Hand-Painted Images

On the Visconti-Sforza card a rough looking man, with flying scarf, holds a club on high in a threatening fashion. At his feet is a lion. They both appear to be threatening the same person or object off the card. (At first sight it looks as if the man is belabouring the lion but on closer examination this seems not to be the case.)

On the Gringonneur card we have a maiden (with an angular nimbus similar to Temperance and Justice and the World in this set), standing beside a column which is breaking in two. Early Printed Card Tradition

On the Rosenwald sheet the maiden (also with angular nimbus in common with Justice and Temperance on the same sheet), is seated beside an unbroken column, which she clasps.

The Parisian card has the stump of a broken column but the maiden who stands over it is demonstrating her power by subduing a lion.

On the Marseilles card the stump of pillar has gone and we simply have the maiden, in wide-brimmed hat, holding a lion by the jaws. (See Figure 13.)

Esoteric Versions

Wirth's La Force follows the Marseilles card closely.

Figure 13

Waite introduces a chain of roses between the maiden and the lion and in place of the wide brimmed hat places a lemniscate figure above her head. In the background is a high mountain.

On the Golden Dawn card the maiden simply stands beside the lion, her hand on its mane, and she holds four red roses, while a yellow veil blows in the wind about her. Commentary

The Visconti-Sforza card is something of an anomaly in relation to the main stream of tradition of the card, although there is a lion featured upon it. Generally speaking the traditions are two-fold, either a maiden beside a pillar (which may be broken) or a maiden controlling a lion.

The maiden and the pillar is perhaps the more conventional image, and, as Fortitude, was depicted by many artists, including Botticelli, as one of the Cardinal Virtues. Although the pillar may be broken, or show the maiden apparently breaking it, the image more consistent with the spirit of the card is really an unbroken pillar, for the sense of the image is strength and support. Indeed the maiden could well be depicted as a caryatid, though this idea does not appear to have occurred to any designer.

The strong man with a club on the Visconti-Sforza card can be thought of as Hercules, the archetypal strong man and hero, who has associations with a lion. The more appealing image is however the maiden with the lion with its associations of beauty and the beast, of spiritual will gently but indominatably controlling physical power. Or again, an idea depicted in another fashion by Botticelli in a famous picture, the victory of Venus Over Mars.

The Hanged Man

Hand-Painted Images

The Visconti-Sforza Hanged Man is suspended by the left leg from a beam, supported by two posts, rather like a door frame. His hands appear to be tied behind his back and his right leg is crossed behind the bound one.

The Gringonneur hanged man is altogether more active, suspended by his right ankle and flailing around somewhat, holding on to two heavy bags, presumably containing money. The frame of the gallows is more rustic. Early Printed Card Tradition

The Beaux Arts sheet is similar to the Gringonneur conception but the figure is in much more repose, the left leg crossed behind the right. The same applies to the Rosenwald sheet, though it is the left leg that is tied.

The Catelin Geofroy card shows a conventional gibbet from which the hanged man is suspended by both feet, his hands tied behind his back.

The Paris card is without money bags, though the hands are not tied or held behind.

The Marseilles card shows the hands behind the back, the legs crossed and a ragged framework, seemingly erected over a ditch or abyss. The moon-like pockets and buttons down the front of the man's coat appear on this card, which have given much grist to the imagination of later esoteric commentators. (See Figure 14.)

Figure 14

Esoteric Versions

Wirth's Le Pendu follows the Marseilles card but has coins falling from the man's pockets, gold one side, silver the other.

Waite changes the shape of the gibbet to a Tau cross and gives the man a halo.

The Golden Dawn man is suspended from the roof of a sea cave and the cross and triangle motif suggested in most Hanged Man cards by the disposition of the man's limbs is here accentuated in thin lines of light.


This card was often referred to as The Traitor, and no doubt this was the unequivocal meaning to Italians, from the Renaissance period to the present day. It is the mark of extreme social disgrace, and effigies of traitors were publicly displayed upside-down and no less an artist than Botticelli was commissioned to produce works for such a purpose. In modern times the body of the dictator Mussolini was hung up in this way by a vengeful mob.

This may relate to the money bags that the man has on some cards, which could refer to Judas Iscariot, the archetypal traitor, on the common assumption that he betrayed his leader and his God for money.

A traitor represents one widi an inversion of all values and there is a higher sense to this inversion that is brought out in the esoteric cards by the serene expression on the man's face and his halo. He is in this respect the willing sacrifice, or the martyr, or one whose actions and beliefs are based on non-material values - or values that differ from the assumptions of the society in which he lives. In this respect the card can represent the Crucifixion, which in Roman times was a mode of execution associated with utter social disgrace, and one particularly applied to traitors or rebels against the state.


Hand-Painted Images

The Visconti-Sforza figure of Death is a standing skeleton, a white cloth or band about its head, holding a bow in one hand, an arrow in the other.

The Cary Yale skeleton wields a scythe and gallops on horse back over a huddled group of human figures.

The Victoria & Albert Museum card has the figure standing on a floor of black and white paving, holding a scythe over his shoulder. He wears a cardinal's hat and the words SAN FINE come from his mouth. Two sets of beads depending from the hat brim are in the form of a Pythagorean tetractys.

The Gringonneur skeleton is more fully clothed and rides, wielding his scythe, over supine personages of power such as kings and bishops.

Early Printed Card Tradition

The Italian card of the fifteenth/sixteenth century also rides a horse, carrying a scythe, but there are no victims depicted. The Rothschild sheet is similar.

The Rosenwald sheet also features scythe and horseman, with two victims beneath the horse's hooves. The Catelin Geofroy card has the skeleton on foot and wielding a scythe, with a shovel over his shoulder.

The Parisian card is also of the standing skeleton scythesman, which is found on the Marseilles card too, in a field of lopped heads, hands and feet. (See Figure 15.)

Figure 15

Esoteric Versions

Wirth's skeleton mower closely follows the Marseilles card.

Waite follows the tradition of a skeleton on horseback, which he depicts in black armour and carrying a black banner on which is a white rose. Two children kneel before him, a bishop stands, apparently in supplication, and a king lies dead. In the background is a river, and on the horizon the sun rises, or sets, between two towers.

The Golden Dawn follows the Marseilles tradition but introduces a strange multicoloured sun, as if in eclipse, in the sky; and a blue eagle head from which depends a fiery serpent.


Printed card manufacturers, in deference to popular supersti tion, seldom gave a name to this card; and they also contrived to give it the number of 'unlucky' 13 no matter what local variation of Trump sequence there might be. Even today tarocchi players who draw this card consider themselves to be unlucky.


Hand-Painted Images

On the Visconti-Sforza card Temperance, in a starry robe, stands in open countryside, pouring liquid from one vase into another. This theme is repeated on the von Bartsch and on the Gringonneur cards. On the latter the figure has the characteristic pointed nimbus found also on Strength, Justice and the World in this set, and the figure is seated, as also on the d'Este card.

Early Printed Card Tradition

The Rosenwald sheet is similar to the d'Este.

The Catelin Geofroy figure is also seated but pours liquid from a jar into a dish.

The Marseilles figure is remarkable for being winged, and also reverts to the convention of a standing figure in countryside. (See Figure 16.)

Esoteric Versions

Wirth follows the Marseilles scheme. Waite has an angelic

Figure 16

figure standing partly on land, partly on water; and a pathway leads to mountains over which is the sun, upon which is superimposed a crown. The angel also has a solar disc on the forehead, and iris flowers growing at the water's edge are symbolically reinforced by a rainbow over the figure's head.

The Golden Dawn card also has Temperance standing on land and sea. She has a yellow square on her breast and a golden sphere or sun is above her head. In the background a volcano erupts.


Temperance is another standard iconographic figure of one of the cardinal virtues. It also has strong alchemical connotations of purification and the tempering of metals. Another sense, that is not so readily obvious, is that in days before piped running water lords and ladies at table washed their hands (which they used for eating until forks were later introduced), by the assistance of a servant pouring water from one bowl to another. Thus the figure also represents a cleansing process.

The standing between land and water is a comparatively modern esoteric conception, it would seem. The rainbow attributions of the Waite card refer to the position the card was placed on the Tree of Life in the Golden Dawn system, on the path between Yesod and Tiphereth.

Of interest on the Gringonneur cards is the nimbus given to Temperance, Strength, Justice and the World, which implies a relationship between these four cards that accords with a particular way of laying out the cards. (See page 92.)

The Devil

Hand-Painted Images

No Devil on a hand-painted card has survived. Early Printed Card Tradition

The earliest version we have is a fragmented Italian printed sheet where he stands in open country, a tree in the background. He is winged and carries a trident over his shoulder. He has another face on his lower abdomen, with animal ears, which could be part of a garment. He has horns and long ears on his head which could, again, be part of a head-dress.

The uncut Rothschild sheet shows a more grotesque figure, with taloned feet, a tail, a horned and animal-eared head that is definitely part of the figure, another more human head for a torso, and spiky wings and shaggy body-hair which by die shape suggests flames. He is in the process of eating a man and a woman.

The Rosenwald sheet Devil is much less menacing, with a quaint depiction of a human figure with horns, animal ears, and taloned feet, holding a trident and dressed in a tunic, either of shaggy fur or feathers, or possibly flames.

The Parisian pack Devil is similar in principle; a menacing figure, horned, winged and taloned, with a rod or trident.

The Marseilles card differs from all previous in having the Devil, who holds a hiltless sword or baton, standing on an anvil-like pedestal to which are attached two human figures with horned head-dresses, and who have tails that they may be holding on behind them. The horns, as those of the Devil, appear to be stag rather than goat horns. The Devil himself has bat-like wings and taloned feet. (See Figure 17.)

Figure 17

Esoteric Versions

Wirth's Diable has devils, not humans, secured to the pedestal. The Devil himself bears a long candle and a lamp, with one arm labelled SOLVE and the other COAGULA. At his loins is the sigil for Mercury. A pentagram is upon the forehead of his goat head, and his feet are cloven rather than clawed. Most of these ideas derive from Eliphas Levi's illustration of the card.

On Waite, the forehead pentagram is inverted, and the alchemical signs and labels do not appear. The figures below are naked humans, though with horns and tails. Their neck manacles are large enough in diameter to be lifted off over their heads. The woman's tail ends in a bunch of grapes, the man's in a flame. The Devil makes a sign of duality with one hand and holds an inverted torch in the other. His feet are the traditional claws.

The Golden Dawn Devil has a horned head that closely resembles an inverted pentagram. He holds an inverted torch and a horn in the other hand. His feet are clawed. The figures below are human but equipped with horns and skirts, and they are manacled to the pedestal by their wrists.


The absence of any hand-painted form of the Devil suggests that in the Renaissance period the evil qualities of the Devil were taken seriously and it was preferred that this card be hidden and not on display. As C. S. Lewis has pointed out in The Screwtape Letters a major victory for the Devil has been the spread of the assumption that he does not exist. Or, that if he does, he cuts a ludicrous and easily identified figure after the fashion of the demon king at a pantomime.

The recognition of the real presence of evil in the world, however, is not the same as elevating its importance to a level with God. Everything of evil is uncreative, parasitic, a corruption or distortion of the health and proper function of a living system. It may be that evil is a menacing presence within the world but in the end it will come to nothing, in the Nothing that is the Limitless Light which dispels all darkness.

In the meantime the weeds may flourish with the good and growing crop. The basis of the parable of the tares and the wheat is that the wheat grows to a greater height than the tares. To try to eliminate the tares during growth would be a difficult task injurious to the growing wheat. At harvest time, however, the wheat ears, having grown higher, can be easily harvested, leaving the tares to be put to the destroying and earth-cleansing fire.

The figures on the card plainly indicate bondage, and most evil could be described as a form of bondage - of compulsive behaviour. Compulsion is the hallmark of neurosis and disease, of addiction and vice. In true service is perfect freedom.

Evil is present not only within the world but within each one of us. One does not have to fear raising the Devil by 'dabbling in the occult' or by any other means. His presence is as close as God's - closer than breathing, nearer than hands and feet. But often we give ear and credence to the promptings of evil rather than good. However, the choice remains ours. It is not really sufficient for all that fall to cling to the excuse that they were pushed!

The sign of duality that appears on the cards signifies the principle of evil. The demonic reflection of the Tree of Life, for example, has as its highest (or lowest) sphere the Dual Contending Heads rather than the One Great Countenance of Kether. The Devil may indeed aspire to establish the principle of dualism - an equal footing with God or good - but in this he has the same ambitions as a cancerous cell.

The inverted pentagram similarly, with its two points upward, is a denial of the power of the spirit over the elements.

Waite demonstrates the ultimate lack of power of evil by making it possible for the chained figures to remove the manacles from about their necks. The prisoners, like the inhabitants of Dante's Inferno, are there by their own free choice. When we really abhor evil we will cease to be ruled by it. Hence the Delphic adage 'Man - Know Thyself.

One of the great lessons of more advanced occultism, and one that is more difficult to learn than almost any other, is that the world about us reflects back to us, in the circumstances of our lives, our own state of soul. Yet we often recoil from the hideous face in the mirror of our environment, seeking to blame anybody but ourselves. This is the confrontation with the Dweller on the Threshold who is, like the Devil and his victims, an image of ourselves.

The Tower Hand-Painted Images

The Gringonneur card is the sole surviving depiction of a hand-painted Tower. Here it is a massive four-square castle-like edifice that is crumbling and falling at the back, with flames disintegrating its upper tower.

Early Printed Card Tradition

The crudely effected Italian printed sheet has a single square tower standing between two trees at the top of a flight of steps.

The top of the tower is ablaze with an arrow of lightning coming down from the Sun.

On the Rothschild sheet we have a scheme similar to the Gringonneur version: a massive building, burning in its upper stories, and the introduction of a male and a female human figure falling before it. There also appears to be two suns in the sky but this feature is found also on other cards in this series (Star, Moon, Chariot and Wheel of Fortune).

The Rosenwald card follows the Gringonneur style also, but with no human figures. A massive tower disintegrates, with flames at the top. The sun is shown above; there is no lightning flash, but flames appear in the sky between the sun and the tower.

The Catelin Geofroy tower is full of drama. The tower burns in the background whilst in the foreground is a grotesque devil-like figure, and two human figures, one of whom is playing a violin.

The Parisian card is similar in conception and shows several figures in confusion, including one naked with an animal head.

A Swiss pack of 1680 shows the free-standing tower, with two figures falling from it. A blast from the sun lifts the turreted top of the tower, and stones fall from it.

Figure 18

Figure 18

This is the style developed in the Marseilles Tarot, although here the tower is quite intact below the tilting turret, and the falling masonry becomes a pattern of circles in the sky. (See Figure 18.)

Esoteric Versions

The Wirth card follows the Marseilles card closely, though the top courses of brickwork of the tower are damaged, and falling bricks accompany the coloured spheres. One of the falling figures wears a crown, and the bolt from the sky clearly emanates from a sun face.

Waite's Tower is on a high eminence, and appears to be depicted at night. Its top is like a crown and is thrown off intact, as on the Marseilles card. A lightning bolt strikes fire into the tower itself. Two figures fall, the female one crowned. Clouds are in the sky and the coloured spheres of the Marseilles card are rendered as flames in the form of Hebrew letter Yods.

In the Golden Dawn card a bolt from the sun strikes the tower, which is a raging inferno inside, and damaged - although the golden-crown top of the tower lifts up intact. Two part-naked figures fall, and the spheres of the Marseilles card are arranged as two Trees of Life; a conventional white one to the right and a black one with an extra sphere (two Yesods) to the left.


Like the Devil, this card has not survived well from the hand-painted era. This is probably because of its close association with the Devil in its interpretation as Gate of Hell.

An immediate association of the picture on the card is with the Tower of Babel, raised by man's overweening pride. This has an ominous relevance to the contemporary world with man's towering achievements in science and technology and his inability to handle the power that this gives him.

The tale of the Great Tower has resonances throughout history and legend. Thomas Mann in the Prelude to his Joseph and his Brothers cites other examples such as the pyramids of Cheops in Egypt and Cholula in Central America: The people of Cholula have always denied that they were the authors of this mighty structure. They declared it to be the work of giants, strangers from the east, they said, a superior race who, filled with drunken longing for the sun, had reared it up in their ardour, out of clay and asphalt, in order to draw near to the worshipped planet. There is much support for the theory that these progressive foreigners were colonists from Atlantis, and it appears that these sun worshippers and astrologers incarnate always made it their first care, wherever they were, to set up mighty watch-towers, before the faces of the astonished natives, modelled upon the high towers of their native land, and in particular upon the lofty mountain of the gods of which Plato speaks. In Atlantis, then, we may seek the prototype of the Great Tower.

There is a more positive side to the card however. This is indicated in the convention that shows the top of the tower gently lifting off to receive the lightning bolt. Similar imagery is described in great detail in the seventeenth-century Chymical Marriage of Christian Rosencreutz where it is part of the resurrection process in a sequence of spiritual alchemy.

In all the variations of meaning there is an underlying theme of the power of God, the lightning strike of the Spirit, the Promethean force that re-establishes rulership to its supernatural source.

One could perhaps read in the esoteric tendency to replace falling masonry with symbolic patterns, a desire to rebuild harmonic order from chaos - to restore the true pattern that has been lost by the tumbling figures.

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