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Tarot Blog

Tarotcard 4 of cups: Spoiled or Neglected?

Tarotcard Four of Cups is a card that I always thought was a bit “out of place”. I never really thought about why I had that feeling. The meaning of the card was clear to me. However, something was always gnawing at me somewhere inside, but I never had the time or patience to investigate this. Cups aren’t really my suit anyway ;-). But the other day something happened that reminded me of this card. So I dived in and tried to look at the four of cups with a pair of ‘fresh eyes’.  

The keywords and meanings that are generally assigned to this card are (among others):

  • Not wanting to see what you’re offered
  • Wanting something that isn’t available
  • Being dissatisfied
  • Acting Spoiled, ‘adolescent’ behaviour

Waite also mentions “Aversion” and “disgust.” Literally, he writes in ‘Pictorial Key’:

“A Young man is seated under a tree and contemplates three cups set on the grass before him; An arm issuing from a loud offers him another up. His expression notwithstanding is one discontent with his envronment. Divinatory meanings: Weariness, disgust, aversion, imaginary vexations, as if the wine of this world had caused satiety only; another wine, as if a fairy gift, is now offered the wastrel, but he sees no consolation therein. This is also a card of blended pleasure. Reversed: Novelty, presage, new instruction, new relations”

A.E. Waite – The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1911)

What does Waite mean by “blended” pleasure? Does he mean that you have too much of something that makes you ‘fed up’? The inverted meaning – which I never see as ‘reversed’ but more as the other end of the spectrum – doesn’t seem to make any sense to me.

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Tarotcard The Star and Jung’s Personae

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the Stars”

Oscar Wilde

The Star is the Tarot card that has number 17 in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. It is preceded by The Tower and followed by The Moon. The ‘mainstream’ meanings assigned to this card are generally:

  1. Hope
  2. Daring to be vulnerable
  3. Showing yourself as you really are, taking off your mask
  4. You are good just the way you are (and so is the other person)
  5. ”To be naked” (to have nothing left), to start over
  6. Afraid to show your true self, pretending to be something other than you are

The phrase “taking off your mask” and being “naked” almost always recurs in the descriptions. In this blog article I want to eloborate on these meanings; Apparently, we don’t think it’s good to wear a mask. We also like it when other people show themselves without a mask. But is that really a good thing? Of course, there is much more to it.

When you look at this tarotcard in a Jungian way and draw a comparison with the concept of Jung’s ‘Persona’, you will see that there are some nuances to be made. These nuances can make a big difference when The Star shows up in your readings.  

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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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History of the Tarot: Myths and Mysteries Unraveled

“Where did the Tarot come from?” Thanks to the efforts of authors, scholars and tarot enthusiasts such as Stuart Kaplan, Franco Pratesi, Michael Dummett, Paul Huson, Mary K. Greer and many others, we have a very good and comprehensive overview of the history of the Tarot as a card game and divination method. In the blog article about the very first Tarot deck you can read how Stuart Kaplan found evidence for this very first Tarot deck (dating from 1424) in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris in the 70s. However, in the centuries before us, there were many myths and mysteries about the origin of the Tarot; The Tarot is said to have been ‘invented’ or ‘passed on’ through:

  • The Ancient Egyptians
  • The Roma and Sinti (formerly: Gypsies)
  • A Mysterious Alchemist (The Count of St. Germain)
  • The Knights Templar
  • The founder of the secret society ‘The Rosicrucians’ (Christian Rosenkreuz)

But even today there are authors who believe that they are on to something, such as Robert Swiryn who has written a – very good and fascinating – book – in which he explains that the origin of the Tarot can be traced back to the history of the Cathars.

Ever since I started studying the Tarot I have been interested in (hmm maybe obsessed with) the history of the Tarot and especially the origin of the symbolism. The Tarot deck may have originated in Renaissance Italy in the 15th century, but the esoteric symbolism that was later added to it by the various occultists must also be traceable in one way or another to various religious, philosophical, occult and cultural eras and movements. And herein lies the answer to the question of why the above myths and mysteries that surround the Tarot remain alive to this day.

When delving into the history of the Tarot, it is important to distinguish between the actual physical cards of the Tarot and the symbolism of the images. It should be clear to everyone that the archetypal and esoteric symbols on the cards (or linked to the cards) have already appeared on the scene before the physical Tarot.

When I give a course or workshop, I am sometimes asked why the history of wisdom in the Tarot would be so interesting. After all, the Tarot as we know it today can be used by anyone and most people are mainly interested in the practical side: giving consultations, interpreting the cards and training ones ‘intuition’.

My personal answer is that my motivation always comes from the urge to understand something. Knowing where something comes from provides more insight. When I understand where a certain symbol comes from and how it came to be in a card, the card comes more alive for me. I can also be more creative with it. Without this knowledge or understanding, I would just rattle off ‘meanings’ and that, in my opinion, is not the purpose of the Tarot. However, this is something that suits my personal style and the way I learn new things. It’s a style that’s also used by other – especially introvert – people; First, you want to know the ins and outs before you can get started applying this knowledge. Of course, there are many more styles and there is nothing right or wrong in this regard.

Another answer is that it’s just a lot of fun to dive into things and know a lot about something that is your passion. And especially if that something already has a mysterious touch. Add to that all the intrigues, the ‘crazy’ conspiracy theories and the juicy details from the biographies of those who have involved themselves in Tarot and related esoteric topics over the centuries… Then you have found a study object that you can study for the rest of your live without ever getting bored

In a series of blog articles about the history of the Tarot I would like to share what I have found in my search for ‘the origin of wisdom in the Tarot’. In some of them I have tried to explain where the myths surrounding the origin of the Tarot come from. Most of them don’t just come out of the blue and still have some kind of ‘credible’ – or at least ‘logical’ – link somewhere; After all, where there’s smoke, there’s fire!

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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To Yod or Not?

On a number of Tarot cards in the RWS deck you can see drop-like things. On the Tower and on three of the aces (Cups, Swords, Wands) they are very visible. With the Cups they look like drops of water, with the Wands they look like leaves. But what are they about the in the  Swords suit? What do these drops symbolize and why was the Ace of Pentacles skipped?

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The Life and Times of Madamoiselle Lenormand

Although Madamoiselle Lenormand was famous (and infamous) in her time, many things about her life are shrouded in mystery. A number of biographies have been written but it is not certain whether they are reliable. She is mentioned in historical works about other “celebrities” of her time in which “The Sibyl of Paris” is either applauded or reviled. Mlle lenormand has also written a number of books herself, (of which only a few have been translated into English) and which unfortunately are not about her divination methods but, among other things, about the life and secrets of her famous clients… uhum… we will discuss ethics later.

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The Mystical Wine Press and Ten of Pentacles

Pentacles 10 has been showing up a lot lately. A while ago I took a good look at the card again, and only then realized that the symbol on the old man’s cloak is not really explained anywhere. I asked the question on the socials and there were a number of theories and suggestions:

Pentakels 10  from a deck where the symbol on the cloak of the old man is enlarged
  1. It is a fertility symbol (pomegranate and sprites)
  2. It is an astrological symbol: two crescent moons and the (split of the ram?) sign
  3. It is an Alchemical emblem
  4. It is a (family) coat of arms
  5. It’s not a symbol, just decoration

When I heard someone say on You Tube that he thought the symbol on the old man’s cloak was a wine press, I thought that was very far-fetched. The man in question had found a picture of a medieval wine press that looked exactly like the symbol on the cloak however, so I browsed the internet to learn what the wine press could symbolize.

The ‘Mystical’ wine press is Christian symbolism. Some images show Jesus in the wine press, where he himself is pressed along with the grapes. This symbolizes that Jesus sacrifices himself for the people. But more often I read that most people see ‘The Mystical Winepress’ as a symbol for ‘the end of time’ or the ‘day of judgment’ where God destroys the unbelievers.

Luckily, a more humanistic interpretation also exists: the winepress symbolizes the spiritual strength needed to endure suffering. Maybe a bit like ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’?

various depictions of 'Jesus in the magical winepress' as well as photo's of actual antique winepresses
Various depictions of ‘Jesus in the magical winepress’ as well as photo’s of actual antique winepresses

I also tried to search for an image of an antique wine press that looks like the symbol on the old men’s cloak. But I can’t find it. There is a lot to be found about the Symbolism of the grapes, but not about this particular symbol.

Since Waite and Smith where not the kind of people that just ‘doodled’ some cards (every penstroke has a meaning!), I think there’s definitely some symbolism hidden in it. But what?

Please let me know if you have any ideas about this.

The Hierophant and the paradoxes of Eliphas Lévi

Religion is the collective poesy of great souls. Her fictions are more true than Truth itself; vaster than Infinity; more lasting than Eternity; in other words, they are essentially paradoxical

Eliphas Lévi

Tarot card ‘The Hierophant’ has been occupying my mind for some time now; When I started studying the Tarot, I thought it was the least sympathetic card. And even when I had already learned a lot about the Tarot, I still thought of the card as being annoying. Although I don’t think The Hierophant is unsympathetic anymore, I still think of this Tarotcard as being difficult. Especially when this Tarotcard shows up in a reading one tends to attribute a variety of meanings to it (which do not seem ‘logical’ to me)

However, in the last year that has changed. Especially since I started reading the work of the ‘old’ occultists again. I studied the books by authors who were contemporaries of Waite – or a generation after him – and tried to look at the Hierophant with fresh eyes. I am very fond of the work of the ‘oldies’ because I can imagine they had to stretch their minds in order to in order to be able to write about symbolism of the Tarot. Because Tarot is organic and ever evolving, I also enjoy ‘modern’ authors. However, when it comes to The Hierophant, a number of them do still stick with the interpretation of Waite & Smith.

In the blogpost “The High Priest: Sympathetic or Not?” I wrote about what the thoughts of Paul Foster Case, Marcel Belline and P.D. Ouspensky were about this Tarotcard. Yet I kept wondering why Waite and Smith chose dogmatic and Christian symbolism for the Hierophant.

We know that Waite was attracted to Christianity; At least to the idea that there is one god and/or that a ‘creator of the Universe’ exists.  He himself wrote that he turned his back on the Theosophical teachings of Blavatsky (because the ‘image of God’ was not sufficiently highlighted in Theosophy) and that he focused more on Freemasonry (where the condition is that you believe in an ‘architect of the Universe’). But he has deliberately deviated from the symbolism used by the Golden Dawn and has clearly given this Tarot card a ‘Catholic look and feel’.

And so I thought maybe I would find the answer in the work of the occultists who inspired Waite. One of them is Eliphas Lévi (1810 – 1875). Lévi was held in high regard by Waite. Before he became an occultist, Lévi had been a Catholic priest and he uses many biblical quotations and analogies. I came across a small book that I have never read before,  entitled: ‘Les Paradoxes de la haute science‘. (The Paradoxes of Higher Science). The book was published in 1856 and translated into English by the Theosophical Society in 1883. In 1922 it was republished, this time with commentary by a mysterious ‘Eminent Occultist’ (Abbreviated to E.O.). No one knows who E.O. is, but some claim that it is none other than the founder of the Theosophical Society herself: Helena Blavatsky (1831 – 1891). This seems very credible, since she often commented on essays by Lévi. Blavatsky is even said to have been partly inspired by Lévi and, like Waite, she also had a high opinion of him. For example, the following can be read in a preface to an article by Lévi – which was shared with the members:

“The three essays – the first of which is now given – belong to the unpublished work Of the late French Occultist, a series of whose other Lectures on Secret Sciences is being published serially in the Journal of the Theosophical Society. These three papers were kindly copied and sent for this Magazine by our respected Brother, Baron Spedalieri of Marseilles. We hope to give, in good time, the translation of every scrap ever written by this remarkable ‘Professor of High Transcendental Sciences and Occult Philosophy’, whose only mistake was to pander rather conspicuously to the dogma’s of the established church – the church that unfrocked him”

Eliphas Lévi, Helena Blavatski and Arthur Edward Waite
Eliphas Lévi, Helena Blavatski and Arthur Edward Waite

Lévi’s Paradoxes

The reason I came across this book by Lévi was because I was watching a video on a Tarot channel on You Tube, in which it was stated that the two priests on Tarot card The Hierophant symbolize “Reason” and “Liberty“. Reason and Liberty? Where did that come from?

Tarotcard V The Hierophant from the Waite-Smith Tarotdeck

I browsed the internet to see if there are more people who assign ‘Reason’ and ‘Liberty’ to the two priests in this Tarot card. There weren’t many. I did see ‘Action’ and ‘Liberty’ a number of times. ‘Love and Liberty’ was also once attributed to the two figures. I think the idea behind this seems to come literally from Lévi’s book about the Paradoxes. In The Paradoxes of Higher Science, seven paradoxes are described. And of course you will see quite some ‘Tarot’ symbolism in the descriptions.

The seven Paradoxes are:

  1. Religion is Magic Sanctioned
  2. Liberty is Obedience to the Law
  3. Love is the Realisation of the Impossible
  4. Knowledge is the Ignorance or Negation of Evil
  5. Reason is God
  6. The Imagination Realizes What it Invents
  7. The Will Aclompishes Everything, Which it Does Not Desire

At first, I thought it quite difficult to read and understandt. But in the end, I did see ‘the punch line’ and perhaps the symbolism of ‘Reason’ and ‘Liberty’ in Tarot card V The Hierophant! I have tried to pick out a number of relevant quotes below and explain them in a way that I have understood.

“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”

With this paradox the most confusing is that Levi  seems to be speaking of both reason in the form of ‘thinking’/’intellect’, and  reason  (in the form of: ‘the reason that something exists’).

Lévi states that without reason – or intellect – nothing can be created or nothing can come into being. If God is the creator, god is reason. Everything has a right to exist, including irrationality. This is the counterpart of reason and also has a purpose. The same purpose as the dark has for the light: After all, without light there is no shadow!

The reasonable believer, according to Lévi, is he who believes in a reason greater than knowledge and is aware that ‘absolute wisdom’ is non existent. “Thinking” or “Intellect” is a means and not an end. It is something that is always developing and that is always growing. When you reason ill, it will become unreasonable.But it is not then reason that should be distrusted, but your own judgement. The danger is lurking that you will blindly believe your own prejudices and judgments. It is therefore advisable to go to someone who knows more than you,  as long as you don’t blindly follow them! In short, you should always think for yourself and not take things at face value, even if you have good reason to believe that someone else is “superior” in a certain area.

According to Lévi, it is not ‘weird’ to believe in something you have never seen or touched. There are a lot of things you’ve never seen but  know  exist. I tried to think of an example and came up with ‘gravity’. I can’t see gravity, but I know it’s there. For example, there are a number of ‘laws’ and ‘rules’ that you only know by reasoning and that everyone – religious or not – should submit to because they cannot be changed. They can be laws of nature, but according to Lévi they can also be moral ‘laws’. Unfortunately – says Lévi – the Christian Church has tried to eliminate reason and that makes people believe ‘blindly’ in something they do not know. It doesn’t come from within (by reasoning):

“To conjecture, at random, what one does not know, and then believe blindly in one’s own conjectures, or in those of others, who know no more than ourselves, is to behave like madmen. When we are told that God demands the sacrifice of our reason, this is to make God, the ideal or despotic idol, of folly”

Liberty is Obedience to the Law

“The true Piety is the Piety that is independent. The true Faith is the absolute Faith which explains all Symbols and moves above all Dogmas. The true God is the God of Reason, and his true worship is Love and Liberty”

Because man has intellect, he has freedom. However, this is not ‘for free’, as we have to do something for it in return (take action). For example, by practicing science, pursuing inventions that will lead to progress of humanity. At the moment, however, this is not yet recognized; The “freethinkers” do not tolerate ecclesiastical authority, and the Church does not tolerate freethinkers.

On the one hand, it is your duty as a human being to make use of your intellect and your freedom. On the other hand, you have to deal with those in power who are not happy about this. There are priests, kings, laws, powerful groups, etc., who want to stop things. It doesn’t do you much good if you protest against this all too loudly (and then get burned at the stake). The smartest thing to do is to ‘obey’ on the outside as long as you KNOW what is going on inside. You continue to progress and develop, so that one day – for example the generation after you – it will become a fait accompli and the rulers will also have to move forward. Or, as Lévi puts it, “It is full time for the shepherd to rise when his flock goes off..”

This Paradox also refers to Tarot card XV The Devil (also a Christian symbol). So keep an eye on this blog for the sequel!

Religion is Magic Sanctioned

“Comprehension of religion is the emancipation of the spirit, and the Bible of the hierophants is the Bible of liberty. To believe without knowing is weakness; to believe, because one knows, is power”

Here, too, Lévi emphasizes ‘Reason’. People are forced to “believe” and worship God. The Church frightens them (fear God himself, the Devil, hell, etc.). True Magi, according to Lévi, are those who worship God without fear because  they know that they have the same powers as God. To worship without fear is Love, to worship with fear is hate. Magi lean on religion, but religion does not weigh on them.

According to Lévi, it is the uncritical worship of God (without thinking for oneself) that is to blame for all the terrible crimes committed in the name of the Church (or religion alltogether) over the centuries. People ‘mindlessly’ participate in the Christian ceremonies without focus and without understanding why. This leads to (religious) fanaticism (which we unfortunately also still see today). This also applies to various ‘occult’ groups; They consider themselves freethinkers, but in the meantime they are searching for ready-made remedies, miracles, and knowledge about the future in cards/dice/crystals/tea leaves etc. They try to communicate with the dead in order to find out ‘the truth’. But that’s not Magic according to Lévi:

True magic is a scientific force placed at the service of Reason. False magic is a blind force added to the blunders and disorders of Folly

To control will-power and to subordinate it to the law of intelligence – this is ultimately the great work of our priestly art.

Conclusion

I do now see much more in this Tarot card as the symbolism is much more lively. The High Priest holds a Christian symbol (the ‘true’ Cross) in one hand and the other hand makes an occult gesture. In my opinion, the two listeners play a bigger role than just being students or listeners. The keys lie between them, perhaps symbolizing that ‘the keys’ lie in  ‘Reason and Liberty’. But even if it is ‘Reason and Love’, ‘Love and Liberty’, ‘Reason and Action’…. it doesn’t matter. The “reason” that Waite and Smith portrayed The Hierophant in such Catholic way is clear. I think they were definitely inspired by Lévi’s Paradoxes.

According to the Theosophical Society, Levi would have had great difficulty in letting go of the “dogmatic” idea of the Catholic Church. When you read the paradoxes, it seems as he is indeed struggling; The many twists and turns he makes as not to deny Catholicism (and other religions). And at the same time, he tries to critisize the same church and wants to explain the occult meanings.

However, I think there is much more to it. I think he goes to great lengths to convey what he sees as the esoteric symbolism behind religion(s). And that’s something you ‘know’ but can’t explain so easily!

The book is still published today and available in many (online) stores. Copies are also available online (and as far as I can see this is legal). I have created a PDF of the complete text for everyone to read. Feel free to leave a comment about your understanding of the text.