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Tarot card The Hermit and the ‘Aleister Crowley’ of the Philosophers

Tarot card ‘The Hermit’ used to be my ‘favorite’ tarotcard when I was young and started learning the Tarot. I imagined that – when I was old – I would live in a super cute little house in the woods/on the moors/on a mountain and that everyone would see me as a lovely old and wise woman. I would help all people and provide them with (good) advice.

Unfortunately, as the years have gone by, I’ve turned more into a Swamp Witch than into a sage and I don’t have a cute little house in the mountains either. But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about Tarot card The Hermit and the comparison with the Greek Philosopher Diogenes. It is Antoine Court de Gebéllin who makes this comparison in his description of this Tarot card (see his essay on the Tarot that appeared in volume 8 of his book ‘Le Monde Primitif’). And it’s super interesting!

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About New Wine and Old Farts in the Tarot

Credo quia Absurdum (I believe because it is absurd / impossible / irrational)

The company name of Ana Fragateiro en Tiago Pimentel

I follow a lot of Tarot blogs because I’m always curious about the insights of other tarotists. One of those blogs is written by a man who is very passionate about the Tarot. He has been working with the Tarot for almost 50 years and he is a well known Tarot tutor and mentor in the US. He sometimes posts 2 blogs a day, all very extensive and also very educational. His specialty is the Crowley Tarot and I always enjoy reading his articles.

However, in a recent post, he went on a kind of rant against “all those young people who just think they can do something with the Tarot.” Whether it was creating a new deck, writing blogs or giving courses and consultations. “Those young people didn’t know anything because they hadn’t studied anything and they didn’t stick to ‘the original symbolism’. But in the meantime they try to earn money by using the Tarot and/or put themselves in the spotlights by writing articles or workshops…

I was a little disappointed. But also annoyed. For the following reasons:

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Tarot card Pentacles 5 and the Friars Minor

Sometimes a tarot card is clear to you and ‘easy’ to interpret. Those are the cards that I don’t have to think so hard about and so I spend less time delving into the origins of the symbolism and meanings. For me, one of those cards is 5 of Pentacles. I’ve assigned my own meanings and theories to this tarotcard ages ago and I’m always secure  when it pops up in readings.

But recently I was – as it always happens: by coincedence – triggered again to take a look at the basic meanings of this card. And that led to a fascinating historical deepdive and some old new insights that I would like to share.

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About ‘Thinking of the Soul’ and the Swords in the Tarot

The Soul never thinks without a picture

Aristotle

Every time I come across a quote somewhere, I think of a Tarot card. This is not surprising since the Tarot consists of a thick pack of one-liners from ‘the things your mother used to say’ to statements by the great philosophers and natural scientists. But, because the ancient Greeks had a great influence on our current thinking and actions, they are the best to go with!

Tarot Card Two of Swords from the Waite-Smith deck

When I read this quote from Aristotle, the first Tarot card that popped into my head was the Two of Swords. But when I started to delve a bit more into the background of this quote, I gained another nice insight regarding the swords in the Tarot

The Swords are often – unfairly – interpreted in terms of rational thinking. In everyday interpretations, this is then – also wrongly – placed opposite to ‘feeling’.

It is well known that the Swords (and the element of air in general) has a much deeper symbolism than logical thinking.  Air is a medium, a connector. The element air ‘feeds’ the other elements (earth, water and fire); For instance, when there is not enough air in the earth, roots of plants will stop growing and they will die. When Hydrogen (H2) cannot bind to air (O), there will be no water that is necessary to maintain life on earth. Fire that does not receive oxygen extuiguishes.

The Swords, or the intellect, in the Tarot therefore symbolizes the ability to connect things, to think creatively, to fantasize, to make plans, to discover patterns and to reflect. ‘Logical’ thinking also belongs to this domain, but is just a small part. With a Sword you can separate things such as main and secondary issues (think of the Hebrew letter Zain). You can also cut away bullshit with your Sword. Finally, the sword depicts mental strength, a not to be underestimated super-power that unfortunately can also work at a disadvantage.

The Swords are often considered ‘negative’ and I have set a goal for myself to stand up for this ‘underdog’. All elements are equally important in life and therefore also in the Tarot. Waite may have put a bit of a depressive spin on it, but I won’t let that distract me.

Please find a quote from Eliphas Lévi below. It is taken from his well known ‘paradoxes’ (Paradox V: Reason is God)

THIS should be placed first. It is before everything: it is self-existent, it exists even for those who do not know it, as the Sun for the Blind, but to see it, feel it, understand it, this is the triumph of the understanding in man; it is the definite result of all the travail of thought and all the aspirations of Faith. In the principle is Reason, and Reason is in God, and God is Reason. All is made by it, and without it is nothing made. It is the true light that enlightens us from our birth: it shines even in the darkness, but the darkness does not close it in.

These words are the oracle of Reason itself, and they occur, as all know, at the commencement of the Gospel of St. John.

Without this Reason nothing exists; everything has its reason for existing, even unreason, which serves as a background to reason as the shadow does to the light.

True magic is a scientific force placed at the service of Reason.

Eliphas Lévi

This makes me think of many more Tarot Cards! I will write about them in a future blogpost.

Tarot and Classic Philosophy

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”

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Not all girls are made of sugar and spice

In the Tarot you almost always immediately associate the “mother” with trump III The Empress. She is the caring mother who gives space to everyone and takes care of the growth and development of others. She is close to nature and her energy is limitless. It is a “positive” card whose opposite (negative point) is that the lady in question is often so concerned with taking care of others that she forgets her own needs. Providing unlimited energy to allow everything to grow and bloom can have the disadvantage that you go beyond your own limits. And that is of course not advantageous.

Tarot readers do usually not get much “darker” or “more negative” in terms of interpretation. And that’s funny, because when I had to create an exercise for one of my Tarot courses a few years ago, the Empress also reminded me of Olivia Godfrey from the “Hemlock Grove” series. This rather special mother is brilliantly portrayed by Famke Janssen. She ensures that you navigate the entire series between feelings of disgust and hatred for the bitch on the one hand and then again pity, admiration and sometimes even sympathy. You never know what her ‘true face’ or motive is, there are so many sides (often dark) to her character.

The mother archetype has many aspects; In addition to the (personal) mother and grandmother, it also includes the stepmother, mother-in-law, school teacher and other women with whom one has a relationship. According to Jung, the mother archetype appears in many more concepts and (underlying) associations: the wise woman, loving goddess, mother of god, beautiful young virgin. Places where one is “free” or “safe” have feminine or maternal connotations: paradise, heaven, earth, sea, forest, land, lake, universities, churches, cities, ships. The moon, water and matter are linked to the mother archetype as well as specific places related to fertility and birth: gardens, fields, wells, flowers (rose, lotus) and helpful animals like cows and hares.

Because everything has 2 sides – or rather: is on a scale between 2 polarities – there are also quite a few ambivalent and negative aspects associated with this archetype: Fate (domain of the 3 Fates), the false witch, the dragon ( and any other devouring or strangling animal such as snakes and sharks). The grave, death, nightmares. In the west we often tend to see the “good” side of the mother and that is what they often do in the Tarot as well. As said before, we see the Empress as a mother and a symbol for fertility and growth. But also the The high priestess – who is the ‘same’ woman as the empress but we will get to that in another article – is seen as positive; With her beauty and mystery, trusting in her intuition she is attractive to both men and women.

The Tarot Queens are all – as “more mature” adult women – dealing with the elements in a nurturing way. Only the queen of the swords is often portrayed negatively, at least in the Rider Waite and the Toth Tarot (both the intellect and – albeit to a lesser extent – the “will” have been regarded as a negative trait in women for the past centuries. But of course the “dark” sides always take part, it is a different side of the same coin. In western culture, occasionally an evil stepmother or a bad fairy pops up, mainly in fairy tales. They are usually portrayed as somewhat pathetic, jealous and lonely women who we either dislike or take pity on…

But in Eastern myths and religions of older times, people knew goddesses that make Snow White’s witchy stepmother look like an angel. For example, the Hindus have Kali (black earth mother) who looks terrifying with four arms with a sword in one of her hands. This reminds you of the Queen of Swords in the Tarot .. in terms of image she comes close to Aleister Crowley’s Sword Queen. Kali is a protective mother who kills demons, drinks their blood and thus keeps the world safe. But her strength and energy can also be completely destructive!

The Greeks have Hecate, goddess of protection AND destruction. She is the goddess of both fertility and death. She rules witchcraft and magic. The ancient Egyptians saw Hathor as the ultimate mother goddess. She was the “mother of mothers” and symbolized fertility and security (hence her name literally means “home”). But the Egyptians also recognized her “terrible” side that everyone feared: she could change into a ferocious lady! For example, she once committed a massacre among the gods: she killed them, drank their blood and could still not be stopped! Because of this “incident” she often got the head of a lion in pictures. As she could get into this kind of ‘mood’  more often (and then threatened to destroy the whole world) she was also depicted as a snake. Later she was identified with the goddess Isis, who was seen as the goddess of motherhood. However, in Isis mainly the positive sides are emphasized, which is why she became the most popular goddess in Egypt.

There are many more examples, but I think the point is clear; The “dark” side of the mother is underexposed in contemporary culture, but also in the Tarot. If you were to list all Tarot cards that represent this mother archetype, you would make a positive personal description for all of them (alltough to many of the tarot readers the Queen of Swords is still the exception). The downsides that are assigned to these Queens are small things, they cannot even be called character flaws. And in general they are mainly detrimental to the person themselves and to a lesser extent to their environment. Let’s look at some examples on how the ‘yin’ cards are interpreted:

The “dark” side of the High Priestess is that she “hides” something, or has knowledge of something that she does not yet share. The Empress is lots of growth and development, the downside to her is that she sometimes has no boundaries, of which she mainly suffers from herself: she forgets that she also needs space and time so that things cannot grow over her head.

Tarot Cards Queen of pentacles, Queen of Cups and Queen of Wands from the Rider Waite Smit Deck

The Queen of Pentacles is a nurturing mother, a sensible woman who loves nature and is good with money.She loves beautiful things and a house with a garden.

She is a good hostess, a traditional “mother mother” who often says “That’s the way the cookie crumbles my dear”. The Queen of Cups is sensitive and gentle. She can get into that a little bit and then plays the helpless women card. This then acts like a magnet on men, who fall over each other to “save” her. The Queen of Wands is the most popular given today’s standards: not only is she a nice mother who emphasizes her femininity, but also a smart and spunky aunt, businesswoman and a fun creative “witch” who can express herself well.

The Queen of Swords does not receive a “sugarly” description from many people. Arthur Edgar Waite also seemed not to know what to do with her; He emphasized the “negative” side and it is often the first to be addressed. She is a bitter, single or divorced woman. She’s also bitchy so no man wants her (or no man wants her and that’s why she’s bitchy that’s a bit unclear.). The positive side sometimes comes at the end of the list: that she is not guided by convention, that she is independent and does not accept bullshit. But this is not very valuable (it is for herself, but not for others.). She can look at her feelings objectively, she fights against injustice and stands up for the weak. But just like with Kali, that’s a small detail. Apparently the Queen of Swords is more or less the only one to survive the current of the ‘loving mother’ – trend that started by the ancient Egyptians from 2700 BC.

Carl Jung, however, was someone who found it interesting to look at dark sides. He has elaborated on the mother archetype extensively. The “negative” feminine aspect is sometimes emphasized so strongly in his work that you wonder what is behind it (something in his personal unconscious probably LOL). Yet you also in his descriptions that of the four “main types” there are three types that are slightly more positive (and one that comes off a bit more badly).

I have plotted the Queens of the Tarot to the feminine personality types and mother complexes of Carl Jung and I will happily share that with you in an upcoming article!

A short thought on Philosophy, Spritituality, Tarot and Christianity

The Tarot is so ingeniously put together that you can plot any spiritual, philosophical, occult, psychological or even scientific trend on it.  It just depends on what you focus on.  What you want to see, you can see in the Tarot.  This ensures that you never stop learning and that you can stretch your mind considerably.  You will receive different insights over time as you acquire more knowledge. 

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