The Tarot: Occult Significance of the Tarot Cards
Before concluding this short treatise, I will say a few words on the occult and Qabalistical signification of these wonderful Tarot Cards. It has been long known that the ordinary 52 card pack was susceptible of some peculiar numerical significations, e.g.:
|52 Cards in the pack, suggest 52 weeks in the year.|
|13 Cards in each suit, suggest 13 lunar months in the year, 13 weeks in the quarter.|
|4 suits in the pack, suggest 4 seasons in the year.|
|12 Picture Cards in the pack, suggest 12 months in the year, 12 signs of the Zodiac.|
Furthermore, if we add together:
|The pips on the plain cards of the four suits||=||220|
|The pips on the 12 Picture Cards||=||12|
|Twelve Picture Cards reckoned as 10 each||=||120|
|The number of cards in each suit||=||13|
|We shall obtain the number of days in the year||=||365|
But concealed behind their apparently arbitrary and bizarre designs, the Tarot Cards contain a far more complicated system of recondite symbolism. We find the number ten multiplied by the mystical number four, and combined with a primitive hieroglyphic alphabet of twenty-two letters.
Eliphas Lèvi says in his “Histoire de la Magie“: “The absolute hieroglyphical science had for its basis an alphabet of which all the gods were letters, all the letters ideas, all the ideas numbers, and all the numbers perfect signs.
“This hieroglyphical alphabet of which Moses made the great secret of his Cabala, and which he retook from the Egyptians; for, according to the Sepher Yetzirah, it came from Abraham; this alphabet, we say, is the famous Book of Thoth, suspected by Court de Gèbelin to be preserved to the present time under the form of that peculiar pack of cards, which is called the Tarot. . . The ten numbers and twenty-two letters are what are called in the Cabala the thirty-two paths of science, and their philosophical description is the subject of that primitive and revered work known as the Sepher Yetzirah, which is still to be found in the collection of Pistorius and others. The Alphabet of Thoth is the original of our Tarot, only in an altered form. The Tarot which we have is of Jewish origin, and the types of the figures cannot be traced back further than the reign of Charles VI.”
The Sepher Yetzirah referred to in the above quotation has been recently translated by my friend Dr. Wynn Westcott, who is a skilful and erudite Qabalistical student, so that it can now be read in English. It certainly gives, in my opinion, the Qabalistical Key of the Tarot; and shows at once, by evident analogy, the ancient and religious origin of its bizarre symbolism. It consists of thirty-three short sections (the thirty-third being merely recapitulatory) divided into five chapters, and elucidated by thirty-two occult paragraphs called the “Paths”. In fact, it may be called a treatise on the ten and the twenty-two. The numbers from one to ten are said to symbolise the Spirit, Air, Water, Fire, Height, Depth, East, West, North, South. The twenty-two letters are divided into three Mother Letters, A, M, SH, referring to Air, Water, and Fire; seven double letters, B, G, D, K, P, R, TH, referring to the seven planets, etc.; and twelve simple letters, H, V, Z, CH, T, I, L, N, S, O, Tz, Q, referring to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, etc.
Christian, the disciple of Lèvi, in his recent work on Magic, has made the explanation of the twenty-two hieroglyphics of the Tarot form part of the initiatory ceremonies of the Egyptian mysteries of Crata Repoa.
The symbols of three of the twenty-two Trumps of the Tarot were thus restored by Eliphas Lèvi.
7. The Chariot.–A cubical chariot with four columns, surmounted by an azure and star-decked canopy. Within the chariot and between the four columns stands a Conqueror crowned with a circlet, from which rise and shine three pentagrams of gold. On his cuirass are three right angles; and on his shoulders the Urim and Thummim symbolised by the two crescents of the Moon in increase and decrease. In his hand is a sceptre surmounted by a globe, a square, and a triangle. His attitude is proud and tranquil. To the Chariot is attached a double sphinx, or rather two sphinxes joined together; one of them turns its head, and they both look in the same direction. The sphinx which turns its head towards the other is black and menacing, the other is white and calm. On the square which forms the front of the Chariot we see the Indian lingam surmounted by the flying globe of the Egyptians.
10. The Wheel of Fortune.–A wheel of seven spokes, the cosmogonical wheel of Ezekiel, with a dog-headed figure ascending on one side (Anubis, the Egyptian Mercury); and a demon descending on the other (the Egyptian evil deity, Typhon); the former of these bears a caduceus, the latter a trident; both figures are bound to the wheel. Above them is a sphinx at the balance-point of the wheel, holding a drawn sword between its lion’s claws.
12. The Devil.–Throned on a cube above the Universe is a goat-headed, satyr-like figure, bearing on its brow the pentagram, apex upward, so as to make it a symbol of Light. With one hand it points upwards to the symbol of the Moon in increase, with the other downwards to that of the Moon in decrease, thus symbolising the eternal equilibrium of Mercy and Justice; the first two fingers and thumb of each hand are extended as in giving the sign of benediction. One arm is feminine, the other masculine. The torch of intelligence is placed between its horns, as the Magical Light of the Universal Equilibrium. The caduceus which holds the place of the generative organs signifies the eternity of life; the belly is covered with scales to represent Water; the circle above it is the atmosphere; the Wings are the emblem of the Volatile; and the deformed and goat-like feet rest upon the earth.
Space does not allow me to enter further into the subject, on which, indeed, several volumes might be written without exhausting it. I can only hope that this short treatise will suffice to give my readers some idea of the recondite meaning of the Tarot Cards, and how to employ them in divination.
Mathers, Samuel. “The Tarot.” The Tarot: Occult Significance of the Tarot Cards, www.sacred-texts.com/tarot/mathers/mtar06.htm.