How Can We Hope To Define The Symbolism Of The Tarot


We have already and sufficiently explained that the Tarot represents the ancient or occult science in every possible development.

If we then wish to find a solid basis for the study of the symbols represented in the 22 major arcana, we may put the Tarot on one side for an instant, and devote ourselves to this ancient science. It alone can enable us

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to attain our end, not in finding the explanation of the symbols, but in leading us to create them one by one, by deducing them from fixed and general principles.

We shall thus commence work of quite a new character, whilst avoiding, so far as possible, falling into those errors which arise from the effort to explain the symbols of the Tarot by themselves, instead of seeking for their solution at their original source.

The first step in the search for these particular symbols leads us to discuss the grave problem of the origin of symbolism itself.

We cannot enter upon, much less solve, this question by ourselves; we shall therefore quote the opinions of several writers upon this subject. Truth, having Unity for its criterion, the agreement of various conclusions in one point will he a valuable guide for us.

Claude de Saint-Martin, the unknown philosopher, states in his book, the Livre des Rapports, that the primitive alphabet is composed of sixteen signs. He received these data, so far as we can judge, from intuitive revelation, joined to the teaching of the Illuminism, of which he was one of the members.

Lacour, in his book on the Elohim or Gods of Moses, has inductively determined the existence of a primitive alphabet, also composed of sixteen signs. Another author, Barrois, pursuing inquiries of quite a different nature, also reaches the conclusion of the existence of sixteen primitive signs in his system of Dactylology.

But the labours of Court de Gébelin, and above all of Fabre d'Olivet, are the most remarkable in this respect. In his Langue Hébraïque Restituée, this learned Initiate established the existence of primitive hieroglyphic signs from which the Hebrew letters are derived.

All these writers, starting from very different points, agree in their conclusions, and this gives us a strong argument in favour of the truth of their inquiries.

But it matters very little to us whether these 16 primitive signs are the direct origin, either of the Hebrew, Sanscrit, Chinese, or Greek letters. The identity of source tends strongly to identity of results, and any one of these derivative alphabets will answer our purpose.

The Hebrew alphabet, composed of 22 letters, seems preferable to us, on account of the concordance between the number of its letters and that of the Arcana in our Tarot.

We shall therefore adopt, as the starting-point of our study, the Hebrew alphabet of 22 letters, derived from the 16 primitive hieroglyphic signs.

This conclusion is scarcely reached, when fresh light shines upon us from all sides.

Guillaume Postel i reveals to us the connection between the Hebrew letters and the Tarot; Van Helmont fils, 2 Claude de Saint-Martin, 3 Fabre d'Olivet, 4 all confirm our opinion; lastly, Eliphas Levi 5 also throws the weight of his marvellous learning into the question.

But we are more surprised to find that the Sepher Yetzirah, 6 an old book of the Kabbalah, which contains a study upon the formation of the Hebrew alphabet, arrives at a division of the letters which exactly corresponds with p. 93

the astrological data contained in an old manuscript in the Vatican, upon which Christian 1 based his horoscopic works.

One single and identical conclusion arises from all these different points of view: the value of the Hebrew letter as a symbol.

In it we possess a real symbol, of which we can ascertain not only the meanings, but also the origin.

We could then make a Tarot exclusively composed of Hebrew letters and of numbers, but this is not our object; we are seeking to discover in the symbolism of the Hebrew characters the symbolism of the Tarot, and we shall thus realize our intention of ascertaining deductively the value of the figures of the Tarot and the reason they have been chosen.

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