The Magician, Part V: The Magus.

The sun shines and the moon reflects. The Magician is a sun god, just as the Priestess is a lunar goddess. Waite says as much himself when he likens the Magician to Apollo (pg. 36, PKT).

The sun and sky gods of antiquity often became associated with the Creator over time. In the last post, I discussed the Magician as demiurge, creator of the physical world, often erroneously thought to be the supreme power in the universe; in the following posts, I’m going to examine an aspect of the Magician that is related in many ways to the idea of creator, but is not, strictly speaking, the same thing. This is essentially summed-up by the Apollo connection: the Magician can be the god of the sun and sky, and though he can also be the creator, he doesn’t have to be, just as Phoebus was the sun god of the ancient Greeks, but not their creator.*

Am I trying to say that, aside from the trickster and demiurge, the Magician is also a solar deity? Well, yes and no. He is, but that’s beside the point. The aspect of the Magician which is the subject of this post is probably the most elusive yet, so please bear with me. As the title suggests, I think this aspect is epitomized in Mr. Crowley’s version of the card, which he opted to call the “Magus”.

A.E. Waite did consider his Magician to be an embodiment of Apollo, and insofar as the High Priestess is Artemis, I’d concur. I couldn’t say whether or not Crowley also agreed with this attribution (his Priestess remains Artemis, so I think on some level he would’ve agreed, but he was also a generally disagreeable person, especially towards Waite, so who knows), but either way, he chose a different classical god to represent the Magus for his Thoth Tarot.

Mercury, the Roman god of commerce, called Hermes by the Greeks, is the face of the first numbered card of Crowley’s deck. Commerce, medicine, science, travelling (both in an astral and mundane sense), and trickery – all of these things and more fall under the domain of Mercury. Is he a creator? Not in the sense that the demiurge is, although he is certainly creative. Is he a sun god, like his half-brother Apollo? No, nor is he overtly associated with the sky, as Zeus is, despite his winged sandals. He is a male like the Magician, but he’s not necessarily the “manliest” of the Greek gods, some of which are very manly indeed. And yes, he is sometimes portrayed as a trickster like the Juggler, although that is far from his primary purpose. Is his gender and his guile enough reason to justify his place at the head of the Tarot pack alongside the likes of Odin, Apollo, Anansi and Jehovah?

At first glance, the connection seems tenuous. Of course, I’ve already written a post about Mercury’s deeper connection to gods like Odin and Anansi, so I don’t really need to get into that here, at least, not yet.** First, I think I should spend some time examining the Magus card itself.


Crowley’s Magus is as different from the Magician as the Magician is different from the Juggler, if not more so. Not only is there no characteristic table in front of him, the Magus is totally naked, except for his winged sandals. The Coin, Wand, Cup, and Sword instead float in the air around him, but they are joined by some additional implements. Behind him rises the caduceus, the winged staff of Mercury, with its intertwining serpents forming the lemniscate above his head (this symbol of infinity being one of the few constants throughout all of this card’s incarnations so far). Finally, a baboon lurks behind the Magus, a companion who has quite an intriguing role to play.


What does all this stuff mean?

Well, the sandals and caduceus illustrate beyond a doubt that this is indeed Mercury. That’s important, and I shall return to examine this point further in the future. As far as the nakedness, I genuinely don’t know. It could just as easily be an artistic liberty taken by Freida Harris as it could be symbolic of something else. Perhaps it’s another nod to his divinity: not only is the Magus naked, but his exposed skin glows with a golden luster that is totally un-human. No matter what we theorize about the Magician’s or the Juggler’s inherent divinity, they are nonetheless portrayed as mortal men. Not so with the Magus.

This immortal quality is implied even further when we consider that the Magus is not only levitating, but seems to exist in some alternate or in-between dimension. He is not in a garden like the Magician. This is right in keeping with Mercury’s ability to jump from one plane of existence to another, a characteristic he shares with folks like Odin and Thoth.

Which brings me to the primate hovering behind the Magus. This is Thoth in animal form, who was sometimes represented in ancient Egypt as a baboon instead of the usual ibis or ibis-headed man.*** Thoth is, obviously enough, of integral importance to the Thoth Tarot on many levels, but in this instance he almost seems to be antagonistic to the Magus’ purpose, making a mockery of Mercury and all he’s trying to accomplish.

Alongside the typical suit symbols, the Magus has in his arsenal a winged egg (called the “orphic egg”, which I briefly discussed in my post about Crowley’s Hermit), what appears to be a bundle of dried leaves or herbs, and a scroll and quill. The scroll and quill again call Thoth to mind, as he is the scribe of the Egyptian gods, and was credited with the invention of writing. Language is one of the Magus’ greatest assets as both trickster and demiurge, and it is his gift to mankind. The baboon, however, is a constant reminder that, no matter how elevated we think we are, humans are still animals at the end of the day, and while language does give us great power, it also limits us, confining our instinctual understanding of our place in the cosmos to restrictive definitions and superficial descriptions. In a way, the moment we developed complex language, freeing ourselves from the bonds of animal slavishness, we also alienated ourselves from a true comprehension of our place in the universe, a comprehension that defies all attempts to be put into words, though we sometimes desperately try. The monkey therefore points and laughs at us, nature’s own little trickster. We cannot escape his taunts, and he is forever in the Magus’ shadow.


Next time, I will address some of the points and questions raised throughout this post: the mythic relationship between this enigmatic figure and the sun and sky gods; how these are connected to language and the gods of wisdom; the significance of Mercury as opposed to some other character; and, eventually, a return to the Juggler to tie it all together.


*The sun god and the sun are two different things, by the way. Helios is the name of the Greek figure (titan or god, it’s not really clear which) who is the sun. Apollo, on the other hand, represents the attributes of the sun, such as warmth and light. Nevertheless, he is very often referred to as the “sun god.” To clear the matter up a bit (mythology can be frustratingly confusing sometimes, I know), Hyperion (a titan) is “eternal light,” Helios (a titan or god, and Hyperion’s son) is the sun, and Apollo (a god, and Zeus’ son) is the light and warmth of the sun. None of these three, incidentally, are creator-gods. The closest thing to demiurge that’s named in this footnote would be Zeus, Apollo’s father; and while he is not a god of the sun in any way, he is the god of the sky.

**I can’t be positive, but I’m pretty sure I’ve created more links on this blog to the “Wise Man and the Trickster” than I have to any other of my posts. If you can’t tell, it details a central theme around which my approach to the cards – and indeed, to myth, magic and divination in general – revolves. Sorry to those who have already read the post, but I can’t even promise that this will be the last time I link it.

***Alternatively, it can represent Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god and friend to the hero Rama. Hanuman is incredibly powerful and especially tricky, although to be honest, I don’t know much else about him at present.


The Magician, Part IV.

Read Part III here.


The trickster can be considered the point of origin of the story because he generates the conflict which drives it. It follows that the tricksy Juggler is the appropriate card to kick off the chain of events that is the Major Arcana. But with the Magician, another way of looking at it becomes a bit more obvious (to me) than with the Juggler: he is at the start of the sequence, because he is the creator of the world.

Now, before I continue, I need to make mention of another card which received a wardrobe change and new name with the RWS: the High Priestess.


When the Magician was a Juggler, the High Priestess was called the Popess, the Female Pope, or Pope Joan, which essentially established her as the female counterpart to the Pope (the Hierophant in the RWS),* and leaving the Juggler to stand alone. The High Priestess introduces a certain level of ambiguity into these relationships – she can still be partnered with the Hierophant, or she can court another card (such as the Hermit), or she can stand alone as a symbol of unfettered femininity. Or, she can pair with the Magician, a pairing with some significance, as I shall attempt to explain.

In fact, I have already explained their relationship to some degree in my post about the High Priestess, and I urge any who are reading this post to please read that one, as well. It is a relationship of binary opposites, the fundamental relationship between the numbers One and Two.

Basically, One (the Magician) and Two (the Priestess) are the primordial creative forces of the Universe, progenitors of all that ever was and will be – everything boils down to them. From a psychological perspective, this makes total sense, because we experience consciousness only through constant subliminal comparison of hypothetical opposites. Certainly everything ultimately reduces to one, but one is meaningless without two as a point of reference. They complete each other, give meaning to each other, like the yin and the yang. It’s probably also partially rooted in biology: there can be no offspring without both a father and a mother. The Magician is the Cosmic Father, and the High Priestess is the Cosmic Mother.** They are the personifications of the purely abstract notions of male and female, which are themselves symbolic of all other binary opposites.

Now, all this is technically by virtue of their numbers, and not necessarily of the characters themselves, so it could be argued that the Juggler and Popess represent these very same concepts as the Magician and Priestess. From a numerology standpoint, they absolutely do; but I think the artistic differences between the old and new help to highlight certain ideas that would otherwise have remained obscure.

The Magician is generative, and the High Priestess is receptive. The Magician may be the initial spark, but the Priestess is the incubator. We tend to think the gift must precede the receipt, but in the grand scheme of things, it really comes down to the classic conundrum of the chicken or the egg. One simply does not exist without the other.


Having established that the Magician is actually an equal, though opposite, creative force as the Priestess, the question of his position as first is raised once again. From a purely symbolic perspective, as explained in the High Priestess post linked above, his very masculinity is the answer. One precedes two, and one is considered masculine while two is feminine. Men come first, unfair though it certainly is,*** and we have been conditioned to think that way for an age. Look at any of the three Abrahamic religions which prevail in the Western world: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all bow to (the same) God the Father. They’re not the first. And whether you’re an adherent to any of these religions or not, your cultural heritage is imbued with the indelible imprint of at least one of them. Their message is not wrong; their specifics are not always right; but right or wrong, they are. It’s inescapable. We think the way we do in large part because of the people who thought before us.

It is only because the Tarot was conceived in this atmosphere that such a bias is reflected in the cards. This is true of the Marseilles just as it is of Waite’s cards. It could easily have been reversed along an alternate timeline, and it could easily be reversed now, without really upsetting the intrinsic meanings that either of these cards hold (symbolic attributions to the physical characteristics of genitalia aside, these associations of sex with numbers, or with any form of opposites for that matter, are totally arbitrary constructs). By all rights, they should both be in the first spot. But unfortunately our temporal limitations insist that one or the other has to be first, and the simple fact remains that the Magician just, well, is.


This is a perfect opportunity to make an essential point: “God” is not truly confined by gender or sex. Or rather, maybe “God”, as the Christians define him, is confined to his masculinity. But one of the reasons I continually find myself frustrated with this sort of religion is that “God” is used primarily as a name, a contrived denoting device with a capital “G”.**** This causes great confusion, because the word is not a proper noun in and of itself. There have been many gods and goddesses (lower-case “g”) since the dawn of time (that is, the awakening of consciousness). It becomes a question of whether or not any god by any name, be it God or Allah or Zeus, is really the top dog on the divine hierarchy.

When I say the Magician is God the Father, what I’m really saying is that the Magician is the demiurge. He does indeed create and manipulate the physical world, which is represented on the card by the aces upon the altar. He set up the table, he put the items in their places on it, and he moves them into their proper positions to effect the results he desires.

And yet, he still holds his wand above him, as if anything could be above him.

Your average demiurge refuses to acknowledge that he (or she) is not actually the supreme power in the Universe.***** Most of them probably honestly do not even realize it; it’s an awareness beyond their capacity, and indeed, beyond the capacity of many mortals far below them.

But the Magician knows. He knows that what he perceives as his own will is in truth the will of the Universe; that for every feat he accomplishes through his magic, he is merely a conduit for something greater; that desire and decision for him are ultimately illusions. He knows that, though earth-bound mortals may call him God, he is really only a hand of the supreme godhead.

The Magician is remarkably humble for his esteemed position. Most gods are jealous, and some are even vengeful, when their vaulted status is called into question. But though the Magician is receptive to divine influence, he is not receptive by temperament as the Priestess is. He is an active agent. It is why so many creator types do seem supreme. They harness divine energy, and they do stuff with it. The Magician may not be any more impressive than the Priestess is, but his actions certainly draw more attention than her meditations.

I liken it all to a pencil sketch: the Magician is the pencil, the Priestess is the paper, the drawing is Creation, and the artist is the higher power. Imagine for a moment that the drawing somehow developed consciousness. Doesn’t it make sense that, from its limited stance, it might view the pencil as its creator?


By himself, the Magician might remain a mere trickster, even with his new ritual attire (you didn’t really think the trickster only wears clown clothes, did you? That would be too obvious). It is only because of his relationship with the High Priestess – a relationship the Juggler does not openly share with the Popess – that he is able to ascend to the level of Creator, because man cannot become father without a mother to bear child. The potential is really there either way – the Magician does not have to be defined by the Priestess, any more than she is defined by him. But the concepts represented by her go a very long way in refining what exactly it is he stands for. It is a perfect illustration of the idea mentioned above, that One is incomprehensible without Two.

It is also a good example of the true nature of the demiurge: he may appear all-powerful, but he is not the sole power in the Universe. He just makes the flashiest show of it.

So, we can now view the first numbered card of the Major Arcana as the Trickster and the Demiurge. Could there possibly be more? You betcha.


*It’s interesting to note that the Empress and Emperor are side by side, and the Popess and Pope are on either side of them. I think that this was supposed to make a point about worldly authority versus spiritual authority during the Renaissance – the worldly being contained within the jurisdiction of the spiritual. By the time Waite was designing the RWS, this notion about the relationships between Emperors and Popes was outdated, or had at least lost much of its practical significance.

**Hajo Banzhaf refers to the Magician and the Priestess as the Heavenly Father and Mother in his book about the Tarot and the Hero’s Journey. They are not necessarily literal persons, just concepts, and they are followed by the Earthly Father and Mother, a.k.a. the Emperor and Empress.

***Institutionalized oppression is real, it takes on many forms including sexism, and it is unfair. I know this, so please don’t castrate me for stating my observations about the world around me. And, even in a patriarchal society, those who are enlightened know that true femininity cannot be extinguished. The High Priestess is a shining example of the sublime feminine power, even from her place among the shadows.

****In the NKJV Bible, any time the word “god” appears, it is actually written in the text as GOD, all caps, and it is really nothing more than a roughly-translated English placeholder for the unpronounceable tetragrammation, or true name of the Hebrew god. It is used interchangeably with LORD (if you’ve ever heard the names Yaweh or Jehovah, you’ve heard the most common attempts at phonetic verbalization of the tetragrammation). So, technically, the religious book does not actually claim that the Judeo-Christian deity’s name is God. However, its use of the word, combined with the crusade to demonize any and every other named god and goddess, has proven to be an effective way to impress the divine supremacy of this being into the minds of the masses over time. I don’t think the tetragrammation is very common knowledge to the the average self-professed Christian these days, so for all intents and purposes, their god’s name is God.

*****So, if not God, then what is the supreme power in the Universe? This post is not the place for such a discussion, so let it suffice to say that, whatever it is, it’s probably beyond our ability to define with our primitive languages. If there was a Tarot card to represent this supreme power, I would say it’s the World, although, truth be told, I don’t fully believe such a concept can be limited to a single card. If anything, the entire Tarot deck is itself the closest representation of this Universal force, and every single card is but a minute aspect of it, even the seemingly comprehensive World and the powerful demiurge Magician (and, I might add, the much maligned Devil).