On a number of Tarotcards you can find ‘Yods’. The Yod is the tenth Hebrew letter and means “the creative hand of God.” The Yod as a letter is assigned to Tarotcard IX the Hermit by occultists who follow the Golden Dawn as a system (others sometimes assign it to Tarotcard X The Wheel of Fortune). The Yod is depicted on the Aces, the Tower, the Moon and on some decks also on the Sun. There it represents a ‘divine spark’.
In this post I would like to elaborate on the number of Yods that appear on Tarot card ‘The Tower’. This differs per deck and that is no coincidence! All occultists have had their own reasons for displaying exactly that number of Yods on the card. I’ve listed a few for decks that I own myself, but I’m sure there are many more decks that show a different number of Yods.
When you think of Alchemy, you usually think of the 16th and 17th centuries. You probably see the image of (old) men brewing all kinds of concoctions from which they try to make gold. The candlelight and the old books & manuscript add an occult touch to this image. You might think it is a bit silly, but many great discoveries have been made during these experiments! And nowadays, we are actually able to create gold out of other commodities (although this is such an expensive process that the costs do not outweigh the benefits of the gold obtained). You could, however, argue that these alchemists were the forerunners of our “modern” sciences (physics, chemistry, medical sciences).
The Tarot is full of symbolism. To what extent some symbolism has always been in there, we do not know for sure but is not likely. The Tarot seems to have been designed primarily as a game, as an artistic gift in honor of marriages of the high nobility and perhaps to promote Renaissance thought. What we do know is that the occultists who have been working with the Tarot since the 18th century, did add a lot of hermetic and occult symbolism to the Tarot. Eliphas Levi, Arthur Edward Waite, Paul Foster Case and Aleister Crowley are some of them who have indulged themselves in particular.
When you study the Rider-Waite-Smit deck carefully, you will see that not a single penstroke was done by chance! Some Tarotists don’t find it helpful to dig through all this symbolism. Others find it too far-fetched and implausible. I personally really enjoy doing it and it really helps me interpret the cards. This way, I am able to empathize more and see the cards come to live in front of me…
In this article, I would like to share an insight about the angle in which the Fool’s staff is positioned. It is exactly 37 degrees! 37 degrees is the average ‘normal’ body temperature of man. So “human” seems like an important keyword. When we look up this number in the reference books on Gematria, we come across many interesting associations that refer to “The Fool”!
According to the bible, Moses received the two stone tablets with 10 commandments from God on Mount Sinai. Not only did the Tablets contain valuable information on how to behave, they were written by God’s own finger! According to Jewish tradition, God also gave him the complete Jewish Bible + interpretation.
Forget about the tablets, forget about the Bible. Because according to the Talmud, Moses also received a goodie bag containing some small presents from the angels. And those presents are many times more interesting! Moreover, 1 of those presents leads us to Ace of Swords in the Tarot …
Although we know that the first Tarot cards were originated in early Renaissance Italy, it is the French who take credit for the way we work with the Tarot today; After all, it was the French occultist Jean-Baptiste Alliette (1738 – 1791) who – as far as is known at least – was the first to assign all kinds of occult correspondences to the Tarot and showed a broader audience how to use Tarot for divination. More Frenchies followed and for years the Marseille deck was THE Tarot deck to be used for divination purposes. The British also contributed a great deal when the members of the Golden Dawn started to delve into the occult writings on the Tarot at the end of the 19th century. The have ‘corrected’ the work of their French predecessors. It is not completely clear if these corrections are for the better, some argue they do and some argue they don’t.
Arthur Edward Waite (1857 – 1942) is probably the best known Golden Dawn member because he released the popular Raider-Waite-Smith deck in 1909, in cooperation with Pamela Colman Smith (also a Golden Dawn member). Previously, a separate tradition of divination cards had also arised in Germany and the surrounding areas: The Lenormand and the Kipper decks are both of German origin. These four systems (Marseille Tarot, RWS Tarot, Lenormand and Kipper) are the most commonly used decks to date. What about the Italians?
While working on my thesis for the Tarot Masters, I had decided that I would find the origin of wisdom in the Tarot. For this I needed to go back to the time of the creation of the first real Tarot Deck: The early Renaissance (1423). An important feature of the Renaissance was that people would begin referring (again) to the classical Roman and Greek philosophers. What I had forgotten since I left Highschool, was that philosophy in ancient times was mainly practical; It was about norms and values and finding the answer to the question: “how should I live?” This is where the word “Art of Living” derives from. Actually, this ‘practical’ Philosophy consists partly of a collection of “things my mom used to say” (also called “aphorisms”). Joep Dohmen – who has written a some very nice instructive philosophy books – expresses himself far better than I do; His definition of philosophy is:
“A coherence of thinking and living living and thinking. Eat as a human being, drink as a human being, participate in social life, learn to deal with ridicule and defamation and tolerate other people”
When I started out studying the Tarot somewhere in the nineties, I would diligently try to search for ‘true’ meanings and correspondences of the cards. I wrote everything down neatly in my Tarot journal and all went well for a while. But then I came to notice that the correspondences of the elements, the astrological correspondences or even the meanings were different everywhere! And no one could clarify what ‘the truth’ was (alltough many claimed they could). This was extremely frustrating!
“If someone would announce that an ancient Egyptian work still exists: one of their books that escaped the flames that destroyed their extraordinary libraries, and which contains their highest teachings on a number of fascinating objects . . . . Would you think he was fooling his readers?”
Antoine Court de Gébelin on the Tarot in ‘Le Monde Primitif’
Antoine Court de Gébellin (1725 – 1784) is regarded as the founder of the ‘modern’ esoteric Tarot. His father was a preacher and in 1754 he was about to become a preacher himself. However, things turned out completely different because in 1771 he joined a Masonic order… He interacted with well-known and influential people such as the writer Voltaire, sculptor Houdon and the then U.S. ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin.
It was in 1781 that Gébellin claimed that the Tarot had Egyptian roots. When he began publishing his serial “Le Monde Primitif, analysée comparé avec le monde moderne” in 1773, he had been studying esoteric wisdom for 20 years. Thousands of people subscribed to his publications, including Louis XVI of France. “Le Monde Primitif” consisted of a total of 9 volumes and although the Tarot is already mentioned in volume 5 (“an Egyptian game”) It was volume 8 that was entirely dedicated to the ‘Tarreaux’, a deck of cards that, according to Gébellin, was best known in Germany, Italy and Switzerland. The name ‘Tarreaux’ is said to have been derived from the words ‘Tar’ and ‘Rho’ (royal road). Volume 8 of the serial was thus entirely devoted to the Tarot. 90 pages total of which 60 by Antoine de Gébellin. Antoine explains the origin of the Tarot (being Egyptian). The remaining 30 pages are from a certain “C. de M.” In this section, a Tarot spread is presented. “C. de M.” is Louis-Raphael-Lucrece de Fayolle, or ‘Le Comte de Mellet‘ (1727 – 1804). Fayolle was already researching the origins and the use of card games before he came into contact with Gébellin’s work. One of his publications is about the development of various card games at the court of Brabant (The Netherlands).
But first we return to Antoine de Gébellin; As mentioned, in 1773 he had started publishing work that would later become known for the Tarot. But before the Tarot is discussed in detail in volume 8, Antoine tries to bring up all kinds of ‘old wisdom’; He did this, among other things, by analyzing and comparing ancient languages. He was mainly interested in the alphabet and the icons that occur in some languages such as Chinese, Hebrew and of course ancient Egyptian. (Hieroglyphics).
Antoine also writes in his book how he came into contact with the Tarot and how he immediately understood the deeper meaning that others eluded. This is known as his famous ‘fifteen minutes of enlightenment’. Antoine was attending a party, where he met a lady – ‘Madame C. d’H’ who was playing a card game with a few other people. Fascinated, he picked up the card ‘The World’ and intuitively told what the ‘real’ symbolism was. In fifteen minutes he had explained all the cards and had declared that the origin was clearly Egyptian. How this is secretly a bit true is something for later. Because the focus here, are the 30 pages of Le Comte de Mellet; De Mellet probably published the very first Tarot Spread. And it would be a lot of fun to try that spread!
In the original description, you do this as a couple, but you can do it alone (this just requires some extra focus).
First Published Tarot Spread by Le Comte de Mellet
First, find all the Major Arcana cards from your deck and put them aside. The other stack (Minor Arcana + Court cards together) is also placed on 1 stack on the left (step 1)
Now you are going to count from 1 to 14 where you turn over a small Arcana Card with your right hand and place it next to the stack. At the same time, you take a Major Arcana card with your left hand and place it next to the stack. However, you leave this Major Arcana ‘closed’. (Step 2)
When the Minor Arcana card matches the number you call out, you set it aside together with the Major Arcana card. You call out the numbers where Ace =1, Page =11, Knight = 12, Queen = 13 and King = 14 (Step 3)
The stack with the Major Arcana cards is of course the first to run out. When that happens, you slide it aside again and start over. You continue until the stack of Minor Arcana is also finished. According to the original description, you need to repeat this process 3 times, but I always stop after 1 round.
You now have a number of ‘pairs’ of 1 Major Arcana and 1 Minor Arcana card. You interpret this in pairs.
In our Western culture (but also in others), for centuries The Wheel of Fortune has been associated with the realization that everything is constantly changing and in motion. On a mundane level, in short you can call it ‘fate’. In the Tarot it’s not just about good or ill fate coming your way; It is also about whether you are able to give direction to your life and willingness to change. In terms of symbolism, a lot of attention is paid in various literature to the ‘animals’ / ‘angels’ in the corners of the card: The Taurus, the Lion, the Eagle and Man. They are connected to the zodiacal signs, the elements and the figures from the biblical vision of Ezekiel. Much has been written about it and it is a familiar symbolism to most tarotists. Much less can be found about the ‘animals’ in the middle: The Snake, the Sphinx and the ‘dog’ figure (the Egyptian God Anubis). Why did Waite mix Egyptian symbolism with Christian symbolism here? After all, Waite was of the opinion that the origin of the Tarot was NOT Egyptian; And what does the Sphinx symbolize? You can write a very thick book about this card. I will do that when I grow up, but first I want to share some thoughts about the sfynx.
The Petit Lenormand course has started again and that means a new group of students practising and studying the meanings and combinations of these funny and practical divination cards. Although the basic meanings are fairly easy to learn, there are of course all kinds of peculiarities to the various combinations of cards. It’s fun to see where these special meanings come from. A good example is the situation in which – in a spread – the key ends up directly above the coffin; In this situation, I will look in the direction of financial setbacks, poverty, having little money or having debts. What is behind this?