Eastern and the Tarot Symbol according to Rudolf Steiner

On today’s Easter Saturday it is obvious to take the great feast of Christianity as an occasion for a short journey into Catholic hermeticism. It is definitely not the case, as some believers suspect, that the Tarot contradicts the teaching of the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II was familiar with the work of Valentin Tomberg, and a more accomplished connoisseur of Tarot symbolism and at the same time a more ardent advocate of Catholic doctrine than Tomberg could hardly be imagined. Yet Tomberg came from the Steiner school of anthroposophy. And for Steiner too, the Tarot was a medium whose importance and depth could hardly be overestimated.

On Easter Sunday every year the Pope proclaims his blessing urbi et orbi: “In resurrectione tua, Christe, coeli et terra laetentur! In your resurrection, O Christ, let heaven and earth rejoice!” Peace and joy, these are the key words of the two cards “The Star” and “The Sun” from the Tarot. In Alpha Beta Tarot these two cards stand for the letters P (ΡΥΘΜΟΣ harmony) and T (ΤΕΡΨΙΣ joy). Both letters together form the Tarot symbol according to Rudolf Steiner: “All who were initiated into the Egyptian mysteries were able to read the TP (the Tarot symbol). They were also able to read the Book of Thoth, which had 78 pages and depicted all world events from the beginning to the end, from the Alpha to the Omega “1

Robert Powell writes: “Our letter “R” is derived from the Greek letter Rho (P) which is essentially a circle with a tail on it. Looking at the letter Rho, one can see that it is an imaginative representation of the human head and the spinal collumn together. Thus Rho represents the Human Being (…) On the other hand the Tau symbol relates to the very ancient impulse underlying the religion of Taoism (…) In the ancient Chinese religion Tao representd the force of nature, the force related to Isis in the ancient Egyptian mysteries. Tau represents the intelligent force of nature that is leading all the time to higher and higher levels of evolution. It is aforce with which we can connect and which guides humanity to ever higher levels on the evolutionary path. The Tarot symbol made up of Tau and Rho represents a coming together of the force of nature, the inner spirit of nature (Tao), symbolized by the letter Tau, with that which is represented by the letter Rho, which has to do with the human soul. Tarot – Tau plus Rho – is very often translated as “the Way”2

The Alpha Beta Tarot shows Jesus Christ, the Son of God as card 20, since this card is connected with the letter Ypsilon, and the Greek word for son, ΥΙΟΣ, begins with the letter Ypsilon. With Ypsilon also begin the words ΥΠΑΤΟΣ the first, the highest and ΥΣΤΑΤΟΣ the last, the extreme. And this brings us back to the letters Alpha and Omega, which are used in exactly this meaning when used as an attribute of Jesus Christ. On every Easter candle around the world that is lit on this holy night, the letters Alpha and Omega are written.

In the Revelation of John, Jesus Christ says, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.” In Alpha Beta Tarot, Alpha is illustrated by the original unity of man and woman in one divine body. Alchemy tries to restore this original unity through transmutation in Opus Magnum and the figure of Rebis. The Omega is illustrated by Zeus Megistos, in personal union the supreme god of the Greeks, Zeus, and the supreme god of the Persians, Ahura Mazda. The scene depicted visualizes the Orphic hymn to Zeus, the first and the last, man and woman at the same time, as he ties a ribbon around all creation and devours it, following the advice of his grandmother, the night. In the end, everything returns to God, from whom everything came forth.

This is the mantra not only of Catholics, it is what all believers have believed at all times and it is what they still believe today, even if some call themselves agnostics or atheists. Do we not all come from the womb of Mother Earth and return there? This is a common ground for all humanity.

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  1. Rudolf Steiner, The Misraim Service (Great Barrington, MA: Steiner Books, 2006) p. 375
  2. Robert Powell, in The Wandering Fool & Three lectures on Hermeticism (LogoSophia, San Raphael Ca, 2009) p.46