Ancients especially with the secret lore imputed to the ancient Egyptians as was then fashionable

As the clue to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics had not 'yet been provided by the Rosetta stone, many portentous secrets were said to lie in the writings of the Egyptians. This was not a new theory, however. From the time of the Islamic empire, roughly A.D. 900-1100, Egypt had been singled out in many wizards' minds as the place where the most potent magical secrets had originated. The word "alchemy" itself derives from the Arabic, meaning the art of Khem, or Egypt. And the occultists of the eighteenth century were right in their assumptions, as we shall see—but only up to a certain point. Most Western magical symbolism, including that of the tarot images, had indeed emanated from the Near East, but the Near East of the post-Christian era, of Alexandria and Byzantium, as opposed to that of .the ancient pharaohs. De Gebelin and his fellow Rosicrucians were right in place but wrong in time. Succeeding Rosicrucian generations have speculated further and added accumulations of lore to the mysterious deck. The rumored original was claimed to be none other than the ancient and mythical Book of Thoth, written by the hand of the god Thoth himself when he descended from the high heavens and first walked the earth among men.

Within this book were said to be two potent and all-embracing formulas. By reading the first, the operator would be able to cast an enchantment upon the sky, the earth, the world of the night, the mountains and the waters of the deep; he would, like Solomon, understand the language of the birds and reptiles, and by means of the spell's magical power he could hover over the water and perceive all the fish as far down as the deepest abyss in the sea. The second formula, no less puissant than the first, gave victory over the tomb, earthly immortality, and a vision of the Sun and Moon in their divine forms surrounded by their retinue of gods.

This formula contains all the important elements of the latter-day cult of. Isis that Lucius Apuleius, the Roman author, was initiated into and wrote guardedly about in his work of fiction, The Golden Ass:

... I approachcd the limits of the dead; I trod upon the threshold of Proserpina [the goddess of death] and I was carried beyond the spheres of the elements. I saw the sun shining brilliantly at midnight, and approachcd the Gods of the Underworld, and those from On High; and I worshipped them face to face.. 0 •

Again this identification of the tarot seems to contain an element of truth. The trump cards undoubtedly derive in part from some such cult, and it .was in this mystical sense ,that the tarot was adopted and popularized by eighteenth-century occultists. Wolfgang Mozart, an ardent Freemason, made use of a similar Egyptian' initiatory story in the libretto of The Magic Flute.

However, when referring to the Book of Thoth, it would serve our purposes better if we were to refer to the god Thoth by his Greek name, Hermes Trismegistos, meaning "Thrice Great Hermes." The name itself is very revealing. The Romans called him Mercury, and in postclassical times he was held to be the god of magic and metallurgy whom one must invoke before attempting any alchemical operation. Many of the Gnostically inspired works devoted to alchemy and astrology claimed authorship from him as "Thrice Great Hermes," in much the same way that many of the magical conjuring books and memory manuals were imputed to the penmanship of the prolific King Solomon.

Though alchemy and astrology lay at the respectable end of the occult spectrum, actual attempts to direct the stars and forces dealt with by these two sciences often edged uncomfortably into the area of sorcery, which lay at the other end. So did the tarot. Bernardino certainly had no doubts about that. Prior to its eighteenth-century rehabilitation by de Gebelin, the deck Was to all intents and purposes quite unknown in Paris, used only by diviners in outlying districts, the gypsies of southern France and Italian strege and streghoni.

With the appearance ofde Gebelin's book, almost overnight the tarot became the tool of Rosicrucian sages par excellence, feted as the bible of all true occultists. It took only the ingenuityof a nineteenth-century apostate priest, the French Rosicrucian writer and cabalist Eliphas Levi, whose books were the major inspiration of the nineteenth-century occult revival, to discover an apparent link between the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the cards of the Major Arcana.

To the cabalist, each of the twenty-two Hebrew letters signifies a special spiritual power. Hence an alliance between these letters and the twenty-two trumps gives an immediate cabalistic interpretation to them.

Most of the books written about tarot cards have pursued Levi's line of thought. Unfortunately, far from elucidating the cards, this often seems to add confusion to an already mysterious subject. The mind boggles at some of the metaphysical straitjackets which have been strapped upon the cards over the years.

The deck is generally stretched upon a cabalistic Procrustean bed and what fails to be accommodated is either ignored or shrugged off as a "blind to the uninitiated." And this for the most part is how tarot is interpreted today. Though the memory-magic that lay behind the use of tarot cards was preserved within Rosicrucian lodges, it wore an ill-fitting Judeo-Christian mask. Only in so far as Christian and Judaic supernatural lore can be said to be imbued with pagan beliefs and doctrines can the tarot be said to reflect either of these two traditions, as we shall see in the following chapter.


The Illustrated Key To The Tarot

The Illustrated Key To The Tarot

The pathology of the poet says that the undevout astronomer is mad the pathology of the very plain man says that the genius is mad and between these extremes, which stand for ten thousand analogous excesses, the sovereign reason takes the part of a moderator and does what it can. I do not think that there is a pathology of the occult dedications, but about their extravagances no one can question, and it is not less difficult than thankless to act as a moderator regarding them.

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