Let us now examine the word TAROT, or TARO, and discover, if we can, its true derivation and meaning. Court de Gèbelin states that there are three words of Oriental origin preserved in the nomenclature of the Pack. These are TARO, MAT, and PAGAD. Taro, he says, is pure Egyptian; from TAR, Path, and RO, ROS, or ROG, Royal-the Royal Path of Life. MAT is Oriental, and means overpowered, murdered, crack-brained; while PAGAD, he adds, is also Oriental, form PAG, chief, or master, and GAD, Fortune. Vailant says: “The great divinity Ashtaroth, As-taroth, is no other than the Indo-Tartar Tan-tara, the Tarot, the Zodiac.” My derivation of the word, which I have never found given by any author, is from the ancient hieroglyphical Egyptian word “târu”, to require an answer, or to consult; ergo, that which is consulted, or from which an answer is required. This appears to me to be the correct origin of the word, while the second t is an Egyptian hieroglyphic final, which is added to denote the feminine gender. The following are interesting metatheses of the letters of TARO: TORA (Hebrew) = Law; TROA (Hebrew) = Gate; ROTA (Latin) = wheel; ORAT (Latin) = it speaks, argues, or entreats; TAOR (Egyptian) = Täur, the Goddess of Darkness; ATOR (Egyptian) = Athor, the Egyptian Venus. A Mr. Lumley tells me that there is a Zend word “tarisk”, meaning “to require an answer”.
There are Italian, Spanish, and German Tarot packs, and since the time of Etteilla French also, but these latter are not so well adapted for occult study owing to Etteilla’s attempted “corrections” of the symbolism. The Italian are decidedly the best for divination and practical occult purposes, and I shall, therefore, use them as the basis of the present treatise. Unfortunately the old-fashioned single-headed cards are obsolete now, and the only ones made are double-headed, which circumstance alters the symbolism in a few instances. I shall, therefore, wherever necessary, describe the omitted portion of the design, enclosing it within brackets to mark the same.
As I before observed, the Tarot pack consists of seventy-eight cards - namely, four suits of fourteen cards each, and twenty-two symbolic numbered trumps. The four suits are: Wands, Cups, Swords, Pentacles.
Each suit consists of Ace, Deuce, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten; Fanti or Valet = Knave; Cavallo = Knight or Horseman; Dama or Reine = Queen; Re = King.
The Kings, in each instance, wear a cap-of-maintenance beneath the crown; the Queens wear the crown only. The Queen of Pentacles and the Knave of Sceptres are the only ones represented in profile. In the suit of Sceptres the King bears a wand akin to that represented on the small cards of the suit, while the other three honours bear a bludgeon similar to that which is shown for the ace. In the suit of cups, that only which is held by the Queen is covered, thus showing the essentially feminine properties of this suit, while the sceptre held by the King of the preceding suit shows its more masculine character.
If we examine the small cards carefully we shall be struck a once by the comparative similarities of pattern of the Sceptres and the Swords, which are only distinguished from each other by the former being straight and the latter being curved. We shall also notice that the Deuces have peculiarities of their own, which distinguish them from the rest of the suit. The Deuce of Sceptres forms a cross with two roses and two lilies in the opposite angles; the Cross between the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley. The Deuce of Cups shows a tesselated pavement or cloth whereon the cups stand; between them is a species of Caduceus, whose serpents are replaced by Lion-headed foliations, which recall the Chnuphis Serpent of the Gnostics, and certain familiar forms of the Elemental Spirits; practical occultists will know to what I allude. The Deuce of Swords forms a species of Vesica piscis enclosing a mystic rose of the primary colours. The Deuce of Pentacles is bound together by a continuous band in such a manner as to form a figure 8, and represents the one as being the reflection of the other, as the Universe is that of the Divine Idea.
The four Aces stand out by themselves from the rest of the pack, each forming, as it were, the Key of its respective suit. The Ace of Sceptres recalls the Club of Hercules; it is surrounded by eight detached leaves, whose shape recalls that of the Hebrew Letter Yod, or I, and is crowned with the Symbol of the Triad represented by the three lopped branches; it is the Symbol of Almighty Strength within the cube of the Universe, which latter is shown by the eight leaves, for eight is the first cubical number. The Ace of Cups is of Egyptian origin, which can be more easily seen in the Spanish Tarot. The figure, like an inverted M on its front, is all that remains of the Egyptian twin Serpents which originally decorated it. It represents the Waters of Creation in the first chapter of Genesis. It is the Symbol of the Power which receives and modifies. The Ace of Swords is a Sword surmounted by a Crown, from which depend on either side an olive and a palm branch, symbolic of mercy and severity; around it are Six Hebrew Yods, recalling the Six days of the Mosaic Creation. It is the Symbol of that Justice which maintains the World in order, the equilibrium of Mercy and Severity. The Ace of Pentacles represents Eternal Synthesis, the great whole of the visible Universe, the Realisation of counterbalanced power.
The 22 trumps are the hieroglyphic symbols of the occult meanings of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. They are numbered from 0 to 21 inclusive. I will now describe carefully the symbolism of each of these hieroglyphical keys.
1. The Juggler or Magician. Before a table covered with the appliances of his art stands the figure of a juggler, one hand upraised holding a wand (in some packs, a cup), the other pointing downwards. He wears a cap of maintenance like that of the kings, whose wide brim forms a sort of aureole round his head. His body and arms form the shape of the Hebrew letter Aleph, to which this card corresponds. He symbolises Will.
2. The High Priestess, or Female Pope. A woman crowned with a high mitre or tiara (her head encircled by a veil), a stole (or a solar cross) upon her breast, and the Book of Science open in her hand. She represents Science, Wisdom, or Knowledge.
3. The Empress. A winged and crowned woman seated upon a throne, having in one hand a sceptre bearing a globe surmounted by a cross, while she rests the other upon a shield with an eagle blazoned therein on whose breast is the cross. She is the Symbol of Action, the result of the union of Science and Will.
4. The Emperor. He is crowned (and leaning against a throne, his legs form a cross, and beside him, beneath his left hand, is a shield blazoned with an eagle). In his right hand he bears a sceptre similar to that of the Empress. His body and arms form a triangle, of which his head is the apex, so that the whole figure represents a triangle above a cross. He represents Realisation.
5. The Hierophant or Pope. He is crowned with the papal tiara, and seated between the two pillars of Hermes and of Solomon, with his right hand he makes the sign of esoterism, and with his left he leans upon a staff surmounted by a triple cross. (Before him kneel two ministers.) He is the symbol of Mercy and Beneficence.
6. The Lovers. This is usually described as representing Man between Vice and Virtue, while a winged genius threatens Vice with his dart. But I am rather inclined to the opinion that it represents the Qabalistical Microprosopus between Binah and Malkuth (see my Kabbalah Unveiled), while the figure above shows the Influence descending from Kether. It is usually considered to mean Proof or Trial; but I am inclined to suggest Wise Disposition as its signification.
7. The Chariot. This is a most complicated and important symbol, which has been restored by Eliphas Levi. It represents a Conqueror crowned and bearing a sceptre, riding in a cubical chariot, surmounted by four columns and a canopy, and drawn by two horses, one of which looks straight forward, while the other turns his head towards him. (Two wheels are shown in the complete single-headed figure.) It represents Triumph, arid Victory of Justice and Judgment.
8. Justice. A woman crowned and seated on a throne (between two columns), holding in her right hand an upright sword, and in her left the scales. She symbolises Equilibrium and Justice.
9. The Hermit. An old and bearded man wrapped in a mantle, and with his head covered with a cowl, bearing in his right hand the lantern of occult science, while in his left he holds his magic wand half hidden beneath his cloak. He is Prudence.
10. The Wheel of Fortune. A wheel of seven spokes (the two halves of the double-headed cards make it eight spokes, which is incorrect) revolving (between two uprights), On the ascending side is an animal ascending, and on the descending side is a sort of monkey descending; both forms are bound to the wheel. Above it is the form of an angel (or a sphinx in some) holding a sword in one hand and a crown in the other. This very complicated symbol is much disfigured, and has been well restored by Levi. It symbolises Fortune, good or bad.
11. Strength or Fortitude. A woman crowned with crown and cap of maintenance, who calmly, and Without effort, closes the jaws of a furious lion. She represents Strength.
12. The Hanged Man. This extraordinary symbol is almost unintelligible in the double-headed cards. Properly, it represents a man hung head downwards from a sort of gibbet by one foot (his hands are bound behind his back in such a manner that his body forms a triangle with the point downwards), and his legs a cross above it. (Two sacks or weights are attached to his armpits.) He symbolises Sacrifice.
13. Death. A skeleton armed with a Scythe (wherewith he mows down heads in a meadow like grass). He signifies Transformation, or Change.
14. Temperance An angel with the sign of the Sun on her brow Pouring liquid from one vessel into another. She represents Combination.
15. The Devil. A horned and winged demon with eagle’s claws (standing on an altar to which two smaller devils are bound by a collar and cord). In his left hand he bears a flame-headed sceptre. He is the image of Fate or Fatality, good or evil.
16. The Lightning-struck Tower. A Tower whose Upper part is like a crown, struck by a lightning-flash. (Two men fall headlong from it, One of whom is in such an attitude as to form a Hebrew letter Ayin.) Sparks and debris are falling. It shows Ruin, Disruption.
17. The Star. A nude female figure pours water upon the earth from two vases. In the heavens above her shines the Blazing Star of the Magi (surrounded by seven others), trees and plants grow beneath her magic influence (and on one the butterfly of Psyche alights). She is the star of Hope.
18. The Moon. The moon shining in the heavens, drops of dew falling, a wolf and a dog howling at the Moon, and halted at the foot of two towers, a path which loses itself in the horizon (and is sprinkled with drops of blood, a crayfish emblematic of the sign Cancer, ruled over by the Moon, crawls through water in the foreground towards the land). It symbolises Twilight, Deception, and Error.
19. The Sun. The Sun sending down his rays upon two children, who suggest the sign Gemini. (Behind them is a low wall.) It signifies Earthly Happiness.
20. The Last Judgment. An Angel in the heavens blowing a trumpet, to which a standard with a cross thereon is attached. The Dead rise from their tombs. It signifies Renewal, Result.
0. The Foolish Man. A man with a fool’s cap, dressed like a jester, with a stick and bundle over his shoulder. Before him is the butterfly of pleasure luring him on (while in some packs a tiger, in others a dog, attacks him from behind). It signifies Folly, Expiation.
21. The Universe. Within a flowery wreath is a female figure nude save for a light scarf. She represents Nature and the Divine Presence therein. In each hand she should bear a wand. At the four angles of the card are the four cherubic animals of the Apocalypse. Above, the Eagle and the Man; below, the Lion and the Bull. It represents Completion, Reward.
Thus the whole series of the twenty-two trumps will give a connected sentence which is capable of being read thus: - The Human Will (1) enlightened by Science (2) and manifested by Action (3) should find its Realisation (4) in deeds of Mercy and Beneficence (5). The Wise Disposition (6) of this will give him Victory (7) through Equilibrium (8) and Prudence (9), over the fluctuations of Fortune (10). Fortitude (11), sanctified by Sacrifice of Self (12), will triumph over Death itself (13), and thus a Wise Combination (14) will enable him to defy Fate (15). In each Misfortune (16) he will see the Star of Hope (17) shine through the twilight of Deception (18); and ultimate Happiness (19) will be the Result (20). Folly (0), on the other hand, will bring about an evil Reward (21).