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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


The Lawgiver.


Following the Empress in all her glory is the regal Emperor. In some ways, he is the counterpart of the Empress; in others, he is a successor, building upon what she has already laid down.


As her counterpart, the Emperor is the King and the Father. He gives a firm hand of guidance to compliment her more gentile hand of nurturing, and like her, he has two archetypal sides. He is either the strict but benevolent leader, or the tyrannical despot. No matter what, though, the Emperor is strong and powerful. His word is law.

As number four, the Emperor builds upon the work of the Empress, stabilizing the unbalanced odd-number three. He therefore represents civilization, or humankind’s triumph over nature, when previously we were at its mercy.* Now there is an order, a hierarchy, and this allows us to flourish in ways that were simply not possible as bands of hunter-gatherers.

It’s interesting that, in many decks, the Emperor is gazing towards the Empress. I tend to take this as an admonishment not to take his throne for granted, that Nature existed before, and will continue to exist after – MT

The pinnacle of ancient Mesopotamian civilization was Babylon, which is perhaps best remembered for Hammurabi and his codification of the law. This was a critical moment in the early development of western civilization. It is the law which defines civilization, in the sense that it defines how citizens of the community act toward each other. Those who break the law are ostracized – they no longer are able to reap the benefits of civilized life. Consequently, the Law symbolizes civilization itself, and the Emperor is the Lawgiver. He bestows order unto a chaotic existence, and as such he is a very important figure.

The Emperor does, however, wield a double-edged sword. Civilization is absolutely not without its drawbacks or pitfalls, and progress always comes at a cost. The Emperor can be easily corrupted and his authority abused, as history has shown time and again.



*Of course, we are never truly free of Nature’s whims, but our civilization allows us to keep up a buffer zone of sorts, which is necessary for progress.

The Magus, Part VI.

Last time, I elaborated a bit on the Magus’ baboon. It’s the first time we see a creature besides the Magus himself in the card. It’s odd, too, because the first card is supposed to represent singularity. But because we know that the Magus is Mercury and the baboon is Thoth, and Mercury is Thoth, we can surmise that the baboon is an aspect of the Magus. More accurately, the baboon is the Magus’ shadow, or his Devil. The Devil is essentially the trickster gone bad, or the Juggler at his most extreme. The baboon suggests the pitfalls of language, how it pulls us further from the divine, not closer to it. It also hints at the brutal reality of a wild animal just beneath our fragile constructions.


In part four, I discussed the demiurge, or the creator of the world. The demiurge is not the supreme power in the Universe, although he is not necessarily conscious of forces beyond his sphere of influence.

In mythology, the demiurge typically manifests as a masculine sky god. This includes figures like Zeus and Odin, as well as Jehovah. The stories say he created order from chaos, and that the world was shaped by his actions or his commands, and can be altered according to his will. The Magcian similarly manipulates the worldly elements on his table.

In some myths, the Sky Father subsequently assumed control of Creation and all its occupants by ostensibly declaring himself King Of The Castle. Zeus and Odin are each the pater familias of his respective pantheon, and while the Biblical God has no divine peers, He descended from heaven to Mt. Sinai to pass his Commandments along to Moses and his people. Thus the demiurge becomes the Lawgiver. We can easily recognize this development in the Emperor.


Even more rudimentary than the law is the language in which it is written. The myths that tell about the invention of language and stories often involve death and magic. The god of wisdom journeys to the underworld to obtain the letters, and then returns with his boon for mankind. This is Thoth, and Odin. With the aid of monkey-Thoth and the quill and scroll, the Magus can ascend to the heights represented by the Hermit, who is this god of wisdom. And with storytellers such as Anansi, we see again the ties to the trickster.


The trickster, the demiurge, and the wise man. The Devil, the Emperor, and the Hermit. What do all of these have in common? I pondered this for some time before the obvious hit me over the head one evening: they are all men, like the prototypical Man that is the Magus.

It is often said that three is a magic number. What’s that occult saying? From One comes Two, from Two comes Three, and from Three comes everything…? Something like that. The idea is that consciousness boils down to recognition of three (not two, as I asserted in part four to make a point about the Magus and the Priestess). The archetypes are the Father, the Mother, and the Child.  Man, Woman, and the integrated Individual. One, Two, and Three. Each of our many perceptions are unconsciously constructed from a pair of binary opposites, and the self stuck somewhere in between them.

I’ve read that the corresponding Tarot cards are the Magus, the Priestess, and the Empress, because of their respective numbers. This makes enough sense, but I believe that the archetypes actually match up like this: The Father-Magus, the Mother-Priestess, and the Child-Fool. After some playing around with the Major Arcana, I found a way to divide the cards into categories based on these three. Each card depicts either a Father figure, a Mother Figure, or the Hero at some point along his or her quest for individuation. I will eventually write more about this; but for now, back to the Magus. HPIM0442

Aside from the Magus, the male cards are the Emperor, the Hierophant, the Hermit, and the Devil.* Three of these were mentioned at the start of this post; the fourth – the Hierophant – also has a connection to the Magus, which I discussed here. Each of these characters is only a possible manifestation of the Great Father or Male archetype, which is mythically associated with the sun and sky; the Magus is the epitome of this archetype. And like Mercury, he has a suit for every occasion, able to perform with skill any role he takes on.


I think it’s interesting that the lemniscate, whether overt or implied, is one of the only constants in all three versions of this card that I’ve covered so far. This is what I’ll be exploring next time, and I believe it is the key to understanding the Magus, no matter which version you’re dealing with.


*I’ve just named four Tarot cards, coinciding with the number of elements or suit symbols on the Magician’s table. This tickles me. Off the top of my head, I’d associate the Emperor with the Pentacle, the Hierophant with the Cup, the Hermit with the Sword, and the Devil with the Wand.


2: The Watchtower.

The Sentinel’s Spread Index.

Now that the Sentinel has been selected, it is time to begin the spread proper. I like to call this portion of the spread the Watchtower. In addition to the Sentinel, which signifies the querent him or herself, the Watchtower describes the present perspective and mindset of the querent.

This part of the spread is about the self, and will require looking inward to fully understand. There will come a point in the divination where we’ll turn up cards that should describe the world around us, external circumstances and how we react to them, but for now we are focusing only on the first-person.

Having consciously selected the Knight of Coins as my sentinel, I will now draw the remainder of the spread at random, as if I were performing an actual reading for someone.

The Hierophant, the Emperor, and Strength – TdM
  1. Foundation. The first card is analogous to the foundations of a tower. It is firmly planted in the earth, and should provide stable ground for the bulk of the tower. It generally represents the querent’s body or material existence. For this exercise, I drew the Hierophant for the foundation. This card in the position of my physical situation reflects my purpose here, which is to instruct or educate. The attendant acolytes might even be an audience – is anyone out there reading this?
  2. Tower. The second card builds upon the first and is the main body of the watchtower. It provides the height necessary for a clear view of the horizons. It can be interpreted as the querent’s mind or abstract awareness. And what am I teaching? I’m trying to break down my spread into its constituent parts so others can try it, and the Emperor here stands for rules or guidelines to be followed.
  3. Crenelations.  The third card crowns the watchtower and is the actual viewing platform for the sentinel (I chose the word crenelations for this position because it evokes medieval stone fortifications in my mind, which is how I personally like to envision my sentinel’s keep). Continuing the pattern of the first two cards, this one represents the querent’s spirit or ability to transcend worldly concerns.* I’ve completed my watchtower with Strength. I suppose the act of explaining my process is a good way of strengthening my own understanding of it, and that’s what I’m really doing here. The Hierophant should benefit from his teachings as much as the acolytes.

If there is a preponderance of a particular suit or number at this point, that can be an indication of the nature of the issue at hand. A watchtower constructed from Cups, for example, would suggest that the querent is feeling very emotional; multiple sixes might suggest balance, etc. In this part of the spread, it is much more likely for court cards to represent an aspect of the querent, rather than someone else.

It is interesting to note that my watchtower is constructed entirely from the Major Arcana (and this actually happens for me more often than you might think). To me, this seems to underscore that this particular reading is, well, meta. I mean, the issue for this spread is the spread itself; I’m doing a reading with the Sentinel Spread about doing readings with the Sentinel Spread. What other suit but the Major Arcana could relay that? In general, though, I usually take something like this to mean spiritual matters, or matters for which I must tap into the collective unconscious to really grasp, or something which is altogether above my daily, worldly existence. The specifics are always colored by the particular cards which show up, of course – I remember one time for my tower I pulled the Seer (High Priestess), the Mirror (Hanged Man), and the Wheel (Wheel of Fortune) from the Wildwood Tarot, all of which are heavily associated with inward reflection. I would not have interpreted, say, the Archer (Chariot), the Wanderer (Fool), and the Sun of Life (Sun) in the same way, despite also being of the Major Arcana.



Before I continue with the next part of the spread, I like to spend some time and reflect on what the Watchtower is telling me about my current perspectives. I don’t get too hung up if it doesn’t immediately make sense, though, and oftentimes I find that things start really coming together once the rest of the cards are drawn. But I like to at least take a moment to think anyway, because these cards are meant to check myself before I ascend the tower, so to speak, and gaze out at the world that surrounds me.

This is the time to take the significator and place it on top of the watchtower. Once up there, the sentinel must take stock of the immediate environment, to make sure the perimeter of his outpost is secure. This step will be the subject of the next post.


*In Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom Rachel Pollack uses the terms subconscious, conscious, and super-conscious to refer to the three respective septenaries of the Major Arcana. I think these words can also describe the first three positions of this spread, as an alternative to the body, mind, and spirit interpretation presented above.

Reading Troubles.

I think about the Tarot every day. I study my cards and my books almost every day. I do not, however, lay out a spread and try to read it every day. Perhaps I should.

I’m not the type of person who feels the need to consult the cards for every little question I have or decision I need to make. Will this woman like me if I approach her? Why ask the cards when the best way to find out is to just ask the woman? It just seems superfluous to me. The cards are to be consulted when I have a serious dilemma or am curious about something about which I cannot just go and find out.

The problem with this approach is that, even though I am well versed in the cards themselves, I sometimes have trouble understanding them in the context of a spread. It’s like vocabulary in grade school. I know what the new words mean, but I’m not quite comfortable enough to use them in a sentence.

This problem compounds itself precisely because I only read for serious situations. I need the guidance of the Tarot now more than ever, and it is very frustrating that I can’t seem to figure out what it’s trying to tell me.

I’ve been turning up the Emperor a lot lately as the conclusion or key to my problems. The situation is one in which I feel cheated, angry, and powerless. Most of the small cards that come up are swords, which is fitting both in terms of the outer conflict I’m facing and the inner turmoil I’m feeling. Occasionally, I’ll turn up some wands, which indicate to me that I’ve got to keep my resolve, and be open to creative or otherwise flexible options.

But the Emperor is not a card I spend much time with. I suspect the Tarot is advising me to channel his authority, his control and stability, and his willpower. But how do I do that? How does the Emperor rise to his position on the throne of power? I’ve always been the Hermit, standing at the lofty heights of the mountaintops, but there is no tangible authority there. How does the Hermit, in many ways the antithesis of the Emperor, become him?

I need to continue to work on this. I suppose in the mean time, it wouldn’t hurt me to do simple daily spreads, even if just for practice. Why should I be snooty about what’s appropriate to use the Tarot for? And a daily spread doesn’t have to be frivolous; it could just be a way to focus thought energies for a day, which, while possibly mundane, is not really frivolous at all. There is no better way to broaden your lexicon than to simply read and write, after all.