The Turning Wheel of Terror-Joy.

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From the Mary-El Tarot

I’ve been thinking a lot about this card lately. I feel quietly detached from my problems (and my joys, for that matter) when I consider my life in its terms.

The Wheel rules all things (in this world). We are bound to it, tethered to its ups and downs as time rolls along.

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Fortune can seem a fickle lady

I would say the motto of Dame Fortuna is “What goes up, must come down,” and of course, vice-versa. Perhaps even better would be “Everything comes full-circle.”

To some extent, I see this as a card of reaping what is sown, especially in a cosmic, karmic sense, but that is a bit misleading. Karma implies a degree of personal responsibility. The Wheel turns for everyone, though, whether they work to fulfill their karmic duty (dharma, if I’m not mistaken) or not.*

 

It’s the unfortunate truth: to live is to suffer, and sometimes, no matter how good you are, you have to endure the crushing weight of the bottom of the Wheel. It happens. But you are also guaranteed some time at the top, too, and the message of the Wheel is that, though times seem tough, bad luck can’t last forever.

Joseph Campbell called the mythic cyclical concept the “turning wheel of terror-joy”, to which we are all bound.** It’s life, plain and simple. We all have spells of good and poor fortune. We all have our ups and downs. It never stops turning.

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Riddles in the Dark
– the Hobbit Tarot

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As the 10th card in the Major Arcana, the Wheel of Fortune is located very near the middle. It’s almost as if it’s the axis about which everything else in the pack revolves. If you subscribe to the Fool’s Journey interpretation of the cards, this is roughly the point when the Fool leaves the light of day behind and begins his great tribulation. In this sense, the Wheel suggests a critical turning point in one’s life.

When the Wheel of Fortune turns up in my readings, I generally take it as a positive omen. Most folks agree that this card usually portends good fortune. Given the ups and downs of its actual implications, though, it is wise to check what the cards around it have to say before you assume Lady Fortune is about to smile upon you.

This card tends to put things in perspective for me, and that’s the ultimate lesson I take from it, regardless of whether it brings good or bad news. It admonishes me not to take my good luck for granted, and to take my bad luck with faith and humility.

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The Wheel is an apt metaphor for Time. It’s a fairly popular cosmological motif the world over. Our universe appears to be ruled by cycles. The seasons revolve, the heavens rotate, and history repeats itself. In the RWS, the Wheel of Fortune foreshadows the World with its distinctive imagery. The World represents enlightened consciousness attained at the end of the journey. The Wheel of Fortune offers a glimpse from the halfway point. To see the whole thing, you need to take a step or two back.*** It is a grand perspective, and it’s a good perspective to keep in mind if you’re playing the long game. Ultimately, all it takes to get from the bottom to the top is time.****

The Wheel can also be considered a metaphor for the whole Tarot deck, and not just the single card within. It’s a symbol that requires you to consider ideas like fortune and fate, which are questions all diviners must face eventually.

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~~~

*I think the actual “reap-what-you-sow” card is probably Judgement, or possibly Justice. I haven’t written much about either of those cards yet, though, so we’ll see what I come up with when the time comes to really dig into them. The Wheel of Fortune is karmic more in the sense that, until your soul attains unity with Brahman, you are stuck on the ever-turning wheel of birth, death, and reincarnation.

**See Joseph Campbell’s The Masks of God series, particularly Creative Mythology, page 405. Interestingly, the chapter in which it appears focuses more on motifs associated with the Hanged Man than the Wheel of Fortune.

***I do not think it is mere coincidence that the Wheel of Fortune follows the Hermit in the Major Arcana.

****The main difference between the Wheel and the World is that the individual is on the outside looking in (or the rim) in the former and in the center (or the hub) in the latter, where the spinning has ceased to have effect, and unity with all is achieved. Seen in this light, the goal should actually not be to climb to the top (from which you are doomed to fall back down again, like Sisyphus’ boulder), but to remove yourself from the oscillation altogether. Again, these ideas are examined in great detail in Campbell’s Creative Mythology in the sub-chapter about the turning Wheel of Terror-Joy (and it is the morbidly entertaining juxtaposition of “terror” and “joy” that won the spot as the title of this post).

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Etteilla v. Waite, Concluded.

I began this series about two years ago. It’s almost as old as the blog itself, and I have to say, it’s kind of odd to be wrapping it up after all this time. It is also a relief, because to be honest, this series presented more than its fair share of problems, and was incredibly tough to work through at times. The time has finally come to set it to rest.

At the start, my goal was to compare and contrast my pack of Etteilla cards (the Book of Thoth Etteilla Tarot from Lo Scarabeo) with the vastly more popular Rider-Waite-Smith pack. The reason was simple: I didn’t know a thing about Etteilla or his cards, which was a problem because the cards are very different from anything else I had used. This problem was compounded by the fact that I could not (and still can’t) find any written material that elaborated on the intended meanings or patterns of these cards. On the other hand, I knew much more about Waite’s cards, and I figured that I could perhaps suss out some underlying structural cohesion through comparison.

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As I progressed, I realized that this method also had its problems. First of all, anything I came up with would not necessarily be true. Everything was based on my interpretations of the art, and nothing more. Now, I knew this going in, but it seemed that the further I went, the more I had to stretch, and at the end I have to admit that I still know almost nothing objectively about these cards, despite having come up with a neat story to tell with them.

That story is the mythic structure of Creation, Preservation, and Destruction (or the “Creation Myth” for brevity), which is a nice counterpoint to the Hero’s Journey myth of the RWS. I like this very much, but I have nothing in the way of written evidence supporting this theory.

The other problem didn’t become apparent to me until I learned a bit more about the deck itself. As I mentioned, this pack is called the Book of Thoth, and it is in fact quite far removed from Etteilla’s original cards. It is based on (how closely, I don’t know) what is known as the Grande Etteilla III, which was not created by Etteilla but by one of his students in 1800s, a few years after Etteilla’s death. The Grande Etteilla II remains an absolute enigma, while Etteilla’s own Tarot cards, the Grande Etteilla I, are available to purchase only by those with a larger purse than I currently possess. Pictures of this deck are hard to come by, so I can’t say one way or the other how faithful my cards are to Etteilla’s original plan (the Major Arcana especially; the Minors are different at least in that Etteilla’s had astrological symbolism on them, which these lack). So for all intents and purposes, my series did little, if anything, towards deciphering Etteilla’s mysteries; it was rather an exercise in familiarizing myself with an odd pack of cards that may or may not be much like his. I just don’t know.

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During the course of composing this series, I did learn quite a bit about Waite’s cards and their historical context, but overall my personal interpretations (that is, the Hero’s Journey) remain more or less the same.* Waite’s ideas in this regard were never recorded, so insofar as the pictures of either deck depict mythic themes, I suppose my interpretations of Etteilla are as valid as Waite. In this sense, it doesn’t really matter what Etteilla intended for his cards.

I have learned a bit about Etteilla’s role in the history of the Tarot’s development, as well, but I think that may have to wait for its own post, because it ultimately has no bearing on this series.

~~~

Because it did take me so long to compose, this series probably seems disjointed in some places or redundant in others to a passing reader. I did my best to read through previous posts as I wrote new ones, but my thinking changed over time as I learned more, and sometimes it was difficult to keep things straight. When I started, I was only writing what I wished I could read when learning about these cards.** It evolved from basic comparison to a rather more in-depth look at what the pictures on these cards were telling me. I never lost sight of my goal for comparison, though, and every single card I examined came with a counterpart from another deck (usually the RWS, but not always). The counterparts were not always easy to select. In doing so, however, I made some interesting discoveries about many of the cards from traditional decks that I probably would not have encountered had I not tried to match them with Etteilla’s cards.

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It is the unexpected revelations about traditional cards and the interesting story that I think the Etteilla cards tell that I found to be the most valuable things I took away from this series. The Book of Thoth Etteilla deck itself did not end up making much more sense to me in terms of divination, like I’d hoped. I do continue to find these cards fascinating, but they are more of a curiosity for my collection than anything I would regularly use.

~~~

I think that’s all I have to say in conclusion for the Etteilla v. Waite series. Before I sign off, though, I’ll put an index here for convenient navigation for anyone who’s interested in going back through. Despite the issues I’ve run into along the way, I hope this series was interesting and informative to anyone who, like me, is confounded by these strange cards.

Part I: Introduction
Part II: The First Eight Cards
Part III: Cards Nine through Fifteen
Part IV: Sixteen through Twenty-One and the Fool
Part V: Chaos, Light, and Plants
Part VI: Sky, Man & Beast, and Stars
Part VII: Birds & Fish, and Rest
Part VIII: Justice, Temperance, Force, and Prudence
Part IX: High Priest, Devil, and Magician
Part X: Last Judgement, Death, Monk, and Struck Temple
Part XI: Wheel of Fortune, African Despot, and the Fool

And finally, for a real throwback, my initial thoughts upon first using these cards can be found here.

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*These are largely based on Tarot and the Journey of the Hero, an excellent book by Hajo Banzhaf, and one I can’t recommend heartily enough to those whose interest in the Tarot stems from an interest in mythology or Jungian psychology.

**This is actually the motivation behind much of what I write on this blog.

The Juggler Index.

 

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From the Mary-El Tarot

My favorite Tarot card has always been the Hermit, even before I knew what the Tarot was. The picture of the cloaked man holding a lantern atop a mountain has had a strong hold on my imagination since I first saw it in the liner notes of Led Zeppelin IV.

I must admit, it may be only because of the combination of the fantasy mystic/magic element with the allure of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll that places the Hermit above others in my eyes, although my endless contemplation of the card and its secrets has certainly helped cement it in its place of high esteem for me.

But upon opening my first deck of Tarot cards, I was also immediately drawn to the Magician. Again, this has wizard fantasy written all over it, and after I spent some time thinking about it, I realized that he is almost like the Hermit in a different guise. Much musing on this matter led me to write this post: The Wise Man and the Trickster.

Eventually, I got around to really exploring the Hermit in-depth, and once I was finished, I felt compelled to give the Magician a similar treatment. The resulting series was much more difficult for me than that of the Hermit, and I found myself focusing on some strange and possibly confusing or abstract things. Nonetheless, I think the series is an adequate representation of my interpretation of this card.

I – From Juggler to Magician
II – The Juggler
III – The Magician
IV – The Magician, continued
V – The Magus
VI – The Magus, continued
VII – The Lemniscate

I wrapped the series up with a look at some of my favorite versions of the Magician in my collection, which can be found here.

Finally, for the sake of completeness, I’ve compiled a list of other posts which share some fascinating and important connections to the Magician.

The High Priestess
The Devil (the Trickster)
The Three Magi
The Fool’s Journey
The Suits and their Elements

~~~

 

Etteilla v. Waite, Part XI.

Last time on Etteilla v. Waite, we witnessed the final destruction of the world. What began with Chaos has ended in chaos; thus the mythic cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction comes full circle.

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The Wheel of Fortune: The next card in the GE Major Arcana is the Wheel of Fortune. It is a fitting card to end the cycle, showing that it is a cycle, and that the final destruction isn’t so final, after all. Life leads to death, which leads to life. The Ouroboros is never ending.

There are two cards from the RWS and more traditional Tarots, I think, that fit this one. First, and more obviously, is the Wheel of Fortune. I chose to picture the Wheel from Huson’s DFW Tarot simply because it shows Dame Fortune herself, while the RWS and many others omit her. Whether the Lady is present or not, though, the basic meaning of the card is the same. It represents the endless ups and downs of fate, and that what goes around will inevitably come around.

Second is the World. This fits the more cosmic implications of the GE Wheel – the Ouroboros, or the Great Round, and the never-ending cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

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The African Despot: This card confuses me. The title suggests the Emperor. The imagery suggests the Chariot. It’s location in the progression – the last card before the Minor Arcana – is odd. And why is he African?

I have formulated some theories, but like everything else in this series (or on this entire blog, really), they’re just ideas, and I have no way of backing them up.

First of all, I believe this character is the Magician we met in part IX. Like the Priest, this fellow faces the Devil; unlike the Priest, he stayed true to his faith. Now, the Magician’s “faith” is the occult – and it’s important to remember that this is a rendition of an early attempt at an occult deck. With his occult-based knowledge of the truth – of which traditional religion provides only an incomplete picture – he is able to obtain enlightenment through the Devil, rather than succumbing to the Devil’s temptations and corruption. Maybe this is why the Magician seemed comparatively sinister when we met him. He embraces his inner demons. Now, after the Judgement, he is crowned King, victoriously riding his Chariot.

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The High Priest degraded, the Magician exalted.

I also think this is why the African Despot is placed after the Wheel, rather than before it. He has attained enlightenment, and is freed from the ever-spinning wheel of terror-joy. He has reached nirvana. He is no longer chained to the cycle.

As far as his African heritage is concerned, all I can come up with is the fact that, in Etteilla’s day, the Tarot was believed to have been derived from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, and so an occult master such as that pictured on the card would be heir to an “African” tradition. It is a stretch, but at least in the RWS Chariot, the eponymous vehicle is drawn by a pair of sphinxes, so it’s not entirely unfounded.

Of course, his divinatory meanings (and his designation as a “despot”) are not positive ones, which hurts my theory, but unfortunately this is the best I can come up with. It makes a cool story this way, at least.

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The Fool or Alchemist: The final card is the Fool. This card is separate from the rest of the Major Arcana, although unlike its counterpart in the RWS, it does have a number. 78 places it as the final card in the entire pack, behind even the Minor Arcana. It is nonetheless virtually the same as any other Fool. The fact that he is also called the Alchemist just means that he has wisdom which is not shared by the everyman, making him appear a fool to those less learned than he. Such is the enlightened Fool’s burden, but he does not let it weigh him down.

~~~

That’s it for the Major Arcana of the Book of Thoth Etteilla Tarot. For the final installment of this series, I will share some concluding thoughts, hopefully wrapping this very long, often disjointed, sometimes repetitive, totally subjective, and probably confusing series up with a pretty bow. My views of this pack of cards has evolved quite a bit since I began writing about it, and I should probably spend some time clearing up the mucky-muck.

It’s been a long time coming.

Etteilla v. Waite, Part X.

Creation – Preservation – Destruction. As I’ve said a few times already, this is the general mythic pattern which appears to me to fit the distinct Major Arcana of the Type III Etteilla deck (as opposed to the Hero’s Journey pattern of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck). Last time, I wrapped up the section of the progression which dealt with Preservation – culminating with the dubious Magician. Now, things are about to take a darker turn. The equilibrium which defines Preservation is upset, and the world is about to end. The following cards are the cards of Shiva; of Revelation; of Ragnarok; of the Apocalypse.

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Last Judgement: The day of Judgement is a fitting start to this portion, and I believe it coincides naturally enough with Judgement from the RWS. These cards are not exactly the same, however; in the GE, the angel is seen descending from heaven wielding a sword against the living (seven people for the seven deadly sins, perhaps?), while in the RWS the angel awakens the dead with a blast from his trumpet. In the RWS, Judgement is the final step before apotheosis. Here, it is not the end, but merely the beginning of the end. For all the differences, though, I can’t think of a better RWS equivalent than Judgement.

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From the MST – Both are dancing.

Death: Another fairly straightforward match. Another symbol of the End Of Days.

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The Monk: Based on the imagery, this card should match with the Hermit. This monk is shown leaving his monastery, and the divinatory meanings warn of treason and betrayal. This monk is not really a monk anymore; he is an apostate. He also happens to look very much like the High Priest from the previous post. This former symbol of morality and harmony betrayed his purpose when faced with the Devil, Judgement, and Death, whether from fear or corruption it matters not, thus making a mockery of all that he once stood for. This is yet another sign that civilization is on the decline.

Another possible match is based not so much on imagery as on meaning: the Hanged Man is sometimes interpreted as a traitor being punished for his heinous crime. But we can also consider the Monk’s departure from traditional religion in a different light: the Hanged Man sometimes represents initiation into the occult, or an inversion of perspective to gain spiritual insight. Such might be the case with the Monk, who is perhaps only moving on to bigger and better things. The world is falling apart around him; his old faith is no longer serving him, so why should he continue to serve it?

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From the CHT

The Struck Temple: This card shows a walled city or temple complex burning to the ground. It is quite possible the flames came from the sun in the upper corner – divine intervention. Everything in this post so far has been a sign of the impending apocalypse. Now it is actually happening. This card is the violent Destruction of the world by fire. This card is the End.

Except it isn’t the End, not really. There are still three more cards to examine, which I shall do next time on Etteilla v. Waite.

~~~

Golden Wirth Tarot.

I’ve gushed about Oswald Wirth before. The truth is, I find his brand of the occult positively fascinating. His book is one of my absolute favorites on esoteric Tarot, and his cards have a certain aesthetic appeal to me – they appear traditional, almost like Marseille cards, yet they are intentionally imbued with occult symbolism. I love the juxtaposition (this is a huge draw for the Medieval Scapini Tarot, as well, which incidentally uses Wirth’s as a basis for some of the underlying symbolism).

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1889 Hermit

My introduction to Wirth came in the form of his book Tarot of the Magicians (which is an English translation – the book was originally published in French in 1927). The book came complete with a set of his cards printed on heavy cardstock pages in the back. These cards were the early version – from 1889 – but when Wirth published his book, he updated the cards, too, and the latter version is what was actually used to illustrate the book.

Well, after a long time, I decided to get myself an edition of Wirth’s updated cards. They are a huge improvement over the cut-out cards from the back of the book.

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Was it entirely necessary for me to get these cards? Probably not, to be honest, but I have no regrets. This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten a slightly different version of cards I already own (I’ve got 3 separate Rider packs, not to mention the several RWS-inspired decks, and a couple TdM and Thoth decks, as well). These cards are so much nicer than the cut-outs, and considering how much I admire Wirth’s work, I thought a proper edition of his deck belonged in my collection.

These cards are large, which I like, and are overlaid with a glittery-golden foil that changes in the light when you look at them from various angles. Way cool. These cards are worthy companions with which to work through the exercises set forth in the book. Of course, this is a Majors-only deck, which means I’m hesitant to actually call it a “Tarot”, but it is fantastic for what it is. Wirth’s method only calls for the Major Arcana, after all, and sometimes that’s all a reading calls for, as well. It’s much more convenient to have a Majors-only deck lying around for such occasions than having to sort through a complete pack.

All in all, these cards are ideal for studying and contemplation of the occult, and they work as well as any traditional Major Arcana for divination. They’re beautiful and good-quality cards, and they occupy an important place in Tarot lore.

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While I’m here, I’d like to revise a couple things I’ve said in previous posts about Wirth and his cards. First of all, I’ve made it seem like Wirth is solely responsible for all this. While he did draw the cards, and he did write the book, he worked very closely with his mentor Stanislaus de Guaita prior to its publication, who was a huge influence on everything produced by Wirth. Wirth did not plagiarize by any stretch – a great deal of the introduction to his book is spent giving credit to de Guaita, who he held in very high esteem. It was my own misrepresentation in earlier posts, rather, that may have made Wirth seem like he was acting alone.

Furthermore, Wirth and de Guaita were not exactly creating an original Tarot. Their work is largely inspired by descriptions from French occultist Eliphas Levi, whose treatises on the occult were among the most influential works in the history of occult Tarot, particularly in terms of Kabbalah. There would be no Wirth Tarot if there had not first been Levi.

That’s all I’ll say about that for now; at some point I’ll review Tarot of the Magicians, in which I’ll go more in depth about Wirth’s occult background.

~~~

Etteilla v. Waite: Part IX

Last time, I took a look at the four cardinal virtues of the GE and matched them with their respective virtues from the RWS. Following the creation through binary opposition, existence is preserved by the four elements maintaining separateness from each other.* The four elements correspond to the four virtues, which represent the pillars of a stable and moral society. Thus the framework for the Preservation of the world has been erected; now I shall take a look at what goes on within this framework.

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High Priest: The title of this card suggests the Hierophant, but the imagery suggests the Lovers, especially the Lovers from Mr. Crowley’s Thoth deck. Because I already brought attention to this fascinating similarity in part III, I will say nothing more about it here.

I think this card intentionally combines the Hierophant with the Lovers. The Hierophant suggests a bridge between man and God, while the Lovers (in their more mundane sense, as opposed to the choice I spoke of previously) suggests marriage. In other words, this is a card of unity, of a happily functioning society.

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Devil: The Devil of the GE matches up with the Devil from the RWS pretty easily. It acts as an agent of chaos, a counterpoint to the harmony of the previous card. The Devil has a few levels of meaning, ranging from evil to enlightening, but in every case, there is no better card to match it than another Devil.

As a counterpoint to the High Priest, the Devil introduces a sense of balance to the Preservation section of the progression. This is appropriate, because Preservation is all about keeping equilibrium. Eventually, however, the balance is thrown off, and that’s often the Devil’s doing. Therefore, I think the Devil signals the beginning of the end of Preservation, and foreshadows the era of Destruction.

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Magician or Juggler: Again, pretty obvious, although it’s worth noting the differences between these two cards. The RWS Magician (or TdM Juggler) is certainly more benevolent than that of the GE, whose divinitory meanings offer only maladies for the querent. The picture of the GE Magician also seems comparatively sinister, as he manipulates a mannequin on a tablecloth covered with symbols of the occult. This suggests malfeasance to me, and could symbolize the beginning of the Destruction of mankind. This does not, however, match with anything at all associated with the RWS Magician, who is a creative force. Perhaps it’s only another superficial match, like the Suns of part V. Perhaps his toying with a mannequin could instead represent the manipulative Trickster archetype, which does match the TdM Juggler well enough. Perhaps, though, there’s another way of looking at the Magician, upon which I expounded in part IV. In a nutshell, the Magician is a point of contrast to the High Priest, one on either side of the Devil. Both characters react to the Devil in different ways, and we will see their respective fates as we continue down the line.

The latter interpretation is entirely my own theory, and is based only on artistic details in the cards. In such a case, the Magician is probably better considered a part of Preservation rather than Destruction, and despite his apparent manipulation of the Voodoo-doll-thing, he would ultimately turn out to be a positive character. Of course, this fits better with the positive nature of the RWS Magician, but in the end this is all only speculation.

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This is the point of the mythic progression where I’m starting to rely more heavily on my own interpretations. Obviously the first eight cards are the Creation, so I wasn’t stretching much there, and I think the Preservation and Destruction fit naturally enough with the progression of the cards; but all the same, I must confess to making most of this up. As I stated earlier in this series, I don’t have much to go on in the way of outside sources when it comes to making sense of this version of the Major Arcana.

In any event, the next installment of Etteilla v. Waite will continue to examine the cards as they appear in the progression of the GE, and though the demarcation line between Preservation and Destruction may be blurry in this section, next time we will have undoubtedly entered Ragnarok, the era of Destruction.

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*I opted not to lose myself to a digression about the four elements while discussing the Creation cards, since I was just focusing on RWS counterparts, but perhaps I should have. The elements are the building blocks of creation, after all. Four of the eight Creation cards are indeed assigned to an element, as follows: Fire is the Sun, Air is the Sky, Water is the Plants, and Earth is assigned to Man and Beast. Which element corresponds to which virtue, on the other hand, is up for debate. I tend to associate Fire with Force, Air with Justice, Water with Temperance, and Earth with Prudence, per Paul Huson, but that’s not the only possibility.