The Emperor

Hand-Painted Images

We have a number of extant hand-painted cards of the Emperor.

The Visconti-Sforza Emperor sits with a sceptre in his right hand and an orb in his left. On his head is an ornate hat bearing the imperial eagle.

The Gary-Yale Emperor sits facing us on a raised throne. He is similarly accoutred, and attended by four pages, one of whom, at lower right, kneels bearing a crown.

The Brera-Brambilla card is similar but without the pages. The same basic features are found on the otherwise stylistically very different Rosenthal card; and again on the Fournier card.

The Gringonneur card has much the same features, though stylistically is different yet again, and attended by two pages with hands piously crossed upon their breasts. The eagle hat has given way, however, to a crown, and the sceptre is a form of fleur-de-lys, as are the decorations of the crown.

The Rothschild Emperor has two attendants also, but these are small bearded figures before him that barely reach to his knees. His sceptre is again a fleur de lys and the orb may have turned into a great seal.

Early Printed Card Tradition

The simple lines of the Rosenwald sheet show orb or seal in right hand, fleur de lys sceptre in left, and a crown on the head. There is no suggestion of eagles or attendants.

The Emperor of the Parisian card is a crowned standing figure in open country, wearing an enveloping cloak. This suggestion of being out of doors is maintained on the

Figure 6

Marseilles card, but the emperor is again throned, the eagle re-appears at the side of his throne, and in his right hand is a crossed orbed sceptre. His left hand is empty and he wears a chain and lamen of office. (See Figure 6.)

Esoteric Versions

Wirth's l'Empereur is given a trident or fleur de lys sceptre, with a crescent moon near its base, and a large orb. Emblems of the sun and moon are placed on his breast plate. He sits on a cubic stone instead of a throne, and the imperial eagle is on the side of it.

Waite depicts the Emperor full face, sitting on an imposing grey stone throne decorated with rams' skulls. Behind him is a chasm with a river at the bottom, and on the far side of it, high red mountains. He holds an orb and a sceptre rather like an elongated ankh. He wears full armour under a purple cloak.

The Golden Dawn Emperor is similar but sits before a green curtain or background. He is barefoot and clad in red court robes. His feet rest upon a white ram, and a white ram's head also tops his sceptre. In the other hand is the orb.


The original hand-painted card shows simply a great king or emperor. It is the principle of rulership, of kingship, of empire -so all power of government, of whatever political colour, may be said to be represented here. In fact it is the peak of the pyramid of any organizational structure. This applies not only to mercantile or social systems but to systems generally, all of which, as organizations or organisms of diverse units, have a coherent ruling principle, without which the whole thing falls into decay, disease, chaos or death. In the mundane demonstration of authority Charles Williams summed up the principle in the up-raised arm of a policeman directing traffic. Multiply the function of this raised arm of authority many times and one has the structure of government, law and order in action. This is a force that can be used with wisdom and justice or abused.

It should be said in the context of both the Emperor and Empress cards that the concept of empire is not, in its true sense, the exploitation of one nation by another; even if that is how it is generally expressed in a far from perfect world. Empire should be a step toward the ultimate expression of a peaceful universal order. Ultimately, in religious symbolic terms, it is the descent from heaven of the New Jerusalem, or the founding of a universal Utopia. It is the full expression of what the United Nations Organization sets out to express.

Charles Williams in his Arthurian cycle of poems expresses the conception in the symbol of Byzantium. It is also implied in the great vision of Dante in its cosmic aspect, of universal city.

The ram symbolism on the Waite and Golden Dawn cards derives from their chosen system of Tree of Life correspondences. In so far that 0° of Aries is the conventional position for commencing the marking out of the zodiac, like the convention of the 0° meridian line of Greenwich for terrestrial timing and navigational charting, this symbolism has its relevance.

The Hierophant

Hand-Painted Images

The Visconti-Sforza Pope faces out from the card making a sign of blessing with his right hand and holding a long sceptre, topped with a cross, in his left. The same theme appears on the Von Bartsch card.

The Gringonneur Pope, however, holds a key, and is seen in profile, flanked by two seated cardinals.

The D'Este Pope is likewise seen in profile but as well as holding the key he makes the sign of blessing, and has no attendant figures.

Early Printed Card Tradition

In the Rosenwald sheet the Pope, facing us, has no attendants or accoutrements, nor does he make any sign of benediction. He simply sits enthroned with possibly an open scroll on his knees.

The Parisian Pope, however, holds a huge key and also a long staff which may be topped by a banner.

In the Marseilles cards this long staff appears with a three fold cross at its top whilst the Pope makes the sign of blessing with his right hand to two tonsured figures before him. Behind him are two distinct pillars. (See Figure 7.)

Esoteric Versions

Wirth's Pope is essentially similar to the Mareilles card apart from stylistic differences. Waite also, with more massive pillars and crossed keys at the feet of the figure. The Golden Dawn figure has no pillars but sits alone before a white curtain, holding an open scroll and a shepherd's crook; the throne decorated with bull's heads.


The hand-painted cards depicted the principle of spiritual authority on Earth. The esoteric cards extend this conception with minor symbolic additions. The bulls in the Golden Dawn card relate the card to Taurus on their Tree of Life schema -and presumably no pun was intended over papal bulls!

The function relates to that of the Emperor. In fact this card might be said to be a more inner expression of the Emperor, just as the High Priestess is of the Empress.

In outer life the principle of the Pope is seen not only in the papacy but in the seat of authority in all religious confessions, including the least authoritarian, where the authority may be invested in a congregation or committee. The principle can also be applied to all organizations with an idealistic vision, even if that vision be expressed in non-religious or even anti-religious terms. The card indeed sums up the principle of faith and belief, from which any code of conduct or moral standard ultimately derives.

The Lovers

Hand-Painted Images

The Visconti-Sforza Lovers stand hand in hand, facing each other, beneath a winged blindfolded and naked Cupid who holds a long arrow aloft in his right hand, and a long rod in his left, which could possibly be another dart or a bow. He stands on a high pedestal behind the lovers.

In the Gary Yale Lovers, the pedestal has become a parasol-like canopy and Cupid flies above it, holding two darts.

The Gringonneur card shows a procession of three pairs of lovers, and a cloud above them from which two winged naked figures, not blindfolded, shoot with bows and arrows at the assembled company.

Early Printed Card Tradition

On the Rosenwald sheet the male lover kneels on one knee before his beloved, his hands on his heart, in conventional pose, whilst the winged and blindfolded Cupid flies above them with bow and arrow, supported by a cloud.

The seventeenth-century Colonna sheet, of superior workmanship, similarly shows a blindfolded Cupid shooting from a cloud, but the lovers stand holding a flower between them.

The Parisian printed Lovers card shows three figures, dancing or embracing under a tree, with Cupid overhead with

Figure 8

bow and arrow, in what appears to be a sunburst.

The Marseilles card similarly shows three figures, but the third has emerged from the background to appear as a wreathed female, her hand on the shoulder of the male lover, who stands facing her with his beloved. Cupid, in a sunburst above them, without blindfold, aims a shaft at the couple. (See Figure 8.)

Esoteric Versions

Wirth's L'Amoureux has the young man plainly standing at a forking of the ways, his hands crossed on his breast, while one way is indicated by a flower decked bare-foot maiden in yellow and green, and the other by a crowned maiden in red and blue. As on the Marseilles card, Cupid flies overhead but his dart is pointed directly at the young man and not between the lovers.

Waite transforms Cupid into a great winged angel standing in the sun, and the lovers appear as Adam and Eve. She has a fruiting tree behind her with a coiled serpent; he has a burning bush. Between them in the distance is a high mountain peak.

The Golden Dawn breaks new ground with a picture of a naked Andromeda chained to a rock, menaced by a monster from the sea, whilst Perseus with sword, shield and winged helmet, dives from the sky to her rescue.


The original principle of this card was Love, the key figure being Cupid hovering over the lovers. In the course of time, on the Marseilles card, we find the centre of interest subtly changed. This has caused some difference of interpretation among the esoteric commentators. Some interpret the card as a young man standing at the crossroads of vice and virtue, or facing some other dilemma. This is implied on the Wirth card where the young man stands with one foot on each of the branching ways.

Waite and the Golden Dawn use the ambiguity to launch into lines of thought of their own. Waite makes Cupid an overseeing angel and evokes the imagery of the ancient Biblical mythology of the Garden of Eden and the Fall. The Golden Dawn also reverts to very ancient imagery, for the Perseus and Andromeda story was old even before the ancient Greeks adopted it, probably from Babylonia. It is the age old perennial story of the hero rescuing the damsel in distress.

Whatever the mode of symbolism, the common root is that we have sexual differentiation expressed on the card.

The figure on the Marseilles card who stands before the lovers is perhaps best regarded as Venus, the mother of Cupid. Each of the lovers is at a point of decision in their commitment to each other that love demands.

The Chariot

Hand-Painted Images

On the Visconti-Sforza card a fair lady is depicted, on a platform of a triumphal chariot drawn by two white winged horses.

On the von Bartsch card she casually holds the reins in her right hand, holds an orb in her left, and, wearing a crown, is seated on an ornate throne.

The card in the Museo Civico, Catania, shows the now more familiar face-on scenario. The chariot is now a box-like affair in which there stands a female figure holding an orb or disk. The horses are not winged and are led by two men.

On the Gringonneur card we have the platformed type of float but face-on. The figure now appears to be male, clean-shaven and youthful in appearance, wearing a sword and holding a halberd. The horses are not led, nor are they winged.

Early Printed Card Tradition

A fragment of a printed Italian card of the fifteenth or sixteenth century shows a scallop shaped chariot in which several people appear to travel, with a winged figure above them who is possibly holding the reins and driving the chariot.

On the uncut Rothschild sheet, plumed horses pull a high edifice on a triumphal car upon which a figure with winged helmet is perched, holding orb in right hand and drawn sword in left. There appear to be two suns in the sky but this could be festive bunting.

The Rosenwald sheet is more prosaic, showing the box-like car drawn by two horses in which a crowned male figure stands, orb in right hand, sword in left.

The Colonna card of the early seventeenth century shows a similar figure, on a throned chariot, the orb and sword in opposite hands.

The Parisian seventeenth-century version is much more actively portrayed, in side view. A triumphal figure sits somewhat precariously, holding a baton or similar device, whilst a young driver before him whips up the horses.

The Marseilles card is a very static face-on representation, in a box-like chariot which has appeared before but now with four pillars supporting a canopy. The crowned figure holds a sceptre in his right hand and is equipped with strange epaulettes in the form of faces appearing as crescents. The horses are not winged. Between them on the chariot front is a shield-shaped device with the letters S.M. The conventionalized drawing of the horses, face on, gives the appearance that they are a two-headed single creature. (See Figure 9.)

Arthurian Crown Drawings
Figure 9

Esoteric Versions

Wirth places stars on the canopy of the chariot and on the charioteer's crown, and transforms the horses into sphinxes, one black and one white. This follows the suggestion of Eliphas Levi. The front of the chariot is embellished with Egyptian-derived signs including a winged sun-disk.

These signs also appear on the front of the Waite chariot, as also the sphinxes and the stars, derivative either from Wirth or Levi.

The Golden Dawn card shows a horned-helmet warrior riding a chariot through the sky, pulled by a black and a white horse. The shaft of the chariot is embellished with a hawk or eagle head.


The original hand-painted conception was a simple one, familiar since classical times, of a usually winged figure of Victory in a triumphal chariot. Thus the horses are winged on the Visconti-Sforza card.

Somewhere along the line the sex of the charioteer changed and the chariot was depicted head on, and the strange epaulettes appear. No commentator seems to have adequately accounted for these beyond speculation that they may be oracular devices deriving from ancient Hebrew tradition.

With the starry canopy we have a certain resemblance to the Vision of Ezekiel and the whole range of Merkebah or Chariot mysticism. This is a mystical Jewish conception of God but there are also pagan allusions that could be drawn, such as the sun chariot of Helios.

It is odd that the change of sex of the figure has diverted attention from the original conception of Victory, which has an interesting correlation with the fact that this is Trump VII and the seventh Sephirah of the Tree of Life has the title of Victory.


Hand-Painted Images

The Visconti-Sforza Justice shows a seated female with scales in her left hand and a drawn sword in her right. Overhead a bareheaded but otherwise armoured knight on a richly caparisoned white horse gallops with drawn sword. The same features appear on the Rosenthal Visconti-Sforza card.

The Gringonneur figure, however, appears without the knight in the background, but has a kind of angular nimbus about her head.

Early Printed Card Tradition

The nimbus also appears in the Rosenwald sheet, which is similar, apart from the scales and sword being in different hands. On the seventeenth-century Parisian printed version the figure of Justice stands, has no nimbus and is blindfolded.

The Marseilles card reverts to a straightforward seated figure, with crown-like head-dress, and sword and scales. (See Figure 10.)

Esoteric Versions

Wirth's Justice follows the conventional lines of the Marseilles

Justice Tarot Card Black And White
Figure io

card. So does Waite's, though he places her before a veil between pillars. The Golden Dawn figure, however, is Egyptianized, seated between black and white lotus pillars, and with lotus decorations on her throne. Her bare feet rest on a grey wolf and the floor is the chequered paving associated with masonry. A black and white striped Egyptian nemyss is upon her head.


The traditional design for this card is the conventional figure of Justice, although the inclusion of a knight is an interesting feature which has dropped from the esoteric designs. This is perhaps a pity as it has resonances with the law-keeping tradition of the knight errant, and also the ancient tradition of one test of justice being battle by champions. Whatever our view of this method of jurisprudence, it was part and parcel of a different world view, which considered that God would and could act on the side of right. We may have lost something of value in our more demotic and reasoned view of the processes of law.

However, there remains at a sterner level the incontrovertible fact that might is right insofar that life is subject to natural law.

Thus the balance of nature is to be seen at work here, and in more millennial terms the ultimate fate of the world and those who live on it.

The Egyptian symbolism of the Golden Dawn card is hardly essential, but the Egyptian conception of a judgement after death is strikingly presented on surviving papyri and has obviously impressed modern students of occultism. Balance is, of course, an important concept in magical philosophy and practice; the principle is a universal one and the rule of law and balance works at all levels of existence and in all ages and climes.

The Hermit

Hand-Painted Images

The Visconti-Sforza hermit is an old man with an ornate hat, bearing a long staff and holding an hour glass.

The Gringonneur hermit has a more modest head-dress and a cloak over his girdled robe. He has no staff but holds up an hour glass at which he gazes. In the background is a high mountain.

Early Printed Card Tradition

The sheet in the Bibliothèque de l'École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts shows the hermit on crutches, though winged. He seems to stand in a gateway, and behind him is an obelisk, while a sun shines from the top left-hand corner of the card. All these details suggest attributions of Time.

The Rosenwald sheet likewise shows an old man on crutches but without background symbolism, nor with wings.

On the Catelin Geofroy card the old man has a cross hanging by a beaded chain from his waist. He holds a lantern in place of the hour glass and seems as if he may be knocking at a door. Although somewhat decrepit, he has no need of crutches.

In the Parisian printed set he appears to be either tending a light or even serving an altar.

The Marseilles card depicts the hermit robed, with staff in left hand and lantern upheld in right. (See Figure n).

Esoteric Versions

Wirth's l'Ermite is similar to the Marseilles card, with the addition of a dragon-like worm crawling before the hermit.

Waite's Hermit has a gold six-pointed star in his lantern and is standing on a snowy height.

The Golden Dawn Hermit, however, stands on a desert plain

Figure ii

under a starry sky and has a Hebrew letter Yod in a triangle upon his hood. This is to accord with the Tree of Life Path attribution of this card in accordance with the Golden Dawn system.


This figure has undergone a sea change. Originally he was Father Time carrying an hour glass, and sometimes seen with wings or crutches, for time can crawl or fly according to circumstances.

As soon as the hour glass became a lantern it laid the basis for an additional range of meaning, that in fact seems to have ousted the original conception. Nowadays he is seen as a way shower; a guide, philosopher and friend; a keeper of secret wisdom.

The card can, in fact, carry all the attributes conventionally associated with age, from God the Father and Ancient of Days downwards - though age and ancient wisdom are not necessarily to be associated with decrepitude.

Time might well be reconsidered as a title for this card by esoteric students, for it is by involvement in the world of time that the lessons of life are learned. This is the experience of incarnation and all time is measured in terms of the movement of the Earth and the other celestial bodies in space. The hermit is therefore a universal figure of cosmic proportions.

In the role of guardian of esoteric secrets he also has profound dynamics. The guardian of any mystery system is also its psychopomp. Thus we have the tradition in myth and legend that the seeker at the gate, if he succeeds in gaining entry to the mystery, has to take his turn as guardian. This is clearly demonstrated in The Chymical Marriage of Christian Rosencreutz.

Another line of tradition could see the hermit as Joseph, either as head of the Holy Family, or, in the Grail Tradition as Joseph of Arimathea. In both roles he is the custodian of profound mysteries.

The snowy heights that are introduced into Waite's card emphasize the heights of spiritual wisdom. Thus the Hermit is also a light-house, so to speak, and in olden time, light-houses were also altars. His lantern holds 'the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world'. His cloak, in this respect, is the Night of Time.

The Wheel of Fortune

Hand-Painted Images

The Visconti-Sforza Wheel of Fortune has a blindfold winged female figure at its centre, no doubt representing Fortuna. At the top of her wheel is an enthroned king; a young man rises upon the wheel at the left; another man falls head first at the right. The falling man has a tail, and the two others, asses' ears. Underneath the wheel, an old man crawls on all fours. The figures are labelled as follows: top figure - Regno - I rule rising figure - Regnabo - I shall rule falling figure - Regnavi - I ruled bottom figure - Sum sine regno - I am without rulership The Brera-Brambilla card is similar but without the inscribed words, and the descending figure has no tail. Likewise the von Bartsch card, with minor changes of detail and inscriptions difficult to decipher. The descending figure has a tail, but the figures do not have asses' ears, though the topmost figure's crown has a configuration that suggests them. Early Printed Card Tradition

The fifteenth/sixteenth century Italian sheets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, are crude in execution. No figure of Fortuna appears at the centre and the wheel direction is reversed. At the top is a four-legged beast; descending on the left is a man; and rising on the right is an animal headed man; whilst underneath a possibly female figure seems to lie in repose. The inscriptions are not well produced but plainly are the same as those cited above.

On the Beaux-Arts card there is no figure of Fortuna and at the top what appears to be a bear-headed figure in kingly regalia, holding orb and truncheon-like sceptre. Three figures at the bottom and sides cling to the anticlockwise-revolving wheel.

The Parisian card wheel revolves clockwise with three human figures at bottom and sides. The topmost place is held precariously by a man with cloak and trident. Again there is no figure of Fortuna.

The Marseilles card is remarkable for having no human figures, no goddess Fortuna, and only three figures. The rising and falling ones on the anticlockwise rotating wheel are like monkeys, the one at the top with crown and sword rather like a monkey-faced sphinx. (See Figure 12.)

Figure 12

Esoteric Versions

Wirth's wheel has fantastic creatures about its rim after the style of the Marseilles card. He makes the topmost figure unmistakably a sphinx, whilst the descending figure is a horned devil with a trident, and the ascending one a figure of the Egyptian god Anubis, the Opener of the Ways, carrying a caduceus. The whole wheel floats upon a moon-shaped boat with twined serpents rising from it.

Waite places his Wheel in the sky with winged kerubic emblems at the corners - man, eagle, lion, bull. The wheel is in the form of a disk or pentacle with the letters TARO and the Divine Name JITVH in Hebrew letters, with a formal sigil in the centre. He also places a sphinx at the top, and has a rising Anubis, but a falling serpent.

The Golden Dawn Wheel is a twelve-spoked one floating in space, its spokes coloured in different shades in accordance with the Golden Dawn's attribution of colours to the twelve signs of the zodiac. Above the wheel is a sphinx; below it a monkey.


It is surprising that the figure of Fortune should have dropped from this card - she who turns the wheel whereby men and women suffer the vagaries of 'those two imposters' - 'failure' and 'success'.

The assinine characteristics of the ambitious creatures about the wheel came in the course of time to dominate the card, leading esoteric commentators to transform them into figures from Egyptian iconography.

This has led to a more overtly philosophical implication in that Wirth indicates the Opener of the Ways rising, and an evil figure falling, under the presidency of a sphinx. This idea is followed by Waite who adds the further cosmic framework of the Kerubic Emblems and the Tetragrammaton, or Most Holy Name of God. The colour symbolism of the Golden Dawn also implies a system of interlinking zodiacal influences.

The cyclic aspect of this card should also lead us to consider the universal principle of cycles, in time and space and circumstance, that is a condition of existence outside of eternity. Therefore, like the Hermit, this is a card closely linked to the principles of time and space.

Those of an oriental turn of mind will also see within it the cycles of karma; others, such as the followers of Gurdjieff, the principle of recurrence. Given the principle that time may not be the simple linear figure that is commonly assumed, various possibilities of sequence of experience become tenable. A free spirit can presumably enter and leave the turning wheels of time and space at any point in their revolution.

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