The Empress of Light, Aphrodite Pandemos

Of the first seven major arcana, two represent the dual aspects of Venus; and one other represents the eternal question of what to do about her? Waite described the Empress as “the woman clothed with the sun, as Gloria Mundi and the veil of the Sanctum Sanctorum.” The High Priestess is pictured in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum, and is the representative of the mysteries in the darkness behind it. So to visit the realm of the High Priestess, Waite seems to say, you go through the Empress. This opposition of light and dark qualities directly relates to the neoplatonic view of the two natures of Venus. There is, according to Wikipedia, an “earthly Aphrodite Pandemos, representing carnal love and beauty, and the heavenly Aphrodite Urania representing a higher and more spiritual love.” Waite’s Empress is very Roman, as we shall see; but then, what else would we expect from a man writing at the height of the British Empire? The RWS Empress is inextricably tied to the material world.

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Tarot Reversals – The Sevens

We shouldn’t be surprised that seven is a “pivotal” number as far as the minor arcana are concerned. After all, Netzach, the qabalistic influence, is represented by the right foot. The pivot is best exemplified by the Seven of Swords: our thief hot-foots his way out of enemy territory. He has turned into the home stretch of his high-risk, high-gain military, spying, thieving, or whatever-it-is operation. But we don’t know the outcome yet. He doesn’t see his way out just yet, and we don’t see what’s next, either. With the Seven of Swords, as with the others, we’re frozen in time at the point of the pivot. And the perspectives—upright/reversed—can be described as the view from within and without the pivot.

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The Seven of Cups – A One Page Guide

The Seven of Cups is a much more negative card than one might guess from a cursory glance. After all, Scorpio is one of the most serious signs of the Zodiac, if not the most deadly serious of them all. So why does Waite prattle on about “fairy favors?” In fact, the modern day perception of fairies is very different than the “sinister” aspect they held in Britain in times past. The Seven of Cups is the abundance of Venus poisoned by Scorpio. Venus was caught in flagrante with Mars by Vulcan, Venus’ husband. Vulcan had been told about their affair, and so he made a net of bronze chains to catch them. The chains were so fine that they could not be seen, not even by the gods. He caught them and exposed them to all the other gods, who laughed heartily at Venus and Mars. There we have the illusion, the invisible chains, and the empty attainment, the act of adultery interrupted. As to interpreting this card as “self-delusion?” Well, Vulcan may have deluded himself, but the adultery was not an illusion. There may be a bigger picture to consider, i.e., the externalities, when we look at the Seven of Cups.

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Tarot Reversals – The Fours

To a certain extent the Fours of the RWS deck can be said to deal with the results of abundance. How best to celebrate abundance other than as part of the community? That is the question that is answered by the Four of Wands. Or how to deal with the ennui of non-stop abundance? That would be the Four of Cups; our wastrel appears to have been the Kardashian of his day. How to deal with the problem of keeping that abundance when you’re a miser? This we see in the case of the Four of Pentacles. The seeming outlier here is the Four of Swords. It’s important not to claim a rule or order when perhaps there is none, so I shall not claim that this card focuses on abundance, as the other three do. Although… we could look at the Four of Swords as an example of the man who has successfully dealt with an abundance of activity in life. He now rests in peace, fondly remembered by the community. Community appears to be the unifying “perspective” in the Fours’ reversals; for it seems to be the community’s view that applies to the reversed meaning in each. What goes around comes around, they say. We could even place the four figures on a mini-Karmic-Wheel-of-Fortune, which is as good an organizing principle as any.

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The Four of Wands – A One Page Guide

The Four of Wands is pleasant but unfocused and visually empty. What is its most important part? This unusual lack of focus renders the festival distant and joyless. Fortunately, by studying Waite’s divinatory meanings (and a couple of online encyclopedias), we can discover the joy. This festival has an open bar. And what a bar! This is not just any country fête—it is one sacred to Venus. Using an odd device, Waite throws in a reference to “harvest-home,” a very English harvest festival, and by doing so, refers back to Venus. It is a festival of wine and fertility. The Romans called it “Vinalia urbana,” but we can simply enjoy it (accompanied by a glass of “sacramental” wine) as a celebration of sacred and profane love, and the fertility of the earth. It is the Primavera of Botticelli, as rendered by Colman Smith, and bottled by A.E. Waite.

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Tarot Reversals – The Threes

As far as Waite and Colman Smith’s tarot goes, the threes can be said to be about well defined, sharp moments that require growth before they can happen. For wands, it is that precise moment when a plan turns into execution. For swords, the moment after the beloved walks out the door, when the lover feels the piercing of his or her heart. For Pentacles, it is the moment the former apprentice realizes that now, now, he is a master artisan. And for cups: well, the harvest is in, it’s time to enjoy the wine. The “sharpness” of those moments can be of both pain and growth. In this it is apparent that Binah, the third sephira on the kabbalistic tree of life, which some say represents the womb, has influenced Waite and Colman Smith. But we’ll leave the details to the one page guides, though, and concentrate on reversals in this post. In the first post in this series on tarot reversals, we introduced the idea that relationships between the divinatory meanings (as defined by Waite in the Pictorial Key to the Tarot) of the upright vs. reversed minor arcana can be interpreted as a change of perspective. In the threes we see that moment, from these two perspectives.

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