Etteilla v. Waite: Part VIII

In the previous installment of Etteilla v. Waite, I finished examining the first eight cards of the GE, which constitute the portion of the progression that corresponds to the creation of the world. Now that creation is complete, we will move onto the next phase of existence, which I refer to as “preservation.” In the grand scheme of the mythic past and the mythic future, preservation is the eternal present. It is the here and now; the mythic components of our everyday lives; existence maintained.

Given the Biblical imagery of the Creation, it is fitting that the Preservation should kick off with some good old-fashioned Christian virtues.* There are four of them, like four pillars to ensure the support of the completed Creation, and they will be the subject of this post.


Justice: I don’t think this card really warrants any explanation. Pretty obvious, I’d say, which RWS card it matches.


Temperance: Like Justice above, I don’t think I need to explain why I placed Temperance with Temperance. However, the imagery of these two Temperance’s are different from each other, and in particular the bridle held by the GE Temperance also reminds me very much of the Chariot, the occupant of which must reign in the Horses of Opposition and make them work together for him.


Force: Once again, easy-peasy. The RWS uses the title “Strength” for the equivalent card, but that’s nothing more than an issue of translation. Traditional decks sometimes called the same figure “Fortitude,” and I think I like that word best for this card.

GE Prudence on top; RWS Hermit, TdM Popess, and DFW World

Prudence: And here we come to a problem. The RWS does not have a card for the virtue Prudence, nor does any other Tarot except the GE. What is interesting is that, for some reason, three of the four cardinal virtues are represented in traditional Tarot. Why should the fourth be excluded? Many have speculated that Prudence is there, just under a different title. Of course, no one can agree on which card Prudence uses as her guise.

The Hermit is a popular candidate for Prudence, and this makes more than just a little sense. The High Priestess is also considered to be an appropriate match for this card. She holds a similar book in the TdM (where she’s called the Popess), and her gender does coincide with the other three virtues (or rather, the personifications of those virtues). Personally, however, I consider the Priestess’ brand of wisdom to be deeper and of a more spiritual nature than simple prudence, and because the Hermit strikes me as more worldly than the ethereal Priestess, I find him to be a better fit for this card. Prudence is, as I understand it, merely a practical sort of wisdom – to think before acting, for example. It’s common sense, almost. There is nothing common about the wisdom of the High Priestess. That’s not to understate the Hermit’s wisdom, but of the two, I think he is the more, well, prudent.

In his book Mystical Origins of the Tarot, Paul Huson suggested that the World was intended to represent the virtue Prudence. He cites early renaissance era cards that employed slightly different imagery than the modern World cards, which often showed a woman holding a mirror and a scepter with a snake, and crowned with an interesting sort of halo. Unlike the round halos seen on cards depicting angels (like Judgement), this halo is scalloped and is supposed to represent a personification of an abstract quality. Aside from the World, there are only three other figures in these renaissance decks that were adorned with such halos, and they are Justice, Force, and Temperance. Huson designed his own version of the World with all this in mind, as you can see in the photo above. This card is usually interpreted to mean a completion or an integration of sorts, and taken from a certain perspective, this card could certainly signify experience, or wisdom in the ways of the world – or, you know, prudence. I think his proposition stands on sound reasoning, although I must admit, without his book, I doubt it would have crossed my mind to match the World with Prudence.

The question of Prudence in the Tarot has never been one that truly bothered me, so as far as I’m concerned, any or all of the cards mentioned above work just fine as a match.


Aside from the little hiccup with Prudence, these cards were considerably easier to match than the cards of the previous sections. Most of the remaining cards will be similarly simple to match, but not all of them (and even when matched, these cards are all in a different order than they appear in the RWS). The next part of this series will continue to examine Preservation, particularly the forces that ultimately lead it to give way to Destruction.


*Adopted, of course, from the classical Greeks. Those guys sure were awfully civilized for a bunch of misguided pagans, eh?


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