What Is Tarot
Man is like a mosaic.
The mosaic consists of a large number of small, variously coloured stones which have been arranged according to a certain pattern resulting in a beautiful, coherent picture. In the same way, man is made up of many different qualities, abilities and talents, arranged according to a specific inner pattern resulting in a coherent picture, an individual personality.
Just as the artist, using the same stones in an infinite variety of patterns, can compose all kinds of pictures in countless variations, so men also are created from the same qualities, abilities and talents, according to an infinite number and variety of inner patterns in countless variations, i.e. an infinite variety of individuals. What kind of picture emerges from an artist's hand depends entirely upon the pattern selected; that is to say, the way in which he relates the given stones to one another. Thus he can create the most varied pictures according to whom the picture is for, where it will be hung, what effects it should achieve and what type of person it should please. He can employ the same stones to create religious pictures intended to stir up feelings of devotion, for use in churches, cemeteries or other sacred places, or he can design allegorical-symbolic pictures for academic institutions such as schools, universities or libraries. Again, the artist can produce humorous, cheerful pictures for places of entertainment such as theatres or ballrooms, or he can even create titillating and obscene pictures for the haunts of the demi-monde and of spiritually inferior people.
And all this with the same coloured stones!
It is exactly the same with man. Out of the same qualities, abilities and talents emerge the most varied individuals. But whether the result is an ignorant, undisciplined, inferior person, or, at the other end of the scale, a sublime, superior creature of possibly very high intelligence, depends upon the pattern which forms the basis of the person's make-up, that is to say, the way in which his qualities are related to one another.
While the artist, however, consciously creates a variety of pictures from his stones, man is completely unaware of the inner pattern or image which has formed his nature. In the case of a picture it is obvious how the stones are interrelated and therefore we clearly see what the picture represents, where it belongs, where it will ultimately be and what type of person it will please or displease. By the same token the whole 'destiny' of the picture can easily be foreseen. Man, however, can neither see his own image nor predict his fate. He does not see or know the pattern which is the basis of his character. Even less does he know that this inner pattern is himself! If he knew this pattern which he is, if he had self-knowledge, he could also clearly see before him his whole fate and advance along the path of life surely and confidently. The average person, however, knows neither himself nor his destiny and le gropes about in life like a child in the dark.
Yet already in prehistoric times there were, and there still are today, some initiates who knew and depicted in various pictures the 'coloured stones' which form the human image, that is to say, the spiritual elements and the abilities, qualities and talents developed therefrom, which in turn form the basis of a person's character according to his inner pattern. These pictures are so apt and created with such penetrating psychological insight that they depict not only the spiritual factor in question, but at the same time also its cause and effect. They do not, therefore, show only the fundamental qualities, abilities and characteristic features of man, but also their source and the responses they elicit in the world at large. In short, they show man's entire destiny.
These ancient prehistoric representations from which the complete picture of the most diverse kinds of people can be assembled and made accessible to our recognition are the tarot cards. This concept can be referred to as tarot.
In order to understand the Lesser Arcana, we must remember that all the spiritual elements constituting a person spring from a single primal source in which everything still rests in unity. From this source all manifestations proceed step by step to the complete unfolding. We may compare this to the growth of a plant from a seed, through various stages of development, from the cotyledon, bud and flower, to its supreme achievement, the fruit. The initiates have depicted these stages in the growth of man in fourteen related pictures.
The first card carries the number one from which all further manifestations arise. From it derive the numbers up to ten, which is again the number one, linked to the circle representing the universe, the cipher. These rising numbers show how man, from the beginning of his development, continues to grow in his abilities and in value until he detaches himself from the mob as an individual. Thus in the representations the ten numbered cards are followed by four court cards of ascending importance: the Page, Cavalier and Queen, and lastly the card dominating all others, the King. This shows the development of man from a weak personality to an ever-stronger one. Yet nonetheless, it is the first card, the number one, which has the highest value; in card games it is known as the Ace. The number one, the Ace, outranks all other cards for this is the only begetter of all the ensuing revelations. From it all other levels have proceeded. The ten numbered and the four court cards together make fourteen cards.
These fourteen levels of development manifest themselves through the four elements known in modern science as 'states of matter'. In the old terminology these are: fire, air (gaseous), water (liquid) and earth (solid). These elements are depicted on the cards by four different symbols: Rods, Swords, Coins and Cups. Under each of these symbols the fourteen levels of development are represented in fourteen cards; thus we arrive at four times fourteen, that is, fifty-six cards. These fifty-six cards are the 'Lesser Arcana' of the tarot deck.
The 'Greater Arcana' cards represent the principle which governs the qualities of man depicted by the fifty-six cards. This principle is the consciousness of man. For how and to what purpose he uses his abilities and talents, whether rightly or wrongly, to good ends or bad, depends upon the level of his consciousness. In order to preserve the analogy, we must remember that a mosaic is lifeless, consists of dead matter and is pieced together by an artist who exists outside his work. Man, however, is himself the artist who assembles his own personal image in accordance with the inner pattern, but from within, and it is he himself who reveals his inner image, his character, through his physical being. At the beginning of his development he is completely unaware of his position. He constructs his image unconsciously in accordance with natural laws. Since he lacks self-knowledge he lives within his own image like a prisoner in a cell which he has built himself, and instead of being its master he is its slave. Consequently he is also the slave of his own fate. While he is in this unconscious state, fate tosses him about like a rudderless ship in a tempest. In his despair man seeks and expects help from outside, never suspecting that real help, liberation from this blind groping, from this bondage, can be found in himself and himself alone.
Yet it is precisely through these strokes of fate brought upon himself in his ignorance that he awakes one day. He comes to his senses and grows conscious within himself. He notices that he is here, that he even exists! From this first awakening, however, from this initial flickering of self-awareness to the ultimate goal - divine and perfect universal consciousness - a long path of development lies before him. When he has reached this goal, and not before, man ceases to be encumbered with an unconscious at work under his consciousness. He has attained complete freedom. He has attained mastery over all the powers which have gone into his making and which work within him. What is more, the whole universe was formed by the same creative powers as man himself. Thus man is capable of controlling these powers in other people also and in the whole universe when he has made them conscious within him and learned to control them. In this state of consciousness he is master of all the abilities, qualities and talents which have formed his image in the world of matter. At the same time, however, he is master of his fate, for in this state he is no longer the unconscious pattern of his image, but has become the conscious creator of his own individuality and of his owrn world»
The initiates of prehistoric times who created the tarot cards were familiar with all these different levels and states of development of the human consciousness. They depicted these levels of consciousness from the first awakening to divine all-consciousness in twenty-two pictures. These are the 'Greater Arcana' of the tarot pack.
However far we may peer back into the dark recesses of history, it is impossible to find a period when these images, the Greater Arcana of the tarot cards, were not known. Already in ancient times we find traces of these cards; indeed they are the forerunners of all other playing cards. In the Babylonian, Egyptian, Judaic, Mexican, Indian and Chinese excavations, as well as those of even older cultures, evidence was found of the existence of these cards. Sometimes they were found as murals, sometimes as sculptures hewn in stone or as terracotta tablets. These finds are always and unmistakably representations of the tarot cards. Wherever they have been discovered, their resemblance is so striking as to point inevitably to a common provenance. What this original source is, however, we do not know.
Yet these finds are usually no more than fragments of the whole sequence. We should not possess complete packs of tarot cards had it not been for one nation which esteemed its religious traditions and holy scriptures so highly that it has preserved these unaltered over thousands of years to the present day. I am referring to the Jews.
The Jews received their sacred texts from Moses, who had been initiated in Egypt. He passed on to his people the deepest mysteries of the whole Creation and of human nature, the entire secret knowledge which he had learned from the Egyptian high priests in the temple. The Jewish high priests, the great initiated Rabbis, have preserved the Books of Moses unaltered to the present day. Not a single letter is ever allowed to be changed. The reason for this is very important: Moses wrote his books in Egyptian-Hebrew writing without vowels-Depending on which vowels we now insert between the consonants the text takes on a different meaning. For this reason it is most important that no letter be changed. Moses supplied his writings with a secret key that indicates how the vowels are to be inserted in the text. We find this key in the Cabbala.
The various parts of the Books of Moses together form the Tora.
The secret texts which also contain the key to the vowel insertion are: sefer yetsirah (the Book of Creation), zohar (light), to which belong also the tarot and the clavicula salamonis (the key, the seal of Solomon). Together diese form the Cabbala. Thus we see that the tarot is an important part of the Jewish scriptures. Cabbala means oral tradition.
The Cabbala is the science of god, of the nature of man, and of all the relations which exist between these. It teaches and proves that all is in one and one in all! For before the divine will expels from itself the creative principle, the Logos, the universe rests in the divine one, in god. When creation begins, all further numbers ad infinitum are born out of the number one. Yet the numbers are inseparably linked to the letters. For the first manifestation of the Logos, the first, very highest divine frequency which streaks through infinite space like the Horus bird setting Creation in motion, is the tone, the sound, thus the letters. These first manifestations of the creative will, the vibrations of the tone, form the entire Creation according to mathematical laws, divine ideas and thoughts. They act as an animating energy in every creature, be that a universe, sun, planet, crystallising stone, plant, animal or man. The great initiates knew the basic elements of the Creation and the link between the creative vibrations of the letters and numbers which act as mathematical laws in the Creation and realise creative ideas at the level of matter. From these basic elements and their relations they created pictures each representing a creative idea, thus a concept, a letter and a number. These pictures are the Greater Arcana of the tarot deck. Together they form the twenty-two letters of the primitive Hebrew alphabet.
Hebrew script, like all divine scripts, is written and read from right to left. Everything that is experienced in a divine state of being is exactly the reverse of that experienced, seen, that is to say, written or read, in a state of being which has fallen away from the divine state. For instance: the letter E as it stands here on the page is seen by everyone as facing from left to right. If, however, I am the E in a state of being, it is the other way round. Let us imagine that the E is drawn on our own chest, in which case everyone else will see it facing from left to right. I myself, however, will experience it from within towards the outside, from right to left, since I am the E. To experience the E is to be the E. Once we have understood that it will be clear to us why these divine scripts must all be written and read from right to left.
The meaning of the word tarot becomes clear when it is written in the shape of a circle so that one T is superfluous
If we read in an anti-clockwise direction we obtain the word tora, which in Hebrew means law. If we read from below, again in the Hebrew manner, clockwise, we obtain the word rota, which alludes to the eternal rotation of the universe. Since each letter in the Hebrew alphabet is also a number, we simultaneously obtain a row of numbers when we form a word. If we add these up the result is a total sum of the digits. Therefore every word, every name, has a total sum. The Bible is written in such a way that the total sum of each word and name is much more significant than we at first suspect. Just one example: each time the name of the Messiah and that of his opponent, Satan, occur, the total sums of these two names are always the exact reflections of each other! And this rule, this interrelation between numbers and letters, prevails throughout the entire Bible. We can only wonder at the awe-inspiring knowledge with which the Bible was written!
In Europe there was another race besides the Jews who spread the fame of tarot: the Gypsies, who still use the tarot cards today for the purpose of foretelling the future. Although the pictures on their cards are to a great extent degenerate, in particular those of the Greater Arcana cards, they are immediately recognisable as tarot cards. With their primitive pictures they are known as 'Gypsy cards'. That the Gypsies received these cards from the Jews is very doubtful. The Jews jealously guard their secrets, their religious traditions, from the inquisitive eyes of the stranger, and it is not likely that they handed over these cards which form part of their sacred scriptures to the Gypsies. It seems much more probable that the Gypsies took over the tarot from the Egyptians or even older races.*
If what we have said has been correctly understood, it is clear that the tarot cards can be used like mosaic stones as it were, to represent man's exact spiritual image as well as his fate.
Yet how can the ignorant man spread out the exact picture of his soul like a mosaic if he does not know the inner pattern which controlled his own creation ? Which pattern should he
* The English word 'Gypsy* seems to indicate that the Gypsies are taken to be Egyptians. Research has, however, shown that the Gypsies are of Indian origin. The Gypsy language and the names of the numbers are identical with those of the Hindus. But is it not true that both races, the Ancient Egyptians and the Indians, originate from the same native country, from Adantis? There is much evidence to support this, particularly the remarks of Pythagoras on the subject.
choose when spreading out the mosaic stones, the tarot cards, in order to obtain a true picture ?
There is a simple way of doing this and it can even be proven mathematically accurate by the theory of probabilities. No living creature, and therefore no man, can manifest anything other than what he himself is! His every remark, thought, word and deed reveal only what he himself is. His handwriting, his gait, the smallest of his gestures are the result of the forces at work in him. Nothing is chance, everything is the direct manifestation of the conscious or the unconscious Self. Hence, it is not mere chance how a person picks up the tarot cards, how he shuffles them, how many cards he lifts when cutting and in what sequence he consequently spreads the cards. Men discovered these facts already in ancient times or they learned them from initiates! That is why the art of spreading cards for the purpose of exploring a man's inner image and his future prospects is as old as mankind.
Thus we assume that in picking up the cards, shuffling, cutting and spreading them, we use the best method based on the experience of thousands of years, and that therefore we have spread out the image of our Self and of our destiny. Indeed, we have spread out our spiritual image before us, but we do not understand it! Understanding is only possible when we know the inner symbolic meaning of every single card, when we have penetrated it completely and grasped how the cards are related as they lie next to and on top of each other on the table, i.e. the effect which they exercise upon each other.
In order to understand our own image, it is therefore of the greatest importance that we know the meaning and inner sense of the individual cards. For the time being we merely look at the cards like an illiterate man at letters. For him letters are no more than black shapes on paper. That these are letters, how they are pronounced and what they are called, is a complete mystery to him. He understands neither the letters nor the words made from them, and still less the sentences constructed.
from the words. He does not suspect that these black shapes with the strange forms could mean something. In exactly the same way the uninitiated looks at the tarot cards. He understands neither the individual cards nor the meaning of their sequence. He does not even understand the letters and the numbers of the pictures, however well he can read and count. For on the tarot cards, these letters and numbers have a much deeper mystical meaning in the cabbalistic sense than ordinary letters and numbers. On these cards nothing is accidental, there is no line or colour without significance; they belong to the intrinsic meaning of the cards.
Yet for the person who understands them, these cards are a wonderful means of acquiring self-knowledge. For let us only think of this: when an ignorant man regards himself in the mirror he sees his reflection just as he has seen the cards spread before him. But just as he fails to understand the cards - he only looks at them - so also does he fail to understand his own reflected image. He only looks at, but not into, his image. Yet each line, shape and colour on his face and body has a deep inner significance. His outward image also conceals within itself the image of his invisible inner being, conscious as well as unconscious. Man has no idea that behind his outward image there is a very large part of his being hidden away in his unconscious, and that it is the great goal of our earthly existence to make this same unconscious attain consciousness within us. In this great task of awakening the unconscious and raising it to consciousness, thereby attaining perfect self-knowledge, the tarot cards are of unique assistance. The nature of these cards is such that they can produce a strong awakening effect on man's unconscious. He need only examine them one by one and, in order to understand them better, read the relevant description. When he reaches the card corresponding to his inner state, his interest will suddenly be roused and the knowledge that he finds himself at the level of consciousness of that particular card will hit him like an electric shock. This card he will understand completely, find full of life and mean ing, and in the depths of his being he will feel a strong response. With the remaining cards he experiences the opposite. He will find these lifeless, uninteresting and dead, they convey nothing to him, and even if he comprehends them intellectually there is no echo in his soul. If he studies the cards one by one, a bright light will illuminate his soul by which he will see where he still has to work on himself and how he must change himself in order to achieve contentment. ^
That these cards help us to awaken our unconscious to consciousness so that we acquire self-knowledge - a thorough understanding of ourselves - can be testified by anyone who has picked them up and examined them one by one. They are like a spiritual mirror in which we can not only recognise but also thoroughly examine and study ourselves. We realise that in a strange way certain cards correspond exactly to our inner state, and at the same time also to our state in relation to the world. We suddenly understand ourselves and our destiny. We understand why fate always leads us back into the same predicament and why we have to solve the same problems again and again. We understand that the reasons for our fate lie within ourselves. Therefore we must change ourselves in order that our fate may also change. And our fate changes by the mere fact that we will begin to react differently to everything that happens to us.
These cards enable us to see clearly and to understand not only our present state but also our past and in a certain sense we will also be able to predict our future. Fate is the sum of the reactions to our actions. If we know which cards are representative of our inner state, then we will also be able to deduce from the cards what it was that made us act in a particular way. We will know too why we must bear the consequences of our deeds as ' fate'. And if we are not perfectly content and satisfied with our lives - and only rarely can we say that of ourselves — the cards will also enable us to discover what can help us out of our present situation and difficulties. Of course the inner states are an inherent part of us even when we do not pick up the cards. But they enable us to gain clear insight into our life and to solve our problems more easily and speedily.
Thus the spiritual powers of these strange cards begin to take effect in man and this effect is enhanced in proportion to his improved understanding of the cards. The stronger their effect on him, the greater his awareness of his Self and the more he will understand that these cards symbolise the fabric of his soul. Thus the tarot brings man ever closer to his great goal, which is to know himself, to he himself.
Some of the French tides on the twenty-two cards are misleading, but for technical reasons they could not be changed. The correct titles appear in the chapter headings.
Continue reading here: The Magician
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