Temperance—A Pandemic Virtue

"What trumps Death, number thirteen?" "Why, number fourteen, of course. Temperance!" Here go I, looking for a bit of exemplary virtue in the Tarot in the midst of this World Pandemic of 2020, stumbling across a message of hope specifically stating that humans will survive the dark night of plague, and arrive at a bright morning when it’s all done. Waite has overlaid an extraordinary, two-part message upon Temperance. It is that firstly, though many may die, God made a promise to never kill off the human race (again). Secondly, that the light and joy of the divine kingdom, AKA the second coming, is imminent. You don’t have to believe in Jesus to be moved by these messages. Think of it as a perfect example of Tarot’s ability to touch a person deep inside with an unexpected insight which happened to be exactly what was needed, when it was needed. And while those who sit out the pandemic on a sofa with a drink in hand may think of temperance as something having to do with alcohol, it is indeed a virtue daily practiced by many essential workers, either through dedication or by necessity. The Temperance of RWS promises them heaven. With references to self-restraint, survival after plague, and the promise that God won’t kill off all mankind, Temperance may be the most appropriate card of the Tarot deck for us at this time, during the pandemic of 2020. The message of Temperance in RWS is "hold on, have faith, we’ve nearly arrived at a better place."

Read more

Strength – Christian Mauls Lion

The classical idea of the virtue of Strength has little to do with physical strength. It involves a physical or metaphysical confrontation with a threat that must be overcome, or through perseverance, survived. Waite, in his Strength major arcanum, adds another element: the Holy Spirit. There was historical precedent, for the Roman Catholic Church had already linked the two. Waite’s chief graphical element making the link is the lemniscate, otherwise known as the infinity sign. A number of visual references additionally may tie Strength to various Christian martyrs, Saint Andrew in particular, and of course, to Androcles and his friend, the lion. But beyond the Christian mysticism, the “spin” that Waite adds to the classical virtue, that of overcoming and persevering based upon the strength of deeply held moral belief (or faith) may be appropriate for our own time of the plague. Such belief does not have to be religious. Just knowing right from wrong is probably enough to “persevere” and do the right thing no matter what the cost. Nurses and doctors treat patients even if personal protective equipment is in short supply because helping patients is their deepest belief. Making a grocery run for a neighbor who is temporarily unemployed, when you’re also temporarily unemployed is also a form of Strength. Some of us may not survive, but I hope that we put up a strong fight. Maybe Strength is a good starting place.

Read more

The Star, Goddess at First Light

You’ve got to hand it to Pamela Colman Smith on this one. She took one of the least attractive cards in the Tarot de Marseilles deck, and without substituting any major new elements, turned it into one of the prettiest cards in the RWS deck. But new or old look, The Star raises many questions. Who is she? What Star in particular? Why eight points on the star? Why eight stars? Its order in the majors is important, for one. It is first light after the darkness of The Tower. This is why it’s dawn. And the Goddess appears to be the female goddess from the dawn of civilization herself: Ishtar. There are a number of reasons for the eight stars of eight points each, some of which Waite rolled into his mystical Christian skewing of the tarot. Waite was as heavy-handed on this one as Colman Smith’s hand was deft. The Star is one of those cards where stories and myths abound; and it is through those stories and myths that we can understand it better.

Read more

The Three of Pentacles – A One Page Guide

I had previously looked at the Three of Pentacles as a fairly prosaic card… just a day at work. Ho hum. But it’s actually about the nobility of creation and creativity. The card is at once obvious and subtle. Why does Waite specify that the workplace is a monastery? After all, the monastery’s functions include far more than just work. And why does Waite specifically say that the worker of the Three of Pentacles is the same person who we see in the Eight of Pentacles? There’s a trail we can follow via the major arcana associated with the planetary influence (the World): a reference to Genesis, no less! The answer is that the Three of Pentacles is not just about work… it’s about ennobled work. If we put aside Waite’s mystical Christianity, and think about his message in terms of today, we might see that when this card is drawn by a querent with questions about their job, for example, perhaps it is to suggest that one should consider whether that job is spiritually rewarding. This is a card that says “Quit the stock brokership, move to Hooterville and grow vegetables!”

Read more

The Two of Swords – A One Page Guide

The blindfolded swordswoman of the Two of Swords can only be a metaphor, but for what? Why is she blindfolded? Why two swords? Why is the composition symmetrical except for the Moon? I believe that Waite wishes us to perceive the message of the RWS Two of Swords as that the balance of two types of justice, divine and human, manifests itself in peace and harmony, even though both types of justice can countenance cruelty. But if inside oneself and one’s circle of friends we maintain balance and harmony, such a balance can be a “beneficent force.”

Read more

The Ten of Cups – A One Page Guide

The Ten of Cups is a great card to get in a reading… but it may not be one of Waite’s best. There are three imperfectly executed themes in the RWS Ten of Cups that I believe show Waite’s desire to infuse his mystical Christianity into the card. Firstly, there is an attempt to link the second covenant, by which belief in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth washes away the original sin of Adam and Eve. Possibly related, a second theme links the water and cups to the Holy Grail and the last supper, at which that second covenant was announced. Finally, an attempt to link the alchemical symmetry between heaven and Earth as in the saying “As above, so below.” But these three themes aren’t anchored securely to the astrological, elemental and qabalistic influences, and therefore don’t affect the divinatory meanings strongly. The result is that the Christian mysticism that Waite imbued in other cards’ divinatory meanings could not be “poured” into the Ten of Cups, and upon analysis, it just doesn’t “feel” right.

Read more

The Two of Pentacles – A One Page Guide

The Two of Pentacles presents questions. Why are there dramatic waves in the background when the elemental influence is not water but Earth? Why did Waite go out of his way not to call the figure eight of the string game the Ourobouros, as the Golden Dawn group described it? And finally, and oddly enough, most importantly—what’s with the hat? Since we’re in Capricorn, we’d better take the Goat of Fear, some aliens called the Anunnaki, and Noah’s Flood into consideration as we try to make sense of these seeming contradictions. And contradiction is what makes the Two of Pentacles a tour de force. It communicates Waite’s Christian mysticism by pulling it out from what should be its opposite: spirit from material, Christianity from pagan; first power promising its own replacement by the ultimate power.

Read more