Gospel of Philip:
"When Eve was still in Adam death did not exist. When she was separated from him death came into being. If he again becomes complete and attains his former self, death will be no more."

(1) The Major Arcana

I have arranged the Thoth trumps into three rows of seven, and placed the Fool to the left of the first row: (Arranged in Columns here for clarity)


The Major Arcana are intended to trace the 'process of initiation leading to enlightenment'. It is an analogy to the occult path, the life of the quester.

The Fool is the 'soul before enlightenment', meaning the quester (or the 'initiate') prior to ascending the occult mountain to the final state of gnosis. The quester in the Grail stories, Parzival (or Perceval), was nicknamed the "perfect fool". On other Tarot decks the Fool goes by names like "the Seeker" or "Innocence". The Fool is the starting position, point zero.

The Magus signifies the magical force or power, that energy which the quester uses to propel him or herself ever-forward on the quest. The Priestess is the 'other' energy. Once the Magus and Priestess forces are combined, the quest is ended, because the 'healing' of the merger would be a state of gnosis and occult spiritual perfection. The Priestess figure on the Thoth card of the same name is painted as being behind a veil, which is a veil 'over the spirit', over the mysterious force not manifest. One energy (Magus) seeks the other (Priestess). When found there is supposed to be spiritual unity. According to the Gnostics this unity was once the state of the human soul, which had experienced a division, foreshadowing human history. Spiritual unity was 'home'.

On the Rider-Waite version of the Priestess (called in that deck the High Priestess) the female figure sits between two pillars, one black with B inscribed on it, the other white, sporting a J. These are supposed to be the pillars of the Temple of Jerusalem. B stands for Boaz, and J stands for Jakin. They profess to represent the 'two principles in nature', which 4.99 primer books on Tarot, label 'masculine' and 'feminine'. That is not to say one is male and one female: there is a school of thought that divides each member of the human race into two: each person has a 'masculine' and 'feminine' side. Boaz/feminine is said to mean the unconscious, the passive, the mysterious, the moon, the night, feeling, intuition and introspection. Jakin/masculine is said to mean reason, consciousness, the active, the sun and the daylight. Boaz is the 'blocked' energy and Jakin is the energy as conveyed in the Magus card. To quote (again) from the Gospel of Philip:

"When Eve was still in Adam death did not exist. When she was separated from him death came into being. If he again becomes complete and attains his former self, death will be no more."

Envisage the Fool as the soul before birth, and conceive the Magus and Priestess as the inherent powers the soul has, the dual opposing forces of nature the possession of which is intrinsic to the soul. The card the Empress followed these, and is supposed to portray the person's biological mother. In broader terms it is emblematic of the power structure of family, the first of life's structures the newborn child is introduced to. The next card, the Emperor, symbolizes the father, but also 'rules and their official enforcers', the civil and social laws to adhere to. Hot on this card's heels is the Hierophant, which stands for education in all its many forms. The indoctrination of the individual, conformity, and so on. The Empress, Emperor and Hierophant are society, its doctrines and methods of containing and controlling its members. The Lovers is the rebel card. Most rebellion is indelibly fastened to the three cards preceding it. The Lovers is the card of rebellion outside the family and education. You can't choose your family but you choose your friends. It is that sedition, that moment in life where for the first time there is thought to be something outside the structures. The discovery of a crony. A childhood friend, perhaps. The symbolism is apt - the lover is chosen, always someone outside the family... and the uprising consists of the two lovers creating a new family. Some older Tarot packs depicted the Lovers as an individual having to choose between two mates. The idea of choice was always associated with the card. The first row ends with the energy of the Chariot. On this card a figure head-to-foot in armour sits astride a red-wheeled chariot drawn by sphinxes. The number of the card, seven, in many traditions means 'supernatural forces'. The confidence of the charioteer setting out in life is undermined by the unchainable power of extrinsic reality. The unrealizable desires of Tantalus. The mountain's laughter wreaked on Sisyphus. The forces of the universe can not be restrained or dominated so easily.

[The Tower] The second row starts with the logical consequence to the Chariot: the humbling encounter of Adjustment (called Justice in the Rider-Waite). In the booklet supplied commercially with the Thoth pack there is an essay by Frieda Harris. Concerning the Adjustment card, she wrote that the Libran scales the female figure holds contain "the bubbles of Maya, illusion, typifying the transitory quality of human justice". As far as the life-path was concerned, this could mean a realization in the individual of the unfairness of life, and the need to 'adjust accordingly' and think out personal methods of settling conflicts in as just and fair a way as possible. This would lead into a card of thoughtful reflection, and the card that comes after Adjustment is the Hermit.

The Hermit is card nine, and expresses contemplation. This is introspection and the will to withdraw from participating in active life. A solitary repose. It is not a final state, for the next card - Fortune - brings the person back down into the world. The circular form of the wheel of Fortune shows how events come in cycles. This was why the quester cannot remain a Hermit. One of the figurines on the wheel holds both an ankh and a hook, hinting by these objects at a cyclical recurrence of salvation on one hand and perdition on the other. However, having been through the Hermit-age, being returned to external activity comes with an inner strength - a healthy lust for life, and these are the characteristics of the next card - Lust. In passion, a woman, supposedly the Whore of Babylon, rides a leonine beast. A vigorous engagement with life.

The Hanged Man is a painful, self-imposed comtemplation. This card holds the concept of sacrifice - the Osiris figure is going through physical suffering in order to gain illumination. The redeeming ankh symbol is present again in this drawing, to underline the latter point. In narrower terms, the card can be seen as the life-traveller accepting the existence of suffering.

Death is the thirteenth card, and renders 'total change'. The Death figure wears Osiris' helmet, linking it to the previous card. This is the resurrection - the Hanged Man has been through the agony, and now there is rebirth; the redemption, the salvation, the change had come to pass. Death is the ultimate operative of the natural cycle, destruction being the force in nature that paves way for the new. Change occurs in life, whether desired or not. This has to be met with acceptance. The card also signifies alchemical transformation, and life and death are illusions from a perspective superior to the human senses. To the universe, as a concept of all-there-is, no matter or energy has 'left' it when an organism dies.

[The Universe] Art is the following card. This is creation out of the preceding card's destruction. It is the alchemical transformation in the act. The lion become white, the eagle become red, and the principles of nature no longer in division but merged in an angrogyne. This occult Art has all the confidence and ambition of the Chariot, and so appropriately finishes off the second row. This shows the quester on the 'right track', but as with the Chariot, this is not the end. The enthusiasm in changed circumstances is bound to run out and be balanced by times not so good.

The third and final horizontal row of cards begins with the Devil, card fifteen. The great goat means materiality and the people trapped in orbs mean entrapment. The Devil is the equivalent of having the most dissatisfying job in the world and being unable to break away from that enslavement. The spiral-shaped horns on the goat are, according to Aleister Crowley, drawn to imply the remoteness of the divine (the quest-end) and the distance up, yet to travel, because Zoroaster had testified God to have "a spiral force."

Part of that stymied beDevil-led life is its harsh structuring. The next card, the Tower, brings a mocking light over this, a light that reveals the meaninglessness of the structures, the emptiness of every aspect of that ordered life. The individual is not only down, but kicked by the knowledge that his or her life is worthless and that to pretend it was significant would be a terrible act of bad faith. The Tower is destructive in that it attacks the substance of the person's life, each and every compartment of it. All is hurt.

When all is hurt, there is nothing left to injure, so the traveller passes on to the Star. This is safety. The Tower overcomes the Devil because the Devil is materiality. The experience of the Tower makes the individual put no faith in the material world. The quester is thus safe within him or herself, and this is the inner calm and ease of the Star. The figure on the card has unsung the crystal blocks at her feet, which are the old age dogmas, now useless. The Star is the herald of a New Age, or so Frieda Harris thought.

The Moon is the penultimate task. The long association of the Moon and the female (the menstrual cycle being the length of the lunar cycle), predictably gets this card flung under a 'feminine' label, and the Moon is considered the symbol of that energy blocked on the Priestess card becoming tangible. It is a body of water enclosing the Grail. Spiritual unity has yet to be composed, but Boaz is now apprehensible. The Moon is the card heralding the transformation to come. The actual task is to remove the Grail from the lake. The item is represented as the next card, the Sun, being held down in the lake by a scarab. Anubis, twin fortresses and jackals, with their collective fell menace, indicating the danger of the business.

The Sun is firstly, release, from the Moon-trial, secondly, preparation, for the final test. The Sun is the Grail brought out. The Sun is the heart of the Tree of Life. Card twenty is The Aeon, that ultimate test. In other decks it is named Judgement, depicting the christian Day of Judgement. The Aeon is the New Age incarnate. Horus is Osiris reborn, through the union with Isis (who is depicted on the Priestess card), who is the mother. The occult quest is accomplished with the twenty-first card, The Universe. This is the ascension. Oneness of being. I lift the Fool and put it to the right of the Universe. The Fool is zero, it can come either at the beginning or the end. All-knowledge is akin to madness. Often the Fool utters the only truths, like Nietzsche's Madman.

The Minor Arcana

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