conduct. They give you the map of the Kingdom of
Heaven, and also the best way to take it by force. A complete
understanding of any magical problem is necessary before it can be
solved. Study from outside, and action from outside, are ways
It is of the utmost importance to understand this extremely
specialized character of the Trumps.
To say that the Trump numbered III, called The Empress, represents
Venus, means something much less and also much more ‘than appears if
Venus be studied from a strictly astrological standpoint. One
abandons the contemplation of the whole in order to take practical
advantage of a part. Just so Tactics differs from Strategy. A great
general does not think of war in the abstract, but confines his
attention to a minute part of his perhaps vast knowledge of the
subject by considering the disposition of his forces at a given
place and time, and how best to employ them against his adversary.
This is of course true not only of the Trumps, but of all the other
cards; and it must be true of any specialized studies.
If one goes
into a shop and asks for a map of a certain country, one cannot get
a complete map, because any such map would necessarily merge into
the Universe as it approached completeness, for a country’s
character is modified by the adjacent countries, and so on for ever.
Nor would even any useful map be complete in the most vulgar
practical way without leading to confusion. The shopman would want
to know whether his customer wanted a geological map, an
orographical map, a commercial map, a map showing the distribution
of population, or a strategic map; and so on for ever.
The student of the Tarot must not therefore expect to find anything
beyond a careful selection of the facts about any given card, a
selection made for a quite definite magical purpose.
However, the Tarot does try to resume, in a single pictorial symbol,
as many as possible of the useful aspects of the idea. In studying
any card, one ought not to neglect any of the attributions, because
each class of attribution does modify the form and colour of the
card, and its use. This essay will endeavour, in the section
describing each card in turn, to include as many of the
correspondences as possible.
THE ROMAN NUMBERS OF THE TRUMPS
[Some paragraphs of this section repeat, in slightly different
phrases, statements already made in earlier pages. This is
The Trumps are numbered in Roman figures in order to avoid confusion
with the Arabic numbers of the Sephiroth. It has puzzled the
traditional writers on the Tarot that these numbers should run from
0 to XXI. They seem to have thought that it would be proper to
assume that 0 was the Fool, because he was a cipher, a
good-for-nothing. They made this assumption simply because they did
not know the secret doctrine of the Qabalistic Zero. They did not
know elementary Mathematics. They did not know that mathematicians
begin the decimal scale with Zero.
To make it quite clear to initiates that they did not understand the
meaning of the card called The Fool, they put him down between
cards XX and XXI, for what reason it baffles the human imagination
to conceive. They then attributed the card number I, the Juggler, to
the letter Aleph. In this simple yet ingenious manner they the
attribution of every card, except The Universe, XXI, wrong.
Meanwhile, the true attribution was well guarded in the Sanctuary;
it only became public when the secret lection issued to members of
the Grade of Practicus of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was
published as a result of the catastrophe attending the English
branch of the Order in 1899 and 1900, e.v., and the reconstruction
of the whole Order in March and April, 1904, e.v. By putting the
card marked 0 in its proper place, where any mathematician would
have put it, the attributions fall into a natural order which is
confirmed by every investigation.
There was, however, one kink in the rope. The card called Adjustment
is marked VIII. The card called Lust is marked XI. to maintain the
natural sequence, Lust must be attributed to Libra, and Adjustment
to Leo. [The old titles of these cards were respectively “Strength”
and “Justice”: they are inadequate or misleading.] This is evidently
wrong, because the card called Adjustment actually shows a woman
with sword and scales, while the card called Lust shows a woman and
It was quite impossible to understand why this reversal should have
taken place until the events of March and April, 1904, which are
recounted in detail in “The Equinox of the Gods”. One need here give
only one quotation:
“All these old letters of my Book are aright;
but j is not the Star”. (AL. 1.57.)
This was making darkness deeper.
It was clear that the attribution of “The Star” to the letter tzaddi
was unsatisfactory; and the question arose, how to find another card
which would take its place. An incredible amount of work was done on
this; in vain. After nearly twenty years the solution appeared.
The Star represents Nuit, the starry heavens. “I am Infinite Space,
and the Infinite Stars thereof.” (AL. 1.22.) She is represented with
two vases, one pouring water, a symbol of Light, upon herself, the
other upon the earth. This is a glyph of the Economy of the
Universe. It continually pours forth energy and continually
reabsorbs it. It is the realisation of Perpetual Motion, which is
never true of any part) but necessarily true of the whole. For, if
it were not so, there would be something disappearing into nothing,
which is mathematically absurd. The principle of Carnot (the Second
Law of Thermodynamics) is only true in finite Equations.
The card which must be exchanged for “The Star” is “The Emperor”,
who bears the number IV, which signifies Power, Authority, Law, and
is attributed to the sign Aries. This proves very satisfactory. But
it became infinitely more so as soon as it was seen that this
substitution cleared up the other mystery about Strength and
Justice. For Leo and Libra are, by this exchange, shown as revolved
about Virgo, the sixth sign of the Zodiac, which balances the
revolution of Aries and Aquarius about Pisces, the twelfth sign.
This is a reference to a peculiar secret of the ancients which was
very deeply studied by Godfrey Higgins and others of his school. It
is useless to go far into the matter here. But the position is made
clear enough by the accompanying diagram. It will be seen at a
glance that now, for the first time, is a perfect symmetry
established in the Tarot.
The justice of the exchange is evident when one considers Etymology.
It is natural that the Great Mother should be attributed to He’,
which is her letter in the Tetragrammaton, while the letter Tzaddi
is the natural letter of the Emperor in the original phonetic
system, as shown in the words Tsar, Czar, Kaiser, Caesar, Senior,
Seigueur, Seflor, Signor, Sir.
THE TAROT AND MAGICK
Magick is the science and art of causing change to occur in
conformity with the Will. In other words, it is Science, Pure and
Applied. This thesis has been worked out at great length by Dr. Sir
J. G. Frazer. But in common parlance the word Magic has been used to
mean the kind of science which ordinary people do not understand. It
is in this restricted sense, for the most part, that the word will
be used ill this essay.
The business of Science is to explore Nature. It’s first questions
are, What is this? How did it come to be? What are its relations
with any other object? The knowledge acquired may then be used in
Applied Science, which asks: How can we best employ such-and-such a
thing or idea for the purpose that, to us, seems fit? An example may
make this clear.
The Greeks of old were aware that by rubbing amber (which they
called Electron) upon silk, the amber acquired the power of
attracting to itself light objects such as small pieces of paper.
But there they stopped. Their science was hoodwinked by theological
~ and philosophical theories of the a priori type. It was well over
2,000 years before this phenomenon was correlated with other
electrical phenomena. The idea of Measurement was hardly known to
anyone but mathematicians like Archimedes, and astronomers. The
foundations of Science, as it is understood to-day, were hardly laid
at all 200 years ago. There was an immense amount of knowledge; but
it was nearly all qualitative. The classification of phenomena
depended chiefly upon poetic analogies. The doctrines of
“correspondences” and signatures” were based upon fanciful
Cornelius Agrippa wrote of the “antipathy” between a Dolphin and a
Whirlpool. If a meretrix sat under an olive tree, it would bear no
more fruit. If anything looked like something else, it partook in
some mysterious way of its qualities.
This sounds to-day to many people mere superstitious ignorance and
nonsense; but it is not altogether so. The old system of
classification was sometimes good and sometimes bad, as far as it
went. But in no case did it go very far. The natural ingenuity of
their natural philosophers did compensate very largely for the
weakness of their theory; and it did ultimately lead them
(especially through Alchemy, where they were forced by the nature of
the work to add real to their ideal observation) to introduce the
idea of Measure. Modern Science, intoxicated by the practical
success which attended this innovation, has simply shut the door on
anything that cannot be measured. The Old Guard refuses to discuss
it. But the loss is immense. Obsession with strictly physical
qualities has blocked out all real human values.
The science of the Tarot is entirely based upon this older system.
The calculations involved are very precise; but they never lose
sight of the Incommensurable and the Imponderable.
The theory of Animism was always present in the minds of the
Any natural object possessed not only its material characteristics,
but was a manifestation of a more or less tangible idea on which it
depended. The Pool was a pool, true; but also there was a nymph
whose home it was. In her turn, she was dependent on a superior kind
of nymph, who was much less closely attached to any given pool, but
more to pools in general; and so on, up to the supreme Lady of
Water, who exercised a general supervision over her whole dominion.
She, of course, was subject to the General Ruler of all the Four
Elements. It was exactly the same idea as in the case of the police
constable, who has his sergeant, inspector, superintendent,
commissioner, always getting more cloudy and remote until you reach
the shadowy Home Secretary, who is, himself, the servant of a
completely intangible and incalculable phantom called The Will of
We may doubt how far the personification of these entities was
conceived as real by the ancients; but the theory was that while
anyone with a pair of eyes could see the pool, he could not see the
nymph except by some accident. But they thought that a superior type
of person, by dint of searching, study and experiment, might acquire
this general power. A person still more advanced in this science
could get into real connection with the superior, because subtler,
forms of Life. He could perhaps cause them to manifest themselves to
him in material shape.
A good deal of this rests upon the Platonic ideology, which
maintained that any material object was an impure and imperfect copy
of some ideal perfection. So men who wished to advance in spiritual
science and philosophy strove always to formulate for themselves the
pure idea. They tried to proceed from the Particular to the General;
and this principle has been of the greatest service to ordinary
science. The mathematics of 6+5=11, and 12+3=15, was all in bits.
Advance only came when they wrote down their equations in general
terms. X2Y2=(X +Y) (X-Y) covers all possible cases of subtracting
the square of one number from the square of another. So the
Meaningless and Abstract, when understood, has far more meaning than
the Intelligible and Concrete.
These considerations apply to the cards taken from the Tarot. What
is the meaning of the Five of Wands? This card is subject to the
Lord of Fire, because it is a Wand, and to the Sephira Geburah
because it is a Five. It is also subject to the sign Leo, and to the
planet Saturn, because this planet and sign determine the nature of
the card. This is no more than saying that a Dry Martini has got
some juniper in it, and some alcohol, and some white wine and herbs,
and a bit of lemon peel, and some ice. It is a harmonious
composition of various elements; once mixed, it forms a single
compound from which it would be very difficult to separate the
ingredients; yet each element is necessary to the composition.
The Five of Wands is therefore a personality; the nature of this is
summed up in the Tarot by calling it “Strife”.
This means that, if used passively in divination, one says, when it
turns up, “There is going to be a fight”. If used actively, it means
that the proper course of conduct is to contend. But there is a
further point about this card. It is governed from the angelic world
by two Beings, one during the hours of Light, the other during the
hours of Darkness. Therefore, in order to use the properties of this
card, one way is to get into communication with the Intelligence
concerned, and to induce him to execute his function. There are thus
seventy-two “Angels” set over the thirty-six small cards; these are
derived from the “Great Name of God” of seventy-two letters, called
THE SHEMHAMPHORASCH AND THE TAROT
This word means the Divided Name. The “Name” is
I.H.V.H., commonly called
Jehovah. He is the Supreme Lord of the
Four Elements which compose fundamentally the whole Universe.
There are three verses in Exodus (xiv, 19, 20, 21) each containing
seventy-two letters. By writing down the first of these, and
underneath this the next verse backwards, and under this again the
last ~ verse forwards, seventy-two columns of three letters each are
obtained. These are read downwards, and the terminations AL or AH
according as they are male or female, appended. There is also an
attribution of these Intelligences, one to each of the quinaries or
segments of five degrees of the
Zodiac; but there are also innumerable other angels, demons, magical
images, lords of triplicities, lesser assistant angels and so on,
with demons to correspond. It is quite useless to study all these
attributions. They could only be wanted in case of wishing to get
into actual communication with one of these for some special
purpose. These matters are here mentioned for the sake of
completeness; but the Tarot will lose all its vitality for one who
allows himself to be side-tracked by its pedantry.
THE TAROT AND CEREMONIAL MAGICK
The Tarot is, thus, intimately bound up with the purely magical
Arts of Invocation and Evocation. By Invocation is meant the
aspiration to the highest, the purest form of the part of oneself
that one wishes to put into action.
Evocation is much more objective. It does not imply perfect
sympathy. One’s attitude to the Being evoked may even be, at least
superficially, hostile. Then, of course, the further advanced one is
in initiation, the less the idea of hostility enters one’s mind.
“Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner.” Thus, in order to
understand any given card, one must identify oneself with it
completely for the moment; and one way of doing this is to induce or
compel the Intelligence ruling the card to manifest to the senses.
For, as explained above, the ancient theory of the Universe included
the thesis that every object in Nature possessed a spiritual
guardian. Roughly speaking, this did not apply so much to
manufactured objects, though there are exceptions to this, as in the
case of the Gods of the Hearth, the Lintel, and the like; or of
angels or spirits as supposed to be interested in one’s sword or
one’s spear. A particularly powerful weapon was likely to get the
reputation of not having been manufactured at all by human hands,
but forged in volcanoes or in fairy-land, and thus imbued with
preternatural powers. Some famous swords had names, and were
regarded as living beings; they were liable to fly out of the window
if the owner played about too much, instead of killing people as is
THE TAROT AND ANIMISM
It is only natural, therefore, that at a time when pictorial or
written representations of ideas were beyond the comprehension of
any but a very few people, when Writing itself was considered
magical, and Printing (as it is) an invention of the Devil, people
should regard hieroglyphs (whether written or pictured) as living
things having power in themselves. It may be that, even today, there
are houses in darkest Shropshire where anyone who put another book
on the top of the Family Bible would be told never to darken those
doors again. Automatic action is everywhere ascribed to inanimate
objects; for instance, Horseshoes on doors. There is an entire class
of such superstitions. The problem of how any given superstition
arose has not always been satisfactorily solved. One can
(ignorantly) derive the Sitting-down-Thirteen-at-Table nonsense from
the legend of the Last Supper. (Incidentally, it can hardly have
been the first time that those thirteen sat down to table.)
But the really primitive superstitions cannot be explained so
simply. It seems more probable that they arose from the unscientific
habit (extremely common among men of science) of generalizing from
too few facts. It might happen by chance that on half a dozen
occasions within a short period, a hunter, setting out at Full Moon,
was killed. The old fallacy of Post hoc propter hoc would come in;
and the village would say, “It is unlucky to go out hunting at Full
Moon”. This would gather force, as it was repeated through the
generations, by virtue of mental indolence; and it would not be
disturbed, because Tabu would render the original coincidence
unlikely to recur. If, however, something similar came off at the
New Moon, there would be a new superstition; and presently there
would be a complete nexus of Tabu about the Moon.
A recent case. The late Mr. S. L. Mathers published, in 1898-9, the
translation of a manuscript called The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the
Mage in a small private edition.
Some hundreds of people bought it. One special group of purchasers
under his personal observation were all, or nearly all, hit by
misfortune. Within a year, people were saying that it was terribly
dangerous to have the book on one’s shelves.
Would this theory have resisted statistical examination? Who can
say? But, curiously enough, in 1938 e.v., a neglected copy was taken
from its hiding-place on an obscure shelf. Immediately, disasters
occurred to most of the people concerned, and to those with whom
they were in close relationship. Post hoc propter hoc. But who can
THE CARDS OF THE TAROT AS LIVING BEINGS
Victorian science, flushed with its victory over Supernaturalism,
was quite right to declare the Immeasurable “Out of Bounds”. It had
a right to do so on technical grounds, and it was a strategical
necessity of its offensive; but it hampered itself by limiting its
scope. It laid itself open to the deadliest attacks from Philosophy.
Then, especially from the angle of Mathematical Physics, its own
generals betrayed its dogmatism. The essence of Science to-day is
far more mysterious than the cloudiest speculations of Leibnitz,
Spinoza or Hegel; the modern definition of Matter reminds one
irresistibly of the definition of Spirit given by such mystics as Ruysbroek,
Boehme and Molinos. The idea of the Universe in the mind
of a modern mathematician is singularly reminiscent of the ravings
of William Blake.
But the mystics were all wrong when they were pious, and held that
their mysteries were too sacred to analyse. They ought to have
brought in the idea of Measure. This is exactly what was done by the
magicians and Qabalists. The difficulty has been that the units of
measurement have themselves been somewhat elastic; they even tend to
be literary. Their definitions were as circular as, but not more
fugitive than, the definitions of the physicists of to-day. Their
methods were empirical, though they strove to make them accurate, as
well as lack of precise measures and standard apparatus permitted,
because they had not yet formulated any true scientific theory.
But their successes were numerous. All depended on individual skill.
One would rather trust oneself in illness to the born physician than
to the laboratory experts of Battle Creek.
One of the great differences between ancient and modern Chemistry is
the idea of the Alchemists that substance in its natural state is,
in some way or other, a living thing. The modern tendency is to
insist on the measurable. One can go into a museum and see rows of
glass globes and bottles which contain the chemical substances which
go to make up the human body; but the collection is very far from
being a man. Still less does it explain the difference between Lord
Tomnoddy and Bill Sykes. Nineteenth century chemists were at great
pains to analyze opium and isolate its alkaloids, rather like a
child pulling a watch to pieces to see what makes it go.
They succeeded, but the results were not
altogether wholesome. Morphine has much more direct hypnotic effect
than opium; its action is speedier and more violent; but it is also
a very dangerous drug, and its effects are often disastrous. The
action of morphine is sensibly modified by the other twenty odd
alkaloids which exist in opium. The intoxicating effect of alcohol
differs according to whether one absorbs it in Richebourg ‘29 or in
synthetic gin. An even more startling example comes from Venezuela,
where running messengers chew coca leaves, cover their hundred miles
a day, and sleep till they are rested. They have no bad reaction,
and they do not acquire the habit. Cocaine is a different story. The
adepts of the Tarot would say, quite simply,
“We are alive and the plant is
alive, so we can make friends. If you kill the plant first, you
are asking for trouble.”
All this is here written in defense of the system of the makers and
users of the Tarot, of their methods of dealing with Nature, of
making experiments without undue attention to the wish to get things
done quickly. They would expose a mixture to the rays of the sun or
moon for weeks or months, thinking that everything would be spoilt
if they boiled it up violently. The processes of Nature (they would
say) are slow and temperate; let us copy them!
There may have been good grounds for these views. Experience leads
to that conclusion.
This is by way of Introduction to a thesis most necessary to the
understanding of the Tarot. Each card is, in a sense, a living
being; and its relations with its neighbours are what one might call
diplomatic. It is for the student to build these living stones into