This Arcanum has mutated profoundly throughout its history. Its original image was the Beggar, who appears sound of limb but vacant-minded, raggedly dressed, with feathers in his matted hair (Pierpont MorganBergamo Visconti-Sforza tarocchi, mid-1400s). Stuart Kaplan (Encyclopedia of Tarot, Volume 2), in his essay on The Fool (pp. 158- 9) explores the significance of the white shirt and pants, the droopy stockings and the feathers worn in his hair or on his belt, all associated with the spirit of Lent during the spring carnival in Renaissance Italy where Tarot was born.
The Mantegna Tarot of 1459 shows us Misery by portraying the lowest level of human life, an injured and exhausted beggar being attacked by a dog. Tarots from this same era used the image to editorialize about the causes of such misery: the Charles VI Tarot (1470) shows a Madman wearing a hat with bells and rabbit ears, tattered shirt and loincloth, teased by boys in the street, while Ercole d'Este (1475) shows him prey to lust, with the little boys pulling off his loincloth to reveal his insatiable arousal. Clearly, no respect was being accorded to anyone who embodied this archetype in the fifteenth century! By the next century, this character harnessed his entertainment potential by becoming the more formal Jester with his trademark multicolored outfit and puppet-headed wand (anony-mous Parisian deck, early 1600s). The village idiot image had not faded away, however (Mitelli, 1664).
The Marseilles image (1748) merges the entertainer with the idiot, giving us the multi-colored costume and now-familiar walking away pose of the Fool, with a snapping dog pulling off his pants from behind. The Arcana of Court de Gebelin (1787) and Eteilla (late 1700s) repeats this image exactly. The Tarocco Siciliano cards of 1750 differentiate the Fool (No. 0) from Miseria (unnumbered), including both for good measure.
A century later, Etteilla's Fool had mutated into the Alchemist, still dressed in his traditional jester garb but walking tentatively forward with his hands over his eyes. This concept is further revealed on the "Alexandrian" Blind Fool card, who stumbles his way between the shards of a fallen obelisk while a stalking crocodile lurks in the shadows. All these versions of the Fool comprehensively depict a person who is ignorant, driven by the basest needs and urges, and who has fallen into the lowest human estate of poverty and deprivation. At best he is a carnival entertainer, a shyster; at worst he is lost and vulnerable because of his self delusion. Not until the twentieth century do you see the Waite image of the soul before its fall into matter, untainted by contact with the city and its ills. Modern decks take from this image the mountainside scene, the butterfly, the potential misplaced step that will send him tumbling, all on faith that this is a historical Fool image. In truth, the Fool was meant to represent already fallen humanity preparing to take the first step toward self knowledge, and eventually, The Gnosis.
Earliest versions of the Magician can be seen in the Visconti-Sforza family of Tarots (mid-1400s). Named the Mountebank, he is seated on a cubic hassock, manipulating objects on the table before him. This image continues largely unchanged for centuries. Both hands are down close to the table, although the left hand holds a long, slender, upright wand. The d'Este Mountebank seems more active, leaning over his table, left hand reaching down, right hand raising his chalice (fifteenth century). Catelin Geoffrey's Tarot (1557) crowds the card with onlookers, and the Mountebank is clearly doing tricks with cups and dice, still with both hands down, again one holding a wand. In the Rosenwald images from the early sixteenth century, the interesting detail is the rabbit eared hat which we saw first in the 1470s on the Charles VI and d'Este Fool.
Most Tarots of this century emphasize more or less the performance aspect of his workings by the presence or absence of an audience (anonymous Parisian Tarot, early seventeenth century, and later Piedmontese or Tarot of Venice, late seventeenth century). The anonymous Parisian Tarot shows a dog and a monkey at the feet of the Magus, another indication of his variety show. The Juggler card by Mitelli (1664) assumes an entirely different aspect, the magician dancing with a dog and a drum. However, this version was not taken up in the common Tarots. The ubiquitous eighteenth century Marseilles deck brings us back to the traditional image, with the suit symbols on the table before the stand-ing operator. Both the Marseilles and the contemporary de Geblin Arcana (1787) add the lemniscate hat, the "sideways 8" symbol of eternity crowning him. The Magus image from Etteilla (as in the Grande Oracle des Dames, 1890) continues the tradition of the prestidigitator working the crowd; he lacks the lemniscate and bears the dismal title Maladie. In the earlier versions of this Arcanum a much stronger emphasis is placed upon the performance aspect of the Magician than in twentieth century Tarots. Although this card is named for the Magus, a person who could calculate astrology charts and shamanically enact magical rituals for special spiritual effects, by the debut of Tarots in Europe, this sense of the word "magician" was lost. The presence on the table of suit symbols, however, implies that this person is adept at more than sleight of hand.
We are used to thinking of the Magus as one who can demonstrate true hands-on magic (as in healing, alchemical transmutation, charging of talismans and the like). The modern Magus is understood to be a person who can complete the circuit between heaven and earth. We sometimes forget that at the birth of Tarot, even a gifted healer who was not an ordained clergyperson was considered to be in league with the Devil. For protection's sake, the line between fooling the eye with hand jive and charging the world with magical will was left vague in the early Tarot imagery. Waite's image of the solitary ritualist communing with the spirits of the elements, with the formal arrangement of symbols and postures between left hand and right, is a token of the freedom we have in the 20th century to declare our spiritual politics without fear of reprisal. The older cards were never so explicit about what the Magus was doing. Keep your mind open with this card, and imagine yourself manifesting something unique, guided by evolutionary forces that emerge spontaneously from within.
The High Priestess
Earliest versions of this image portray the Popess (Bembo's Visconti-Svorza, 1475) robed in gold, with triple tiara, holy book and bishop's staff. She lacks only the pectoral cross to complete her High Church costume. The various versions of the Mantegna proto-Tarot (1470) modify this image on the Pope card, but she remains unambiguously female. In the same pack, No. 40, Fede (Faith), shows a woman holding a cross on her left and elevating a chalice with the right over which a shimmering Host levitates. The Cary-Yale Visconti (1440-45) also includes an Arcanum called Faith, an enthroned woman with a large gold crucifix in her left hand, her right making the single-finger sign of the Monophosytes; an aging and shrunken Pope sits below the dais at her feet.
We can only gaze in awe at these images because at the time they were in circulation, the Catholic Church was waging holy war against the Gnostic sects who promulgated these pictures and allowed women to seek ordination to administer the sacrament. The idea of a female pope or priest was a heresy of the highest order. The mere ownership of such an image could have you condemned to death! Volume 1 of Kaplan's Encyclopedia gives us some tantalizing clues about who this Popess might be in history. The Fournier Visconti-Sforza cards show her in a brown nun's habit. The Catelin Geoffrey Tarot from 1557 shows her with the key to St. Peter's Cathedral! Even the "Alexandrian" Tarots, whose provenance is unknown though definitely medieval if not older, show the Priestess as an educated, high ranking member of a temple community, with the same book and triple crown.
A number of Tarot artists took the noncontroversial option of dropping the High Priestess as such but substituting something else to fill the space. Moors and satraps replace the Popess and Pope, Empress and Emperor in the tarocchini di Bologna from the 18th century, and the Spanish Capitano replaces her in the Vandenborre Tarot, an eighteenth century Belgian pack. Another device used was the substitution of Juno and Jupiter for the Popess and the Pope (J. Gaudais pack, 1850). Mitelli's Tarot of 1664 doubles up on Popes, one bearded Pope sitting and the other standing, the beard a shorthand reassurance of maleness.
We see more triple crowned Popess cards reemerging through the sixteenth and seventeenth century Tarots (the Rosenwald Tarot and the anonymous Parisian Tarot in the Biblioth, que Nationale) as the power of the Church to suppress the spread of cards waned. This version of the High Priestess as Head Mother of a nunnery would be familiar to a Renaissance eye, representing a woman's one opportunity to become literate and powerful in her own right. In her role as teacher and guide, she would train new initiates in meditation and prayer in order to quiet their minds and develop receptivity to the boundless mind of God. Seated between the twin pillars of reason and intuition, she is a witness to all but partaker of none.
One remark from Volume 2 of Kaplan's Encyclopedia deserves special attention. On page 161 he states, "The Popess holds a book; in art, a sealed book often appears in the hands of the Virgin Mary after her ascension into heaven. The Virgin Mary enthroned with a book personified the Church." He also mentions that there is a painting of Isis in the Vatican wherein she sits between two pillars that hold up a veil stretched between them; an open book rests upon her lap. This version of the Popess, whether Egyptian, Gnostic or Christian in origin, has had real staying power, as we do not see any significant mutations of this image again until the mid-1700s. Etteilla's Tarots portray the Priestess as Eve, first mother of humanity, about to make the fateful decision that precipitates our kind out of mythical time and into history as we now know it. This image has several variations because the Etteilla Tarot was "adjusted" several times over its last three hundred years of existence. Earliest Etteilla decks show the Tree of Life beside Eve and a vortex of energy around her, the Magus being recast as Adam in such decks. Later printings changed the vortex into a snake twined around the tree. This image intentionally casts the Priestess into the era preceding Christianity, reviving the ancient Snake and Bird Goddess from our preliterate past. Guler's El Gran Tarot Esoterico, commissioned by Fournier on the six hundredth anniversary of Tarot in Europe, also depicts the Priestess this way but puts a pomegranate into her hand to indicate the mysteries of Persephone. (Demeter is correspondingly portrayed as the Empress.) In keeping with the Gnostic character of earliest Tarots, there is no judgment placed on either the Eve archetype or the earlier Popess version despite the Church's ongoing campaign against women's involvement with matters sacred.
In overview, this Arcanum represents human Wisdom, whether as the Gnostic Popess, Priestess of Isis, the ancient Snake and Bird Goddess, Persephone or as Eve before the "fall" into historical time. For the accused heretics who revered her in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, she was the prophecy of the coming Age of the Holy Spirit, female personage within the Christian Trinity. On the journey of self transformation, once the Fool decides he wants the self mastery to become a Magus, The Priestess or Popess serves as his first teacher, representing the Inner Life and contemplative study of Nature and the Mysteries.
In the Visconti-Sforza Tarots, the Empress has nearly the identical attributes that she has today. Seated on her throne and robed sumptuously, she holds on her left side a shield with a black eagle emblazoned upon it and in her right hand a long, slender, golden wand. She is given four servants in the Cary-Yale Visconti deck but not in any of the others from this group. She always has a crown, occasionally large and ornamented. This image is near-universal among the early Tarots.
Starting with the Jacques Vieville Tarot from the 1660s, the image was reversed, and she seems to have stayed that way ever since. Court de Gebelin (1787) kept to the older arrangement. At this same time, the bulbous finial which had earlier been a mere detail on her wand (occasionally a fleur de lis) began appearing as the now-familiar orb and cross talisman, usually at the top of her wand. Stuart Kaplan tells us that this talisman "signifies sovereignty over the earth. Surmounted by a cross, it was used by the Holy Roman Emperor" (Encyclopedia, Volume 2, p. 161).
The title Empress has also shown remarkable constancy, although during the French Revolution, when titles were out of favor, she was occasionally given other monikers such as La Grande M're ("the Grandmother" from the French Revolutionary Tarot by L. Carey, Strasbourg, 1791). Her image suffered far less erosion than the Priestess because it was more easily explained to the Church.
There have been two notable exceptions to this stability. Here they are mentioned in chronological order, based on when they first appeared in card form for mass production. However, the second could be older than the first, we just don't know (see "The Continental Tarots"). The Etteilla Tarot first appeared at the end of the eighteenth century, right on the heels of the Court de Gebelin/de Mellet manuscript, after the Tarot of Marseilles assumed its present form. Etteilla's Empress is not personified at all; we see instead an Edenlike image he calls "the Birds and the Fishes." This card has caused endless confusion among encyclopedists and is almost always misattributed. The title "Protection" tells us that Etteilla equated the Empress with wild nature, fertility and the stability of natural law. The second exception is the "Hermetic/ Alexandrian" stream of Tarots drawn from the Fratres Lucis document published by Paul Christian in 1870 (see "The Continental Tarots").
Tarot is the first public version of these images, used as illustrations for a book called Hermetic Pages of the Divinitory Tarot published in 1896. They were meant to be cut out, colored and applied to cardboard for a do-it-yourself Major Arcana pack. Here the Empress is Isis-Urania, barebreasted and in profile, sitting on a cubic throne covered with eyes (a reference to Hermes). Behind her is the glowing orb of the sun, twelve stars arch overhead, her feet rest on an upturned crescent moon, and instead of a shield in her left hand, she holds the eagle itself. The staff in her right hand has a crossed orb on the top.
These two exceptions have been the primary inspirations for the modern Empresses of Waite, Wirth and Knapp-Hall. The men who created these decks were Tarot scholars attempting to present a "definitive" Tarot, yet all three were more influenced by the maverick Tarots than the very steady traditional image repeated so often from the 1450s to the present. All of them added the nimbus of solar light and the crown of stars; the Knapp-Hall even adds a live eagle on her arm. Wirth and Waite include various plant forms, perhaps in reference to Etteilla. Of the "traditional-style" modern esoteric Tarots, only the El Gran Tarot Esoterico has used the Marseilles as the foundation for her image, and in that deck she was given two lions from the Strength Arcanum, the four phases of the moon on her crown, an ear of corn (signature of Demeter), black bat wings and Mars as her planetary attribution (as in the Gra version of the Sephir Yetzirah).
It seems safe to say that this Arcanum, from ancient to modern, portrays the Great Mother, as in her title in the Revolutionary Tarot. This is the ancient, aboriginal, pre-Christian Goddess for whom the Priestess serves as handmaid. In medieval Europe it could have been argued that the Empress was a representation of whatever Queen currently ruled the land, an explanation that may have satisfied the Inquisitors. But the scholars of the Renaissance and beyond would have had no doubt about her inner identity, although she could not be shown as the "woman clothed with the sun" until after the French Revolution. The Empress is the fertility principle of the planet who feeds us all, delights us with flowers and fruit and terrifies us when her mood swings destroy our plans with heavy weather and plagues. She is the Mother of Embodiment, the source of natural law, and she who recycles us when we die; we upset her at our own peril.
We find several versions of the Emperor among the earliest handmade Tarots: in the Brambilla Tarot, 1440-45, he is middle-aged, seated, holds the wand and crossed orb in his hands, and wears a long gold robe to the foot.
In the Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot at Yale University, the Emperor is wearing armor and seems younger. His servants stand in the four directions. Both these Emperors show the imperial eagle on their clothing and/or hat. In the Visconti-Sforza Tarot of 1450, the Emperor is older, has a long white beard and gloved hands, and the crossed orb is raised before him. He's not looking at it, though--his gaze seems to search the far distance. Perhaps these Emperors show a resemblance to the noblemen they were created for. The Mantegna proto-Tarot (1470) includes several images that have influenced the Emperor Arcanum. Re (the King), a young, clean-shaven man, sits ramrod-straight on a hard, backless throne, wears a spiky crown and holds a narrow wand. Imperator (Emperor) is older and full-bearded and sits on a padded throne embellished with curtains. His long robe cocoons his slouched figure, but is pulled up to show his shins and feet crossed at the calf. One hand holds the crossed orb of sovereignty. An eagle stands at his feet. Elements of both these images have found their way to the Emperor Arcanum over time.
In the Charles VI Tarot of 1470, the Emperor is an amalgam with armored torso but the skirt of a long robe. His crown is smaller, the orb is lacking the cross, and his wand has a fleur de lis finial. Two small servant boys kneel at his left. The Rosenwald Emperor (early 1500s) is minimalist; he is face-front, crowned and bearded, and holds a wand on the left and orb at right. The Catelin Geoffrey Tarot cards from 1557 show the Emperor fully armed under his robe, holding a sword clutched against his breast and crossed orb on his knee. In all these cards so far, the Emperor either looks out of the card full-face or is turned away at a 45-degree angle.
In the Piedmontese or Tarocchi of Venice cards (late 1600s) the Emperor is shown for the first time in profile, a detail that may be linked to the proposed emergence of the Fratres Lucis manuscript or an earlier prototype version, to which the early Marseilles Tarots were adjusted in this very decade. This Emperor sits on a more chairlike throne with arm rests; the eagle is portrayed on the shield at his feet and his crown is now an elaborate helmet. He brandishes a very formal and decorated wand. For contrast, let's look at the Hermetic/ Alexandrian images, (the Falconnier Tarot published in 1896 but quite likely older): Here we see the Emperor with body facing forward but face in profile, holding the usual wand with (uncrossed) orb at the top. His legs are crossed under a short pleated skirt, and the crown on his head represents his mastery over the material world. If there is a connection between these two, it is the head and face in profile and the different but equally odd-shaped hats they both wear.
The Mitelli Tarot (1664), in excluding both the Popess and the Empress, has added an extra Emperor and Pope. The first Emperor is seated, is bearded (older), and holds a geo-graphical globe and a wand. The second Emperor is beardless (younger), is standing, and holds the usual wand and crossed orb. The anonymous seventeenth century Tarot from Paris (p. 135 in Kaplan's Encyclopedia, Volume 1) shows us a new view: The Emperor is standing, striding through the landscape, dressed in armor and carrying something that looks obscure but is more likely to be his shield than an eagle. His spiky crown has a long feather billowing from it.
Etteilla, a contemporary of de Gebelin in the late 1700s, eliminated the human imagery completely from the Emperor, and promoted it as No. 1 in his amended order, representing the first day of the divine creation described in the Hermetic Pymander. Stuart Kaplan would disagree with me, but I feel The Ideal (aka Chaos) is Etteilla's Emperor card, and he means it to represent "everyman," the male querant. It is alternately pictured as either a radiant sun beaming between parted clouds (late 1700s) or the earth surrounded by the rings of the planets (1800s).
The latter variant is an image of great antiq-uity, used by early Kabbalists and later Gnostics (it also appears in the Mantegna cards) to represent the descent of the soul into matter. Later variations of Etteilla's Emperor call it "Enlightenment," as in the dawning of higher consciousness (nineteenth century Etteilla version, p. 142 of Kaplan's Encyclope-dia, Volume 1). Because we now know that Etteilla was a Mason and studied the Hebrew and Greek creation myths, I am inclined to rename his Emperor "Adam Kadmon" (see "Gnostic Tarot").
The Waite-Smith Tarot returns the image to more familiar territory except for the addition of ram's heads prominently displayed to override more traditional associations of the Emperor with Jupiter (as shown in the previ-ous two century's Arcana from Etteillla, Levi, Papus and Wirth to the Falconnier family of decks). Variations in the intensely interesting Emperor from El Gran Tarot Esoterico include deer horns in a leather crown, a feathered cloak much like that of the Empress who preceded him, and a black bird sitting in a tree in the background. These trappings cast him into the deep prehistory of Christianity, as does the glyph of the sun hanging in the air (the earliest Hebrew correspondence to the number four and the letter Daleth). I see him as the Grain King who is sacrificed after a year of royal living, his limbs thrown into the fields in the fall fertility ritual.
In the development of this Arcanum, common themes of the historical stream of images are remarkably similar, with even the lone dis-senter, Etteilla, opting for a more grandiose version of the same idea. The Emperor is the boss or leader, the head of state, the most exemplary and powerful person in the realm. His word is law, and the positive outcome in affairs of state is directly proportional to his well being and happiness. The more enlighten-ment and cosmic perspective he possesses, the better life is for all under his reign. He has mastered the realm of the Cube, the world of matter and of manifestation.
The Heirophant or Pope
This image has been subject to several modifi-cations due to the political and religious climate of the times in which Tarot first 9 appeared. In the Visconti-Sforza Tarot from Bembo, the Priestess is called Popess and is often dressed in ecclesiastical finery, under-mining the exclusivity of the Pope's role and making both genders of equal rank. The male, bearded Pope is shown in triple crown making ecclesiastical gestures, but holds no tokens of his rank. The Von Bartsch Visconti-Sforza (date unknown) at least gives him a proper papal staff. Among the published versions of the Mantegna cards, the Pope is unambigu-ously female, although referred to by the encyclopedists as if male. Perhaps that is because Albrech Durer's version of the Mantegna Pope (from the early 1500s) is so clearly masculine.
The Goldschmidt cards from the mid-fifteenth century show a more typical patriarchal Pope with the fascinating variants of a Catholic bishop's mitre, a mysterious anchor inlaid in the wall beside him, and a checkerboard black and white floor mosaic repeated in several cards from this deck (said to be from either Provence or Italy) and in the contemporary Guildhall cards (possibly German). One of the Visconti-Sforza tarocchi cards from the Victoria and Albert Museum also shows a checkerboard floor under the Death card. We notice that in the early 1400s, this checkered pattern shows up several times in relation to Tarot, still a rare subject in those days. The two examples given by Kaplan in Volume 2 of his Encyclopedia show large scenes of Tarot players, either sitting in a room with a checkerboard floor (a fresco now at the Sforza castle in Milan, circa 1450) or framed in the checkered arches of a fresco in one of the arcades at the Issogene Castle in Val D'Aosta, circa 1415-1450. Perhaps the checkers on those early decks show a relationship to the "scene" those fifteenth century frescos repre-sent. (We notice that the checkered theme disappeared until it was recently revived on the Tarots of the French and English lodges of the late nineteenth century. I take it as a signal of their various Masonic affiliations, since their rituals were always played out on a floor similarly checkered in black and white.)
The Gringonneur Pope from the mid-fifteenth century is shown with cardinals flanking him. His profile is left-facing, and he holds the key to St. Peter's Cathedral in his right hand and the Gospel on his lap with his left. The con-temporary Pope from the d'Este cards wears a more elaborate triple crown, holds up the two-fingered blessing with the right hand and grasps a chunky, gilt Grail Cup on his lap in his left hand. In the following century, the Rosenwald Tarot shows the Pope in face-front pose, with triple crown and scroll in right hand. Catelin Geoffrey's Tarot from 1557 gives us a triple-crowned Pope with the triple-crossed staff as well as the keys to St. Peter's Cathedral. The Mitelli Tarot from 1664 includes two Popes as mentioned in the Priestess entry, both bearded, both wearing the triple crown; one Pope is seated on a throne with a paper in his right hand, while the other stands empty-handed.
A refreshing break from all this Catholic symbolism appears upon the French Revolutionary Tarot by L. Carey (1791). Due to anti-royalist politics of the time, the Priest-ess became Juno and the Heirophant became Jupiter. He is nude save for a strategically floating scarf, and he straddles the back of an eagle, holding thunderbolts in both hands. (His counterpart, Juno, is tastefully dressed but barefoot, and riding on a peacock.)
Notes from Fournier's Catalog of Playing Cards Volume 1 tell us that, in regard to the contemporary tarocchino from Bologne (No. 36 in Fournier's section on Italy), ". . . the Popes and Emperors are shown with heads and shoulders of Negroes and satraps accord-ing to the dictates of the Papal Authority." Perhaps the Pope didn't want these Arcana to be confused with any historical Europeans past or present!
In the eighteenth century Tarots, two pillars appear behind the Pope, perhaps another clue to the timing of the appearance of the Alexandrian/Fatidic Egyptian Tarot which places the Pope between them (though in those decks he was called the Master of the Arcanes). Contemporary decks by Jean Payen, the Marseilles, the N. Conver Tarot and the Lando all seem to have adopted this device. Court de Gebelin repeats the pillars, puts servants at his feet, and introduces the name The Heirophant. The same Tarots that replaced the Popess with the Spanish Capitano (the Vandenborre and the pack by Jean Galler) have replaced the Pope with Bacchus astride a wine keg, with a headdress and loincloth made of grapevines, swigging from his bottle with evident glee.
Etteilla, ever the iconoclast, replaces the personification entirely with "Secrets," show-ing the zodiac filled with the stars of day and night. I believe that this was his way of em-phasizing that the teacher of the Mysteries is not as important as the Sacred Sciences themselves. The Pope or Heirophant has from ancient times represented the head teacher in a sacred university, an institution that the Ro-man church had overtaken and co-opted to its curriculum by the fifteenth century. Etteilla chose to point to the university of Nature from which his students should seek initiation and where they would not be denied.
As this Arcanum developed into the twentieth century, we see the older debate over the gender of the Heirophant returning. Knapp-Hall and Papus make it unambiguously fe-male, while Waite-Smith and Wirth show him with full gray beard. In the end, there is no difference, really. The Heirophant teaches practical applications from the book of natural law, revealing those secrets hidden in every-day matter, the cycles of moons and tides, the links between the body and the cosmos. Because the monasteries were the only places a person could learn to read and write in the Middle Ages, the Heirophant is the one to whom a student would petition for entry, and s/he sets the curriculum for the neophytes' course of study. With right raised hand in the attitude of blessing, s/he links herself with the ancient lineages of Melchezidek, first initiator of the Hebrew priestly tradition, and passes on the lineage teachings. All self-generated shamans of any tradition inherently belong to this lineage.
The Pierpont-Morgan Bergamo tarocchi "Love" card (mid-1400s) shows a handsome young man advancing from the left and a beautiful woman standing to the right, both in medieval clothing reflecting royal status, as if they were reiterations of the Empress and Emperor. They are meeting and shaking hands below an upright, blindfolded Cupid who appears to be ready to drop an arrow onto the man's head. The contemporary Cary-Yale Visconti portrays the same couple but on opposite sides, in a manicured garden under a sumptuous canopy furnished with a bright red couch. A blindfolded cherub flying above is now about to drop the arrow on the woman. This image too was called Love. Kaplan, in Volume 2 of his Encyclopedia, likens these images to "betrothal portraits" popular in Germany and later in Italy. Such portraits typically show the couple linked by Cupid, who carries two arrows but no bow. The arrows are meant "that they might love each other equally" (p. 164).
The Charles VI Tarot from 1470-80 calls this Arcanum the Lovers, and shows several couples dancing and romancing; two cherubs are at the ready, bows drawn, to pierce some members of the crowd with their barbs of love. Kaplan, in Volume 1 of his Encyclope-dia, says the Lovers card is represented in the Mantegna Tarocchi (1470) by cards No. 20, Apollo, and No. 43, Venus, suggesting the identities of the royal couple who come together under the auspices of this Arcanum.
The Rosenwald Tarot cards from the sixteenth century reveal a man on bended knee before a woman, while above them a blindfolded angel with female breasts and male genitals prepares to shoot the woman in the heart with an arrow of love. Note that this ambivalent gender association shows up a century later as one characteristic of the "new" Devil Arcanum influenced by the reforms of the 1660s. We know this angel is not meant to be a devil figure, however, because the wings are dis-tinctly feathered rather than black and leathery as would be those of a demon.
In the mid-1600s we enter a time of mixed influences. This card tends to have a large numbers of variants through the years, giving us numerous subtle changes in interpretation from one pack to another. Several that might be especially interest-ing are mentioned below. But the image that eventually became standard, first on the Marseilles family of Tarots and later on Etteilla and all the French Esoteric cards, was the Two Paths, showing a young man at a fork in the road, standing between two women who represent different possible destinies for him. This image first shows up on the Jacques Vieville and Jean Noblet Tarots, both from the early 1660s in France.
By the early seventeenth century, the anonymous Parisian Tarot shows a very quizzical version of the Lovers. The woman appears on the right, human but with what seems to be gray angel wings that match those of the cherub overhead. Her gaze and hands are focused on his lap. We see him diagonally from behind as he straddles a hassock, looking at her face and embracing her chest. The cherub has an arrow ready to release, pointing at the man. Is he receiving sexual attention from an angel? Is this love or lust? Gioseppe Maria Mitelli's Tarot (1664) does not help us with this question, as he shows only the chubby cupid standing on earth though possessing wings, arrows holstered, wearing a blindfold.
He holds a flaming heart in his left hand. One Tarot from 1750 shows an interesting variation (Tarocco Siciliano cards). This pack presents the Arcana in a different numerical order than usual, so the Lovers image is numbered 8 instead of 6. A woman and a man are in the open landscape, the requisite cherub on a cloud above them. The cherub's bow is drawn, ready to shoot the man. This man is caught in a moment of shock, recoiling at what the woman is presenting. She is holding up another arrow, which has apparently already been released into her. It seems the man is not as receptive and peaceful with the prospect of love as the woman!
Aside from these amusing but inconclusive variations, the primary image for the Lovers goes forward as some variation on the "new" (in the 1660s) Two Paths image. In that formulation, the young man (the Magus?) who is standing at a fork in the road must choose between a modest angel and a primitively dressed nature girl (meant to imply sexual availability). Between them, the two women represent virtue and vice. The cherub is aiming the arrow at the man in the center of the image as if to imply that the responsibility for all consequences of this Choice will be borne by the chooser (meaning the person who draws this card).
The main variant of the Choice card is shown by the Jean Payen, Marseilles, Court de Gebelin, N. Conver and Vandenborre Tarots. All show a marriage ceremony being performed by an older priestess who stands in the same position the "vice" woman would have, to the left of the young man. This produces the same silhouette as The Choice, but the temptress image is replaced by the priestess (or Holy Mother) image.
. This priestess is ceremonially uniting the couple at a crossroads in the manner of a pagan handfasting. The priestess sometimes has her back turned to the viewer of the card, which can make it unclear whether she is older and making a marriage or younger and competing with the bride for the attentions of the young man. Usually the artist will have taken the time to detail a headdress for the extra woman if she is meant to be more than a flirtatious competitor of the bride. In each case, the cherub hovers overhead either targeting the groom or aiming between the bride and groom. Almost never are either of the women made the explicit target of the cherub's arrow. A modern version appears in the F. Gumppenberg Tarot, 1807-1815 (Kaplan's Encyclopedia Volume 2, p. 344). This card shows a beautiful young girl having to choose between a young king and a handsome warrior. The cherub is aiming at the warrior, while the young king is trying to pull her away with him. Even in this case, it is not the girl who is in the sights of the cherub! There must be an implicit lesson showing through in this Arcanum, implying as they all do that in this kind of situation the man (symbolically the ego and the will) is the deciding factor rather than the woman (referencing the heart).
Etteilla returns the Lovers to the church, now presided over by a priest in the nave of his chapel. We have no particular evidence to link Etteilla to the Church, although we can now be sure that he was a Mason and esteemed among his peers. He may be echoing the Adam C. de Hautot Tarot (1740s) or the Sebastian Ioia Tarot (mid- to late 1700s), both of which show the sacred marriage being performed by a man. But it is just as likely that Etteilla picked this version of the Lovers card because it allows him to transplant the Heirophant onto the Lovers Arcanum. In this way he frees up one card to name after himself: No. 1, Etteila (also called "le Consultant" and "Ideal") implying, it seems, that he is the Heirophant of the Tarot. In other Etteilla-style Tarots, this card gets the label Chaos, which in light of the Poimandres theme that Etteilla was following, was referring to the primordial state before creation began.
The Lando Tarot is less specific about which version of the Lovers we are seeing, but in any case it includes the classic "Two Paths" silhouette. Even the Milanese Tarot by F. Gumppenberg (late eighteenth or early nineteenth century), which is the deck the individual members of the Golden Dawn school were instructed to work with before they each created their own personal decks, shows the Two Paths/Marriage formula.
The Waite-Smith Tarot offers a surprising formulation of this Arcanum, depicting a naked Adam and Eve apparently before the events of the "fall." He stands on the right before a tree with ten flaming leaves (representing the Kabbalah Tree) and she on the left before a tree laden with red fruit and where a serpent is climbing into its branches. One can say that Waite is projecting the Bembo-style Royal Couple backward into the primordial myth, and reminding us of our august origins, our original divine natures, before we misused our powers of will. A similar Adamo & Eva card exists from a card game called Labyrinth by Andrea Ghisi (1616), and perhaps that is what Waite is referencing.
In choosing to add these Gnostic and Hebrew implications to the meeting of the Queen and the King, he has superimposed a biblical mythos onto an otherwise pagan Sacred Marriage image. This has not been a bad thing in itself, Waite's Lovers card is one of my favorites in his Tarot. But in so doing he left aside the important lesson of The Choice at the crossroads, the challenge to mature and commit, which has been the dilemma of the young man on the Lovers Arcanum since the 1660s. He also eliminated the Priestess, representing feminine Wisdom, the link to the Sophia bonding force that draws the partners together and binds them over time. The Lovers card in all its glory and variety has referred to the sex/love/commitment/consequences continuum and how to stay balanced within it. This card has been more variable than some because there are so many nuances of opinion about sex and relationship across cultures and centuries. But doubtless this Arcanum is about the issues raised by real human relationships, since the protagonist is shown in the act of making a life-changing choice. One cannot have it all. To partake of a higher ideal requires self discipline. The path of pleasure eventually leads to distraction from spiritual growth. The gratification of the personality eventually gives way to the call from spirit as the soul matures.
The Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot (1440-45) portrays a man directing a pair of horses who pull the Chariot, occupied by a robed noblewoman under a blue canopy with gold stars. She holds the Visconti dove that has a nimbus of energy around it. In the Visconti-Sforza Tarot, the horses are winged, and the lady seated in the cab gets along without a driver. In her gloved hands she holds a thin wand on the right and a crossed orb on the left.
The Charles VI Tarot (mid-1400s) changes the gender of the person in the Chariot. It shows an armored warrior wearing a red hat, holding an ornamental ax and standing on the dais of a float pulled by two white horses. They are coming at us full-front. The No. 45 Marte (Mars) card from the Mantegna cards seems directly related.
In the Rothschild Tarot (late fifteenth century or early sixteenth) at the Louvre in Paris, the Chariot shows a male figure with winged helmet on a raised platform. The horses pulling his vehicle, while looking at each other, are in fact diverging. With his hands full of the symbols of authority and victory and no reins in sight, one wonders how he will control the implicit dilemma. The Rosenwald Tarot from the early 16th century depicts the charioteer in the same dilemma, but standing.
The Catelin Geoffrey Tarot (1557) gives us a more controlled image: The man is holding a bouquet of flowers and the groomsman is holding the horses' bridles. In the early seventeenth century anonymous Parisian Tarot, the laurel crowned man is piloted by a youth or cherub who holds a whip over the steeds. The bottom part of the card is difficult to read because of clumsy coloration over faint outlining, but it looks like the steeds may be swans.
Mitelli's Tarot (1664) shows Venus in the chariot, nude except for a golden ribbon around her ribs and a golden scarf billowing behind her. Her chariot has no steeds, consist-ing instead of a rolling throne with stairs leading down to ground-level in front. The "ground" in question is, however, a cloud, as evidenced by the birds at her feet. She pulls up on a set of reins which pierce downward through the cloud, presumably to the world below. Her empty right hand is outstretched, her expression benign. To my eye, this card has a distinctly Gnostic flavor.
The Tarots I have identified as the "turning point" from folk Tarot to esoteric Tarot are the Jacques Vieville Tarot and the Jean Noblet Tarot, both from the early 1660s. The Vieville pack shows the interesting detail of human faces upon the Chariot. This may show a relationship with the prototype manuscript for the eventual Falconnaire Tarot, which I have suggested started circulating in the Secret Societies at this time. In that stream of Tarots which has emerged from this source (including the St. Germaine Tarot and the modern Ibis Tarot), the Chariot is pulled by sphinxes with human faces.
Stuart Kaplan suggests that the Vieville Tarot is the prototype for the Belgian Tarots, but in those that he illustrates (Adam C. de Hautot, 1740s, Antoine Jar and Martin Dupont in the 1800s), the horses just look like horses. The Jean Noblet form seems to represent the standard model from this time forward. Sometimes it is difficult to tell if the person in the Chariot is male or female, with the crescent-moon shoulder pads and the beardless face now becoming standard features. In some, the arrangement of the armored breastplate could suggest a female figure.
By the eighteenth century, the male charioteer clearly outnumbers versions where the rider is a woman or a goddess. Occasionally the image proceeds away from the viewer or is in profile (as in some of the Etteilla Tarots), but more often it comes straight out of the card toward the viewer. The sense of dynamic motion is always emphasized, often with oversized, studded wheels which, it is implied, are whirling the Chariot along the road.
In the esoteric Tarots from the cusp of the twentieth century, for example the Oswald Wirth, Knapp-Hall, and the Waite Tarots, a lingam and yoni image, sometimes winged, appears on the front wall of the Chariot. This symbol often refers to the sexual mysteries of combining the opposites. But in this context, because only one person is riding the Chariot, the implication is that this one person is becoming androgynous. This approach is made distinct in a 1935 pack called the British Tarot, which shows a distinct pair of breasts on a seemingly male charioteer.
In every case of this card's appearance, there is a triumphal feeling, as if the charioteer is being celebrated for a victory at battle or is being paraded through the streets as a hero (or heroine). The card appears to congratulate high achievement, a signal of a soul empowered in the world. The huge wheels and frisky steeds speed up the rate at which the driver's will can be realized, and make more of the world accessible to one ambitious enough to take the reins. There is real danger here because of the increased rate of change and its power to magnify mistakes in judgment, but like a seasoned warrior, the charioteer stays attentive to the road before him.
In the Visconti-Sforza Tarot of 1450, the seated image of Justice, her sword held upright on her right and scales held up in the left, is vaulted over by a fully armored, beardless knight with chin-length blonde hair who sits astride a skirted horse, unsheathed sword in right hand. I think what we are seeing here is the two sides of Justice--the contemplative side and the active side. Alternately, the Charles VI pack depicts the Justice seated on a cubic throne, holding an upright sword in her right hand and a hand-held scales in her left. Resemblance to the Justice Arcanum can be seen in the Mantegna card No. 37, Justicia (with both sword and scales, plus a leggy bird with a fruit held in one foot). The Rosenwald Tarot images present a version of the same thing (early sixteenth century).
In the early seventeenth century anonymous Parisian Tarot, Justice is shown standing in a field, sword and scales in hand but blindfolded, and with the Janus face (a young woman to the front, a bearded old man to the back). This device harkens back to antiquity and usually implies the benefit of hindsight that comes with long reflection. In this case both faces share the blindfold.
Mitelli's Tarot shows Justice unblinded in an outdoor setting, her one-shouldered dress flowing in the wind and revealing one breast. Her right hand holds the sword, the left the scales. In the intervening century separating this from the Sicilian Tarocco (1750), the only thing that has changed significantly in this Arcanum is that Justice is seated in the later pack, and her emblems have switched hands. From this point on she has almost no variations aside from the occasional pair of wings or a two-pillars allusion formed from the uprights of her throne rising behind her. Neither Etteilla (whose images we know were deliberately skewed from the usual order) nor Waite felt free to editorialize much on the image, although in the Waite Tarot, Justice was switched from position 8 to position 11.
One interesting image from the illustrious El Gran Tarot Esoterico shows Soloman as the figurehead instead of a female Justice. He is holding aloft a small infant by the feet. With a sword in his other hand, he prepares to cut the infant in half. This image represents a famous incident from the Bible in which Soloman was able to determine which of two women was the infant's real mother by their individual reactions to his proposal to divide the baby equally.
The standard meaning of this Arcanum is conscience, the moral sensitivity that is supposed to put us into others' shoes and evoke our compassion and sense of fairness. The great antiquity of this image has represented a standard for humane and equal treatment between humans of all kinds since the time of Soloman. By providing a fulcrum that helps balance competing needs against the greater good, and by using the two-edged sword to symbolize the exactitude necessary to make these adjudications, this Arcanum puts us all on notice that not one detail misses the inner eye of the conscience. The treatment we mete out to others will be received in our turn.
The very oldest image we associate with the Hermit of Tarot is probably an illustration of the poem I Triumphi by Petrarch, composed during an 18-year period starting in 1356. Stuart Kaplan shows a set of fifteenth century illustrations of the Triumphs, and the Triumph of Time is a perfect prototype for the Hermit. He stands on his float or chariot on crutches, bald, bearded, robed and winged. Two stags pull him, and two hourglasses stand on either side of him. Stuart Kaplan tells us that "the hermit is well-known in medieval and Renaissance art as a man of great virtue and spiritual strength. Often in paintings his presence is a reprimand to sinners who are frolicking and carousing" (Encyclopedia, Volume 2, p. 167).
In the Visconti-Sforza Tarot of 1450, an old and bent but sumptuously dressed man with a tall staff carries before him an hourglass, contemplating the passage of time. The Charles VI version (mid 1400s) shows a similarly well dressed old man, lacking staff but still contemplating the hourglass, with cliffs rising beside him. The uncut sheet of Minchiate cards from the late fifteenth century (p. 128 of Kaplan's Encyclopedia, Volume 1) shows the well-dressed old man on crutches, bellypack at his waist. A pair of transparent wings rises behind him and between them rises a six-sided pillar along the line of his backbone. Another early sixteenth century image from the Rosenwald Tarot shows the bent old man on crutches, but it has left out the wings, hourglass, staff and/or pillar entirely.
In Catelin Geoffrey's Tarot (1557), the Hermit is shown as an older tonsured (or balding) monk with rosary in his belt, walking away from us. He is entering a curtained doorway with a lantern held low before him. It doesn't appear to be an hourglass. In the anonymous Parisian Tarot from the early seventeenth century, the Hermit is now emerging from the curtained archway, and he has a cane as well as his hand-held lamp. (The shape of whatever it is he is carrying is indistinct, but it seems to have a lampshade over it.) The secret door in both cases would most probably represent a portal to the Inner Sanctum where the ineffable mysteries can be contemplated without interruption.
Gioseppe Maria Mitelli (1664) evokes the classical image of Father Time, a naked old man with flowing beard and large gray wings. He shows no visible infirmities, but leans on crutches anyway, reminding us again of our original image from I Triumphi. As of 1750 and the publication of the Tarocco Siciliano cards, the essential details had been codified as a robed and hooded old monk with flowing white beard, a lamp held up on the right; a short crutch on the left supports him.
In the late sixteenth century decks from Jacques Vieville and Jean Noblet, a new detail enters the picture--the arrangement of his cloak partially covers his lantern. This detail, found in all the Falconnier Tarots modeled on the Fratres Lucis document, which I think has been circulating since the 1660s, also appears on the Jean Payne Tarot (1743), the Marseilles (1748) and the Court de Gebelin images (1787). A serpent at the feet of the Hermit is a feature of the Egyptian-style Tarots as well, but that doesn't appear until the F. Gumppenberg Neoclassical Tarot from 1807.
Other contemporary decks followed the example of Etteilla, whose Hermit Arcanum reveals his light unshielded. The Tarocchini di Bologna cards (eighteenth century) sidesteps the issue by portraying the Hermit in his older form as a well-dressed old man on crutches, downcast but with large wings, standing in front of an unbroken, ornamented pillar. Another eighteenth century image from an uncut set of Minchiate cards (Kaplan's Encyclopedia, p. 52) reinstates the lame old man but adds an arrow piercing the hourglass and a stag resting beside him. We see the stag again in the Spanish El Gran Tarot Esoterico, which we are using in this CD Rom to represent the ancient Hebrew correspondences. This image, attributed to Eliphas Levi, includes a serpent at the Hermit's feet leading him into hidden knowledge of the Kundalini.
Turn of the century Tarot "experts" differ as to which version they emulate. The Waite-Smith Tarot falls with Etteilla into the camp of the uncovered lantern, in a land where no serpent lurks. Both Oswald Wirth and Knapp-Hall show the occulted light of the Levi-inspired versions, complete with a stylized serpent at their feet. Few maintain loyalty to the oldest formulations, especially after the Marseilles became the prototypical "traditional Tarot."
Given the many parables to be found in spiritual literature about "entertaining angels unaware" (as implied by the Hermits with the angel wings), and considering also the interesting later variation of cloaking or uncloaking the light, it seems obvious that this Arcanum's major intergenerational theme reminds us that the most powerful and interesting souls will often appear unbidden in a "plain brown wrapper," wearing the simple garb of an anonymous monk, often appearing aged or infirm. The pillar or column behind him in some cards reminds us not to judge his power by his apparent fragility.
The challenge of The Hermit is to be able to recognize the Teacher in this humble disguise. He will not make it easy for the student to acquire his wisdom because it takes time and long contemplation to fathom what he is illuminating with the lantern. He often speaks wordlessly or in ancient and barbaric tongues, communicating with the elements, the animals, the laws of Nature. While the hourglass was an identifying feature of the earliest Hermit cards, the more modern ones have shifted the metaphor, showing more or less light released from his lantern. But every Hermit card reminds us of the value of time spent away from the everyday hubbub of community life in order to destimulate the soul and learn to join with the mind of Nature.
The Brambilla Tarot ( 1440-45) shows the classic blindfolded Dame Fortune at the center with four people around her on the stations of and Typhon in Coptic, is pictured with the qualities of a reptile, suggesting the unconscious, instinctive residue of our animal nature. So the visual formula is "change is certain; learn to control impulsiveness and embrace the law of cycle. Wisdom will grow through experience."
Mitelli (1664) changes the approach drastically, putting a wagon wheel under the seat of naked Lady Fortune. She is posing with it, holding up an open purse from which pour coins and jewelry. Her hair is blowing in the breeze. The logo for his card could be "easy come, easy go." This image was not taken to heart by the masses, and by 1750 and the Sicilian Tarocco, we have a fairly conventional image again.
Etteilla, on the other hand, uses the image of a crowned monkey on a tree branch, perhaps making a statement about inexpert leadership among the "royalist" lodges. A man, a serpent twined around him, is descending on the left while a little gray mouse is ascending on the right. The rolling hoop hovers mid-bounce above a rocky landscape. The angle at which the monkey holds the wand hints that it is he who is keeping the hoop rolling. When we think of the times in which Etteilla lived, a period that encompassed both the American and French democratic revolutions, one can imagine the poignancy Etteilla must have felt as he designed this card!
Eteilla's Tarots were the most popular of the end of the eighteenth century and the first part of the nineteenth, and a Catalan version was the first standard Tarot printed in Spain a century later. Because of this, variant images crept in, including a revival of blindfolded Lady Fortune, this time robed and standing on a wagon wheel (Delarue Etteilla, circa 1880- 90).
In the nineteenth century the images return again to a more traditional look, but the creature at the apex begins to mutate afresh, showing variations of a crowned woman resembling Justice, a little king, or an indeterminate "beastie" that could be a variation on the Sphinx. One "modern" concept of the Wheel has followed the Waite-Smith "wheel in the sky" image that includes the four creatures of the elements and quarters.
Others have followed the Oswald Wirth version which uses a very stylized Wheel on an elevated frame in a crescent moon boat, bobbing on choppy waters as the Wheel turns with the action of Azoth (the rising force) and Hyle (the falling force). This image is a near-exact copy of the Egyptian-style Arcana, which I see as the influence for all the Wheel cards with a sphinx at the top. El Gran Tarot Esoterico combines the crowned monkey of the Etteilla with the white bear of the late fifteenth century Minchiate, here seen rolling a great stone Wheel of Time. This is the plight of the secret royalty of Europe, the clan of the Holy Blood, to patiently wait out the reign of the "crowned monkey", the Church and its made-up royalty.
A simple explanation of this card from its t ancient form to the present is change; the Wheel will keep on rolling, churning events in a ceaseless progression of ups and downs. No one can escape its action, which feels good when we are rising and terrible when we are falling. The figure balanced on the top has a moment of eternal clarity, but the only unmoving part of the Wheel is the hub that pivots on the crossbar that holds it up. Whether it is moved by the action of the Angel of Time, a disembodied Hand of Fate turning a crank or the natural law of eternal return, we are each bound to occupy all the roles at one point or another in our life's journey. The predictability of the Wheel is its lesson, and that's something we can take comfort in. If you don't like the look of things right now, just wait a bit-- it's bound to change. Of course, if you do like the look of things right now, enjoy it while it lasts because it's bound to change!
In the image called Fortitude from the Cary-Yale Visconti (1440-45), a beautiful lady with a corona-patterned aura rides the golden lion sidesaddle. The Pierpont Morgan-Bergamo Visconti-Sforza tarocchi (1475), also called Fortitude, shows a strong young giant, probably Hercules, swinging a club to kill the lion at his feet. The Charles VI Tarot of 1470-80 depicts a young lady with a dark halo, seated on a cubic throne, breaking a pillar with her hands. The Mantegna tarocchi (1470) presents us with a similar image called Force in which the woman is wearing a lion-embossed helmet and breast-plate with a live lion in the background. She holds a wand with a knobby end in her right hand and breaks the pillar with her left.
In the Rosenwald Tarot from the early sixteenth century, a mild-looking woman sits next to an unbroken pillar, her arms wrapped around it. A contemporary deck, the anonymous Parisian Tarot found in the Biblioth, que Nationale in Paris, shows us the familiar image of a woman wrestling with and/or taming a lion. She leans down from her throne to handle the beast, and her scarf billows behind her.
Giuseppe Maria Mitelli's deck (1664) retains the woman standing with a broken pillar, although there is no indication that the woman broke it. Her one-shouldered dress exposes her left breast, and she holds a scarf in her right hand.
A French pack circa 1720 (see Stuart Kaplan's Encyclopedia Volume 1, p. 146) shows us a man of royal rank opening the jaws of a lion with his bare hands. This hearkens back to the Hercules image of yore. But the Tarocco Siciliano of 1750 prefers the symbol of the woman with the pillar instead of the lion.
Etteilla's images are all versions of the lady with the lion, although the beast is usually asleep at her feet. This approach emphasizes the taming power of Lady Strength rather than the brute force of Hercules. This theme is also reflected in the Falconnier Tarot from 1896, first of the Alexandrian-style Tarots to be published, but quite possibly older than Etteilla's Tarots.
A most beautiful Major Arcana tarocchi with art from 1893, the Vacchetta, shows both the lion and the unbroken pillar with the calm and lucid Goddess standing between them. She looks away into the distance, while the lion frolics beside her and licks her hand. This synthesis combines the most non-violent elements of the earlier themes we can trace in this card.
In the Strength Arcanum, the animal nature, so fierce and frightening in its primal form, has been tamed and brought to heel under the direction of our finer, more subtle (feminine, interior) self. The will and passion of our untamed nature does not need to be "broken" but instead refined and brought to consciousness so that all levels of creation, inner and outer, might come into harmony. The feminine soul-force shows a strength and persuasive power that can induce cooperation from others, stilling disruptive energies and bring-ing the planes of being into harmonious relationship.
Illustrated in one version of this card is the medieval custom of hanging traitors or their effigies by their feet. This shaming image represents punishment or, alternately, the state of debt and delinquency and its repayment. In the earliest Visconti-Sforza image (1450), a youth in his undervest with tie-on sleeves and hose is suspended, upside-down by his left leg, from a square frame. The right is crossed behind the left, and his hands are tied behind his back. He gazes pensively into the distance as his hair hangs around his face. Alternately, the Charles VI pack from the mid-1400s shows the Hanged Man holding bags of gold coins in his hands, hanging from his right leg, with an orange feather peeking from behind him like a tail.
The Mantegna (1470) introduces the first image of Prudence, a woman holding an elaborate mirror in her left hand, a caliper in her right. She has a Janus head--young female face looking forward, older bearded male face looking back. This symbol is usually employed to suggest sober reflection in the light of past experience. The same face also appears on the Mantegna Theologia card, implying that the state of mind behind those two faces participates in two worlds at once, presumably with the "feminine" side in the world of spirit and the masculine side in the world of matter.
The Rosenwald Tarot of the early sixteenth century shows the hanging man again, arms untied, holding a full bag in each hand, preventing the contents from spilling out. The Catelin Geoffrey Tarot (1557) also returns to this earlier image of a hanged man, but in this case the man is tied by both feet, hands bound behind him, swinging from an L-shaped gibbet. There appears to be a ruffle of red feathers around his waist which could refer to the Lenten Fool, No. 0, harbinger of the spring carnival. In keeping with the Hanged Man's traditional attribution to Libra, those feathers could symbolize the Spring Fool being sacrificed at the onset of fall.
In the early seventeenth century anonymous Parisian Tarot, the Hanged Man's hands are free, and with the right hand he holds some-thing so it will not drop. The left hand makes an open-palmed blessing like a priest. He's hanging from his left leg with the right one crossed behind, and his foot is tied with a rope.
Never one to conform, Mitelli (1664) features a man asleep on a throne, with his head resting in his arms on a pillow. Another man stands behind him, arms raising a large mallet overhead, ready to strike a blow from which the sleeping man will never awaken. This image is so specific and so unique that it looks like an event from local history.
A card called Prudence in a French pack from the late eighteenth century (p. 337 of Kaplan's Encyclopedia Volume 2) shows us an effeminate or beardless youth standing like an upside-down Hanged Man on his left foot with the right leg crossed behind, hands on hips. The Vandenborre Belgian Tarot from the eighteenth century follows suit. But the Tarocco Siciliano cards from Modiano, Italy (1750) take the image to its lowest common denominator: We see the back view of a gentleman in frock coat, knee britches and hose, hanging dead from the branch of a tree, arms tied behind him. Versions like this violate the unwritten rule of this card, which is that however painful or tortuous the treatment of the Hanged Man at the time, it is specifically not fatal.
A most interesting form of the Prudence card emerges in Etteilla's Tarot, which we now know was an attempt at restating the Hermetic creation mythos as detailed in The Pymander. Here she resembles the Hebrew Matronit and the Gnostic Sophia, aware that the serpent at her feet is an initiator and teacher, not a demon. Her subtle smile and lifted skirt imply an understanding of the serpent's place in the great scheme of things. No longer does she contemplate only, but instead she actively accepts her fate and whatever are its natural consequences in the world in which she finds herself.
Both the Falconnier and the Waite packs represent the Hanged Man, as do the majority of Tarots in history. This seems to imply a certain fatalism compared to the Prudence formulation, with its suggestion of learning to work with our fallen state instead of against it. This shows again that the Etteilla Tarot was not just a whimsical distortion of the Arcana, but an attempt to upgrade the Arcana at the dawn of more liberal times. If he failed in some cards, he succeeded with others, including this one.
This card invariably indicates the lack of ability to help yourself through independent action. Whether this is because one is trussed and awaiting judgment or because one is female or too young to be taken seriously and therefore relegated to a passive role, there is no avenue for the will to win back its freedom until this situation has passed. This is a time to be philosophical, to study and meditate upon your circumstance, to make your resolutions for the moment when you become free again. Only those who possesses wisdom, patience and optimism will be able to see through the present humiliation and limitation in order to grasp the inspiration one can gain from such an experience.
In many of the oldest Tarot decks, including the Cary-Yale Visconti from 1445, the reaping skeleton rides a pale horse over fields filled with the body parts and blood of various Arcana characters. Alternately, Death is an archer in the Pierpont Morgan-Bergamo Visconti-Sforza tarocchi (1450), with the curve of the bow articulated like a spine. He stands at the brink of a precipice, testing the edge with his bony toe. The Charles VI pack (mid-1400s) shows a skeleton dressed in a yellow smock riding a dark horse. His big deaths-head grin expresses his glee as he chops away at the pope, cardinals, king and others who are being trampled underfoot. The early sixteenth century Rosenwald Tarot echoes the Charles VI image, but with less drama. In Catelin Geoffrey's Tarot (1557) the reaper is standing, shovel over the right shoulder and scythe skimming the ground on the left. A wan crop of straggly hair and empty eye sockets are especially ghastly. The landscape is unremarkable.
Stuart Kaplan, in Volume 2 of his Encyclopedia of Tarot, states that "beginning with Vieville's deck of the mid-seventeenth century, the figure of Death is seen on foot with his scythe. . . . This image persisted until Waite revived the old form with his depiction of Death as a skeletal knight on horseback, carrying a banner instead of a scythe." He seems to be correct on that; although we see one standing Death a century earlier, the convention changed precipitously after Vieville's Tarot. Several Arcana display this radical change appearing in the mid-1660s in the Vieville and Noblet Tarots, and I assume the Devil card is one example of this phenomenon.
When we look at the Falconnier Tarot, which I am suggesting is one of several Alexandrian-inspired versions of the Fratres Lucis manuscript circulating in Europe since the Middle Ages (the manuscript I suggest inspired these changes), we see a standing Devil reaping a field of severed limbs, much like Vieville's modification.
By the early seventeenth century, Death had sprouted what looks like wings, as in the anonymous Parisian Tarot. Little gore is visible, and the scythe is the reaper's only tool. A lone plant grows in the background. In the Mitelli Tarot from 1664, the skeleton benefits from a better sense of anatomy, but seems bland, with scythe on the left and hourglass held aloft on the right. A little pyramid stands in the background on the left side. (The attributes of scythe and hourglass are also associated with Father Time as well as Death.)
In every case, Death represents the time of harvest, as the ubiquitous scythe testifies. Unless the fruits of summer are harvested, they are lost to winter's harshness and the people do not eat. This Arcanum portrays the action of winter on the landscape, lush greenery is cut back, revealing the bones of the earth. The season of dark and cold separates the annual plants, which live and die in one year, from the perennials, which can take refuge in their root systems until the following spring, then sprout anew. As the scythe cuts the cords that link us to the past, it liberates us to go forward without fear, because we have nothing to lose. We can see that everything pruned away is recycled for the fertility of the future, so there is no loss despite the changes the seasons bring.
In the Pierpont Morgan-Bergamo Visconti-Sforza pack (mid-1400s), the Temperance card depicts a long-haired blond woman in a blue dress covered with gold stars, pouring an invisible substance from a silver urn to a gold one. She stands at cliffside looking down as she pours.
The Charles VI Tarot of 1470-80 makes the substance pouring between the urns more visible, but that and the woman's dark halo are the only outstanding features. The Mantegna tarocchi shows Temperance pouring the invisible substance again, with a dog at her feet looking at himself in a mirror that has a snake eating its own tail as a border. In Catelin Geoffrey's Tarot (1557) Temperance pours from an urn to a basin, showing less association with alchemy than with washing up. She is at least making a significant health statement in her times! Another variant of the Temperance image in the early centuries of Tarot might show her seated, but it seems to make no difference to the meaning whether she is enthroned or afoot.
The Temperance from the anonymous Parisian Tarot from the early seventeenth century seems unremarkable, unless you can make sense of the jumble of forms to the right of the woman. It is also difficult to read what happens to the stream pouring from the upper urn--does it land in a second one at her feet? The paint job makes the underlying image unclear. She may be standing cliffside or next to a body of water. Mitelli (1664) has turned her back to us, but otherwise she is as we would expect her, pouring from the right-hand urn to the left-hand urn.
The Vieville Tarot, which with the Noblet Tarot marks a turning point in Tarot history, gives us an interesting variant on the Temperance Arcanum. In this case, she holds a bird-topped wand (or a wand with an elaborate fleur de lis) on her left and pours from the urn in her right hand into another vessel at her feet. A banner imprinted with the words Fama Sol waves beside her, clearly an alchemical reference. This version persists among later Tarot decks, but less often than the image which the Marseilles Tarot immortalizes, that of Temperance pouring the liquid between vessels held in each hand.
Over time, Temperance acquired wings, although exactly when is difficult to pinpoint because Kaplan does not always include Temperance in the groupings of Arcana he displays. Vieville's Tarot lacks them, but Noblet's Tarot has embraced them. As Kaplan mentions in Volume 2 of his Encyclopedia, this Arcana has seen less variation than others in the first four hundred years, so he probably did not feel it necessary to display every single Temperance card.
The consensus on this card appears to be nearly complete. The female figure is a reference to the soul, and she is mixing a blend of subtle energies that will presumably be employed in the further evolution of the personality. The key to meaning in this card is its title, a pun on the process of tempering metals in a forge. The metals must undergo much violent handling, extremes of temperature and endless folding and pounding, but the end product is infinitely superior to the original raw ore, fresh from the earth and utterly unrefined. In this image, the soul volunteers the ego for a cleansing and healing experience which may turn the personality inside-out, but which brings out the gold hidden within the heart.
Authentic early images of the Devil in the Tarot are extremely scarce. For some reason this card is missing from nearly all the oldest Tarots. Perhaps the controversial nature of the image made it more subject to abuse. A very early image of the Devil Arcana can be seen in the Rothschild Tarot or Minchiate cards at the Louvre in Paris. The image is of a composite demon with chicken feet and legs, a remarkably human face in its abdomen, wings, tail, horns, goat ears, shaggy fur or feathers, and a huge gobbling maw with the remains of several people hanging out of it.
A figure very similar to this appears on the Tower card of the Catelin Geoffrey Tarot (1557). This is a conception right out of the ancient stone churches dotting Europe, which were carved inside and out to represent the teachings of the Gospel (interwoven with pagan tradition) for the non-literate masses. The reference is to the "hairy wild man" of paganism, Pan the god of the wilds, and the animal side of ourselves. The image from a Parisian woodcut circa 1530 shows very clearly the same kind of creature. Kaplan says "He is the Devil of the folk, rather than fine art" (Volume 2, p. 172). The Hebreo Devil card from the sixteenth century, cited by Kaplan in his Encyclopedia (Vol. 2, p. 297), is another classic folk-style Devil. Later Tarot decks which want to reference this theme show the Devil and its minions covered with hair.
This image was predominant even into the seventeenth century, and expresses the traditional concept of the lamia, werewolf or vampire, the monster that haunts the superstitious mind in the dark of night, threat-ening to steal one's soul. This primordial fear was cleverly harnessed by the Church when it was equated with the biblical Satan. The anonymous Parisian Tarot features a terrifying Devil as a composite demon with chicken feet, goat legs, face in his abdomen, bat wings, hairy arms, tail and an insane expression. He holds a red pole with fierce raking claws at one end and a heavy iron chain hanging from the other.
The red tongue sticking out of his gray beard completes the look. The Mitelli Tarot (1664) shows a powerfully built, nude man/demon with bird feet, pointed ears and curving horns growing from his hairline. He carries a trident, has leathery wings, and sits with his feet upon a dragon-snake.
On an alternative track, the Jean Noblet Tarot, one of the earliest examples of the Marseilles Tarot decks (this one published in Paris in the early 1660s) introduces important changes to the older demonic image. This shift adds a new gender alignment to the Devil, that of the androgyne. Female breasts and male genitalia introduce new information on the card. The Devil also acquires for the first time a male and female demon chained to the pedestal upon which s/he stands. It looks as if a distinctly new image began circulating among cartomancers at this time which influenced their thinking and showed up on nearly every Tarot after this pivotal date.
The Pierre Madenie Tarot of 1709 continues to make the Devil androgynous with the new feminine breasts just above a curvaceous waist, complimented with black bat wings and accompanied by the two primordial humans chained to his pedestal. Madenie and his contemporaries are a little ambiguous about what is below the beltline of this Devil, but the Claude Burdel Tarot of 1751, showing umistakable male genitalia, again makes explicit the issue of mixed or double gender for the Devil. The Grimaud Marseilles deck, first published in 1748, presents the image we are now accustomed to see as traditional.
All the Tarot decks from this era seem to be reflecting this new, more esoterically com-posed version of the Devil. Court de Gebelin mirrors it nearly exactly, Etteilla has a rare moment of accord with the collective consensus, and we see a near-total agreement on this image right up to the twentieth century. Even among those dissenters who revert to the older, all-male lamia version of the Devil (e.g., Edoardo Dotti, 1862; the Tarot pack by J. Gaudais of 1860) often choose to include the later addition of the wild man and woman chained to the pedestal.
This card's sudden mutation in the mid-1660s is a powerful argument for a new source of inspiration entering the Tarot canon at just this time. And if we compare this new mutation to the Typhon card of the Alexandrian Tarots, one sees the salient details of the change prefigured; the female breasts and male phallus, the bat wings, the horn(s) on the head, the two figures, male and female, chained at Typhon's feet. Although the Westernization of this image thinned the Devil's waistline (in later times made very narrow and feminine) and gave it a goat-like rather than crocodile head, it would be very difficult to argue that the Typhon formulation had nothing to do with the transformation of the Devil Arcanum, from the shaggy figure out of a medieval bestiary into the refined Baphomet image of Levi, Papus, Wirth, Esoterico, Balbi, and the other Continental esoteric Tarots.
Scapini's modern restorations of the missing Devil cards from the Pierpont Morgan-Bergamo Visconti-Sforza tarocchi pack and the Cary-Yale Visconit tarocchi deck (fifteenth century) are wonderful, as is all his work, but it is not likely that the originals were similar. The Scapini images show the two people chained to the pedestal under the Devil, a detail which emerged only in the later 1600s in response to the Hermetic/Alexandrian document that inspired the Falconnier Tarot. Of the other modern Esoteric Devil cards, the Waite-Smith image is the most familiar, showing us the very early, male, bird-footed Devil but including the chained demons on the pedestal. Dali's image deliberately echoes the Fool, showing a hermaphroditic soul being pushed into his/her deepest desires, a very Gnostic image!
An overview of the Devil Arcanum shows us the realm of the Taboo, the culturally created, rejected and undigested shadow side that each of us is burdened with due to our acculturation. This is in fact the core of our individuality which we cannot get rid of but will never succeed in taming. From its earliest versions, showing the lamia or vampire-demon, this card evoked the Church-fueled fear that a person could "lose his soul" to this wild, animalistic force. The amended version that emerged in the mid-1600s shows us a more sophisticated version called Typhon, a hermaphroditic amalgam of the four elements, enslaving the animal nature in men and women.
By the 1800s the concept had refined into the scapegoated Goddess, whose esoteric name is Baphomet. Volcanic reserves of passion and primal desire empower her labor to overcome the pressure of gender-based role assignments and experience true freedom of soul. Tavaglione's fully realized image portrays the magical, theurgical formula for harnessing and transmuting primal and obsessive emotions into energy toward enlightenment. As a part of the Gnostic message of Tarot, this frightening but awesome passion and power must be reintegrated into the personality to fuel the soul's passage from mortal to immortal.
The Tower image, like that of the Devil, has not survived through history as well as the other Arcana from the oldest Tarots. This could be a side effect of the Church persecutions of all things occult or Gnostic. Then again, it may just be because the royalty who commissioned the earliest Tarots didn't want to be confronted with images of themselves in physical or political danger, or pursued by demons from the pits of Hell.
Nevertheless, some ideas can be derived from looking at the earliest versions that we do possess. A massive Tower is the only subject of the Charles VI Tarot (mid-1400s). Its front is shown intact, but the backside is cracking, dropping pieces and revealing flames licking from between the bricks. By the time of the Catelin Geoffrey Tarot (1557) we see only the door of the Tower, at ground level, with gray smoke and yellow flames belching out the windows. Three beings are crossing paths at this stone archway; a gray, chicken-legged demon with mad humanoid face is reaching out for, and locking eyes with, a man who has a viola on his shoulder, his bow ready to play. The musician is walking briskly into the melee, but looks back at the touch of the demon. A wailing woman with her arms in the air flees something she sees behind the door, oblivious to everything else around her. The Rothschild Tarot or Minchiate cards from the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century show a pile of broken bodies before the door of the Tower, with another person ready to jump off the ramparts. Flames are licking out from all the windows. No demon is present to complicate matters.
The early seventeenth century anonymous Parisian Tarot shows a very disturbing image. Little is made of the Tower, but smoke and flames are everywhere. One nude woman crouches with her arms over her head, another runs screaming through the devastation. A gray faced demon with a man's body raises a red club, perhaps to dispatch the crouching person. Another dwarfish demon with what looks like a horn growing backward from his head appears to be straddling and/or embracing several amorphous flesh-colored forms slanting away from the top of the card. Everything is falling and askew, an impression increased by the sloppy coloring job. The Mitelli Lightning card (1664) is a revelation of clarity by comparison, dispensing entirely with the tower and showing a single man being struck by a zigzag bolt of fire.
Two other images emerge in the pivotal 1660s, one of which becomes the Marseilles standard called the House of God, seen on the Jean Noblet Tarot circa 1660 (Kaplan's Encyclopedia Volume 2, p. 309). This shows the familiar crowned Tower being hit with a bolt of light ning from the sun, releasing a shower of falling sparks, knocking the top of the Tower right off, and plunging its two occupants to their deaths. Stuart Kaplan retells the Arthurian legend of the "Dolorous Stroke" as a possible subtext for this image (on p.174 of Volume 2 of his Ency-clopedia), as well as cites the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, a traditional connection. We can assume there were other well known correspondences to this Arcana even in the 1600s, however.
Not only do we have the demonic images on the earliest Tower cards to factor in, but the Jacques Vieville Tarot, chronological and physical partner to the Noblet Tarot, shows another version of Arcanum No. 16, one which becomes the norm for the subsequent Flemish Tarots. In this version a young man expresses wonder at the sight of a large tree under a cloud containing the sun. Drops of something white or transparent fall through the sky, and neither a tower nor lightning are apparent. This image is named "Lightning" but evades entirely any of the ramifications that have to do with the House of God.
Perhaps the awestruck young man is contemplating the amazing powers of Nature at work in the landscape. Or could this be Adam, rediscovering the Tree of Life after winning his way free from the depredations of the Devil? In his caption for the pictures of the Adam de Hautot Tarot (1728-48), Kaplan tells us that "according to the Biblioth, que Nationale, [this image] may have once been The Star, portraying one of the shepherds on the night of the Nativity of Christ, with the star of Bethlehem blazing and sheep at the foot of the tree." This is a far cry from our original images from the 1400s, and never caught on with the majority despite its Gnostic evocativeness.
In the majority of these images, disaster is striking or has just struck. The demons of madness and despair are released from ancient hiding places, and Nature conspires with human evil to destabilize the people. One unwritten subtitle of this card is "The Act of God" because the upheaval is collective, impersonal. Yet let us remember the patrons for whom these images were created, nobles and clergy, the educated rich, and we realize just who will lose altitude fastest should the towers start to fall. In that sense, lightning is a fitting karmic response to the guilt of those whose fortunes come from abuse of the land and its residents. A more fitting modern subtitle could thus be "Revolution from Below," indicating drastic enough change that a poor person has new cause for hope of better times. Although the Tower comes packaged as a classic crash and burn experience, it also levels the playing field for everyone, providing all who survive with a fresh start as equals.
The Visconti-Sforza Tarot (1475) shows a long-haired blond woman wearing a blue dress embellished with golden stars, covered by a red robe lined with green. She is looking up and reaching out with her left hand to touch a star in the heavens. The Charles VI pack (mid-1400s) shows two mature men in robes, one with a star map in his hand, pointing up at a brilliant gold star with eight points in the heavens above them. These men epitomize the two earliest representations of this concept: the astrologer who charts the Star, or the Spirit of the Star, and bridges the gap between heaven and earth.
The Rothschild Tarot or Minchiate cards from the late 1400s to early 1500s now at the Louvre in Paris show us a fascinating image. Figures much like the Emperor and the Pope carry an elaborate crown between them. They bump into a Fool-like person who hails them with open arms, as if he is a long-lost brother. An eight-pointed star hangs overhead. Are these unlikely three about to become the Three Wise Men? The suggestion is that each of them is being led by the Star.
The anonymous Parisian Tarot from the early 1600s shows a learned professor in mortar-board hat sitting at his drafting table with protractor in hand, looking up at an eight-pointed star in the upper left corner of the card, partially obscured by the border. The Mitelli Tarot of 1664 uses an interesting variant of the Star. A man with a heavy load slung from the staff over his shoulder carries a lit lantern through the night. His head is down and his stride is long. Overhead are six small stars and one very bright one, all with six points, lighting his way. Another variation emerges with the Tarocco Siciliano cards from Italy in 1750. Here a man on horseback balances a giant sphere or covered hoop sporting the design of an eight-pointed star, of which we see the bottom half. There is a carnival or Triumphi feel to this picture, entirely at odds with the quiet, contemplative, meditative trend of the other Star cards considered. This formulation, like Mitelli's, did not catch on with the larger marketplace.
The form that did catch on and become standard is the young, nude woman by the bank of the water, pouring from two vessels into the water and onto the earth. The Marseilles, the Falconnier and the Waite image all align with this form of the Arcana, as does the Knapp-Hall Tarot, Oswald Wirth's Tarot, and El Gran Tarot Esoterico. We see this as the traditional image now, but it is in actuality one of many that have been named the Star.
Despite the changes from deck to deck, the overall idea of the Star is the reconnecting of one's soul with a larger frame of reference outside of personality, community or worldly accomplishments. The soul (always shown as female in Tarot) is responding to forces affecting it from outside this world, forces that provide the personality with such sureness and orientation that it can ignore what anyone else thinks. Remembering the Gnostic myth of the soul's descent from on high, the Star card implies a new remembrance of our exalted origins and attraction to the path of return. An alternate title for this card is "Celestial Mandate" in that it refers us back to our reason for being, our mission in this lifetime. This Arcanum reminds us that each of us is a secret agent enacting Divine Will through our moment to moment lives. If we let go of the idea that we are supposed to be in control of our lives every minute, we can study and reflect upon the synchronicities that are constantly nudging us through our days. Thus we become conscious of the invisible help focused on us, and we understand our place within and value to the larger cosmos in a new way.
In the Visconti-Sforza Tarot of 1450, a long-haired blond woman wears a red slip over a blue dress bound with a silver cord for a belt. Her right hand grasps the moon in the sky while the left hand tries to control the belt ends, which are flapping in the breeze. She stands at cliff side but looks at the moon. In the Charles VI pack (mid-1400s) we see an older magus with a white beard, seated at his desk, with a zodiacal globe of the heavens on a stand behind him.
He is using a compass to erect a chart of the Moon, whose image from the heavens is reflected in the paper under his hands. The Gringonneur Tarot (mid-1400s) shows not one but two magi, with compasses and sky map, "who measure the conjunctions of the stars and planets" (Stuart Kaplan's Encyclopedia Volume 1, p. 115). The Rothschild Tarot or Minchiate cards (late fifteenth or early sixteenth century) show two philosophers crowned in laurel, the one on the left with a sophisticated astrolabe sculpture in hand. Each also holds a caliper or angle measuring tool, and the person on the right points to the moon above. There are no connotations of lunacy or disorientation here.
One early seventeenth century anonymous Parisian Tarot propounds a different idea for this card entirely. A nude woman in a tall tower lets down her hair and exposes her back for the man with a harp seated in the garden below. We see the archway and door he could enter to reach her, yet he stays and makes music. A full moon looks down benignly from above. In contrast to the Lovers from this Tarot described above, this card shows some restraint and an aesthetic sensibility. It could be referring to the growing tradition of courtly love saturating Renaissance culture at this time. Another idealistic Moon card is seen in the Mitelli Tarot (1664), where a young woman standing with a hound at her feet leans on her staff and looks into the heavens; she is crowned by a crescent moon. She seems to be making a reference to Diana or Artemis, goddess of the purity and natural sacredness of wild places.
The Tarocco Siciliano from 1750 gives us another variation. A man is asleep under a tree, and a woman stands over him making gestures as if to point out his limp state. Kaplan refers to the cloud around the moon as being ominous and the face on the orb as diffident, uninterested. Is she sad? Mad? Is he sick? Under the influence? The card does not specify. But we know that the Moon Arcanum has often been used to symbolize special shamanic states of mind, such as those reached through dreams or deep trance work, so there are multiple possibilities about what is going on in this image.
The Marseilles Tarot decks, which were emerging as a separate style in the late 1600s, show us the now-familiar Two Towers image in which the path rises from a pool containing a crawfish or crab at the base of the card. The moon emanates an otherworldly glow to the tune of two baying dogs who stand at the base of the towers, between which the path runs to the horizon. Although this may seem to represent a departure from previous Tarots that we have evidence of, a similar Arcanum No. 18 image appears on the Alexandrian Tarots modeled from the Fratres Lucis manuscript (or its prototype) purportedly circulating in Europe since the Middle Ages. The difference is that in the Alexandrian-style version, called the Twilight, the towers are pyramids. In truth, these two Moon cards are more similar to each other than to any earlier images in the stream.
The Moon Arcanum always refers to our deepest body-mind states, the ones where, within a protective cocoon of deep relaxation, we are brought to the finest pitch of sensitivity and imaginative impression-ability. Here we dream and trance, have visions and receive insights, wash in and out with the psychic tides and experience deep mystical and/or terrifying realities beyond our ordinary senses. The full moon and/or eclipse charted by the magi (as in some of the earliest Moon images) imply one mechanism that Nature uses to dilate the soul. The variants of the courtly lovers (representing right use of the sex force) or the man "sleeping it off" under the tree (use of drugs to alter consciousness) are also traditional avenues for touching the primal body/mind outside our conditioning. The human curiosity for knowledge of "higher states" has propelled us to the frontiers of consciousness, where we cannot always control what happens. This Arcanum represents the ultimate test of a soul's integrity, where the barrier is removed between the self and the unknown, and the drop reenters the ocean of being. What transpires next is between the soul and its Maker.
One of the earliest images of the Sun Arcanum is the one on the Gringonneur cards (agreed to be from the mid 1400s). A young and beautiful woman with fair hair is shown with a staff and drop-spindle, walking through an Eden-like landscape, complementing its beauty with her own. The sun looks down impassively from above. An uncut sheet of Minchiate cards, circa late fifteenth or early sixteenth century (Volume 1, p. 128, Kaplan's Encyclope-dia) shows a seated version of the same spinning woman, although the Sun has a decidedly stern face in this card. The Charles VI Tarot from 1470-80 displays this theme as well.
This image did not become the standard form, however, giving way (or giving birth?) to other formulations within only a few decades. In the Visconti-Sforza Tarot of 1450, a muscular cherub on a leaden-green cloud holds up the red and radiant face of the Sun, which beams aggressively over the landscape below. Gareth Knight, in his book A Treasure-House of Images, mentions that this particular version "is an image that has resonance with the Mysteries of Orpheus and the Holy Grail, ancient Celtic Mysteries, and the esoteric Christianity associated with Salome and John the Baptist" (p. 72). I do wish he had ex-plained that line of thought further!
Alternately, the Ercole d'Este cards (1475-80) shows an old man sitting on the edge of a huge overturned wine keg and carrying on a discourse with a man who is standing and facing him. A large gold Sun with silver emanations shines in the dark sky above. The early seventeenth century anonymous Parisian Tarot takes a different tack, putting a blue ape in the image, which appears to startle a woman who was combing her hair. It is unclear to me what the ape is holding up between itself and the woman, but Gareth Knight says it is a looking glass. A radiant Sun shines down upon the scene impassively. On the other hand, the Mitelli Tarot, another unique pack from later in the same century, shows the Greek god Apollo with his lyre, haloed in golden light, his purple cloak tied loosely around him. Perhaps these two are mirroring each other, the truly beautiful and harmonious Apollo contrasted with the false beauty and glamour of vanity, truly the "ape" of our higher values.
The Tarocco Siciliano cards from 1750 seem to continue the innovative trend in this image, showing the Cain and Abel murder being enacted under an "ominous cloud" that surrounds the impassive Sun. This image reflects in human terms the dismal characteristics that guarantee our continuing estrangement from Eden, damning humankind to generations of strife and fighting. It is here that "original sin" becomes personal.
The Marseilles image which became the standard by the early 1700s shows us two toddlers protected from wild Nature by a brick wall that stands protectively between them and the greensward. Being "back to Eden" after the global reconciliation to come is implied. This reconciliation, sacred to all the Old Testament believers from antiquity, resolves the tension between all opposites (symbolized by the two children, ambiguous in both gender and age).
The Alexandrian model of Arcanum No. 19, exemplified on this CD in the Ibis Tarot, is called "Love" in the Falconnier version and "The Beaming Light" in the Fatidic Egyptian Tarot from 1901. This image shows the two children grown, of opposite genders, holding hands within a circle of greenery. A symbol of sexual union hangs in the sky above them. If these two Sun cards were made in respect of each other, the Marseilles version represents a naive approach to the resolution of the opposites compared to the one portrayed on the Egyptian-style decks!
Etteilla chose the mixed image called "Enlightenment." The bottom half of the picture shows two naked infants playing around what looks like a sepulcher or monument in a woodsy setting. Perhaps their new lives represent the victory of life over death. In a sort of split-screen effect, the upper end of this image is a scene in deep space, at the birth of a star. He might be trying to say that when we become conscious of our true cosmic identities, we are no longer so tied to birth and death.
When his time came to represent esoteric Tarot for the twentieth century, Waite chose to hark back to the earliest versions showing a cherub, only this time riding a horse and carrying a banner, seen against the walled backdrop of the Marseilles image. We could infer that in this formulation, the opposites are united within the self, in the Divine Child Within.
Because The Sun Arcanum personifies the goal of self cultivation and self initiation in the classical scheme, the overall theme of this card is "back to Eden" or "reversal of the fall from grace." It is here that one's original nature or preconditioned being can be encountered in health and safety. The limitations of time and space are stripped away; the soul rests and is refreshed, protected from the chaos outside the garden walls. Life reassumes its primordial goodness, truth and beauty. If one person is portrayed, it is usually shown as a human incarnation of the Divine. When two humans are shown, they are usually designed to express a resolution of the tension between opposites on all levels. It is for this reason that this card is read in a spread as saying "you can do no wrong."
Called the Angel in the Cary-Yale Visconti, winged spirits blowing long trumpets hang in the blue firmament while below the earth is parting to release the souls of the dead into their resurrection. Most emerge naked, but one is emerging in full ecclesiastical regalia. The Visconti-Sforza Angel image, from 1450, shows a third entity in heaven with the trumpeting angels, this one a grand fatherly patriarch with blue robe, flowing white beard, red gloves, and an upright sword in his right hand. Another patriarch emerges from the tomb between two nude maidens who are also emerging. The Charles VI pack shows two angels with trumpets blowing a blast that raises seven nude men and women from their graves (mid-1400s).
Luckily the trend toward greater population on this Arcanum ended here. Catelin Geoffrey's Tarot (1557) scales it back to one trumpeting angel and three resurrected souls, two women and one man, all nude. Mitelli (1664) is so minimalist that he only presents the trumpeting angel, and viewers are left to come to their own conclusions about the results. The Tarocco Siciliano cards from Modiano, Italy (1750) changes the Angel image into an image of Jove, and it is numbered to be the last card in the Major Arcana sequence in this family of Tarots. He sits on a throne with an eagle at his feet, his upraised hand full of descending thunder-bolts.
The robe wrapped casually around him reveals his strength and vigor. This could be seen as a very patriarchal image, implying continuing punishment for fallen humanity rather than the reconciliation of opposites which often informs this Arcanum. The Marseilles image is now our classic reference for this card, and there is very little substantial difference between this and the Alexandrian version, the Etteilla versions, and the versions of Papus and Wirth. A settled consensus seems to inhabit this card through the last three centuries of Tarot, which seems to mirror the concern amongst most world religions: that believers be assured that this life, this body, this personality and gender, are not all there is to look forward to.
This Arcanum, called Judgment but usually picturing the Resurrection, represents the great reunion that the ancients believed would happen once every world age, when the group of souls who had been reincarnating together is gathered up and taken "home" to the place of origin outside the solar system. Then the World is seeded with a batch of new souls and the process starts over. In this great reunion, every personality you have ever been and every soul you have done deep work with comes back together to consciously complete the process. In personal terms, this portrays you as becoming so spiritually transparent, so clear a channel, that the buried talents and gifts of past incarnations bloom through you in this lifetime. You can afford to open yourself trustingly because what emerges is of consistently high quality. You effortlessly manifest as a multi-talented, multi-dimensional being, and you assist in evoking that response in others.
This Cary-Yale Visconti Arcanum from 1445 centers on a portrait of a Renaissance village, complete with little lake, people fishing from the bank and a knight errant riding by. We see the Goddess in the firmament above, rising from a crown whose headband hangs high above the scene. She presides over her World serenely, a thin wand in her right hand and the orb of sovereignty in her left, an upper-case Empress.
In the Charles VI pack (mid-1400s) a similar globe or world-ball showing towns and vil lages in the folds of a hilly landscape lies under the feet of a blond woman looking much like the Strength, Fortitude and Temperance figures from the same deck. She holds a golden wand in her right hand, a golden ball in her left. The Italian tarocchi cards of the early sixteenth century, which are divided between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, also show this configuration on its World Arcanum. The imagery appears to have started out feminine, pointing to a Gnostic inspiration.
In 1450 the Visconti-Sforza Tarot portrays two muscular male cherubs holding up a globe that shows a walled city on an island surrounded by a turbulent sea. The Ercole d'Este image again contains the rolling landscape with towns and trees dotting the hills. This time a chubby cherub with green wings sits above, and a golden eagle with outstretched wings holds up the ball from below. The Eagle has had esoteric connections since biblical times, and has also served as a totem of the Empress and her family.
The late fifteenth or early sixteenth century Minchiate cards in the Biblioth, que de l'Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts shows, in Kaplan's words, "a mythological god or warrior atop an ornate stone wheel" (Vol. 1, p. 128). His winged helmet has Hermetic associations. His right hand holds a wand topped with a winged, gold-trimmed orb and the left holds another orb, with the t-cross inscribed on it and surmounted by an equal-armed cross.
The anonymous Parisian Tarot from the early seventeenth century uses an androgynous figure covering itself with the drapery of a curtain held up on a rod behind it. This symbol, the "veil of the Mysteries," is an ancient Hebrew concept which is not usually illus trated though often mentioned by early Kabbalists. This idea can be related to the Ain-Soph Aur or "triple-veiled nothing" of the Kabbalists. This self-complete being strides across a globe that seems to contain the sun, the planets and the signs, and which has the classic band-and-raised-cross trimming that is usually seen on the globe in the hand of the Empress or Emperor. Stylized faces in the clouds blow upon the globe, presumably to keep its contents rotating.
A bit later in the seventeenth century Mitelli shows the World as a huge stone which a burly naked man struggles to lift from a kneeling position. This could be Hercules or Sisyphus performing monumental labors to defend humans from the judgment of the gods. The Tarocco Siciliano (1750) echoes this image, but the boulder is banded with the glyphs of the zodiac signs, like a giant calendar- stone.
The Marseilles image, most familiar of all, is of a woman, haloed man, or androgyne dancing or standing in space, surrounded by an oval wreath of leaves. Usually the image is unambiguously feminine, but the Vieville World card from the early 1660s de-emphasizes the breasts and gives it a halo, like the familiar Christian images of Christ Triumphant. Stuart Kaplan reveals a wealth of detail about ways in which the Marseilles image resembles religious pictures of the Last Judgment (Encyclopedia, Volume 2, p. 179), and he also includes the Christ Triumphant image rendered on a beautiful piece of carved ivory from the eleventh century which could double as the World Arcanum without changing a detail. Kaplan also introduces the idea that the earliest female World cards might have been intended to represent a female Christ, which indicates a distinctly Gnostic mentality.
Another Marseilles variant, the modern El Gran Tarot Esoterico, which with its correspondences refers us back to the very ancient Hebrew versions of the Sephir Yetzirah, portrays a divine person with both breasts and male genitalia within a blossoming wreath, surrounded by the "four beasts of the Apocalypse," a popular formulation of this Arcanum. This Tarot may be chronologically modern, but the reference is to the same themes that Kaplan details in the slow slide of this Arcanum through both male and female forms over the centuries.
The Etteilla Tarots feature a substantially similar image, although the gender of the figure may be either male or female, depending upon the edition. When it is female, she is usually accompanied by two tall, narrow pyramids on either side. The image is called "Voyage," perhaps implying traveling around the world.
This Arcanum is called The Crown of the Magi in the Alexandrian Arcana, which resembles the Falconnier Tarot and is drawn from the Fratres Lucis manuscript purported to be from the Middle Ages. It shows a regal woman seated under the heavens. The skies are filled with a winged lingam and yoni symbol within a floating wreath, accompanied by the creatures of the four elements. The woman plays upon a three-stringed harp, each string representing one aspect of the human endowment, body, mind and soul.
We cannot see this detail on the Falconnier or the Fatidic Egyptian Tarots published between 1896-1901 because Kaplan left those Arcana out when he photocopied those Tarots for his Encyclopedia. But the Ibis, the St. Germaine Tarot, and the Sacred Tarot from the Brotherhood of Light all record this detail, so I feel safe to assume the older ones do too. If the Alexandrian-style Arcana do prove to have had an impact upon the Marseilles images of the late 1600s, this card would have to be cited as a counterargument.
Perhaps the tension created by a female image appearing on the World Arcanum, after several centuries of Christ-centered iconography, was too great to allow a return to the older, Sophianic conception of the earliest Tarots.
Most of the images in our modern Tarots, made at the turn of the twentieth century, follow the Goddess-oriented line of thought from the earliest versions of the card. Oswald Wirth, Manly P. Hall and A.E. Waite all give us virtually the same idea. Interestingly enough, Hall's World card rearranges the suit symbols held by the four angels/animals of the elements in an intriguing and unexplained way. Perhaps the fact that his Tarot shows a strong leaning toward the Spanish style gives us the hint we need to further examine his elemental attributions, because the Spanish Tarots are the only ones that switch the elements on the suit symbols in their Tarots.
The predominating idea of the World Arcanum is the presiding intelligence, called Sophia or Wisdom, that upholds the platform for life on this and all worlds through infinity. A more accurate title would be "Soul of the World" because the (usually female) figure who has become our standard World image originates in Hebrew, Gnostic and alchemical lore. She stands between heaven and earth as the Cosmic Mother of Souls, the Wife of God who protects us from the karmic forces we have set loose on Earth in our immaturity and ignorance.
Where the Empress secures and fertilizes our terrestrial lives, The World Arcanum's Goddess invites us into cosmic citizenship once we have come to know our soul's potential for it. Just as the Chariot (No. 7) stands for success in achieving a separate self, and the Temperance (No. 14) represents achievement of mental and moral health in the cauldron of culture, The World (No. 21) announces the stabilization of the soul's Immortal Being, accomplished without the necessity of dying. Hence this card, like the Sun, is reputed to have no negative meaning no matter where or how it appears. If the Hermetic axiom is "know thyself," this image represents what becomes known when the true nature of self is followed to its uttermost end.
Read more exerpts from The Underground Streams: Esoteric Tarot Revealed:
History of Tarot | Esoteric Orignins of Tarot | Criteria for Esoteric Tarot | The Gnostic Tarot | Kabbalah | Confluence | Continental Tarots | Spanish School | The English School | Major Arcana Theory | Minor Arcana | Major Arcana Cards | Coins | Cups | Swords | Wands | About Christine Payne-Towler