Its not easy trying to get a grasp on the mystery of the Tarot cards.
I remember so well the excitement, but nevertheless the confusion, when I opened my first deck and encountered the profusion of colour and imagery within the cards for the first time.
Over the next few weeks, I increasingly found that it was the Major Arcana that held the greatest challenge for me. The reason for this was because each of the 22 cards follows an ascending numerical sequence. Therefore logic would suggest that the dynamics contained within each card should, in theory anyway, lead onto the next. However, as all students of the Tarot know, this does not occur. Instead, each individual card’s meanings appears to follow its own rules.
However, when you look at the mysteries of the first significant card in the series – that being Arcana 1: THE MAGICIAN (Arcana 0: THE FOOL contains its own mysteries that we shall explore in another article) a pattern emerges that begins to unlock the essence of the Major Arcana as a whole.
Introducing the Magician
THE MAGICIAN is a wondeful card. Its position as the first in the Major Arcana is totally warrented due to its diverse range of meanings. It actually acts as a pointer — a guide or a signpost — that can lead the Tarot student into very fertile ground.
The Tarot per se can not really be defined as an occult doctrine; however, it does contain some deep esoteric secrets. In THE MAGICIAN, we are introduced to the idea of occult forces at play and that the figure that is displayed in the centre of this card has somehow learned how to harness and direct them.
The forces, or energies, involved are identified as being four in nature with each one being symbolised by one of the four tools that are placed upon the table in front of him.
This fourfold division of occult power is central to the structure of the Tarot. Each power is interpreted as an elemental energy and expressed through each of the four suits of the Minor Arcana.
- The suit of Wands relates to the Power of Fire.
- The suit of Cups refers to the Power of Water.
- The suit of Swords describes the Power of Air
- The suit of Pentacles is associated with the Power of Earth.
These are the four primary energies in the World that the magician harnesses to achieve his/her aims or objectives.
The Four Tetramorphys
These four energies appear also in the Major Arcana cards as well as the Minor Arcana.
As we have seen, they are to be found on the table (or altar) of THE MAGICIAN but they also appear in the guise of the Tetramorphys or the Four Beasts, in Arcana 10: WHEEL OF FORTUNE and in the final card of the Major Arcana sequence: THE WORLD.
In the Rider-Waite deck, each of these elemental beings appears in the corner of these two cards.
- The Bull represents the Power of the Earth.
- The Lion demonstrates the Power of Fire
- The Eagle relates to the Power of Water
- The Man defines the Power of Air.
That’s all fine and dandy but what does this actually tell us about the magickal essence of the Tarot?
The answer to this is found in the metaphysical construction of our World.
Planes of Energy
The World, it is said, is comprised of four distinct and separate planes of expression or energy. As you will have guessed each of these planes is represented by each of our four elemental powers, suits or symbols.
Each one of these planes is separated by its rate of vibration.
At the lowest, or slowest, level the molecular structure of atoms move about at a relatively slow pace. This results in things becoming solid or physical in appearance and to our touch. This is the Plane of Earth and is the physical world that we inhabit and live upon.
Above this plane, though in essence it contains the same space and so is actually level with our physical world, is the Astral World. This is a plane of energy that is much finer than our own. This plane starts the chain of worlds that contain non-physical or numinous beings. Typically, this includes the groups of ghosts, spirits and elemental beings.
Interpenetrating these two worlds is a third plane of energy. This is the World of Fire and interpenetrating all three is a fourth plane of activity that is the World of Swords or Mental energy.
To understand how these planes work, it is worth using the analogy of water and its various states.
Rain begins life on the upper levels of the atmosphere as water vapour. As it grows heavier and begins to descend, it forms water droplets which in turn forms snow flakes which eventually hit the earth and compress to form ice. The water molicules are indeed present in each of the four energy states but each one differs in their rate of vibration.
Connections at the Edges
Although each of the Four Worlds are quite different in makeup and in the rules and laws that govern them they do blur at the edges. Thus, you find that the barrier between one world and the next merges and mingles. This is most apparent when you sometimes see a ghost or UFO appear on our physical plane. They originally exist on a higher World but have inadvertantly broken through to appear to our physical senses.
This happens on every World where the edges of the adjacent planes connect. However, there are doors, gates and secret entrances that allow the passage of energies and archetypal forms between each other. The keys to discovering the accessways between successive worlds can be found within the Tarot.
Take, for example, Arcana 16: THE BLASTED TOWER.
In the Rider-Waite deck, you can see the energy of the higher planes (represented by the lightning) interpenetrating our atmosphere and grounding itself within the structure of the tower.
Going in the other direction, take a look at Arcana 20: JUDGEMENT. This is a card that shows the shifting of energy from the physical plane (represented by the rising of the physically dead) up into the Higher World (represented by the Angel with the trumpet).
Throughout the Tarot, you see the same idea of the shifting of energy or consciousness from one state into another … from one World into another World.
Some cards, such as Arcana 7: THE CHARIOT, represent the harnessing of energy from one World (in the case of this card in the Solar disk on the charioteer’s chest) into the earth (represented by the horses) for which the result is the forward motion of the horses and chariot itself.
Taking another look at Arcana 10: THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE, we can now see that the turning of the wheel directly relates to the motion and movement of energy and objects from our physical plane up into the Astral regions (and above) so that they are no longer visible to us before the continual turning of the wheel brings them back down into the Physical World once again in a distant time and place.
The closer you work with the Tarot, the more you will see and interact with these cards of energy transformation and containment.
Examples of their action and effect also appear in the Court cards as the four knights whilst the elemental powers themselves are represented in each of the four suits of the Minor Arcana as the Aces.
The Tarot begins to make a lot more sense when you start to interpret it in terms of the secrets contained within Arcana 1: THE MAGICIAN.
In many ways, a Tarot-card reader is a magician themselves. In working with the representations of the archetypal and elemental powers of the world through the symbology on the cards, each reader is shifting his or her awareness through successive and interpenetrating planes of consciousness.
It truly is a magickal world that we all live in!