In the previous installment of Etteilla v. Waite, I examined the first eight cards of each pack, and compared them to each other. We saw so far that the Grande Etteilla (GE) portrays the components that make up so-called Creation myths, while the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) portrays the Hero’s Journey myth. We also saw that, for the first few cards at least, there are similar themes in both of these types of myth. In this part, we will see the GE switch gears, dealing more with human society rather than nature, and the RWS will continue on its trajectory through the middle portion of the Hero’s Journey.
You might remember from the last post that the first eight cards from each pack can be interpreted in such a way as to draw parallels between their meanings and positions. That pretty much stops here. The decks have diverged, and at least for the seven cards here in question, they do not meet again.
Actually, you can almost disregard what I just said. Here we see Justice in the GE, and Strength in the RWS. However, the RWS’ placement of Strength is atypical of historical Tarot decks; most traditional decks place Justice right here. So, for example, if I were using a TdM for comparison here, the ninth card in both cases would be Justice. However, we are studying the RWS, so Strength it is.
Justice is the first card in the GE after the Creation (see previous post, linked above). The World has been made, and people have risen above their animal selves by eating the mythic Fruit of Knowledge. Now civilization can begin. Justice is also the first in a new pattern, comprised of the four virtues: Justice, Temperance, Force/Strength, and Prudence. Three of these virtues are also in the RWS. These four virtues have been around for ages (in a mythic sense, they’ve been around since the eating of the aforementioned Fruit). We can think of them as the pillars of civilized society. Civilization thrives when the populace accepts and attempts to live according to these four virtues (that’s the idea, anyway). So these four cards of the GE are fairly straightforward: after the Creation, we have a sort of moral framework to guide us along the path of Life.
Waite and the secret order to which he belonged had their reasons for switching Justice and Strength, namely astrological and numerological. There are compelling arguments for this change, but as far as the Hero’s Journey is concerned, I believe the traditional way is better.
We left the Hero when he was in the Chariot, symbolizing the beginning of his journey down his chosen path. The Chariot suggests triumph; or, in the Hero’s Journey, the confidence of the Hero in adolescence. He feels unstoppable, but he has not come into any serious trouble yet. Justice represents maturity. Before the Hero can advance, he has to learn the true nature of the world, that his actions have consequences. This transforms the Hero from the cocky adolescent into the responsible young adult. This is probably the point when he begins to really fathom the seriousness of the path he has chosen. He then goes on to the Hermit, perhaps in distress from what Justice has taught him. The Hermit appears in many myths in many forms, although he is usually wise and elderly. This archetype is called the ‘personal father’.* This figure does not have to be the Hero’s real father, although he can be. This figure rather teaches the Hero the most important lesson he will ever learn: the lesson of his true self, his true purpose, and the source of his true strength. He helps the Hero to light his internal Lamp of Wisdom, which the Hero will need to guide him later on.
The Hero feels safe in the presence of the Hermit. But in order to actually complete his task, he must move on. Consider Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Gandalf, or Dumbledore. These are all personal father Hermit figures to their respective Heroes, and each must die before the Hero can come into his own and fully realize the lessons learned from his Hermit. The Wheel of Fortune can represent this stage. The cycle turns, and the Hero is compelled to fulfill his destiny. This leads us to Strength, and the Hero must draw from his internal strength in order to survive what comes next.
Back to the GE, we see following the four virtues the Priest. This card is interesting, because it appears to combine the Lovers and the Hierophant from traditional decks. We see a Grand Priest presiding over a marriage. It evokes the Lovers of the TdM in that there are three figures, and the emotion of Love is clearly in play. However, the Lovers of Mr. Crowley’s CHT are much closer to the Priest of the GE. There is a man presiding over the marriage in the CHT, rather than choosing between two women as in the TdM. According to Crowley, the presiding minister is the Hermit. What makes this even more interesting is this: while I have never read anything confirming this, I believe that the Priest in card 13 is none other than the Hermit we will meet in card 18. They look almost identical.
What is the significance of this? I’m not really sure, but it is a fascinating coincidence, if nothing more. I do know that Crowley was attempting to illustrate the alchemical process (among other occult ideas) through the progression of his cards, and these two cards play significant roles. Etteilla’s deck looks much more tame on the surface than Crowley’s, but his Tarot was supposed to be the first ever deck created with the sole purpose of the occult in mind. Surely these similarities are not just accidents? But I digress.
The Grand Priest card perhaps represents a happily functioning society as the result of the previous four cards. The character of the Priest himself suggests the notion we saw in the Hierophant of the RWS: that of a connection between the divine and human realm, with the priest acting as intermediary. All of these cards so far bespeak happiness and harmony; this is interrupted by the next card: the Devil. However, this Devil does not seem quite so malevolent as other Devils. He’s colorful, smiling, and appears to be dancing. Furthermore, rather than existing in a dark abyss, this Devil is out in the bright of day, among nature. As I’ve discussed in a recent post, the Devil can represent our animal urges. While religion tends to suppress this aspect of ourselves, the occult tends to embrace it, figuring that enlightenment lies beyond. As an occult deck, the GE would naturally place the Devil in a lighter context. It is through the path of the occult that we can learn to embrace and control these desires. Hence the Magician as the next card.
By now, we’ve seen the creation of the world, witnessed the moral constraints that allow for a functioning civilization, and moved beyond everyday society and into the realm of the esoteric. This is where we will leave the GE until next time.
Now, back to the RWS.
In Strength, the Hero has controlled his animal desires and directed their energy towards his task. The Strength he’s gained will be necessary here at the next stage, the Hanged Man. Everything up until this point has been preparation; this is his first great trial. This is the trial of crossing the threshold of the Underworld. For all intents and purposes, the Hero has met Death. Now in the Underworld, the Hero must somehow navigate his way to that which he seeks. He is not without help at this point: the angel of Temperance acts as a spiritual guide, leading him and keeping him level as he works towards the most difficult task of all.
But more on that in the next installment of Etteilla v. Waite.
*This is the Hermit archetype in the context of the Hero’s Journey. As I have discussed in many previous posts, the Hermit fulfills many archetypes, most notably the Wise One. This is not incompatible with the personal father, however.