Last time on Etteilla v. Waite, we witnessed the final destruction of the world. What began with Chaos has ended in chaos; thus the mythic cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction comes full circle.
The Wheel of Fortune: The next card in the GE Major Arcana is the Wheel of Fortune. It is a fitting card to end the cycle, showing that it is a cycle, and that the final destruction isn’t so final, after all. Life leads to death, which leads to life. The Ouroboros is never ending.
There are two cards from the RWS and more traditional Tarots, I think, that fit this one. First, and more obviously, is the Wheel of Fortune. I chose to picture the Wheel from Huson’s DFW Tarot simply because it shows Dame Fortune herself, while the RWS and many others omit her. Whether the Lady is present or not, though, the basic meaning of the card is the same. It represents the endless ups and downs of fate, and that what goes around will inevitably come around.
Second is the World. This fits the more cosmic implications of the GE Wheel – the Ouroboros, or the Great Round, and the never-ending cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
The African Despot: This card confuses me. The title suggests the Emperor. The imagery suggests the Chariot. It’s location in the progression – the last card before the Minor Arcana – is odd. And why is he African?
I have formulated some theories, but like everything else in this series (or on this entire blog, really), they’re just ideas, and I have no way of backing them up.
First of all, I believe this character is the Magician we met in part IX. Like the Priest, this fellow faces the Devil; unlike the Priest, he stayed true to his faith. Now, the Magician’s “faith” is the occult – and it’s important to remember that this is a rendition of an early attempt at an occult deck. With his occult-based knowledge of the truth – of which traditional religion provides only an incomplete picture – he is able to obtain enlightenment through the Devil, rather than succumbing to the Devil’s temptations and corruption. Maybe this is why the Magician seemed comparatively sinister when we met him. He embraces his inner demons. Now, after the Judgement, he is crowned King, victoriously riding his Chariot.
I also think this is why the African Despot is placed after the Wheel, rather than before it. He has attained enlightenment, and is freed from the ever-spinning wheel of terror-joy. He has reached nirvana. He is no longer chained to the cycle.
As far as his African heritage is concerned, all I can come up with is the fact that, in Etteilla’s day, the Tarot was believed to have been derived from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, and so an occult master such as that pictured on the card would be heir to an “African” tradition. It is a stretch, but at least in the RWS Chariot, the eponymous vehicle is drawn by a pair of sphinxes, so it’s not entirely unfounded.
Of course, his divinatory meanings (and his designation as a “despot”) are not positive ones, which hurts my theory, but unfortunately this is the best I can come up with. It makes a cool story this way, at least.
The Fool or Alchemist: The final card is the Fool. This card is separate from the rest of the Major Arcana, although unlike its counterpart in the RWS, it does have a number. 78 places it as the final card in the entire pack, behind even the Minor Arcana. It is nonetheless virtually the same as any other Fool. The fact that he is also called the Alchemist just means that he has wisdom which is not shared by the everyman, making him appear a fool to those less learned than he. Such is the enlightened Fool’s burden, but he does not let it weigh him down.
That’s it for the Major Arcana of the Book of Thoth Etteilla Tarot. For the final installment of this series, I will share some concluding thoughts, hopefully wrapping this very long, often disjointed, sometimes repetitive, totally subjective, and probably confusing series up with a pretty bow. My views of this pack of cards has evolved quite a bit since I began writing about it, and I should probably spend some time clearing up the mucky-muck.
Creation – Preservation – Destruction. As I’ve said a few times already, this is the general mythic pattern which appears to me to fit the distinct Major Arcana of the Type III Etteilla deck (as opposed to the Hero’s Journey pattern of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck). Last time, I wrapped up the section of the progression which dealt with Preservation – culminating with the dubious Magician. Now, things are about to take a darker turn. The equilibrium which defines Preservation is upset, and the world is about to end. The following cards are the cards of Shiva; of Revelation; of Ragnarok; of the Apocalypse.
Last Judgement: The day of Judgement is a fitting start to this portion, and I believe it coincides naturally enough with Judgement from the RWS. These cards are not exactly the same, however; in the GE, the angel is seen descending from heaven wielding a sword against the living (seven people for the seven deadly sins, perhaps?), while in the RWS the angel awakens the dead with a blast from his trumpet. In the RWS, Judgement is the final step before apotheosis. Here, it is not the end, but merely the beginning of the end. For all the differences, though, I can’t think of a better RWS equivalent than Judgement.
Death: Another fairly straightforward match. Another symbol of the End Of Days.
The Monk: Based on the imagery, this card should match with the Hermit. This monk is shown leaving his monastery, and the divinatory meanings warn of treason and betrayal. This monk is not really a monk anymore; he is an apostate. He also happens to look very much like the High Priest from the previous post. This former symbol of morality and harmony betrayed his purpose when faced with the Devil, Judgement, and Death, whether from fear or corruption it matters not, thus making a mockery of all that he once stood for. This is yet another sign that civilization is on the decline.
Another possible match is based not so much on imagery as on meaning: the Hanged Man is sometimes interpreted as a traitor being punished for his heinous crime. But we can also consider the Monk’s departure from traditional religion in a different light: the Hanged Man sometimes represents initiation into the occult, or an inversion of perspective to gain spiritual insight. Such might be the case with the Monk, who is perhaps only moving on to bigger and better things. The world is falling apart around him; his old faith is no longer serving him, so why should he continue to serve it?
The Struck Temple: This card shows a walled city or temple complex burning to the ground. It is quite possible the flames came from the sun in the upper corner – divine intervention. Everything in this post so far has been a sign of the impending apocalypse. Now it is actually happening. This card is the violent Destruction of the world by fire. This card is the End.
Except it isn’t the End, not really. There are still three more cards to examine, which I shall do next time on Etteilla v. Waite.
Last time, I took a look at the four cardinal virtues of the GE and matched them with their respective virtues from the RWS. Following the creation through binary opposition, existence is preserved by the four elements maintaining separateness from each other.* The four elements correspond to the four virtues, which represent the pillars of a stable and moral society. Thus the framework for the Preservation of the world has been erected; now I shall take a look at what goes on within this framework.
High Priest: The title of this card suggests the Hierophant, but the imagery suggests the Lovers, especially the Lovers from Mr. Crowley’s Thoth deck. Because I already brought attention to this fascinating similarity in part III, I will say nothing more about it here.
I think this card intentionally combines the Hierophant with the Lovers. The Hierophant suggests a bridge between man and God, while the Lovers (in their more mundane sense, as opposed to the choice I spoke of previously) suggests marriage. In other words, this is a card of unity, of a happily functioning society.
Devil: The Devil of the GE matches up with the Devil from the RWS pretty easily. It acts as an agent of chaos, a counterpoint to the harmony of the previous card. The Devil has a few levels of meaning, ranging from evil to enlightening, but in every case, there is no better card to match it than another Devil.
As a counterpoint to the High Priest, the Devil introduces a sense of balance to the Preservation section of the progression. This is appropriate, because Preservation is all about keeping equilibrium. Eventually, however, the balance is thrown off, and that’s often the Devil’s doing. Therefore, I think the Devil signals the beginning of the end of Preservation, and foreshadows the era of Destruction.
Magician or Juggler: Again, pretty obvious, although it’s worth noting the differences between these two cards. The RWS Magician (or TdM Juggler) is certainly more benevolent than that of the GE, whose divinitory meanings offer only maladies for the querent. The picture of the GE Magician also seems comparatively sinister, as he manipulates a mannequin on a tablecloth covered with symbols of the occult. This suggests malfeasance to me, and could symbolize the beginning of the Destruction of mankind. This does not, however, match with anything at all associated with the RWS Magician, who is a creative force. Perhaps it’s only another superficial match, like the Suns of part V. Perhaps his toying with a mannequin could instead represent the manipulative Trickster archetype, which does match the TdM Juggler well enough. Perhaps, though, there’s another way of looking at the Magician, upon which I expounded in part IV. In a nutshell, the Magician is a point of contrast to the High Priest, one on either side of the Devil. Both characters react to the Devil in different ways, and we will see their respective fates as we continue down the line.
The latter interpretation is entirely my own theory, and is based only on artistic details in the cards. In such a case, the Magician is probably better considered a part of Preservation rather than Destruction, and despite his apparent manipulation of the Voodoo-doll-thing, he would ultimately turn out to be a positive character. Of course, this fits better with the positive nature of the RWS Magician, but in the end this is all only speculation.
This is the point of the mythic progression where I’m starting to rely more heavily on my own interpretations. Obviously the first eight cards are the Creation, so I wasn’t stretching much there, and I think the Preservation and Destruction fit naturally enough with the progression of the cards; but all the same, I must confess to making most of this up. As I stated earlier in this series, I don’t have much to go on in the way of outside sources when it comes to making sense of this version of the Major Arcana.
In any event, the next installment of Etteilla v. Waite will continue to examine the cards as they appear in the progression of the GE, and though the demarcation line between Preservation and Destruction may be blurry in this section, next time we will have undoubtedly entered Ragnarok, the era of Destruction.
*I opted not to lose myself to a digression about the four elements while discussing the Creation cards, since I was just focusing on RWS counterparts, but perhaps I should have. The elements are the building blocks of creation, after all. Four of the eight Creation cards are indeed assigned to an element, as follows: Fire is the Sun, Air is the Sky, Water is the Plants, and Earth is assigned to Man and Beast. Which element corresponds to which virtue, on the other hand, is up for debate. I tend to associate Fire with Force, Air with Justice, Water with Temperance, and Earth with Prudence, per Paul Huson, but that’s not the only possibility.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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”.