Essay Upon The Astronomical Tarot By Oswald Wirth

According to Christian the twenty-two major arcana of the Tarot represent the hieroglyphic paintings which are found in the spaces between the columns of a gallery, which the neophyte was obliged to cross in the Egyptian initiations. There were twelve columns to the North and the same number to the South, that is, eleven symbolical pictures on each side. These pictures were explained to the candidate for initiation in regular order, and they contained the rules and principles for the Initiate.

The arcana corresponding to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet must have been arranged upon the, walls of the secret crypts in the temples of Osiris in the following order. (See pg 243.)

This opinion is confirmed by the correspondence which exists between the arcana when they are thus arranged.

It is at once evident that the arcana 2, 3, 4 and 5 form a complete group; this group corresponds to another formed by the arcana 21, 20, 19 and 18. Now in the interpretation of the symbols each arcanum should be studied in its relations with the neighbouring arcana, and particularly with those which are pendant to it in the grouping that we have pointed out. For instance, the 2nd p. 243



The High Priestess

Empress Emperor Pope Lovers Chariot Justice Hermit e

The Wheel of Fortune d

Foolish Universe Judgement Man

Moon Stars

The Lightning-Struck Tower

Devil Temperance Death


arcanum (f), the High Priestess, should not only be compared with the 1st arcanum (Z), the Juggler, the 3rd, and 4th (i), the Empress; but also with the 5th arcanum (R), the Pope, with the 21st (€), the Universe, and even with the 18th (r), the Moon. By studying each of the twenty-two arcana in this way, we shall discover that the whole are closely linked together, and we shall acquire unexpected light upon the most ancient of all the sacred books which we possess.

It should be noticed that the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th arcana represent a quaternary, to which a last group corresponds, formed of the 16th, 15th, 14th, and 13 th arcana. We therefore have sixteen pentacles divided into four quaternaries, which give a definite general meaning. Six other pentacles are placed in pairs at the commencement, the centre, and the end of the double series of the arcana of the Tarot. These six arcana appear to frame the others, and this fact gives them great importance. Their signification is easily discovered by their mutual comparison, and the judicious application of the laws of analogy supplied by the keys of the Book of Thoth, as well as by those of the Eternal Book that Nature, symbolized under the form of Isis, holds half-opened in the 2nd arcanum (f), the High-Priestess.

But it is necessary to proceed methodically in these researches, by means of a progressive analysis starting from the whole, before we can grasp each arcanum separately, for each one must be carefully examined under the numerous aspects which it presents. When this work of dissection is once accomplished, the student must retrace his steps, and synthetically recompose the whole by a reverse operation.

In applying these principles here, we must first repeat p. 246

that the Tarot considered as a whole is pre-eminently the Sacred Book of occult initiation. Now we attain this initiation by two different paths, by one of which we develop the powers which we innately possess to their utmost extent; by the other we subdue ourselves, and thus attain a state of being which renders us susceptible to the action of the cosmic forces which surround us. Although these two methods differ completely, we can accomplish this great work by following either of them. This is the meaning of the Hermetic precept, "that the philosopher's stone can be prepared by the dry path or by the moist, by the red dye or by the white." Initiation, androgynous as a whole, is therefore subdivided into male and female. It is masculine from the 1st (Z) to the 11th (h) arcana, and becomes feminine in the arcana 21 (€) to 12 (n). With regard to the arcanum 0 (e), which is unnumbered in the Tarot, although it is eminently passive in itself, it must not be included in the feminine series, for reasons easily discerned in the study of the exact signification of each arcanum taken separately.

Let us then content ourselves for the moment with asserting that masculine or Dorian initiation starts from Z to end in h, whilst feminine or Ionian initiation starts from e to end in n. The two unite and complete each other in the androgynous initiation, which can start from Z to end in e, or start from e to return to it again, after traversing the whole series of the arcana, taking their numbers in the inverse order.

But initiation can be regarded not only under the double aspect of activity and passivity represented by the North and South, but it can be also contemplated as light and life, that is to say, as the intellectual instruction as well as the moral education of the Initiate. In this respect p. 246

the Tarot is divided by the 6th arcanum (S), the Lovers, and the 17th (i), the Stars, into two parts, which represent the West and the East.

This double division produces the four quaternaries of which we have already spoken. Each represents one especial section, its general sense being indicated by its orientation; the North-West thus corresponds with intellectual activity; the North-East with moral activity; the South-West with intellectual passivity, and the South-East with moral passivity. These four sections are also united in the arcana 1 (Z) the Juggler; 11 (h) Strength; 12 (V) the Ranged Man; and 0 (e) the Foolish Man.

The 6th arcanum, the Lovers, indicates the passage of intellectual activity to its moral application, the 17th 3. The stars form the transition between passive intellectuality and its practical employment in the exercise of the occult powers.

We think that enough has been now said to enable each student to discover for himself the complex signification of every arcanum in the Tarot. We will therefore end this sketch by some classifications, intended to prove that the order in which we arrange the arcana of the Tarot does not form a purely arbitrary system.

It will, in fact, be easily seen that connection in their opposition links the arcana when they are grouped in four quaternaries of different formation from the four first, which we have already examined. (See pg 247.)

The analogy of these significations is particularly striking between the arcana 7 and 16, 10 and 13, which yet present an antagonistic meaning, as soon as 7 is compared with 16, and 10 with 13. It is the same with the other quaternaries represented here, although the fact may be less visible at the first glance. But we will now p. 247

leave a free field to individual investigation on this point, and pass on to the study of the Tarot from another point of view.









High Priestess
























Wheel of Fortune











Lightning-struck Tower




The 22 major arcana of the Tarot compared to the figures representing the constellations upon the celestial sphere, according to the Greek and Egyptian planispheres.

The Tarot which we possess represents a series of symbolical images adapted to the ideology of the fourteenth p. 248

century, and fixed by the invention of xylography. It is impossible for us to retrace through the darkness of the middle ages the origin of the twenty-two significative figures known as atouts, in the pack of seventy-eight cards by which the Gypsies claim to reveal the secrets of fate.

Still it has been proved that the major arcana of the Tarot are disfigured reproductions of a primitive model dating from the earliest ages. It would be difficult to refind this model in its original purity; and if it were possible to do so it could only be through judicious study of every manifestation of symbolism throughout the history of Oriental mythologies. They have bequeathed to us an hieroglyphic monument of immense importance in the representative figures of the signs of the Zodiac, and of the constellations of the celestial Sphere. But it would be most interesting if we could prove that these allegorical figures absolutely reproduce the 22 major arcana of the Tarot. From this affinity we might obtain great light upon the genesis of human knowledge. For the same identity of origin which manifestly unites the plates of the Book of Thoth to the subdivisions of the Greek and Egyptian planispheres, leads to the conclusion that in both cases we possess a special adaptation, made from documents which we have not yet found, but which may still give us complete information respecting primitive India.

In any case the arcana of the Tarot explain many of the anomalies in Greek mythology. We cannot now enter into any minute details upon this subject, for it would lead us beyond the limits of this book. We must content ourselves with giving the reader a tableau indicating the constellations which appear to correspond with the 22 major arcana of the Tarot, and therefore with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, although their correspondence p. 249

with the latter is much less clearly defined. We will then trace a planisphere grouping the arcana of the Tarot according to the order of the constellations, and we will end by a pentacle in the form of a double hexagram, in which the Hebrew letters will represent the signs of the zodiac, and the circumpolar constellations to which they correspond, according to our first tableau.



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