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.