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.

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The Fool’s Journey.

Mr. Crowley had a thing about “aeons”. Humankind progresses through them, said he, at a rate of an aeon per every couple millennia, give or take a few years off the ends. So far our kind has known three: the Aeon of the Mother, the Aeon of the Father, and the Aeon of the Child. We are currently experiencing the latter; in fact, we have only very recently entered into it. The aeon is young.

The names of these aeons echo the primal archetypes of Mother and Father, with the Child, or self, being a product of some magical fusion of the two. This has psychoanalysis written all over it, and insofar as myths are considered projections of humanity’s collective subconscious, they portray an almost infinite number of interpretations on just what exactly it means to be the Child.

More often than not, creation myths equated the Father archetype with the sun and sky and the Mother archetype with the moon and earth. Prehistoric peoples told stories about how their environments came to be the way they were through variations of these archetypes and their interactions.

~~~

The world is split in two. There is the Earth beneath, and there is the Sky above. We exist on a thin margin where these two vast entities meet.

But we do exist.

Which means that there are three entities, not two! There is the sky and the earth, and there is us to perceive them as separate from each other. This revelation raises two questions:

  1. Could there be more?
  2. What are we?

From one springs two, from two springs three, and from three springs everything. Certainly there is more; it’s only a matter of awakening consciousness. But that magic number three, what makes it so generative?

Not only does three hold the key to unlocking the multitudes, without it there is nothing to recognize one and two as separate from each other. Without the perspective of three, neither of them can truly be said to exist.

It appears that, whatever we are, we are in a very delicate place between oblivion and infinity. Whatever we are, we instinctively try to escape the former and run toward the latter. Our species does this on the material plane, because we reproduce.

Like the world apparently consists of both Earth and Sky, humanity physically consists of woman and man. It takes two to make three. Mother and Father come together to make Child. Of course, the Child grows and can possibly become either a mother or a father, thus renewing the cycle, but as an individual, he or she is an entity unto itself, separate from all else. The Child is therefore symbolic of the self, the individual. We are each and all of us the Child.

~~~

The Magician is one, the Priestess is two, and the Empress is three. Taken as a creation myth, this makes plenty of sense. The Magician is the Sun or Sky Father, the Priestess is the Lunar or Earth Mother, and the Empress is the Child. She is life itself, and her card usually features a combination of heavenly and earthly symbols of fruitfulness. Sometimes she is pregnant. But the Tarot is primarily concerned with humanity’s dilemmas, not its origins. The cards are made by humans for humans – whether for games or divination, it matters not – to help alleviate for a moment the burden of conscious existence. In this context, the Empress is certainly not the Child, even if she might be a child of the High Priestess and Magician.

The Child is not card number three, but the third card. The Priestess is actually the third card in the progression, after the Fool and the Magician, but because the Fool doesn’t have a numerical designation, he falls in place as the card separate from One and Two. The Fool, then, is the Child.

Eden Gray wrote that the Fool “represents the soul of everyman, which, after it is clothed in a body, appears on earth and goes through the life experiences depicted in the 21 cards of the Major Arcana, sometimes thought of as archetypes of the unconscious.”* She called this the “Fool’s Journey,” which mirrors the Hero’s Journey myths.

Hero’s Journey myths are not about the beginnings of the world or the conception of the Child. They follow instead the Child’s development. The core Mother and Father archetypes manifest in these myths as various people (including biological or adoptive parents), creatures, gods, or forces, benevolent or otherwise. When these are benevolent, they help or guide the Hero in some way, often giving a gift or crucial piece of advice to be used during times of serious crisis. Such times arise when the Hero must face the malevolent manifestations of the archetypal parents. The Hero’s success depends on how well he uses the help of the former to overcome the obstacles presented by the latter.

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Clockwise from right: the Juggler, the Fool, the Popess, and the World – OWT

These are stories of nature versus nurture. We are the products of our environments and societies, nurtured by our educations and upbringings, and yes, our parents. Each and every one of us is the biological product of a father and a mother. There is no escaping this fact of life. But we blaze our own trails. We live our own lives, and we make our own choices. It is our nature to strive for better. We yearn for apotheosis.

In Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom Rachel Pollack prefaced her chapters on the Major Arcana with a discussion of the four cards pictured above.** The Fool, number 0, and the World, number 21, represent the before and after shots of the Hero. The Fool exists in the bliss of unconsciousness, and the World dancer exists in the bliss of enlightened consciousness. In between is the journey of life. To get from 0 to 21, the Hero must be born into the imperfect world of opposites, the realms of the Magician (1) and the Priestess (2), and work through stages towards reconciling those opposites in his or her psyche, to integrate the disparate elements of his or her own self, to become “whole” – separate from Mother and Father, yet made of them both. Opposition is only an illusion, and it is the Fool’s purpose to remove the veil of segregation from over his eyes. The path of the individual is paradoxically the path to realizing unity with all, and it is this path that is depicted by the Major Arcana, as walked by the Fool. The key to understanding the cards in this light is to recognize the three fundamental archetypes that they present. From three springs everything else, after all.

~~~

*From page 228 of Gray’s A Complete Guide to the Tarot, published in 1970. Gray may or may not have been the one to coin the term “Fool’s Journey”; either way, it’s the earliest use of the term in my library.

**She used the RWS to illustrate, not the OWT. Page 13.

 

Part VI, Fantasy Hermits.

Read Part V, on Mr. Crowley’s Hermit, here.

After examining the unique Thoth Hermit, I think it’s time to return to some more typical interpretations of this figure. Oddly enough, the Wildwood Tarot is among the least traditional Tarots I use, with only a shared fundamental structure with other decks keeping it a Tarot at all. Every Major Arcana card is renamed and redesigned, as are the suit symbols, court cards, and small cards of the Minor Arcana, and the entire thing is designed with the Wheel of the Year system in mind. With all that being said, however, the Hermit, or Hooded Man as he’s called here, is actually very similar in appearance to the Hermit of the RWS. He is among the most traditional cards in this deck.

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The Hooded Man – WWT

The Hooded Man carries a lantern and a staff, and wears a hooded robe. He’s also outside, which aligns with almost all of the elements of the card I discussed in part II of this series. The only thing missing is the appearance of advanced age, symbolized in most decks by a long, white beard. Not only can we see no beard on the Hooded Man, we can’t see his face at all. It is totally hidden by the hood. This imbues him with an aura of mystery.

His lantern and staff are unadorned by the symbols we saw in both the RWS and OWT. They are just that: a lantern and a staff. They mean more or less exactly what they mean with any other Hermit – illumination and support. Deeper symbols of the occult are left out – the Wildwood has no place for them – but the simpler symbolism of the Collective Unconscious still finds its way through. His cloak, on the other hand, is decorated with a pattern resembling holly leaves.

If you use this deck and are familiar with the Wheel of the Year, you know that the Hooded Man stands at the Winter Solstice. This is why he wears the holly pattern, and it is also why there is a holly wreath above his door (we’ll get to that door momentarily). The holly symbolizes hope because of its tenacity in the face of the cold and dark of winter, a time when most other plants have long since withered and died. The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year; afterward, the days begin to finally grow longer once again. It is a time of darkness, yes, but more particularly it is that glimmer of light at the end of the dark tunnel. Hope is a relatively novel concept with the Hermit. So far, we’ve seen wisdom and reconciliation – enlightenment – but not so much in reference to hope. Wisdom and hope are not mutually exclusive, though; in fact, I think the symbols of hope pictured here illustrate a wisdom that comes with the experience of enduring harsh winters. Like the RWS Hermit, the Hooded Man’s lantern is a beacon of hope in the dark to those searching for the way.

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Look at that little door – WWT

The holly wreath hangs over a door which is in the side of a great tree. This tree is the Hooded Man’s abode. There is a comforting light emanating from it, and it seems warm and inviting against the snowy backdrop. It’s a quiet place of rest and recovery from the elements outside.

Nowhere in the companion book does it say so, but I believe that tree is none other than the World Tree pictured in card 21. This means that the Hooded Man lives in the metaphorical heart of the Wildwood, which is itself nothing more than a vivid mythic-forest metaphor for life in this Universe (as any good Tarot ought to be a metaphor for). It’s the same thing as implying the Hermit of the RWS hangs out with the the World Dancer. The Hooded Man is not the World Tree. He just lives there in his solitude. He lives within, yet remains without. This reminds me of that paradox of the lantern I discussed in the RWS, which he simultaneously follows yet carries. In this instance, it suggests to me consciousness amidst unconsciousness. Super-consciousness, if you will. This makes sense when you consider everything we’ve discussed about the Hermit up until this point: an endless (but not fruitless) search for wisdom towards enlightenment. The Tree is enlightenment. The Hooded Man knows where he is, and the only reason he is capable of living there is an austere lifestyle combined with the midnight urge to discover.

The only other detail on this card is the Wren perched on the Stone. Both of these have significance within the Wildwood mythos: the Stone is the emblem for the suit which is traditionally called Coins or Pentacles, and therefore represents the element Earth. The Wren is the Page of Arrows (standing in for Swords) among the Wildwood court. It symbolizes cleverness and wisdom above all else.

We’ve seen references to Fire (with all those Wands), as well as subtler references to Water in tandem with Fire (in the Star of David of the lantern). And while I haven’t mentioned it yet, Air is a big part of the Hermit, in that he is always outside, and is often atop a mountain, not to mention the number 9 being the number of intellect. Crowley has a lot of Earth references in his Hermit, but they are buried under astrological and Kabbalistic symbolism, and I didn’t feel compelled to try and explain it all in my previous post. The Hooded Man is grounded, despite his lofty spirit. And the Wren is his friend in the forest, trading secrets and reminding him that, like the holly, there are things that live and flourish in the cold when there seems to be no hope.

~~~

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Shadowscapes Tarot

The Hooded Man of the Wildwood does seem more down to earth than many other Hermits. There is a stark contrast between him and our next Hermit, the Hermit of the Shadowscapes Tarot. This Hermit’s head is firmly planted in the sky. I’ve lumped these two Hermits together in this post, because they are the two in my collection who exist in Tarot packs that present their characters in the context of deliberately-created fantasy settings. In examining them each more closely, though, I’ve found that these two examples provide some interesting points of contrast. Much of this contrast derives from the respective Earthiness and Airiness of these two cloaked figures.

 The first thing I notice about the SST Hermit is his lack of a Wand. Perhaps he needed the spare hand to climb to his precarious perch, but in any case, this staple of Hermit-dom is just not there. This Hermit is clearly young, at least in comparison to other Hermits. Not only did he reach the pinnacle without the Wand of drives and passions to lean on, he has no long white beard, and a posture bent for balance rather than under the weight of the years (is how that looks to me, anyway). He looks lithe and otherworldly.

I suspect this was an aesthetic choice on the part of Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, the artist. To balance the figure on such a pinnacle (which is a geographical feature characteristic of the Shadowscapes), a staff might seem awkward. The energy of a staff is more or less conveyed in the youth of the Hermit, but at the cost of the wisdom gained through experience. I have compared the Hermit to the Fool earlier in this series, and I want to point out the similarity of this Hermit’s position to the position of the Fool in many Tarots. This is not a typical way these two characters overlap, and in fact I find it interestingly at odds with the prudence normally attributed to this character.

The lantern is the center of focus in the guidebook. It is said to contain a captured star, and the star wants to go home. It pulls the Hermit along. He doesn’t even really know where he’s headed. He is conscious of a desire to leave society behind, though, and there is an interesting detail about how “others have been here before him”*. This young Hermit is not the first, nor will he be the last. So in a way, the wisdom of experience is in the process of being experienced here. It’s a novel approach to the Hermit, but I like it.

The Hermit stands on a pinnacle that reaches so far into the sky that there is not so much as a glimpse of the horizon which must be somewhere beneath him. The stars glow with incredible intensity and mesmerizing clarity. The light of his lantern is almost home. Even the birds soar below the feet of the Hermit. They are loons, different from the Hooded Man’s Wren, and they represent tranquility as well as familiarity with land, sea and sky (there are seashells embedded in the rock). We see a mixture of the elements as we’ve seen before, only this time in favor of the Air. Even the stone of his perch is pierced by a bubble of air. This sort of bubble appears many times throughout this deck, and they could represent any number of things. I’ve read on a forum that they could possibly represent confinement, in which case the Hermit stands above it. He has left humanity behind to chase the promise of the stars. Or, as I like to continue calling it, enlightenment.

~~~

So far, the Hermit’s Lantern has remained the most important key to understanding the card. However, the Hermit has not always held a lantern, and this variance will be the subject of my next post in this series.

*Shadowscapes Companion, page 56.

The Serpent and the World.

The concept of the Ouroboros is central to much of the world’s mythology. This universal symbol denotes the paradox of our existence.

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Although not, strictly speaking, the World, this card uses similar imagery, complete with an Ouroboros serpent around the man in the center – GE

Also called the Pleroma, the Great Round, the Cosmic Egg, or any number of related things, the Ouroboros is most often pictured as a snake or dragon biting or eating its own tail, thus sustaining itself through its own destruction. It first appeared (I think) in ancient Egypt, and has been integral to various mythic, religious, and esoteric traditions ever since.

Its meaning is twofold: on one hand, its devouring of itself symbolizes the endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth; the snake thrives on its own demise. In order for there to be life, there must also be death, and vice-versa. On the other hand, the circular enclosure created by the snake symbolizes one-ness. A perfect unity with and of the Universe. On a collective level, this most often represents the Universe prior to Creation by splitting of binary opposites. If you imagine the dualistic Yin-Yang symbol to be our world now, the Ouroboros would be a uniformly grey circle. On an individual level, it usually represents the time after death and before birth. Together, these two aspects of the Ouroboros can be combined in an attempt to explain the nature of the singular and cyclical Universe.

Creation occurred when the Ouroboros opened up and split in half (when the Egg hatched, if you will). From a cosmic, fifth-dimension sort of perspective, though, the Ouroboros is still intact. The opposites through which we perceive our existence are just an illusion that is a result of our inability to experience the world on anything other than a moment-by-moment basis.

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The World – TdM

I’ve written before about how the Tarot itself is akin to a wheel, making it a veritable model of the Ouroboros. Each card represents a single point upon the wheel, but together they make a unified whole. This is representative of how we experience the Tarot and life in general. There are several cards which specifically evoke the Ouroboros; there are two which, to me, are direct representations of it, and fittingly enough, they are located at either end of the Major Arcana. I’ve already written about the Fool. He is like the soul which has not yet departed from the enclosure of the Ouroboros. The woman dancing in the center of the World card is like the soul which has rejoined it (apotheosis is the term). More than showing the enlightened soul, though, the World (or Universe, as Mr. Crowley dubbed it – which pleases me very much) shows the Great Round itself. This card shows the entire universe as we understand it on a symbolic level. The Ouroboros itself is represented here by a huge wreath (which also shows up on the head of the Fool in the RWS – ahem). The wreath is held together by ribbons that remind one of the infinity sign.* Inside, we see the eternal soul of mankind. She is a woman, but she embraces her male aspect by holding a wand in either hand. Only a person who has embraced his or her entire self, including the anima/animus, and his or her shadow self (the Devil), can reach this state of being in life. Outside, we see the four worldly elements symbolized as four animals. These are outside of the circle because within we would not recognize them as separate from each other.

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The Universe. Notice that the woman dances with a snake, and that their form is that of the infinity sign – CHT

If any single card contained within itself all of the other cards, it would be the World. The dancer is the Fool as he completes his journey. Everything he’s learned can be boiled down to four elements (the suits of the Minor Arcana), but ultimately he must reconcile their differences and incorporate them all in his life. That the figure is a dancer is not accidental. The World illustrates a fluid state of being. The correct mixture of the four elements is ever-changing. This is the nature of the Universe. Stasis is an illusion of the human condition, just as opposition is.

The Wheel of Fortune (card 10) is similar to the World. Located about half way through the Majors, the Wheel is the Ouroboros as the Fool gazes upon it from the outside. Having been taught by the Hermit, he begins to understand the true nature of the world. But he has more tests to complete. When he finally reaches the World, he is no longer on the outside looking in. He is on the inside, or rather, he is one with the Great Round. There are ups and downs, but he understands that rather than being subject to the arbitrary whims of Lady Fortune, these ups and downs are equal and eternal. The serpent lives as it dies.

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This is such a cool version of this card – SaM

From the World springs the Fool, and the cycle begins again. Myths and stories would have us believe that, after one tumultuous journey through the symbolic Underworld, we are complete, and remain forever in the state of ecstasy that is the World. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true in real life. After successfully undergoing trials and tribulations, we do indeed feel like the World Dancer. But what good would the lessons learned during our own personal “Hero’s Journey” be if we didn’t get a chance to incorporate them into the next chapter? So we emerge from our revelry, more experienced but newly Foolish, to begin again and learn how to better ourselves even further. In this way, the Tarot is more like a spiral than a wheel, always circling around, but ever-rising. And so we continue, on and on, until we eventually die and rejoin the Great Round for real. Until you’re born again, that is, and the World keeps on spinning.

 

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The World Serpent, biting its own tail – DMT

*You could imagine the wreath to be the cycle of the Major Arcana, and these two infinity ribbons that tie the wreath together represent two specific cards. They could be the Fool and the World itself, as the two points at which the circle is joined together. Or, they could be the Magician and Strength, cards 1 and 11, respectively, located at the start and midpoint of the cycle. Each of the figures in these cards usually has an implied infinity sign over his or her head. These infinities are especially apparent in the RWS, but of course in that deck, the position of Strength is no longer at the midpoint.