An Exegetical Look at the Tarot Fool and Magician Cards

Discussion in 'New Age' started by ScholarlySeeker, Feb 6, 2021.

  1. ScholarlySeeker

    ScholarlySeeker Active Member

    Jan 27, 2021
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    God is the Magical Fool: Exegesis on Tarot Cards 0 and 1 in the Major Arcana

    The Tarot Cards are pictorial representations (symbols) of the energies of the universe. That would be the esoteric sense of them, unlike their cousins the regular 52 card deck you play Poker with. I am not so sure if any single one of them is the most important, but the Major Arcana are usually the ones most written about and philosophized over. I will discuss the 0 card, The Fool, and the 1 card, the Magician of the BOTA deck of Paul Foster Case, which I think has the clearest esoterica coordination of symbolism than most other decks.(1)

    The first thing to notice is that this fool is wandering about up in the lofty mountains rather not well dressed for the occasion, and not paying very good attention. In that case then, he is about to go for a “Fall” far below him, to the physical world, since it is from the spirit world symbolized by the white sun (upper right hand corner) of infinite eternity he is waltzing out of. This is beautifully and graphically shown on Case’s placement of the Major Arcana cards onto the Kabbalah Tree of Life diagram on the path between The Crown and Wisdom Sephiroth in the back of his book.

    Robert Wang, one of the finest serious scholars has given what I consider one of the finest single sentence meaning of these fantastically gorgeous keys to esoteric knowledge. “What the Tarot represents is an allegorical journey each card being the experience of something (a universal energy) along the way, rather like the episodes in Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” or even Tolkien’s “Trilogy of the Ring.” And the idea of an adventuresome and perilous journey through unknown territory was typical of medieval literature.”(2) Other world famous allegories are Plato’s cave and the Myth of Er the Arminian at the end of the “Republic.” My personal favorite story of the high and far off times is the adventure of the timeless, glorious, and dangerous King Arthur and the Knight’s search for the Holy Grail.

    So we have this unprepared fool meandering around in the dangerous and difficult mountains, on staggeringly lofty cliffs, along with his pet puppy at the heels of his golden slippers, of which hiking is not what they are made for at all, carrying with him a mere sack on a pole over his shoulder, blissfully unaware of even where he is going, but it is a rather beautiful day to be outside. The sense of this card is “our own Inner Self… the Fool is a Being, which is not the same thing as a person or a personality. In the scheme of the Cabala, a Being is eternal. Your immortal Self is the Being pictured here. This Tarot Key represents the total freedom of your innermost spirit.”(3)

    Paolo Santarcangeli has described how the jester, the fool and trickster has been found in all societies throughout history for many centuries. He discusses some of the significance of the Fool card as a representative symbol of this very necessary member of all kinds of societies both ancient and modern, which we know as “clowns,” like at the circus. They have an undeniable charm, yet, “is by turns creator and destroyer...He seems to propose nothing precise, to give in to impulses which he cannot control. He knows neither Good or Evil, or pretends not to know them; he removes himself from the realm of both and declines all responsibility for either one or the other. But beneath the apparent madness it is the Good which he seeks. And despite his ‘demonism’ he offers the inverse image of Goethe’s Mephisto who declares ‘I am the spirit who always denies…, for everything which exists is worthy of being destroyed.’ His [the Jester, trickster, fool, clown] act imparts a new vigor on life.”(4)

    Joseph Campbell caught the idea here perfectly as well. As he was discussing the Holy Grail and the idea that life is movement from one thing to another, (becoming and changing) and nothing ever stays the same, which causes all kinds of difficulties for those who want certainty, and the idea of interpreting other religions’ symbols as metaphors, rather than facts.

    Bill Moyers said to him “I feel stronger in my own faith knowing that others experienced the same yearnings and were seeking for similar images to try and express experience beyond the costume of ordinary human language.” [The “costume of ordinary human language,” I love that!]

    Campbell masterfully responded: “This is why clowns and clown religions are helpful. Germanic and Celtic myths are full of clown figures, [as are American Indian stories!] really grotesque deities. This [clown] makes the point, I am not the ultimate image. I am transparent to something. Look through me, through my funny form… Heraclitus said strife is the creator of all great things. Something like that may be implicit in this symbolic trickster idea. In our tradition the serpent in the Garden did the job. Just when everything was fixed and fine, he threw an apple into the picture. No matter what the system of thought you may have, it can’t possibly include boundless life. When you think everything is just that way, the trickster arrives, and it all blows, and you get change and becoming again.”(5)

    So this Being (remember, we are talking allegory here) from the netherworld of infinity (the number 0 can mean both nothing, which is the infinite background, the source of all, or infinity, which is also the source of all) is on the move, his very essence, his becoming, changes everything he touches, which is perfectly demonstrated in Card 1, “The Magician,” which is actually the second card in the Major Arcana. And here we have the “Onlooker,” on solid earth-ground. “Because of mine unwavering contemplation the stream of manifestation continueth on its course...From my substance all things derive their substance, And all that hath form Is built from my four-fold elemental manifestation.”(6)

    The ancient doctrine that the world was made of four substances is here symbolized by the implements laid out on the table which the Magician is focusing on with fierce concentration. And so we have the famous four worlds of Ovid in the “Metamorphoses” where each age of mankind is represented by one of each of the four elements, the air, water, fire, and land, “So things evolved and out of blind confusion found each its own place, bound in eternal order,” says Ovid.(7)

    Hesiod in the “Theogony” described the same, adding much more detail of genealogical descent and spreading out of mankind into the earth.(8) This is the allegorical view of the two cards here, the Fool and Magician, leaving the chaos behind from undifferentiated anything, the fool descends into matter (he actually is all stuff, but the descent motif, again, is an important motif in the allegory which leads our minds to a greater comprehension of reality, but first baby steps!) which is formed, shaped, morphed and put to use by the Magician, the creative power, the divine holy imagination, the all creative flux of life, even the breath of life as we can read about in the beginning of the Hebrew scriptures, inherent within form of which we all are. It’s a very apt symbolism!

    Plato in the “Theaetetus” 152E said “Homer, who by saying Okeanos begetter of gods and Mother Tethys declared all things to be the offspring of flux and motion.”(9) Thus the quintessential idea as expressed visually in the movement of the Fool and the posture of the Magician (the Fool and Magician are One after all is the sense of this, as we make our own movement through the cards of our own journey in our lives) above the table of the four world elements, of becoming. This journey is to get us off dead center as we contemplate the journey going on through the cards as they are shuffled and arranged and looked at.

    We are the Infinite having a Finite experience.

    These cards are us, it is our becoming we are tapping into through using them.

    This is the enlightening reverent and divinely holy sense of our personal use of the Tarot Cards.

    As Jason Lotterhand so expressly described, “One of the advantages of pursuing the study of Tarot and Cabala is that it brings you back to remembering your Self.You cannot be free until you have freed yourself… the innermost spirit of humanity has nothing to do with time and place, or with name and form. All these are the playground of the spirit. The Being writes its own script and creates its own play. That’s why The Fool is so joyous. His very buoyant mood shows that he must have something going for him besides what he reads in the daily newspaper.”(10) Beautiful!

    The Hebrew letter Aleph associated with the Fool represents the Divine Breath. It is actually not sounded or pronounced, as so many other Hebrew letters are with sound, but barely breathed. This is the spirit within the universe. We directly communicate with this spirit every time we breathe.(11) Were we but to realize it, breathing is the sacrament of the spirit. The idea here is overwhelming. The literal meaning of “inspiration” is the in-breathing (in-spiring) of God with our own air which constantly is occurring day and night! “For the Jews the spirit was breath or wind, so, when he said this, he breathed into them and said unto them, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost = Spirit…”(12) God inspires us as we breathe. With every breath we breathe in God. It is and can be translated in the classic Greek phrases at times as “energy,” the Divine energy of life, spirit, breath, whatever we want to call it, the winds of eternity, the spirit of infinity.(13)

    The radiant fiery energy, the all pervading scintillating intelligence, is symbolized perfectly in the red feather in the cap of the Fool, and his golden colored hair, “the radiant energy of the Life Breath.”(14) We are not just in the cosmos, we are the Cosmos, “the Greek word Kosmos cannot be translated into a single English word, but refers to an equal presence of order and beauty. When the Greek philosopher Pythagoras first called the universe a kosmos, he did so because it is a living embodiment of nature’s order, beauty, and harmony.”(15)

    Classical scholar and philosopher/author David Fideler has described a yet more exquisite relationship here. “The deep perception of the world’s fair order inspires contemplation, which means ‘to observe.’ The words “idea,” “wisdom,” and “vision,” all originate from the common Indo-European root “weid-,” which means “to see,” and the language of vision is also the language of contemplation. We experience ‘in-sight,’ ‘illumination,’ and ‘reflect on’ the nature of things. The word for imaginary reflection, speculation, comes from the Latin ‘speculum,’ a mirror. People have ‘bright ideas’ and in understanding, I can ‘see’ another person’s point. A person with great ideas is a ‘man of vision.’ Through contemplation and speculation, we reflect deeply on things, tracing them back to their source and inner meaning.”(16)

    This is the Great Work of the alchemists, the Opus was done on one’s self, using matter as a focuser, a basis to “divine” the work of art, which is what we are. Alchemy was “the inward process whose goal is the ripening, transmutation, or rebirth of the soul of the artist himself. In Hermetic philosophy the work and the life merge, the artist or alchemist being part of - and inseparable from - the process. As William Butler Yeats has put it another way, ‘How to tell the dancer from the dance?’ The Hermetic tradition has a strong element of divination. To ‘divine’ means to communicate with one’s god but in Hermeticism we must remember that god is within.”(17)

    The reason alchemical symbolism and issues occur is exactly due to the representation that the Magician gives us as he is Hermes, the Greek messenger of the Gods. This is tantalizingly hidden within the Magician himself, but which we can discern with carefully viewing and opening up our poetic imagination. His solemn stance is the famous Tabula Smaragdina (Emerald Tablet) visually demonstrated philosophy of “As Above, So Below.” The Orobouros (the serpent God in many ancient traditions, which sheds its skin and renews its life as does the moon, which sheds its shadow repeatedly and is reborn) around his waist as the belt completes one of the most significant, beautiful mathematical symbols of all time, Phi. His body and clothing and gesture make him the Divine Phi.

    And Phi has everything to do with constancy amid change, growth, life, and infinity. “Infinity is not to be excluded from anything. Infinity must be present in all beings just as the null set is present in all sets. (Anything with 0 dimensions is ipso facto infinite).”(18) With infinity we step outside the bounds of logic of rational and irrational. We now are being conducted into the transrational, succeeding the opposites in logic for a higher and different order of logic.

    This is what infinity does, it transcends the finite in a translogical, transrational manner. The same rules which apply to regular logic and mathematics are not all applicable when dealing with a transcendent principle. That’s what transcendence means, to go beyond, beyond logic, beyond dualistic thinking, beyond all our categories of thought and speech. We begin to deal with the whole of the matter with infinity, which does not eliminate opposites, but accords them together into a vast system of whole-ism, encompassing them and surpassing them, contradictions, paradoxes and all, translogically, not illogically, overcoming the paradoxes and limitations of the finite. The Whole is vastly greater than its parts in every sense of the word.(19)

    End Notes
    1. This superb color deck can be found in his likewise superb book Paul Foster Case, “The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages,” BOTA, first revised edition, 1990. Simply one of the greatest books on Tarot you can obtain.
    2. Robert Wang, “The Qabalistic Tarot: A Textbook of Mystical Philosophy,” Marcus Aurelius Press, Revised Edition, 2004: 2. Simply one of the most comprehensive, enlightening philosophical books on the integration of Tarot Symbolism to Qabalah in print, and how to use it in your own life.
    3. Jason Lotterhand, “The Thursday Night Tarot,”Newcastle Publishing Co., 1989: 1. Simply the most down to earth yet terrific detailed discussion of each of the Major Arcana which he expounded on every thursday night in a meeting with friends. Lotterhand spent his entire life learning and analyzing the Tarot’s meaning, and this book is brimming over with stunning insights, and splendid questions and answers after each card which the audience had asked fully engaged with his Magus-like wisdom.
    4. Paolo Santarcangeli, “The Jester and the Madman, Heralds of Liberty and Truth,” in “Diogenes,” Vol. 27, #106 (1979): 28-29.
    5. Joseph Campbell, with Bill Moyers, “The Power of Myth,” Doubleday, 1988: 219-220.
    6. Paul Foster Case, “The Book of Tokens, Tarot Meditations,” BOTA, 14th edition, 1979: 21.
    7. Ovid, “Metamorpheses,” translated by Rolfe Humphries, Indiana University Press, 12th printing, 1968: Book 1, p. 4.
    8. Hesiod, “Theogony,” Penguin Books, Dorothea Wender translator, 1973: 116-146, pp.27ff. Hesiod began with the Songs of the Muses of Mount Helicon, which was only appropriate since poetry is the song of prophecy and imagination even anciently as it is for our day.
    9. In G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven, “The Presocratic Philosophers,” Cambridge University Press, 1981: 16.
    10. Lotterhand, “Thursday Night Tarot,” p. 2.
    11. Lotterhand, “Thursday Night Tarot,” p. 8.
    12. R. B. Onians, “The Origins of European Thought, about the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time, and Fate,” Cambridge University Press, First Paperback, 1988: 51, note 2.
    13. Onians, “Ibid.,” p. 52. Giving many examples from Homer’s Odyssey, Pindar, etc.
    14. Paul Foster Case, “The Tarot: Key to the Wisdom of the Ages,” pp. 29-30.
    15. David Fideler, “Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence,” Inner Traditions, 2014: 34-35.
    16. David Fideler,”Ibid.,” p. 10-11.
    17. Richard Roberts, Joseph Campbell, “Tarot Revelations,” Vernal Equinox Press, 1987: 44-45.
    18. David and Marjorie Haight, “The Scandal of Reason,” University Press of America, 2004: 193.
    19. Haights, “Scandal of Reason,” pp. 194f.
  2. Cino

    Cino Big Love! (Atheist mystic) Admin

    Oct 19, 2018
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    Hermes is a trickster, too - god of thieves! What is your reason for associating him with the Magician rather than the Fool?

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