The Juggler, Part III: The Magician.

Before there was the Magician, there was the Juggler. The Juggler was a character of potentially ill repute, yet simultaneously one which could delight onlookers with his tricks as he pleased. The dual nature of the Juggler’s character, combined with his divinitory associations with incredible mental dexterity – not to mention his almost clownish clothes – suggests the Trickster archetype of myth, which was the subject of the previous post in this series.

However, in the modern English-speaking Tarot community, the Juggler has effectively become the Magician, thanks largely to occultist Arthur Waite and the artist commissioned to illustrate his Tarot, Pamela Smith.

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TdM Juggler and RWS Magician*

The two versions of the card incorporate similar elements, especially the table upon which are set various implements, but there nonetheless appears to be some discrepancy between them. While the traditional Juggler** wears motley performance attire, the RWS Magician is dressed in the robes of a ceremonial magus. Especially striking is the Juggler’s hat; it is so conspicuous in its size and shape, that its absence gives the Magician an air of seriousness by comparison. We know the Juggler must possess a high degree of focus to carry out his whims, but a major part of his trickery is his ability to divert our attention from his true purpose, and his hat helps to disguise this purpose. The Magician cares not for such distractions, and instead an ethereal lemniscate, symbol of infinity, floats above his head. It is the same shape as the brim of the Jugglers hat.

The Juggler appears fluid and at ease as he performs. The Magician’s stance is poised and deliberate. He holds his wand to the sky in one hand, and with the other he points to the earth. This pose is a reference to the Hermetic maxim, “As above, so below.”*** This essentially states that what is true of the macrocosm is also true of the microcosm, an idea which is central to magic theory. The Magician works his will on earth and the greater Universe unerringly conforms. The pose also suggests that the Magician has the ability to take abstract or spiritual energies from the Universe “above”, and make them manifest on earth. Either way you look at it, micro to macro or macro to micro (in truth, it’s a constant back-and-forth rather than just one or the other), the Magician clearly wields awesome power.

Now we’ll turn our attention to the table. The Juggler plays with various objects that can usually be likened to the suit symbols of the Minor Arcana, although they can just as easily be random knick-knacks;**** but the items upon the Magician’s table can be mistaken for nothing else. There are four of them, and they are very clearly implements of the same sorts as are pictured on each of the aces. This implies that the Magician has the raw forces of the elements at his disposal. The combination of his Hermetic stance and the elemental aces on his table serves to underscore that his will is all powerful. He can manipulate the physical elements of this world with ease, but his true influence stretches far beyond the realms of crude matter.

In short: the Juggler performs tricks and illusions. The Magician performs magic.

~~~

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For this post, my aim was to examine the basic elements of the Magician card versus those of the Juggler. It is a digression from the overarching theme of mythic archetypes that is the purpose of this series, but I think it’s a necessary one to make in order to more fully appreciate what’s coming next as compared to what came previously. The Magician can still be associated with the Trickster, by virtue of his being a reincarnation of the Juggler (by the same token, the Juggler can be associated with all that I will claim for the Magician in the upcoming installments). But there is another archetype the Magician represents that is different than the Juggler’s trickster: God the Father, Creator of the Universe. It might seem like quite a leap, but I assure you, it’s all there in the cards.

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*Interestingly, these two cards appear to be mirrors of each other. Is there significance in this? Perhaps, and I may or may not return to this thought in a future post.

**For the purposes of this post, “traditional Juggler” refers to the Marseille-pattern Juggler.

***Might not the Juggler also be considered to be making the same statement through his gesture? It can certainly be read that way. The Juggler may very well be hiding all manner of secret hermetic and occult wisdom, but if this is true, the many anonymous hands that contributed to his appearance left no indication that it was intentional. We just can’t know. One of the things that made Waite’s Tarot so revolutionary (aside from Smith’s Minor Arcana illustrations) was that he published a book detailing the cards and their symbolism. The Marseille Tarots are occult only because they were interpreted that way long after their creation; the RWS, on the other hand, is occult because its creator made it so, and we do know that, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

****The items on the Juggler’s table often vary from card to card. For example, the early versions, such as the Visconti and the source material for Huson’s Dame Fortune’s Wheel Tarot, show stock items of the street performer’s trade. While this might include a wand or a cup, it also might include balls or spinners or other random, non-Tarot-related items. Oswald Wirth’s Juggler, on the other hand, has objects on his table which very obviously correspond to the minor suit symbols (ironic, considering he never made a Minor Arcana). The Marseille Juggler typically falls somewhere in the middle: the items on his table appear to include a couple coins, a small cup or two, and a knife, and he holds a baton in his hand. These are very similar to the suit symbols, but they admittedly look nothing like any of their respective aces, so the similarities could therefore possibly be only coincidence.

The Juggler, Part II.

The last time I wrote about this card, I briefly discussed the evolution of the Juggler to the Magician. Today I am here to talk about the Juggler again, keeping that superficial distinction between him and the Magician in mind (I will follow up this post with one on the Magician).

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CBD-TdM

Despite prefacing the Major Arcana, the Juggler is a lowly character. He is a street performer, probably dishonest and operating in a seedy part of town. He amuses passersby with sleight of hand tricks, even possibly stealing from or cheating those who are not as intellectually sharp as he is (and he is very sharp).

Not to paint a picture of a bad guy; on the contrary, I find the Juggler to be very likeable. He represents focus and skill, excellent even if they are occasionally applied to dubious ends. I’ve equated the Juggler to the mythic Trickster a few times on this blog, and now is the time, I think, to explain why.

~~~

Tricksters are often associated with the myths of tribal cultures, especially African or Native American myths, but the trickster character exists everywhere. In the mythic realms of gods and demi-gods the world over, where might is right and magic generally abounds, the trickster relies on his wiles to get by. If the gods and giants are forces of nature, the trickster is mankind, at the mercy of and yet able to outsmart these forces. The trickster does not always come out on top, and oftentimes he must endure punishment even when he does. But his mind is his most powerful attribute, and he knows how to use it.

The questionable character of the trickster stems from his ability to outsmart. Even if he is not bad, he is almost always antagonistic in some way. Sometimes, this is necessary for his survival. Oftentimes, however, it seems like the trickster is just antagonizing for the sheer joy of generating conflict, or even just out of boredom. He certainly has some very human qualities, even if they aren’t always flattering ones.

With a few exceptions, though (Odysseus), the trickster as a character is not a mere mortal. He is often not quite a god, either. The trickster is usually in between, not quite mortal, not quite divine, not welcome here, not welcome there, but showing up anywhere he pleases all the same. One of the interesting qualities about the trickster is how generally disliked he is by the other characters in his stories, and yet how beloved he is by those who tell the stories.

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The Visconti and Medieval Scapini Tarots: two renditions of the earliest known Juggler.

The Juggler is no exception. Despite his seediness, there are few out there who don’t consider him to be a favorable card. But why is this so? The trickster is often identifiable as a “culture hero”, which basically means he is responsible, in a mythic sense, for somehow making life better for people through his trickery. Prometheus tricked the gods into allowing humans to eat the meat from sacrificial animals, and then he stole the fire for them to cook it, too.* Loki invented the fishing net and Hermes invented the lyre. Anansi the spider is responsible for all storytelling. Is Anansi a good guy? Not always, but it would be a bleak existence for mankind if it weren’t for his contribution to culture.

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From the Deviant Moon. Despite his title, this guy is certainly a Juggler type. Perhaps it’s the extra arms, but this Juggler in particular reminds me of Anansi more than any other.

In some versions of the Anansi myths, he is not only the god of stories, but of all wisdom, as well. Indeed, in much of the world’s mythology, the distinction between the trickster and the god of wisdom is a blurry one, although I’ve already written about that. The point is that there is much more to the trickster than meets the eye.

Such is the case with the Juggler. He appears to be nothing more than a performer with a comically floppy hat, but is he, really? Is he hiding something? Is he not also a conman, with more than just tricks for entertainment up his sleeve? He very well may be, but even that is just part of the whole picture. He’s the great manipulator personified, playing with gods and men as effortlessly as he plays with the implements on his table. His goofy hat symbolizes the vastness of his intellect, and his blonde curls and youthful countenance provide a seductive mask to hide a truly mischievous nature.

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Oswald Wirth

Just as the trickster is the spark that generates conflict in every story of which he is a part, so is the Juggler the spark that generates the progression of the Major Arcana. I don’t believe this is the only reason he stands at the front of the pack, though. I think his position also has something to do with that connection I spoke of earlier with the gods of wisdom – sky gods – – creator gods, even. You see, sometimes the Juggler is merely a trickster; sometimes, though, he transcends mischief and becomes something much greater.

That, however, will be the subject of another post.

Part III

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From Dame Fortune’s Wheel Tarot. The monkey is an interesting detail with some importance, but we won’t get to that for another post or so.

*The name “Prometheus” means fore-thought, which is an apt moniker for a trickster type.

A Choice of Lovers.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve done what I used to enjoy so much on this blog: analyze a specific card of the Major Arcana. I don’t know why it’s been so long; either I’ve written about something else or I’ve written nothing at all. One of my eventual goals for this blog is to write about each of the Major Arcana at least once, and I think it’s high time I got back on that train.

I’ve chosen the Lovers as my subject today, because its changes over time are a little more apparent than many of the other cards, providing me with ample fodder for discussion. This card has a couple possible meanings depending on the deck used, and I’m going to focus on four particular versions of it in this post.

I’ll begin with the most straightforward version, which happens also to be the first, chronologically speaking. You can pretty much take the Visconti Lovers at face value.* It depicts a marriage, and can be interpreted to mean what it says: love, especially a romantic or everlasting love that joins two people. Pretty simple, right?

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Visconti-Sforza

Interestingly, this early version of the card is not what many would consider the most traditional – that distinction goes to the Marseilles Lovers, which is more correctly referred to as the singular “Lover.” The central figure is a young man. On either side of him is a woman, and hovering above them is a Cupid-like cherub. Rather than actual love, this card is typically interpreted to mean a choice, as the man must choose which woman to take as his lover. The choice of lovers pictured on the card is symbolic of choice in general – but not your run-of-the-mill, what-do-I-eat-for-breakfast sort of choice. This is the sort of choice that presents itself at pivotal moments in life, the sort of choice that defines who you are.

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CBD-TdM

There seems to be two prevailing ways to interpret the women. Probably the more common of the two is that one woman represents Virtue, and the other is Vice. The Lover must choose what sort of man he will be; will he live a righteous life, or will he succumb to baser temptations?

Alternatively, one woman can be the man’s mother, and the other is his, well, lover, and he must choose between them. You can get Freudian with that if you like, but what this generally symbolizes is the choice to grow up, essentially. Will the Lover choose to leave the past behind and face the future and its responsibilities head-on, or will he falter and regress back into the metaphorical arms of his mother?

Of course, this card can also be taken at face value, in which case it could be interpreted similarly to the love in the Visconti version (although the sole partnership implied in the Visconti is absent).

~~~

The Golden Dawn tweaked much of the Major Arcana to better jive with their occult philosophies, and the Lovers are no exception. Now, I don’t know what the actual Golden Dawn Lovers looked like, but apparently they depicted it as the climactic scene of the Perseus myth, when Andromeda is about to be devoured by a sea monster and Perseus flies in like Superman to save her.

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Hermetic Tarot

Why does this Tarot card deviate so much from its source? What reasons did the Golden Dawn have for using such an oddly specific story to illustrate this one card? Unfortunately, I don’t really know. Certainly Perseus took Andromeda as his lover after the rescue, but there are so many love stories out there from which to choose.

In a nutshell, the Perseus myth is a Hero’s Journey story, like so many other stories before and since. So far, we’ve seen the Lovers represent Love and Choice. Both of these are important themes in the great human drama, but only the latter is really a prerequisite of the Hero’s Journey. The Hero always must make the difficult decision to embark on his (or her) journey. It is a common trope for the Hero to find true love, for sure, but it’s not required, and anyway, if it does happen, it normally happens towards the end of the journey, not chapter six. When taken as a whole, the progression of the Major Arcana symbolically depicts the Hero’s Journey, and in this context, the Lovers card stands at that turning point, that choice, to embark.

And yet, this is not the moment of the Perseus story pictured on the Lovers card. Some traditions hold that the Lovers should neither be interpreted as love nor as choice, but rather as a test or trial to be surmounted, and this view is mentioned in a pamphlet written by Mathers, who was at the head of the Golden Dawn. Where and when this tradition originated, I do not know, but it seems likely that the Lovers Perseus and Andromeda against the sea monster are meant to be a representation of it.

In the very same pamphlet, though, Mathers wrote that he actually preferred to think of this card in Kabbalistic terms,** as the path descending from Binah to Tiphareth – or in layman’s words, divine-feminine energy descending towards balance, much like Perseus (guided in the story by Athena) flying down in Hermes’ sandals to restore the peace that reigned in Ethiopia before Andromeda’s parents pissed off Poseidon. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I am not a Kabbalist, and therefore cannot speak to the validity of the reasoning behind this. However, there is an element of the divine in every version of the Lovers that might attest to this idea, whether its a Cupid or an Angel (or a monster sent by an angry Lord of the Sea). This supernatural third party is a staple of the Lovers card (even the mundane Visconti-Sforza wedding shows a blindfolded angel), and I’m sure there are endless possibilities for interpreting it, although I won’t get into that here.

~~~

Of course, for all the influence the Golden Dawn has had on the way we view the Tarot today, their version of the Lovers remains obscure. A.E. Waite, creator of the most popular Tarot deck ever published, was a member of the Golden Dawn, but he ultimately rejected their mythic version of the Lovers in favor of his own.

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Universal Waite

The RWS shows imagery taken from Genesis. Eve and Adam are standing beneath the Trees of Knowledge and Life, respectively. In Cupid’s place, an angel of God watches over them. These biblical motifs, whether intended by Waite or not, actually quite ingeniously combine all three traditional meanings covered above. Adam and Eve were literally created for each other, the epitome of Lovers.*** These lovers are then given the mother of all choices – whether to remain obedient and in Paradise, or to commit the original sin and be cast out. Now, we all know how these Lovers chose in the end, but they are pictured in the card as having not yet made this choice. And finally, the choice presented them is a temptation, a trial of faith.

The RWS Lovers is fascinating with all its subtle nuances, and it truly deserves its own post, which I will certainly write (someday). For now, I’m just going to leave it with the conclusion that it does manage to combine all three traditional interpretations.

~~~

The fact that all three ideas can be combined in a single picture is significant, because it shows that, while divergent, they don’t have to be exclusive. Every significant choice in life is really a trial of sorts. And every trial is a result of a choice, and is probably a precursor to another choice. And the decision to take a lover can be among the most important choices one makes in life, and no love affair is without its trials and tribulations. So in a roundabout way, these different meanings are rooted in similar ideas. The main point here is that the Lovers, in some way, is essentially a metaphor for a crossroads. Think about it: a crossroads symbolizes both the convergence of two paths on a single point (a wedding), as well as the choice of which of those paths to follow. Also, consider the legend of Robert Johnson, who supposedly sold his soul to the Devil at a crossroads in exchange for sick guitar skillz. It’s the classic story of a test of character after the fashion of Dr. Faustus (Faust may have made the wrong decision, but I can’t begrudge Robert Johnson for his).

In every instance, the crossroads represents a pivotal moment, and it is on the querent to step up and do what’s right in that moment, whether that’s to be faithful to your partner, or faithful to the Creator that commands you not eat of the Tree. Regardless of how you choose, God or Devil, it’s your choice.

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Mr. Crowley’s Thoth Tarot. This card combines many traditional elements with Crowley’s own ideas about the Lovers.

~~~

*Actually, since the Visconti Tarots were left untitled, some prefer to name it simply “Love,” and I kind of like that.

**One of the very few times that there is a hint of occult influence in Mather’s pamphlet – despite being Mister Golden Dawn, he evidently aimed this little book at the general populace rather than the select few who would have been familiar with such things as the Kabbalah.

***Yeah, I’ve conveniently forgotten to mention Lilith, but if you think about it, Adam choosing between Lilith and Eve is right on point with the meaning of the Lovers presented in the Marseilles pattern. In the Thoth, these two primordial women are pictured in the top corners of the card.

3: The Cardinal Directions.

Sentinel’s Spread Index.

The watchtower has been built, and the sentinel has ascended to his (or her) post at the summit. It is now time to get your bearings.

The title of this portion of the spread should make it pretty obvious what the next four cards represent. More than just the cardinal directions, though, these cards are supposed to be resources (in a metaphorical sense) that you have at your disposal. Because of this combination of meanings, I generally tend to think of these cards in terms of walls: there is one facing each direction, and they serve to “defend” the tower in the center from potential dangers on the horizons. Right now, all you will see is what you have to use. It won’t become clear how you might use them until later on.

The walls are the intermediary cards between those of introspection we drew in the previous post and those of external influences we’ll draw in the following one. They stand in the middle, delineating the inside from the out. They are yours to use, but they are not you in the sense that the tower is, nor are they fully separate from you in the sense that the cards in the next post will be.

Each direction is associated with an element and its corresponding Tarot suit. Everybody has his or her own way of matching directions and elements and suits, so by all means, if you have a favorite method, use it. For me, I tend to associate East with Air and Swords, South with Fire and Wands, West with Water and Cups, and North with Earth and Coins.* I always begin laying cards with the East because that is the direction of the sunrise.

For the current exercise, I drew the following cards as the walls for my sentinel outpost:

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Counterclockwise from bottom right: East, South, West, and North, with the watchtower occupying the center.

East / Air – My Eastern wall is constructed of Four Swords. Air is the element of the mind, and swords in this quadrant are generally (but not necessarily) a good sign, because it is their natural habitat. Numbering four, these swords are balanced and stable, too, so all in all, I think we can conclude that, at least for the issue at hand,** I’m possessed of a strong mental capacity that doesn’t unnecessarily overexert itself. I should be adequately equipped do deal with any intellectual obstacles ahead.

Basically, I know what I’m talking about here, and while putting words to the cards isn’t always easy, particularly when trying to explain a reading such as this one (by which I mean it’s a sample reading that seems to have turned out with some degree of self-awareness), I ought to be more than capable of getting my point across. I want to make sure that I don’t try too hard, though. I do have a tendency to ramble.

 South / Fire – The South is the realm of passions, spirit, creativity, or whatever you wish to call the driving force in your life.  The southern wall is the Six of Coins. The coins are the suit of tangible things, and this card in particular is sometimes associated with giving and receiving. Six is another balanced number, but one with a bit more abundance than the four.

What’s driving me at this moment is a desire to make the abstract in my head a little more concrete, and what better way to do that than write it out and share it with others?

West / Water – To the West lies the realm of emotions, and facing this direction is the Three of Coins. This is usually considered a card of work, particularly the beginning stages of an endeavor. It is a number of initial results, the first time in the numerical sequence that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This card poses a slight difficulty, because the subject of this reading is one that is more or less devoid of emotional attachment. Perhaps this is why we see the cold solid coins, rather than the cups that would be typically associated with this quadrant. Perhaps it’s referring to the simple emotion of contentment that comes with working on something that I’ve created. This spread isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s something I’ve orchestrated all the same, and I enjoy working with it.

North / Earth – Earth is the element associated with the physical realm, and so the Northern wall tends to represent the closest thing to an actual “material” resource. Here we have the Two of Wands, however, and wands are arguably the least material of the suits.

The Two of Wands usually evokes potential in my mind, perhaps representing a spectrum of possibilities that would have stemmed from an initial idea (the Ace). In the quadrant of earth, this suggests to me an ability to bring these ideas into reality. Notice that the northern and southern walls relay similar messages about making the abstract concrete, but while the south shows a drive to do so, the north shows a capacity to make productive use of that drive.

~~~

I’d like to take a moment now to make a point about this reading: as I’ve mentioned, the issue in question is the spread itself. It’s an instructional reading, broken down to explain how the spread works, but it is a real reading. I’ve drawn all of these cards at random (except the sentinel, of course), and done my best to make sense of them. I did not, however, dream up a hypothetical scenario upon which to base my interpretations, and as a result, the cards reflect only what I brought to the table – that is, an intent to explain the structure of the spread.

This is therefore an intellectual exercise more than anything else, and that’s clearly expressed by these walls I’ve placed around the sentinel.*** The eastern wall is the one with the card that makes the most sense – the suit of the mind in the quadrant of the mind, and a particularly stable and balanced card at that. After that is the southern wall. This card isn’t as straightforward as the eastern one, but it still makes plenty of sense to me.

On the other side of the coin we have the western and northern walls, which I’ve had a little more difficulty deciphering. This is because this hypothetical reading does not center around an emotional issue, nor is it grounded in any physical matter. I can still make sense of these cards, but it’s apparent to me that they do not have much to contribute to the overall point of the reading, at least so far.

The reason I approached this spread sans-question is because it is specifically designed to give an overview of your life, taking into account many levels, regardless of which of those levels have directly to do with what’s on your mind. I rarely use this spread with a particular question in mind, and when the entire spectrum of my life is taken into account, all four quadrants will normally have a message for me. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that, while this reading is intended as an instructive sample, it is by no means representative of the depth that this spread can sometimes reveal. It’s the sort of thing that’s difficult to express through a generic example, and yet a generic example is the best way I know to really explain how all the parts work together.

~~~

Now we have a watchtower and a perimeter; the outpost is complete. At this stage, I like to arrange the cards to align with the actual points of a compass, like so:

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The numbers three and four are integral to the structure of this spread. Considering the sentinel as separate, the outpost so far is constructed of three (the tower) plus four (the walls) cards, totaling seven. In numerology, three is sometimes considered the number of spirit, and four the number of earth (precisely because it’s the number of classical elements and cardinal directions). Seven is traditionally considered a holy number because it combines the spiritual and the mundane, simultaneously grounding the lofty spirit and raising up the lowly material. Even though the individual cards of the tower generally represent body, mind, and spirit, they can be taken as a whole to represent your non-corporeal self, which in turn is brought down to earth with the addition of these four walls, which represent how you connect with the world around you. Thus the seven cards of the outpost combined represent your entire self at the time of the reading.****

Three and four multiplied equals twelve, which just so happens to be the number of cards required for the next part of this spread.

~~~

*This is how I usually lay out the spread, but sometimes I wonder if the South shouldn’t be Air, and East Fire, so that the elemental opposites (that is, Earth and Air, Fire and Water) actually sit opposite each other on the compass. It ultimately doesn’t matter, though, so long as I’m clear with myself about what’s what before I actually start laying down any cards.

**I did not approach this exercise with a specific question in mind, which means I’m leaving it up to the cards to illustrate the main issue of their own accord. If you will recall, I interpreted the three cards in the previous post (linked above) as representing my purpose here, namely to share my spread and my methods of reading with it. Having established that as the subject of this reading, I will continue to interpret the cards in this vein unless something comes up that makes me seriously reconsider it.

***Or rather, it’s been pretty clearly expressed to me. Whether or not I’m expressing it clearly in my turn is up for debate.

****Alternatively, you could consider each of the walls to be one of the classical elements, with the central cards collectively representing Aether or Quintessence. This means that there are five “points” here, analogous to the five points of the pentagram. As I briefly mentioned in another post, the pentagram is a symbol of the microcosm, and the six-pointed star is correspondingly a symbol of the macrocosm. Therefore, the cards that make up the outpost reflect the querent; the next twelve cards (keeping in mind that twelve reduces to six) reflect the querent’s world.

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.

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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.

~~~

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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.

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*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.

The Tarot: A Short Treatise…

In 1888, S.L. MacGregor Mathers, one of the soon-to-be founders of the famous Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, penned a pamphlet entitled The Tarot: A Short Treatise on Reading Cards. As it happens, this slim volume was also the very first book on the Tarot I ever owned, prior even to my first pack of cards.

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At the time, I was only aware of the Tarot insofar as Jimmy Page used it to illustrate Led Zeppelin IV. My curiosity had been piqued, yet many months passed before I began to actually learn anything about it. I took my first conscious step towards the Tarot one day when I found the above book in a local metaphysical shop in which I was browsing. Knowing next to nothing about the Tarot (or, for that matter, just how many books on the Tarot actually exist), I bought it, thinking it would be a good primer.

Considering the eventual influence the Golden Dawn’s occult attributions would come to have over the Tarot as we know it today, the content of this book is incredibly plain. There is very little in the way of hints that Mathers was on the verge of kickstarting a revolutionary wave of Tarot study. In fact, from what I can figure, most of this pamphlet is actually very derivative. The section on the history of the cards seems to be taken mostly from Court de Gebelin (*cough*egyptianmystics*cough*), and the sections on reading with the cards seem to have come mostly from Etteilla. There isn’t really anything wrong with this, except that neither of these sections are entirely accurate; nor even are they all that interesting to read, which is largely due, I think, to the haughty writing style of late nineteenth-century English occultists (you know what I mean if you’ve ever cracked the spines of Waite’s or Crowley’s books).

Indeed, Mathers had a lot going on behind the scenes that he hid quite well in this book (I had absolutely no idea whom I was reading when I got it, and was taken by surprise much later when I first began to learn about the Golden Dawn and Mathers’ role in it). This book is aimed at the general populace, the unenlightened masses, not the would-be initiates of secret Hermetic orders. This is made clear by the inclusion of trick-taking game rules side by side with rules for traditional Tarot cartomancy, as well as the fact that common Marseille-pattern cards are used to illustrate. Oh, there is a brief chapter that mentions the possibilities of occult connections, but it obscures rather than elaborates upon them. I sure as shit didn’t know what he was going on about when I first read it, anyway.

Would I recommend this book?

To the general Tarot enthusiast? Probably not. To the occult Tarot enthusiast? Again, not really. To the historical Tarot enthusiast? Maybe, although there isn’t much in this small book that can’t be learned elsewhere. To the beginner, like I was when I first found it? HA! Fat chance I’d recommend it to past me, now that I’ve got the benefit of hindsight.

And yet, despite the off-putting nature of this book, it did not deter me from continuing to study the cards. If anything, it left me dissatisfied but with enough of a kernel of curiosity remaining that I was actually all the more intrigued by the cards after reading this relic. It’s not a bad book, just unnecessary and a little outdated given all that’s currently available on the subject.

I certainly will never get rid of it. It’s so small and unobtrusive that my bookshelf has no problem accommodating it, not to mention the nostalgia factor of it being my first-ever Tarot book. And it can be handy as a quick reference of TdM keywords, for both Major and Minor Arcana. It’s a book I wouldn’t buy if I didn’t already own it, but since I do own it, I appreciate it for what it is. This unassuming little volume came at a crossroads in the history of the Tarot, the cusp of the swell that would come to bring the likes of the RWS and CHT to the shores of Etteilla and the TdM. And I think that’s kinda cool.

CBD-TdM

I’ve actually had these cards for a while (and the companion book Tarot: The Open Reading for even longer – which I originally purchased as a general purpose reference to the TdM, but I liked it so much I decided to get the cards to go with it), but haven’t written anything on them because I already had written up my thoughts on the other TdM in my collection. I’ve decided, however, that these cards are absolutely worthy of their own review.

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An example of the Major Arcana, a Court Card, and a Small Card from the CBD TdM.

Like my Universal RWS, these cards are the nicer-looking-yet-less-sturdy of the two versions of the deck in my collection. Unlike the Universal RWS, though, which can still hold its own, the cardstock for this pack feels incredibly slippery and flimsy (it’s tied with the DFW for Most Disappointing Cardstock Award (MDCA) in my collection – in fact these two decks feel like they were cut from the same crummy sheet). That is the only complaint I have about this deck, though, and now that it’s out of the way, I can move on to the better stuff (aside from the cardstock, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about this deck).

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The Fool from both of my copies of the TdM (the CBD is on the right).

My other Marseille deck is based on the version by Claude Burdel, and as far as I can tell, the biggest change from the original in that one is the color scheme (which I do actually like). The CBD Marseille, on the other hand, is based on the version by Nicholas Conver, which is considered by many to be the “classic” Marseille deck.

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The CBD next to the (mini) original Conver.

Even though it is based on Conver’s pack, Yoav Ben-Dov (CBD TdM is an abbreviation for ‘Conver-Ben-Dov Tarot de Marseille’, by the way) actually re-drew the entire deck to better suit modern aesthetics. He did a phenomenal job.

One of my biggest aversions to the TdM in general is the crudeness of the woodblock pictures. I do genuinely appreciate them for what they are, but if I’m going to play with Tarot cards, I want prettier pictures to look at. Ben-Dov managed to create a Tarot that is very clearly a TdM, still evoking the woodblock style, yet is incredibly soft and refined in comparison to other TdMs, whether they be facsimiles of original cards or modern redrawings by other artists (I’ve seen some cards that are surely made by talented artists that still look downright ugly because the artist stayed too true to the old woodblock style. They may as well have just cut their own woodblock prints instead – that would have been more impressive). Don’t get me wrong, the TdM absolutely does have artistic merit, especially from an art historical perspective, but let’s be real – we live in an age when it has to compete with the RWS and CHT, both of which are far more impressive artistic feats. To me, Ben-Dov managed to breathe new life into the oldest traditional Tarot, which, as great as it is, had been looking a little stale.

Ben-Dov was nevertheless very respectful of his source material. He smoothed out the roughness a bit, but he did not set out to “correct” anything. There are many imperfections in the original Conver cards, and Ben-Dov left these alone. According to his book, he did this not only out of respect, but also because the imperfections are part of what stimulates the mind when reading the cards (or something to that extent). The result is a very beautiful and honest rendering of the Marseille cards.

Speaking of, his book is certainly worth the read, as well. It goes in-depth into the processes and inspirations for his cards, but is also meant to serve as a manual for reading with any version of the TdM. He advocates an intuitive approach, and gives interesting examples as jumping-off points for each card in the pack. The book also includes a good description of number, shape, and color symbolism, which is incredibly handy for reading with any Tarot, but especially with the TdM.

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Aside from the cardstock, there is one other aspect the CBD shares with DFW: the inclusion of a 79th card. In the DFW, the card is illustrated as an universal significator; in the CBD, though, it is totally blank. In a sense, it’s really the same as the DFW significator, but Ben-Dov offers a few interesting alternative interpretations for it in the LWB. I thought that was kinda cool.

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I’d wanted a second TdM for a while, but had a difficult time finding one that I really liked (the fact that I knew I liked the CBD because of the book somehow didn’t sway me until I’d spent quite a bit of time deliberating – the inner machinations of my mind are an enigma, for sure). Eventually, I did settle on Ben-Dov’s deck, and I’m very pleased I did. I don’t think there’s a better modern rendition of the Marseille pattern Tarot out there.