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.


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?


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

Etteilla v. Waite: Part VIII

In the previous installment of Etteilla v. Waite, I finished examining the first eight cards of the GE, which constitute the portion of the progression that corresponds to the creation of the world. Now that creation is complete, we will move onto the next phase of existence, which I refer to as “preservation.” In the grand scheme of the mythic past and the mythic future, preservation is the eternal present. It is the here and now; the mythic components of our everyday lives; existence maintained.

Given the Biblical imagery of the Creation, it is fitting that the Preservation should kick off with some good old-fashioned Christian virtues.* There are four of them, like four pillars to ensure the support of the completed Creation, and they will be the subject of this post.


Justice: I don’t think this card really warrants any explanation. Pretty obvious, I’d say, which RWS card it matches.


Temperance: Like Justice above, I don’t think I need to explain why I placed Temperance with Temperance. However, the imagery of these two Temperance’s are different from each other, and in particular the bridle held by the GE Temperance also reminds me very much of the Chariot, the occupant of which must reign in the Horses of Opposition and make them work together for him.


Force: Once again, easy-peasy. The RWS uses the title “Strength” for the equivalent card, but that’s nothing more than an issue of translation. Traditional decks sometimes called the same figure “Fortitude,” and I think I like that word best for this card.

GE Prudence on top; RWS Hermit, TdM Popess, and DFW World

Prudence: And here we come to a problem. The RWS does not have a card for the virtue Prudence, nor does any other Tarot except the GE. What is interesting is that, for some reason, three of the four cardinal virtues are represented in traditional Tarot. Why should the fourth be excluded? Many have speculated that Prudence is there, just under a different title. Of course, no one can agree on which card Prudence uses as her guise.

The Hermit is a popular candidate for Prudence, and this makes more than just a little sense. The High Priestess is also considered to be an appropriate match for this card. She holds a similar book in the TdM (where she’s called the Popess), and her gender does coincide with the other three virtues (or rather, the personifications of those virtues). Personally, however, I consider the Priestess’ brand of wisdom to be deeper and of a more spiritual nature than simple prudence, and because the Hermit strikes me as more worldly than the ethereal Priestess, I find him to be a better fit for this card. Prudence is, as I understand it, merely a practical sort of wisdom – to think before acting, for example. It’s common sense, almost. There is nothing common about the wisdom of the High Priestess. That’s not to understate the Hermit’s wisdom, but of the two, I think he is the more, well, prudent.

In his book Mystical Origins of the Tarot, Paul Huson suggested that the World was intended to represent the virtue Prudence. He cites early renaissance era cards that employed slightly different imagery than the modern World cards, which often showed a woman holding a mirror and a scepter with a snake, and crowned with an interesting sort of halo. Unlike the round halos seen on cards depicting angels (like Judgement), this halo is scalloped and is supposed to represent a personification of an abstract quality. Aside from the World, there are only three other figures in these renaissance decks that were adorned with such halos, and they are Justice, Force, and Temperance. Huson designed his own version of the World with all this in mind, as you can see in the photo above. This card is usually interpreted to mean a completion or an integration of sorts, and taken from a certain perspective, this card could certainly signify experience, or wisdom in the ways of the world – or, you know, prudence. I think his proposition stands on sound reasoning, although I must admit, without his book, I doubt it would have crossed my mind to match the World with Prudence.

The question of Prudence in the Tarot has never been one that truly bothered me, so as far as I’m concerned, any or all of the cards mentioned above work just fine as a match.


Aside from the little hiccup with Prudence, these cards were considerably easier to match than the cards of the previous sections. Most of the remaining cards will be similarly simple to match, but not all of them (and even when matched, these cards are all in a different order than they appear in the RWS). The next part of this series will continue to examine Preservation, particularly the forces that ultimately lead it to give way to Destruction.


*Adopted, of course, from the classical Greeks. Those guys sure were awfully civilized for a bunch of misguided pagans, eh?

Etteilla v. Waite: Part VII

Last time on Etteilla v. Waite, I discussed the GE cards the Sky, Man and Beast, and the Stars, as well as the various cards from the RWS that I think match best with them. I had to make quite a few far reaches to come up with correspondences between the two traditions, and unfortunately, the next card in line is the most difficult card from Etteilla yet to equate in any way with Waite’s cards.

Still kinda bummed about the color on this

Birds and Fish: Yeah. I have no idea. The card makes sense enough in the context of Etteilla’s progression. It’s the penultimate card in the section of the Major Arcana that deals with the Creation of the world. At this point in the game, the world is more or less complete; there is earth and sky, celestial bodies populating the latter and plants, humans and beasts populating the former. This card places birds and fish into the mix as a finishing touch. Creation itself is now finished – all that’s left to do is awaken humankind to its divine potential (see the next card).

This may very well be the only card for which I cannot come up with even a remote connection to the RWS. I’m stumped. The best I can offer is the Lovers, which, as I pointed out in part II of this series, also shows a completed Creation, although it has nothing to do with birds or fish, and actually fits far better with the following card, as we shall see.

Interesting coincidence: Look at the similarities between the Devil and the Lovers, both of which apply to Rest.

Rest: This is the eighth card of the GE, representing the seventh day of the Biblical creation, and God’s Day of Rest. What the picture actually shows, though, is the temptation of Eve by the Serpent to eat of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – to commit the original sin. Considering the fact that the Devil is the card of temptation and sin, I think he is a sensible match for Rest; indeed, the Serpent pictured in the card is supposed to be none other than the Devil himself.

So far in this portion of the project, I could easily have substituted other versions for the RWS cards with which I’ve been matching the GE (I did picture the CHT Fool next to the GE Chaos). Sure, there are certain nuances of certain RWS cards that I think translate best to the overarching theme of “myth in the Tarot” (the High Priestess in particular is a good example of this), but they are still more or less interchangeable with other versions of the Major Arcana.

In this instance, however, only the RWS version of the Lovers will do. Like Rest, the RWS Lovers pictures Eve and the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. The serpent is wrapped around the Tree as in the GE. The Lovers also, however, includes Adam and the Tree of Life in the image, as well as an angel (is it supposed to be Raphael? I don’t remember…). This card is dripping with interpretive possibilities, but I’ll delve into that in a proper post about the Lovers; here, I think it’s necessary only to focus on the fact that this card signifies a definitive choice to be made, much like the choice made by Eve in Rest to bite from the fruit.

Come to think of it, given that the traditional divinatory meaning of the TdM Lover is essentially a choice between a life of vice versus a life of virtue, I suppose any version of this card can be matched with Rest. I still favor the RWS in this instance, though, because of the Biblical imagery that the two share.

Rest is labelled “Etteilla” after the fashion of Chaos, which means this card is also a significator (this one is intended for the female querent). In that case, the Fool can be paired with Rest as well as Chaos, and this isn’t actually a senseless match. The Fool is on the brink of descending into consciousness, about to depart from the Great Round. Another metaphor for the Great Round is, you guessed it, the Garden of Eden, and Eve is just about to fall from her blissful paradise.

One final thought: this isn’t a match so much as it is a point of interest, but I’d like to call to mind the fact that Rest occupies the same spot in the progression of the Major Arcana as the Chariot (see part II, linked above). If it wasn’t for this coincidence, I’d say nothing about it, but consider this: the Charioteer, with his pair of Dark and Light sphinxes, has made his choice (again, the choice itself is the Lovers just prior), eaten from the mythic fruit, become aware of the nature of Good and Evil, and is now tethered to them as he makes his way through his mortal life.


That wraps up what I like to call the “Creation” portion of the Etteilla-pattern Major Arcana. Next time on Etteilla v. Waite, I will begin to study the portion of “Preservation”, followed finally by “Destruction”.

Etteilla v. Waite: Part V

In the previous three installments of this series, I lined up the Major Arcana of the Grande Etteilla III (GE)* against the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS). The first of these installments (Part II of the series) saw me compare the first eight cards of each deck, one at a time. The nature of these cards made this feasible; for the next two parts (Parts III and IV), however, I did them in groups of seven each, because the nature of these cards shifted, and the parallels we saw in the first part between the two decks were no longer applicable. I interpreted these cards, as progressions rather than as individuals, from an angle of mythology. The RWS was fairly straightforward, illustrating the so-called “Hero’s Journey” type of myth. The GE, on the other hand, posed some difficulties. I believe it can be boiled down to the basic structure of beginning-middle-end, much like the Hero’s Journey and the RWS. However, while the RWS dealt on the level of individual development, the GE appears to deal with that of the collective. Therefore, the beginning-middle-end structure becomes Creation, Preservation, and Destruction of the world (one can easily see a parallel with the Hindu trinity of Brahman, Vishnu, and Shiva). Broadly speaking, this pattern evokes another type of myth, referred to collectively as Creation myths.

Having established a basic framework through which to understand the cards as a series, I will now shift my attention to the cards as individuals. What I will be doing for the foreseeable future is matching up cards from the GE with appropriate counterparts from the RWS (or other decks as I see fit). Some cards are fairly obvious, such as Death or the Devil, both of which appear in both decks. Some cards do not have an equivalent, such as the Hanged Man from the RWS or the Birds and Fish from the GE. And some cards from the GE match with more than one from the RWS, such as the High Priest, which has elements of both the Lovers and the Hierophant.


Chaos from the GE next to the Fool from the CHT

Chaos: This card was matched with the Fool in part II of this series, and while the two look nothing alike, I think there is something to that connection. In fact, the Fool is Chaos personified. Chaos does not mean destruction, nor anything inherently negative (or positive, for that matter); rather, it represents formlessness, like the potential of the Fool. It is everything and nothing, beginning and end, existing outside of time.

Additionally, Chaos is labelled “Etteilla,” which means that this card is intended to serve as a significator for the querent. As the Fool is also an “universal significator,” these two cards both serve as the connection between the cards and the person consulting them.


Sun or Light: The obvious match for this card is the Sun. However, because the Magician represents the active “male” principle, he matches here as well. This attribution makes more sense, I think, with the addition of the following card to the sequence.


Plants: Despite the title of the card, the moon seems to be the main focus of the image, and as such, I think the Moon can be matched with it, same as the Suns from both decks were paired above. This is sort of a superficial match, though, and there is another card latent with lunar symbolism which I think fits better. The High Priestess is the compliment of the Magician, or the passive or “female” principle. Not only does the Priestess represent the principle opposite the Magician, she represents the principle of opposites itself, or “binary opposition”. In the case of the Plants card, this simultaneous display of principles is made clear by the combination of Earth and Sky in a single image, which we did not see in the Sun.

For the titular Plants, the best card I can think to match is the Empress. She signifies Nature; she is Mother Earth.

Together, the Sun and Plants illustrate the moment of the creation of the world out of the Chaos that reigned before. The Cosmic Egg has hatched to reveal a primal distinction of opposites: Light and Dark; Sky and Earth; or, in the case of the RWS, Male and Female.


In the next installment of Etteilla v. Waite, I will continue to match Etteilla’s Major Arcana cards with counterparts from Waite’s deck.

*It should be understood that the actual deck in use here is called the Book of Thoth Etteilla Tarot, and is supposed to be based on the pattern of the Grande Etteilla III. I’ve never seen a genuine Etteilla deck of any pattern, so I cannot say how true to the source these cards are, although they are admittedly quite a bit removed from Etteilla himself.


Justice and Strength.

Since my first Tarot was an RWS, it took me some time to realize that the cards called Strength and Justice were switched from their more traditional order. Once I discovered this was the case, it confused me, as I’m sure it confuses many others. Why was this switch made? Which way is right?

Well, as to why, I can only say that Waite had his own reasons for the switch, which he did not feel compelled to elaborate upon in his Pictorial Key. We can assume he did so for astrological reasons. As to which is right, I can only give my personal opinion.

My personal opinion is that Waite was wrong.

RWS and TdM

In traditional Marseille-style decks, Justice is card number 8, and Strength (sometimes called Force or Fortitude) is 11, and vice-versa in Waite’s deck. A remarkable coincidence about the Tarot is that, when the Major Arcana are in their numerical order, they can be associated with zodiacal signs in order based on symbolic imagery in each card. That is, with the exception of Leo and Libra, symbolized by the Lion and the Scales, respectively. Of course, both of these symbols are in the Tarot in the forms of Strength and Justice, but they’re not in their correct places, astrologically speaking, and this evidently vexed some folks.

I for one do not put much stock in astrological correspondences in the Tarot. While I do appreciate the added depth of meaning these can add to the cards, astrology has never held more than a passing interest in my life, and to me, the cards are already loaded with meaning without them. In many instances, astrology just confuses me, and this is not helped by the fact that there is more than one way to assign Zodiacal symbols to the cards. Waite followed the Golden Dawn system, which is probably the most popular, and indeed, it is what I use when I do use astrology, but it is by no means the only system. As such, I find a switch in the order based on grounds of astrology to be an unnecessary one, if indeed this was the reason Waite had in mind.


Not only do I think Waite’s change was unnecessary, I really do think it’s better the way it was. I believe the Tarot’s meaning lies in the archetypal symbolism of its pictures, which is plenty potent with or without astrological correspondences. Each card has a profound symbolic significance all on its own. I also believe that each of these individual archetypes can work with the others, and that they do fall into a natural order. The “natural order” I’m referring to the Journey of the Hero, or Fool’s Journey in Tarot-speak, which is mentioned many times on this blog, on many sites and in many books, but most especially in Hajo Banzhaf’s book called Tarot and the Journey of the Hero. This is an archetypal progression that can be found in myths and literature from every culture throughout history, and yes, it is the story told by the sequence of the Major Arcana.

Banzhaf illustrated his book with cards from the RWS, but he made it a point to use the traditional ordering for Justice and Strength.

See, Justice comes after the Chariot for a reason. The driver of the Chariot is the Hero in question, and the Chariot card depicts him as a young adult, confidently set out on the path he has chosen, the path of the Hero (this choice having taken place at the Lovers card). He feels powerful. He feels invincible. He’s the chosen one, and he knows it. He will vanquish any and all foes who dare to cross his righteous path.

This is where the Hero needs to be at this point, but it is a dangerous mindset to hold onto for very long. The Hero needs to learn that his actions have consequences, that as the Hero, his path is one of responsibility above all else. This is where Justice comes in. Justice is the card of reaping what is sown, of universal balance. Of maturity. The Hero must be humbled before he can continue onward. And it is only after facing Justice, after the gravity of his choice has really set in, that the Hero would be compelled to seek the guidance of the wise and solitary Hermit.

After the Hermit is the Wheel of Fortune, which represents the changing world-view of the Hero after his time with the Wise One. It can also represent the shedding of the Hermit. The Hero is liable to become attached to the safety of the Hermit, but the Wheel must turn, and the Hero must move on. He will ultimately face his trials and tribulations alone. The Hanged Man represents the first serious trial the Hero must face, that of crossing the symbolic threshold to the Underworld. It’s not easy, and it takes great fortitude. And this is why I think Strength belongs before it, rather than before the Hermit. Strength is the card of overcoming and channeling innate instincts and desires, and it is a different strength than the Hero displays in the Chariot. It is mental and spiritual as well as physical. It’s also an internalization of the lessons of the Wheel, in a sense. He has to find strength within himself, not from the Hermit. This is what the Hero needs to master before he can successfully move on to the Hanged Man and beyond.

Now, I’ve seen versions of the Hero’s Journey which have been adjusted to match Waite’s rearrangement of these two cards, but to be honest, for the most part I do not think they stand up to what Banzhaf presented in his book (which is more or less what I’ve presented here, although not exactly the same, and of course his is much more detailed), and I think serious contemplation of what each of these cards really mean in the context of the Journey will reveal that the original way is the best way.


A second argument in favor of the original arrangement centers around only one of the cards, Strength. In this scenario, Justice could be in any other place and not make a difference; all that matters is Strength is in the 11th spot. Oh, and the Magician must remain in the 1st spot.

I think Strength and the Magician are connected, that they are two sides of the same coin, that they are inverse aspects of the same principle, by virtue of their numbers. If you were to take your Tarot deck and line up the cards in two rows of ten each, so that the digit in the 10’s place line up (for example, 1 and 11, 2 and 12, etc.), you might begin to notice meaningful connections between the cards which share that digit.* I think this is most obvious at the start of each row, with the Magician and Strength, each of which wear a wide-brimmed hat in the implied shape of an infinity sign.** The fact that these two share this symbol is very significant, and I don’t know if the original designers would have placed that detail there at all if they had intended the order to be different.

TdM Majors arranged in two rows.

Now, this method pairs Justice with the Moon. I do not think this is arbitrary, but I will allow that it’s not nearly as obviously significant as the connection between the Magician and Strength, which is why I think this point is best made with the example of the latter.


I do understand that Waite and the Golden Dawn had a different idea of the Tarot than its original designers did. Astrology was high on their list of priorities, and the Hero’s Journey didn’t figure much into their system at all as far as I can tell. But with that being said, I still prefer not to use Waite’s arrangement.

I have read many justifications for Waite’s idea to switch Justice and Strength. For example, Waite supporters like to throw numerology around, saying that 11 works for Justice, because it is the epitome of balance with its two “1”s. I don’t buy that argument, though, because in my mind, 11 is absolutely not a more balanced number than 8.

Or that Justice should be 11, because that’s roughly the middle of the sequence, and it would therefore divide the worldly realm shown in the early cards from the spiritual in the later ones. It would stand as an admonishment to strike a balance between the worldly and the spiritual. Seems like a weak argument to me.


For a while, I kept my RWS ordered with Strength at 11 and Justice at 8, despite the numbers written at the top. It was the way which made sense to me. However, upon reading Rachel Pollack’s 78 Degrees of Wisdom, I’ve reverted my RWS back to its intended order (keeping all of my other decks in the original order, naturally). For those of you who use an RWS and haven’t yet read Pollack’s book, I strongly recommend you do so. She posits her own reasons for the switch, which revolve around the division of the Majors into three groups of seven cards each. The second group, which contains both Strength and Justice, begins with Strength and hinges on Justice at the midpoint. She does this in the context of the Hero’s Journey, and she pulls it off convincingly.*** It’s enough for me to respect the change in Waite’s deck, but when it comes to Tarot in general, I still retain the belief that Justice should precede Strength.

So I’ve said my piece, added my perspective on this endless debate of Tarotists. My opinion on the matter notwithstanding, I think the question is worth asking: Does the order of the cards really matter?

I don’t think the designers of the original TdMs really put all that much thought into it. I have no doubt that they were aware of the symbolic weight to these cards, and while the Hero’s Journey as a concept wasn’t fleshed out until the first half of the 20th century, I think they were probably more or less aware of the idea behind it. But with that being said, I think it is the power of these cards over the subconscious that ultimately led to the order, rather than any conscious thought on the part of the designers. No one will ever know for sure, I suppose. But because Tarot trumps prior to the TdM were not constrained to an established order, we do know that the positions of Strength and Justice aren’t inherent in the cards’ design. Knowing that, I think it’s safe to say that, no, it doesn’t really matter. It all boils down to personal preference.

I still think that Waite shouldn’t have tried to fix what wasn’t broken.


*I’m excluding the Fool in this instance, because I think this card stands on a level all its own. I exclude the World as well, but it should be noted that, as card number 21, it would fall under the Magician and Strength in this set-up. You might notice that the World also usually will have implied infinity symbols somewhere on it.

**Of course, just to be difficult, Waite removed the hats of both these characters and prominently displays a conspicuous infinity sign over each. Why make the symbolism so obvious in your otherwise diluted cards (by which I mean he goes to great lengths in some cases to hide his symbols) if you’re just going to change the order, Arthur?!?

***I won’t go into specifics here, primarily because I’ve loaned my copy of the book to a friend and don’t want to mangle Pollack’s interpretation with poor paraphrasing. If you’re interested, go read the book!!!