The Tarot and the Hebrew Alphabet

Many of those, if not the majority, who deal with the Tarot on a regular basis, may not be interested in the relationship between the Hebrew alphabet and the Tarot. Many do not know anything about it either, as it may not really be necessary for a fruitful work with the Tarot. Nevertheless, for the occult teachers and students of the over 150 year tradition of the esoteric Tarot, the interrelationship between the Hebrew alphabet (figure 1) and the Major Arcana of the Tarot is of elementary importance.

Figure 1: The Hebrew Alphabet

Did the Hebrew alphabet influence the early Tarot’s design? [1] With this question Mark Filipas begins his essay on his Lexicon Theory. Now it is a fact that there are as many Hebrew letters as the number of trumps in the Tarot: 22. Skeptics are sure that the connection between the alphabet and the Tarot was made arbitrarily against this background alone. That there is nothing behind it but this purely coincidental numerical correspondence. This camp (which includes not only outside esoteric critics but also many within the large Tarot community itself) considers the whole idea to be a big blown-up hoax or simply sophistry. Mark Filipas continues, this question has been hotly debated now for more than a century. At one end of the spectrum are those who argue that the letters were fundamentally associated with the trumps from the beginning. At the other end are those who argue that there is no evidence to conclude any link between the early Tarot and the Hebrew alphabet. According to Filipas, the first Great Arcanum of the Tarot, the Juggler (or the Magician, as it is call today), corresponds to the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph (equivalent to our letter A). The second one, the Popess (the High Priestess) was related to the second letter, Beth. This runs through to the World as Shin and the Fool as Tav (figure 2a and 2b).

Figure 2a: According to Mark Filipas, key #1 of the Major Arana of the Tarot de Marseille is connected to the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph (our A)
Figure 2b: Key #21 of the Major Arana, The World corresponds to the 21st letter in the Hebrew alphabet, Shin (our sh)

Mark Filipas, in his scientific investigation of this question, succeeds in proving a demonstrable correspondence between the Hebrew letters and the Tarot de Marseille. That correspondence lies within the medieval Hebrew lexicon, he says, which contains an alphabetical sequence of words corresponding to the 22 allegorical subjects. Each trump, in effect, illustrates one Hebrew letter in much the same way as a child’s English primer echoes ‘A is for apple’ and ‘B is for boy’. Not only can the allegorical subjects be found in alphabetical sequence, but virtually every item on each trump can be found with the same initial letter, suggesting the Tarot de Marseille to be a ‘visual abecedarium’ of the Hebrew alphabet. Now what does this conclude?
It should be noted: Filipas has indeed succeeded in proving that there is a fundamental relationship between Hebrew and the Tarot. But because this connection is completely sober and factual, the advocates of a Qabalistic [a] (i.e. a Jewish-mystical) background and origin of the cards still may come up empty-handed. Does this mean that the Tarot was not designed with Qabalistic intentions and that it is simply a small didactic aid for learning the Hebrew language? Does the Tarot actually have an occult background or is it only a trivial game with educational images? As always in life, opposing positions are not mutually exclusive, but are merely aspects of one truth. Both is true. Yes, it was an abecedarium, a primer for learning the Hebrew alphabet, but it was at the same time much more than that. According to current research, the first evidence of the existence of a Tarot comes from the early stages of the Renaissance in the 14th century in northern Italy. All the believed lost ancient writings found their way to Europe through the mediation of Byzantium and the Arabs. And not only the mastery of Greek and Arabic was now of increasing interest for the erudites of the occident, but also the knowledge of the language in which the Old Testament was written had come into focus. It must be remembered that for a thousand years the Catholic Church had taken sincerely little interest in the original Hebrew text of the Thora or even in Jewish culture at all. This part of the Bible was now waiting to be translated into modern language, and not only that: it was generally a time of awakening, everywhere there was a flourishing of ancient traditions. Arabic, Jewish, and Christian scholars were in lively contact as rarely before, and their respective teachings influenced and cross-fertilized each other. Also the interest in Magic was tremendously large in this time. The enigmatic works from antiquity now became accessible. One saw in the pagan mysteries and philosophies (above all connected with the figure of the legendary Hermes Trismegistos) a premonition of the coming of Christ on earth. It was also believed that Hebrew was the original language of mankind, the one used by Adam and Eve in Paradise, the one that was spoken before the Babylonian confusion of languages. All this did not contradict each other in that time, all this was seen as part of a perennial wisdom (even if dealing with these things was always a dangerous tightrope walk and for many life-threatening). One looked for wisdom in the works of the Arab mystics, the Sufis, [b] and also in those of the Jewish Qabalists. Especially the Qabalah exerted a great fascination on the occidental scholars, and so they tried to appropriate this Jewish secret doctrine and to christianize it. I believe all these observations give a useful background to the fact that a learning aid of the Hebrew alphabet was certainly welcome among the learned minds at that time.
Now it is not quite so simple with the Hebrew alphabet. One should be careful to imagine this alphabet as we see our alphabet today. For us it is a simple and practical device that makes writing possible. However, the alphabets in the early days shortly after they were invented, were magical symbol-systems for people at that time that made time travel possible. The verdicts of kings, the voice of Homer, everything that was spoken language, could now be heard even after the death and silencing of the speaker. It was never spoken quietly at that time, as Friedrich Nietzsche noted, text was always declaimed aloud in the awareness of the presence of a mystery.
But there is more to this. There is this tremendously audacious idea that the letters actually had much more power. The essence of the letters was believed to transcend all that we call the world and creation. Mysticism postulated that the letters were created by God before the world. Yes, even that this universe as we know it was created by God through and by means of the letters. This belief is at the core of at least Jewish mysticism, the Qabalah.There is therefore spiritually seen reason to the statement that letters are in themselves in no way something trivial. And if they belong to a language that has produced sacred texts, then the letters of these languages are also sacred. They are alive, because with them something living was brought forth, no matter which belief systems or creation myths one considers. The religions and the spiritual currents are real, they are part of human history. Although the Tarot images may have served as learning aids, one can by no means say that the subject is exhausted with this. Yes, the Tarot de Marseille was not only clearly connected with the Hebrew alphabet in its trivial application as an abecedarium, it is obvious that from the beginning it was at the same time a cyclus of mystical-archetypal icons.
But a big question arises now: why are the Tarotists of today divided in the way how to relate the Hebrew letters to the Major Arcana, when the proof of Filipas obviously presents a clear assignment?
We have seen that the Tarot is an abecedarium of Hebrew. The name and all elements of a card refer in sequence to a letter in the Hebrew alphabet. But this does not fully describe Mark Filipas’ Lexicon Theory. Filipas also shows in his study that the shape of these letters are reflected in the design and composition of the cards. And here, too, once one takes a closer look at the images, one cannot help but register with amazement how this interplay of form and letter is laid out. Thus, the figure of the Magician clearly reflects the shape of the letter Aleph. In the posture of the Hanged Man, for example, one sees the allusion to the letter Lamed. Sometimes more clearly, sometimes less visible: the scheme runs through all the cards (figure 3).

Figure 3: Letter allusions in the Tarot de Marseille

All these examples only confirm more impressively the validity of the Lexicon Theory. Because they prove that the Hebrew alphabet is encoded in a double way into the Tarot de Marseille. The card motifs are perfectly laid out to find the Hebrew alphabet in them, once one has found the key, the access to it. Because at first sight all this is not to be recognized, it becomes obvious only if one already knows the Hebrew letters or just learns them. To the ordinary gambler (because the Tarot was also a mere card game, by the way one of the most popular from the time of the Renaissance up to the 19th century) all this remained hidden. For him those were only whimsical images he might not make any sense of it.
But something must be put into perspective here. It is a reasonable assumption that the connection with the Hebrew alphabet was an invention which did not coincide with the invention of the Tarot as such. In modern research, there is reason to suggest that the Tarot came to Europe through the mediation of Arab culture. Idries Shah says in his book The Sufis that the original Tarot depicted the teachings of a Sufi master about the cosmic influences upon humanity. It was divided into four parts, the turuq (four ways), from which the word Tarot may be derived. The Tarot, as we know it, came into being only afterwards by the change from the oriental environment to the occidental world and precisely under a christian-qabalistic [c] influence. There may have been mistranslations and also the loss of original meanings, which led to the fact that, from the Sufi point of view, the Tarot de Marseille, and therefore all today’s versions of the Tarot, are only partially correct (Temperance is incorrectly portrayed and interpreted; so is the fifteenth trump; the sixteenth trump is a classic case of misunderstanding of a word; the twentieth is wrongly emphasized). [2] In Dai Léon’s Origins of the Tarot there is a paragraph in which he states that the names and attributes of the Tarot trumps have their origin in the alphanumeric cosmology of the great Arab scholar Ibn ‘Arabi. The circle of being described by him extends over ­28 archetypal stations, 22 of which correspond to the well-known Tarot cards. [3]
All this suggests that the Tarot had no connection with the Hebrew alphabet in its very origin, it even appears that at a certain early point in its history the Tarot was deliberately reworked to become an abecedarium of the Hebrew language. [d] There was a transition, a transfer from one cultural area to another. If it is about to be inventive, one can continue to play this letter game. David Allen Hulse, for example, adapted a Tarot deck to the modern English alphabet, using 26 trumps. [4] Nil Orange has made a transference to the ancient Greek alphabet with my Alpha Beta Tarot and have arrived at 24 trumps. [5] The Tarot goes with all this if you don’t look at it in a too rigid way. Let us summarize: the Tarot de Marseille was and is an abecedarium of the Hebrew language, but not every Tarot and most probably not the original Tarot. The Tarot itself, however, always seems to be an abecedarium in relation to a particular alphabet, a game of letters.
But as I have tried to explain, from a spiritual point of view, letters are something mystical. In the apocryphal Gospel of Philip it is stated: Truth did not come into the world naked, but it came in types and images. One will not receive truth in any other way. [6] The letters of the sacred scriptures are necessarily sacred themselves. Juan Acevedo quotes the Mysteria Litterarum: [the letters] are stamped/modelled by God, and there is no man or sage who has stamped them. [7] Letters are something supernatural. Therefore, an abecedarium is always a metaphysical happening. Now, however, these varieties of the Tarot which I have mentioned are perhaps no more than a side note. Nobody asks today for an original Tarot of the Sufis, nobody likes to work seriously with 24 or 26 trumps. Our modern Tarot, which descends from the Tarot de Marseille, has grown to such a great wealth and splendor today that no one wants to exchange it for anything else. The mystical reference to the Hebrew has been developed more and more deeply and subtly by a 150 years long effort of some of the greatest and best minds. We possess in our Tarot an invaluable spiritual heritage. Countless Tarotists worldwide use basically one and the same Tarot for divination and meditation, may it appear in so many different artistic guises. In principle, everything would be fine, if it were not for this fundamental dispute about the correct order of the cards.
Back to our big question: if the Lexicon Theory cannot be refuted in view of the abundance of evidence, and it precisely defines the assignment of the Hebrew letters to the Tarot, why is there so much discussion today about the nature of the connection between the alphabet and the Major Arcana of the Tarot ? Why is there such a great dispute over which attribution is now the correct one? How could they reach an agreement?
Apart from those who accept the lexicon order (for this group does exist as well), there is the French school, which basically also uses this order, but with one major exception: the Fool does not correspond to the last letter Tav in this tradition, but to the penultimate letter Shin. The World moves accordingly from the penultimate place in the order to the last place and takes the Tav from the Fool. The English school, on the other hand, puts the Fool in the first place and begins the alphabet with him, thus associating the Fool with the first letter Aleph, with the result that all the following Major Arcana are shifted for one letter. So the Magician no longer belongs to Aleph here, he is attributed to Beth. The High Priestess is no longer associated with Beth but with the third letter, Gimel, and so on. As a result, there is no longer any correspondence with the lexicon order. Both traditions have only one thing in common in this regard: both connect the 21st Arcanum, the World, with the last letter of the alphabet, Tav.
There is not the space here to go into the history and origins of the respective schools in more detail. Only briefly, the French school began toward the end of the 18th century and had its leading thinkers in Eliphas Levi (1810-1875) and Papus (1865-1916). The English school had developed about 100 years later from the secret society Order of the Golden Dawn. The leading figures were MacGregor Mathers (1854-1918) and A. E. Waite (1857-1942).
If we take a closer look at the systems of the two competing camps, we come to the conclusion: both of them deliberately changed the traditional classification because they believed it to be wrong or incomplete. Although the position of the Fool was not the only modification in this process, it is the central aspect in both paradigms. The issue here is where the Fool should exactly be located in the line of the trumps. Neither tradition was satisfied with him occupying the last place in the sequence of trumps, as the inventors of the Tarot de Marseille apparently intended. Both schools assumed that there has always been a hidden order and meaning of the Hebrew letters related to the Tarot, already laid out by the inventors who albeit presented the cards according to the lexicon order. But both schools found a different answer. It was the central book on which these speculations go back, the Book of Creation [e] dating from the period from the 2nd to the 6th century CE, that both traditions interpreted in another way. In this small book the mystical meanings of all letters of the Hebrew alphabet are laid out. These are divided into three groups and assigned with different attributes. The central and most important letters here are Aleph, Mem and Shin (they are called mothers). One can immediately see that each school assigns the Fool to a mother letter: the French tradition to Shin, the British tradition to Aleph. All agree that the Fool is the preeminent card in the Tarot and that this has to be reflected in the assignment within the alphabet.
What makes the Fool so important? First, he is already in the Tarot de Marseille the only trump without a number. Then there is the image of the trump card itself, that what it represents. The Fool is not just a fool, a madman. Is he not, asks Valentin Tomberg, a wanderer, a pilgrim to nowhere, an exile from everywhere, who cares not to appear as anything in particular, who want no name or glory or authority or power or wealth or home, or parents or friends? Is it not folly in the eyes of the world to despise all this things? You say: How would someone look who has understood the vanity of all personal claims to honor, position, authority, or power. Like a sage? Like a fool? Jung made the important discovery that we all wear a psychological mask, a persona. But what ‘persona’ remains to those who strip themeselves of this, who are nothing but human beings? What ‘persona’ – psychological garb – can be attributed to such ones? That of the Fool. It is the ecce homo [behold the man]. For in those days also they wrapped Him in a purple cloak, placed a staff in His hand, and crowned Him with thorns – for His kingdom was not of this world. (figure 4) [8]

___________

Figure 4: The Wandering Fool. Quote is taken from Valentin Tomberg “Inspirationen zu den Großen Arcana des Taro XIV-XXII”

There was and is a mystical identification of the Fool with Jesus Christ. This is the statement of the Christian Qabalah and the Tarot de Marseille obviously originates from this mindset. The mystical name of Jesus is written here as the four-letter name of God in the Old Testament Yod-Heh-Vav-He, but into which a Shin is inserted in the middle: Yod-Heh-Shin-Vav-Heh. The Shin as a letter is the ‘crown’ of the alphabet in this respect, and does not the letter also resemble a crown ? (figure 5a) The Shin stands for Christ, and that is the real reason why the French tradition puts the Fool in the penultimate place, just as the Shin is the penultimate letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Shin is the first among the three mother letters, and thus the noblest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Shin represents the fire element, the creative spirit that shoots into matter. It is the prima mater, the symbol of the prima materia of alchemy; it is the symbol of the primordial unity of creation. Of the three categories of body, soul and spirit, the spirit corresponds to him. [9]
One can easily recognize that depths of the mystical speculation open up here, which I cannot fathom further at this point. It should be noted that it was precisely the insights drawn from the study of the Qabalah that led to the correction of the original order of trumps. And the same is equally true of the British School. The Fool here is associated with the first letter Aleph. This also stands for the breath of life, the air element into which language, the living word, inscribes itself in forms. It corresponds to the soul … [10]
If Shin in the Christian Qabalah refers mystically to Jesus Christ, Aleph refers to God Himself, or the unity of God the Father and the Son. For here, too, there is a connection to the four-letter name of God. Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh corresponds in the Jewish alphanumeric mysticism, the Gematria, [f] to the number 26. The letter Aleph can be seen in its form like the connected letters Yod-Vav-Yod. These in turn add up to 10+6+10 = 26. (figure 5b) Aleph also has the value 1, and the word for unity also begins with Aleph: Achad.

Figure 5a: The name of Jesus in God‘s name; Figure 5b: The letter Aleph as God‘s name

After this gaze into the mysteries of the Hebrew alphabet, we return to our dispute between the French and English schools of Tarot. We can clearly see that both traditions try to give the Fool the place of honor he deserves. It is just another way of saying that Christ is the fiery Holy Spirit or the Sacred Odem that breathes life into creation. Precisely because mysticism is full of hidden knowledge and mystical secrets, it is reasonable to hypothesize that already the inventors of the Qabalistic Tarot, the Tarot de Marseille, had in mind a true order of cards, which they hid behind the lexicon order, since the actual knowledge is such a powerful spiritual asset, something that cannot be simply displayed in the shop window. The fact that both schools are in conflict can actually only mean that these similarities in the essence of the two approaches are either not known to many followers of the two schools or have been forgotten. In fact superficially both views contradict each other; and who likes it when what one feels certainly as true and right and inviolable is not appreciated or denied by another. To think to hold the truth in one’s hand makes one blind to the fact that opposites are always two views of the same truth, this being a basic axiom of Hermeticism. This consideration alone should help to reconcile the two camps. Nevertheless, I would like to add a final conclusion here.
The whole problem is also based on a fundamental weakness of the intellect: this always has the rigid, unmoved as its object. Of immobility alone does the intellect form a clear idea, as the French philosopher Henri Bergson said. [11] The intellect analyzes, dissects, and always assumes a motionless, frozen snapshot. The intellect does not see that every moment of a story holds newness. It does not admit the unforeseeable. It rejects all creation. It is uncomprehending of life and movement. These are properly percieved only by intuition. What am I getting at with this thought? The thinkers of the two great schools of the Tarot, the French and the English tradition, both can only imagine that a Major Arcanum has to correspond to one letter alone. But isn’t this already where the error in thinking lies ? The Tarot is not a dead and rigid structure. We have seen that it has a sacred, mystical essence, which is why it must be something alive. Could the Tarot inspire people for so long if it were a dead construct ? No, the Tarot is alive. And something that is alive is in motion. What if neither the one or the other school was in the right, but both ? What if each card carried within it the germ of the next card, and each card was linked to two letters? What if the Magician corresponded to both Aleph and Beth, and represented the movement from Aleph to Beth, so that he did not represent a fixed point at all, but a line, actually a vector? Both sides invoke Jewish mysticism, the Qabalah. One aspect of this lore is the above mentioned Gematria, the teaching of how words and numbers are connected. An important axiom of Gematria is: every number carries within itself the germ of the next number. If two numbers are compared, a difference of only 1 falls under the carpet. This rule is called the Colel. Couldn’t this be seen as a meaningful analogy in this dispute about the right order and arrangement? To see a difference of 1 as something that is not relevant?
One must not look at the Tarot exclusively with the intellect. The living is better grasped by intuition. Nevertheless, no matter what mistakes in design or symbolic representation may befall an author or artist of a new Tarot deck: the Universe, the Life Force, the All, whatever we want to call the Supreme Power, it always ensures that meaning is created in misunderstanding and that the hand and pen of the Tarot author is inspired and guided. There are many ways, even the wrong ones, life shows again and again how truth grows out of error. A final look at the ever-changing organism of Tarot: it is, I hope, a reconciliatory final chord: what was originally considered as an argument for the French school, the hidden letters, can be found in the Pontifex Tarot also in the sense of the English school. (figure 6)

Figure 6: Allusions of the Hebrew letters in the Pontifex Tarot referring to the English tradition

[1] Mark Filipas gives an overview of his study on bunkahle.com/Tarot/allusion.html
[2] Idries Shah, The Sufis, page 480
[3] Dai Léon, Origins of the Tarot, Frog Books, page 126
[4] David Allen Hulse, Sepher Aiwass, Hell­fireclubbooks
[5] Nil Orange, Alpha Beta Tarot, orange-folio
[6] Gospel of Philip 67, 9-11 (quoted in David Fideler, Jesus Christ, Sun of God, Quest Books, page xiii)
[7] Juan Acevedo, Alphanumeric Cosmology from Greek into Arabic, Mohr Siebeck (quoting from the Mysteria Litterarum) page 127
[8] The Wandering Fool or Love and its Symbols: Early Studies on the Tarot by the Anonymous Author of the Meditations on the Tarot & Three Lectures on Hermeticism by Robert Powell, Logo Sophia San Rafael Ca. page 107 (the Anonymous Author actually is Valentin Tomberg) Ecce homo: Behold the man! appears in the Gospel of John, 19, 5
[9] anthrowiki.at/Sin_(Hebräisch)
[10] anthrowiki.at/Aleph_(Hebräisch)
[11] Henri Bergson, Schöpferische Entwicklung, Jena 1921, page 158f

[a] Qabalah is an esoteric lore and school of thought in Jewish mysticism
[b] Sufism is a religious practice, a mystical school found within Sunni Islam with a focus on Islamic ritualism, asceticism and esotericism
[c] Christian Qabalah arose during the Renaissance It interpreted the Jewish Qabalah according to Christian theology. The first important representative was Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494), the first Christian scholar who dealt intensively with the Qabalah
[d] Albeit one may argue that maybe also the Sufis had themselfes reworked a preexisting proto Tarot older than the Arabic version, because there is still no certainty about the actual age and true origin of the Tarot
[e] Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation) is the earliest extant book on Jewish mysticism. Being traditionally ascribed to the patriarch Abraham, scholars point to Rabbi Akiva (50/55-135 ce) as author
[f] Gematria is the alphanumerical practice of assigning a number to a word or sentence according to an cipher. Similar systems have been used by the Greeks and Arabs. It still is alive as numerology within the English alpabet

Figure 2: Paul Marteau, Tarot de Marseille, 1949 (Edition J.C. Dusserre).

Deeper than the day has realized: the Moon in the Tarot (part 1)

Human being, listen!
Human being, listen!
What does the deep midnight say?
“I slept, I slept,
I awoke from a deep dream:
The world is profound,
and deeper than the day has realized.
Its misery is deep,
Joy is deeper still than the heart’s sorrow.
Misery says: just die!
But all joy desires eternity,
wants deep, deep eternity!”

Friedrich Nietzsche

“What does the deep midnight say? … the world is profound, and deeper than the day has realized.”, that is a quote from “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche. But this much in advance: my lecture does not revolve around the theme “all joy desires eternity,”, the main motif of the Nightwalker’s Song in this book. I chose the title because it illustrates very well what I want to express in this lecture. It is about the too little known aspect that the Moon is mystically more important than the Sun, perhaps precisely because the Moon has two faces. The first part of the lecture is also about this ambivalence of the Moon and the reconciliation of its own dichotomy. Wholeness and becoming whole are thematized, also the inevitable encounter with the shadow. In the second part of the lecture I then try in a broader sense to find a synthesis of the opposing forces of the masculine and the feminine, the solar and the lunar. The card “The Moon” will take on a very special meaning in this.

“The Moon”, this is the name of the Arcanum #18 of the Tarot. The card shows three animals, a crab, a wolf and a dog, and two towers. Starting from the pond, surrounded by stones and plants, a path begins that leads out beyond the area guarded by the two towers, out into the wide field. A path that does not go straight, but winds, sometimes lower and sometimes higher, but in the end leads to the summit of the great mountain visible from afar. On the firmament that stretches over this scenery a Moon is emblazoned, and on the Moon a face.

But if you look at the picture more closely (and perhaps consult an older Tarot card on which this detail is more clearly shown), you will see that the rays shining around the Moon are not those of the Moon itself. They are the rays of the Sun, which is covered by the Moon. It is a solar eclipse. So this is the one face of the Moon, the Moon as new Moon (because only at new Moon, at the conjunction of the Sun with the Moon it can come to a solar eclipse).

This is one face of the Moon, but what is the other face? The other face is shown in Arcanum #2 of the Tarot, the “High Priestess”. This card shows a woman in the temple, wearing a crown formed by three “Moons”: the waxing Moon as the left crescent, the waning Moon as the right crescent, and in the center the round circle of the full Moon. Also at the feet of the woman there is a crescent Moon. Thus there are the two faces of the moon. That this was meant in such a way most have already suspected anyway. But with it the topic is not finished of course yet, the thing with the Moon and her two different faces begins here only.

Let us first stay with the High Priestess. It is the correspondence system of Astrology that gives her the assignment to the Moon, and not to the card “The Moon” (which instead stands for the zodiac sign Pisces). The High Priestess stands for the Moon because the whole imagery of the card refers to the light of the night, the opposite pole of the daylight Sun. In the great ancient wisdom traditions of Astrology and Alchemy, the Moon is associated with the feminine (in most languages the Moon is feminine), the receptive, passive element. It is associated with the element of water, the dark Yin, the opposite of the light yang in Eastern philosophy. The Moon means the virgin, the mother, the feeling, the emotion, the soul, the subconscious, the dream, the changeable, the mutable. The Sun, on the other hand, is always the antipole to the Moon principle and thus establishes the balance of the world and creation.

As a temple priestess, she refers to the feminine side of God. This has many names: Isis, Astarte, Sophia or Mary (and more). Her crown with the three phases of the Moon shows her as a Triple Goddess. The waxing Moon shows itself in the garb of the virgin, the full Moon as mother and the waning Moon as old woman. In ancient times there were, among many other triple deities, the trinity of Hebe, Hera and Hecate or the trinity of Klotho, Lachesis and Atropos, the Goddesses of fate. It is always about the same triad: the life-giving, the life-sustaining and the life-reclaiming essence of the feminine. The aspect of the messenger of death is explained by the ancient view that the Earth is considered feminine (the term “matter” comes from “mater” = mother), and we all return to the earth after death in burial and decay.

More important than this symbolism of 3, however, in the case of the Moon and the High Priestess is the level of meaning of the number 2. The 2 is the reflection, the mirroring. The Moon has no light of its own, it reflects the light of the Sun. The book on the lap of the High Priestess is a writing and as such the result of the reflection of consciousness. The two pillars refer to the fact that we stand here in the realm of duality, of opposites, of the dichotomy between seemingly irreconcilable contradictions. However, the Priestess, through the cross on her chest, already indicates how the opposites can be united and reconciled. Do not both poles of a thing always have their justification? And is not neither right preferable to left, nor light to dark? Opposites must be reconciled, because only in this way there is becoming whole.

One could continue this description of the Arcanum #2, the “High Priestess” of course. At this point, however, it is sufficient for me to name the High Priestess as Isis, the Godmother of the Egyptian myths. This Isis embodies the three bright stations of the four Moon phases. Now what is it about the dark station, the new Moon, which is depicted on Arcanum #18, “The Moon”? Whoever delves into the two cards for a long time may come to the conclusion that hardly a greater contrast can be found in the Tarot. The High Priestess is not without reason seen as a “protection card” (in the Tarot de Marseille there is a detail which can only be found there and otherwise only on the card “The World”: an element of the figure (here the tiara) protrudes beyond the upper edge of the card). Arcanum #18, “The Moon”, however, used to be considered the “worst” card in the whole series of the Major Arcana at all, scarier even than Death and the Devil. So, if I equate the High Priestess with the figure of Isis, it makes sense to associate the Moon, the 18th Arcanum, with Lilith.

Who is Lilith? Lilith appears in the Talmud as the first wife of Adam, as the woman who does not submit to Adam and instead hands the apple to Eve. Lilith appears already in the mythology of the Sumerians and Babylonians and represented an ancient oriental female night demon. In one of the legends surrounding her, Lilith succeeded in having God reveal his sacred name to her. This knowledge gave her unlimited power from then on. Lilith appears in many stories and myths, so it was said that she united with the devil and killed babies. In astrology she is called Black Moon or Dark Twin of the Moon. Here she is not identified with an actual celestial body, but with a calculated point of the moon’s orbit. Its position in the horoscope indicates its relation to the Absolute, sacrifice, and the theme of letting go. As an aside, as a woman who does not submit and refuses to be part of the patriarchy, she became the symbolic figure of the women’s movement.

When we speak of the two faces of the Moon, we are speaking figuratively of the interrelation between Isis and Lilith. The three visible aspects of the Moon and the one invisible aspect. Now the relation to the dynamics of becoming whole becomes obvious. In order to attain wholeness, man must make contact with his shadow. The number 3 would correspond here in the Natural Philosophy of the four elements to the three areas of life, which define the individual mainly: the emphasized element and also the two further elements, which can be lived likewise. But not so the fourth element. If the whole, undivided, figuratively speaking consists of four areas of life (fire, water, air and earth), then one of these four areas is not or only with difficulty accessible to the human being. This is his shadow. He prefers to avoid all situations related to this realm. He denies in himself everything that points to this unloved subject. Now, man is unhappy and “unfinished” precisely because he lacks this wholeness of all four elements. As long as he does not accept for himself what he rejects and discards in himself or others, and thus integrates this unlived and unloved part of himself, he will not be healthy. Isis shows the light part, Lilith shows the dark part of the whole. It is the night in which the path to the elusive good must be trodden. For the lifting of the treasure in the fairy tales that tell of the heroes is nothing other than the healing of this wound.

Looking at the “High Priestess” and the “Moon”, it is noticeable that the two pillars on one card are echoed in the two watchtowers on the other card. A veil hangs between the two columns, and one may assume that the scenery of Arcanum #18 shows what the veil of Arcanum #2 hides. Really? Plutarch reports about the inscription which was attached to the Isis column at Sais: “I am everything that was, that is and that will ever be. Never shall mortal man know what lies beyond my veil.” The map “The Moon” shows water, stones, plants, crustacean, mammals, and with the towers, the realm of man. But the path goes between these outposts of mankind and out. Doesn’t this sound all too clearly like the old hermetic theorem of evolution? First the stone, then the plant, then the animal, then man; and then …? “The Moon” is the only card of the Major Arcana on which no human being is depicted. This is not a coincidence. This card points to the dark, lonely path that goes beyond what mortal man is and is capable of. There may have been wanderers before those who venture on this path into the unknown. Possibly on the summit, the end of the path (which is exactly in the middle of the map, because the goal is inside and not outside), the hermit stands and gives light to all those who are ready for it. So a mortal man will not know what this night hides, but that does not mean that the veil cannot be lifted.

So the two cards Arcanum #2 and #18 belong closely together, are like interwoven. So I think it also makes sense to look for a third card that connects these two opposites. The two letters on the pillars of Isis are in the Hebrew original the letters Beth and Yod. They stand for the numerical values 2 and 10. Together they make the number 12, which leads us to the card “The Hanged Man”. Too simple? No, because 12 lies exactly in the golden ratio between the numbers 2 and 18. And just as the card “The Moon” carries the astrological attribute of the astrological sign Pisces, “The Hanged Man” refers to Neptune. And Neptune is the ruler of the sign Pisces in astrology. One could go further and point out that the pockets of the hanged man in the Tarot de Marseilles look like two moons. Or that the posture of this hanged man reflects the shape of the letter Quof, which is associated with the Arcanum #18. Perhaps now it is better understood why Lilith is linked in astrology with the themes of sacrifice and letting go, because these are also the messages of the hanged man.

This brings me to the end of the first part, the theoretical part of my lecture. We have seen that there are two cards in the Tarot that refer directly to the Moon. The Moon literally has two faces. The light part is the triple goddess, which can be symbolically represented with the goddess Isis, and the dark part corresponds to the new Moon, the solar eclipse, with Lilith as its embodiment. Arcanum #18 is the key to the mystery contained in Arcanum #2, it is also the most difficult test in the journey through the Major Arcana of the Tarot. A journey that revolves around the theme of becoming whole, and the focus of this becoming whole is the Moon, with its light and dark face.

All this now leads us to the second, practical part of my lecture. Here it is really about the just mentioned journey through all the Major Arcana of the Tarot. A journey that will show us why the world is thought deeper than the day, that is: the Moon as a symbol of the night is mystically more important than the Sun.

Deeper than the day has realized: the Moon in the Tarot (part 2)

It is by no means a new way of looking at things to put the 21 numbered Arcana of the Tarot into an arrangement that gives the picture of three fundamentally different paths. These are:

The first path is the active, masculine path. The energetic Magician marks the beginning of the series; with the warlike ruler, the Charioteer, Death and the Tower appear figures that are strongly influenced by the astrological principle Mars. The Wheel of Fate and the Sun, in turn, correspond to the equally masculine energies of Jupiter and the Sun.

The second path begins with the High Priestess. It is the feminine path, the path of Love, Virtue and Patience. With the Hierophant a man appears in this line, but even he wears women’s clothes. The virtues of Strength, Justice and Temperance follow, all allegorically represented by female figures. The cards “The Star” and “The Judgment” conclude the series.

Now, however, things get exciting. Both paths are antagonistic, are opposites. In the interaction the synthesis happens, the Alchemical Marriage between Sun and Moon. This interaction between the solar and lunar forces brings to light seven realizations, and these are the well-known seven Hermetic Principles (these seven laws are presented in detail in the classic “Kybalion”).

So let’s begin the journey that will lead us to seven fundamental realizations.

Arcanum #3, “The Empress,” marks the first stop. She is the result of the meeting of Magician and Virgin, she is the realized potential of the virgin of Arcanum #2, she is the pregnant mother, the fertile Goddess Venus. So the first realization is the secret of procreation, of birth. In short, the beginning of the threefold path shows the Principle of Gender. It is in everything, everything carries its male and female essence. Sex reveals itself on all levels.

The Empress gives birth to a son, the Emperor.

Arcanum #6, “The Lovers”, represents the second station. The Pontifex Tarot, like the Tarot de Marseille, shows a man who has to choose between two women, two ways of life. Does he choose Isis as his wife, or does he choose Lilith? The light path of the spiritual (corresponding to the Hierophant) or the dark path of the material (corresponding to the Emperor)? The usual interpretation is that the hero has to choose the light side, called virtue. My view of this card is different: in front of him the path divides. But instead of choosing one and against the other, isn’t it better to choose both? Wouldn’t that rather correspond to the search for wholeness? Cupid’s arrow points to the seeker himself. Only if he reconciles the light and the dark side, the one pole with the other pole, the two sphinxes can pull the Chariot in the Arcanum #7 in one direction. So the second insight is the Principle of Polarity, the insight that opposites are two aspects of one thing, differing only in the degree of their distance. The solution is therefore always to seek harmony and thereby to unite and reconcile the conflicting extremes. Incidentally, the Lovers of the Waite-Smith Tarot also refer to the fact that the fruits of both trees, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge, must be eaten.

The light and dark sphinx pull the cart and do not interfere with each other.

The third station is the Arcanum #9, “The Hermit”. It stands for the Principle of Correspondence: As above, so below. Without this law of analogy, knowledge would be impossible. We could know nothing of the great correlations, of the laws of life, if what takes place in the great whole did not have its correspondence in the small and vice versa. Are we not the drivers of our body, are we not the tamers of our desires? Therefore, “The Chariot” represents the soul of a man in which the Higher Self has its dwelling, and the lion represents the personality of man which is gently guided by the Higher Self. How could we know anything of this Higher Self within us and above us if the above were not reflected in the below and the below in the above?

The Hermit’s lamp reveals the riddle of the world, represented as a Wheel.

Arcanum #12, “The Hanged Man,” marks the fourth realization, the Principle of Vibration. Whoever grasps the principle of vibration has the scepter of his freedom in his hand and overcomes his powerlessness. Just as the Sphinx in Arcanum #10 succeeds in remaining motionless on the ever-moving Wheel. The Hanged Man is also motionless, even if involuntarily. How does he overcome his agony, his rebellion against this ordeal? He knows that nothing rests, that everything is in motion, that everything vibrates. And he learns to control his own vibration, because he has time to pay attention to what increases or decreases his own vibration. So he can save himself from his agonizing situation, not by loosening the rope, he is not able to do that. But he can conquer his panic (thus reduce his vibration), end his fight against fate. He can accept his disaster, surrender and thereby inwardly let go. Thereby he achieves inner peace. Even more: one does not know whether the Hanged Man has not chosen this agonizing situation of his own free will. He then makes a sacrifice and the Principle of Vibration gives him the strength to do so.

The Hanged Man offers a sacrifice and experiences a small or large Death.

“The Devil”, the Arcanum #15, illustrates the Principle of Causality, the Law of Cause and Effect. The card “Death” (solve = he dissolves) shows that we reap what we sow. The reaper is Death, but he rules only in the service of life, as Henry Miller says. The Arcanum #14 (coagula = it binds) is also a symbol of transmigration: the soul leaves a vessel and receives a new body. For how could the Law of Cause and Effect be understood if only one life is considered? The Devil is the emblematic shadow that our consciousness has built overpowering and frightening. We have just realized that Lilith, the Moon, is the shadow of Isis, the High Priestess. For this reason, Lilith is also associated with the Devil. We have become slaves to ourselves: everything we have denied and despised comes back to us as a shadow, and this shadow has the terrible grimace of the Devil. The only lesson to be learned here is to accept the shadow and all that is self-induced, to accept it, perhaps even to take a step toward the Devil and kiss him on the mouth. It is the Law of Causality that every phenomenon has its cause. Therefore, all that which frightens us and which we detest has its cause in ourselves. Maintaining this shadow makes us unfree. If we redeem the dark aspect of our soul, if we redeem Lilith by accepting her as a part of us, then we are allowed to come one step closer to her secret.

The integration of the shadow and acceptance of karma releases us from our self-built prison, the Tower.

This brings us back to the card that started it all: The Moon, the Arcanum #18. Here we meet the Guardian of the Threshold. Watchdogs and watchtowers, darkness during the day due to the Moon moving in front of the Sun.

What does the Guardian of the Threshold mean to us? This guardian symbolizes the greatest and most difficult test, it represents the most difficult struggle of the hero, the final confrontation. Since we are able to pass this test only if we always gather strength, make a new attempt, solve minor trials, fail at others, but never slacken. It is the Principle of Rhythm that is evident in everything, and that helps us to mature in our great task. It is the alternation between drama and peace, strife and love, it is Arcanum #16 (ego) and #17 (humility) that form the tides of our lives, that do not let us give up, but give us the necessary perseverance on our long winding path, paradoxical as it may sound.

As the seasons change, so do the tides. And, of course, the Moon itself; only for a short time does Lilith reign, then she hands the scepter back to Isis. In this darkest hour, however, one can dare a glimpse of what lies hidden beyond the sphere of the Moon. It is a distant goal, dangerous only if we dare to step there too soon. For the dogs scent who is ready and who is not. But to get there, it takes ebb and flow, again and again, endlessly, life and death strung together like white and black beads on a long, long string. Only through the rhythm of life do we mature, pass small and ever greater tests, miss and fall behind, but little by little we cross new, albeit small, thresholds. Looking not at the big picture but at the level of everyday life, it is not about the great Guardian of the Threshold, but about the many small guardians of the threshold. So every cycle, every adventure, every experience has at the end this one last test before the way is free to the crowning conclusion.

When the night sea journey is completed, the Sun appears.

But Arcanum #18, “The Moon”, is the becoming whole, the completion of the four elements. It is the threshold to the completion of a cycle, it symbolizes the most difficult test, which opens the door to the last realization, the Arcanum #21, the “World”, the quintessence. That is why the deep midnight speaks, the world is deep and deeper than the day thought. There the goal is reached, there the last law, the highest insight, the Principle of Mentalism reveals itself: the All, the Cosmos, the All in All, it is of mental nature. All of us, the whole creation, the universe, all of it is nothing but a thought, a meditation of God. When we have realized this arcanum, we are truly citizens of the universe. Some call this Nirvana, some call it Enlightenment.

However, as described, it takes a felt eternity to realize all this. All that for which Arcanum #18, “The Moon,” stands, when we align ourselves with the great goal. Is there only this long, winding path towards the light? Only this path which is marked by the change of ebb and flow, by the change of life and death? Whose symbol is the long, hard and laborious ascent of the mystic mountain? It is again the moon that shows us another solution: there is indeed a shortcut. Let’s look back to the beginning of the Path of Love, to Arcanum #2, “The High Priestess.” Both Moon Cards, #2 and #18, find their synthesis, as stated in Part 1, in Arcanum #12, “The Hanged Man.” The Hanged Man shows us the key?

Yes, because the number 12 is the upside-down number 21. When you look at the world upside down, everything shows a whole new side. We realize that we cannot cause anything by ourselves. Turning the number 12 upside down, we have completed 21.