From an occult perspective, one card stands above all others in revealing the form and structure of the tarot deck. This is Arcana 1 - THE MAGICIAN.
Do you remember the sense of excitement but utter confusion you felt when you opened your first Tarot deck?
I do. The profusion of color. The imagery. The sheer size of the deck.
Over the first few weeks of reading the Tarot, I increasingly found the Major Arcana the hardest for me to grasp. And many Tarot students are the same. This is because each of the 22 cards follows an ascending numerical sequence.
Surely then, logic suggests, the dynamics of each card leads from one to the next?
No. As all Tarot students know, it does not work this way.
Instead, each card's meanings appear to follow its own rules.
However, when you look at the mysteries of the first significant card in the series, THE MAGICIAN (Arcana 0 THE FOOL has its own mysteries), a pattern emerges that begins to unlock the essence of the Major Arcana, though not in a way that most beginners, myself included, expect.
Introducing the Magician
THE MAGICIAN is a wonderful card. Its position as the first in the Major Arcana is totally warranted due to its diverse range of meanings.
It acts as a guide that can lead the Tarot student into very fertile ground.
Though the Tarot cannot really be defined as an occult doctrine, it does contain some deep esoteric secrets.
In THE MAGICIAN, we are introduced to the idea of occult forces at play and that the figure, displayed in the center of this card, has learned how to harness and direct them.
The energies involved are fourfold. Each one symbolized by the four tools on the table in front of him.
This fourfold division of occult power is central to the structure of the Tarot. Each power is interpreted as an elemental energy and expressed through each of the four suits of the Minor Arcana:
- Wands relates to the Power of Fire
- Cups refers to the Power of Water
- Swords describes the Power of Air
- Pentacles is associated with the Power of Earth
These are the four primary energies in the World that the magician harnesses for specific objectives.
The Four Tetramorphs
These four energies also appear in the Major Arcana.
As we have seen, they are found on the table (or altar) of THE MAGICIAN, but they also appear in the guise of the Tetramorphs, or the Four Beasts, in Arcana 10, THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE, and the final Major Arcana card: THE WORLD.
In the Rider-Waite deck, each of these elemental beings appears in the corner of these two cards...
- The Bull represents the Power of the Earth
- The Lion demonstrates the Power of Fire
- The Eagle relates to the Power of Water
- The Man defines the Power of Air
That's all fine and dandy, but what does this actually tell me about the magickal essence of the Tarot?
The answer is found in the metaphysical construction of our World.
Planes of Energy
The World, it is said, comprises of four distinct planes of energy.
As you will have guessed, each of our four symbols (or suits) represents each of these planes.
Each plane is separated by its rate of vibration. At the lowest, or slowest, level, the molecular structure of atoms move relatively slowly.
This causes things to become solid, or physical, in appearance, enabling us to 'touch' them.
This is the Plane of Earth. This is the physical world we live in.
Above this, though, in essence, it contains the same space and so is level with our physical world, is the Astral.
This plane of energy is much finer than our own. It starts the chain of worlds that contain non-physical beings, including ghosts, spirits and elemental beings.
Interpenetrating these two worlds is a third plane of energy. This is the World of Fire.
Finally, interpenetrating all three, is a fourth plane. The World of Swords or Mental energy.
To understand how these planes work, it is worth using the analogy of water and its various states.
Consider rain. It begins life in the upper atmosphere as water vapor. As it grows heavier, it descends, forming water droplets. These, in turn, form snow flakes, which, eventually, hit the earth and compress into ice.
The water molecules are present all four states, but each one differs in its rate of vibration.
Connections at the Edges
Although each of the Four Worlds are quite different in makeup, and the laws that govern them, they do blur at the edges. This means that the barrier between one world and the next merges.
This is most apparent when you see a ghost or UFO. They exist on a higher World but have inadvertently broken through to appear to your physical senses.
This happens on every World where the edges of the adjacent planes connect. However, there are secret doors that allow energies and archetypal forms to pass between the planes.
What's this got to do with the Tarot?
The key to discovering the access-ways between worlds can be found within it.
For example, take Arcana 16, THE BLASTED TOWER. In the Rider-Waite deck, you can see the energy of the higher planes (represented by the lightning) interpenetrating our atmosphere and grounding in the structure of the tower.
Going in the other direction, take a look at Arcana 20, JUDGEMENT. It shows the shifting of energy from the physical plane (represented by the rising of the physically dead) up into the Higher World as represented by the Angel with the trumpet.
Throughout the Tarot, you see the same idea of the shifting of energy from one state to another—from one Plane to another.
Some cards, such as Arcana 7, THE CHARIOT, represent the harnessing of energy from one World—in this case, the Solar disk on the charioteer's chest—into the earth (represented by the horses).
This results in the forward motion of the chariot.
Returning to Arcana 10, THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE, we can now see that the turning of the wheel relates to the movement of energy and objects from the physical plane into the Astral regions (and beyond) so that they vanish to us. Later, the continual turning of the wheel brings them back down into the Physical again in a distant time and place.
The closer you look at the Tarot, the more these cards of 'energy transformation and containment' will appear to you.
More examples of their effect appear in the Minor Arcana. The four Aces represent the elemental powers themselves while the four Knights describe them in action.
The Tarot makes a lot more sense when you interpret it in terms of the secrets of THE MAGICIAN.
In many ways, a Tarot reader is a magician. By working with the archetypal and elemental powers of the world through the symbology in the cards, you are shifting your awareness through successive planes of consciousness.
This truly is a magickal world that we live in!