Tarot Reversals – The Eights

You’d think that the Eights, which after all, should hold the promise of the infinity sign—an eight turned on its side—would share a theme of endless vistas and promise. But no. We could say that the Eights tell the tale of a journey—just not a very pleasant one. But a journey makes perfect sense, given that the qabalistic influence, Hod, is thought to represent the two feet of a person’s body. The beginner of the Eight of Pentacles takes the first steps. The Eight of Wands continues, swiftly approaching a conclusion; things are looking promising. But then the Eight of Cups comes to the fork in the road. And you know what Yogi Berra said: "when you come to a fork in the road, take it!" And so, unfortunately, the Eight of Swords binds herself at a time of crisis. The relationships between the divinatory meanings (as defined by Waite in the Pictorial Key to the Tarot) of the upright vs. reversed minor arcana in the RWS can be interpreted as a change of perspective. We find visual clues to better understand reversals by looking at the characters’ points of view. Where there is more than one character, we look at their perspectives of each other. Where there is a single character, from the point of view of an outside observer. Welcome to the annoying Eights and their reversals, the roadtrip from Hell of the Waite Colman Smith deck.

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The Eight of Pentacles – A One Page Guide

A.E. Waite expends a lot of effort to make sure we see the laborer of the Eight of Pentacles as one who is learning his craft. In the Pictorial Key, he not only mentions this fact in his divinatory meanings for the Eight, he also points it out in his description of the Three of Pentacles. Why does he draw our attention to this? I suggest that Waite’s message is that tarot, and indeed, magic, can be learned by us in the same way that the apprentice learns: by starting out with the simple tasks; then through long experience at those tasks, over time, he becomes the skilled artisan. Our laborer wields his hammer like Mercury’s caduceus (which is basically a wand). He imbues magical energy into the symbol of the classical element of Earth, the coin. The result is the trophy, a symbol of something that he has won through his effort.

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The Eight of Swords – A One Page Guide

What do Danny DeVito, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pamela Colman Smith, Arthur Edward Waite, Castor and Pollux have in common with that silly Internet meme about “brothers by different mothers?” How about “twins by different fathers?” Colman Smith’s illustration for the Eight of Swords is an incredibly clever play upon Waite’s divinatory meaning; or quite possibly, it was the source for it. In either case, though Waite sees the Eight of Swords as a glass half empty, there is reason to think it’s half full. It all hinges on the origin story of Gemini, the differences between Waite and the Golden Dawn group’s view of the Eight of Swords, and the dual meanings of an obscure word: “trammel!” It is the positive side of Pollux’s sacrifice which showed extraordinary generosity that makes the glass half full: the ability to free oneself from one’s bindings, the power to survive sickness and calumny, the ability to weather bad news.

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The Eight of Cups – A One Page Guide

The Eight of Cups is one of those cards in which Waite has only slight differences in divinatory meanings versus the Golden Dawn. The differences are in the illustration. Instead of Pisces and Jupiter, the main element is instead the full Moon eclipsing the Sun. The Romans, in their panoply of gods, assigned Diana three aspects, goddess of the Moon, the huntress, and the queen of the underworld. They nicknamed her “trivia” or “three roads.” She was the goddess of forks-in-the-road! Waite and Colman Smith use this as a metaphor to portray the action of the divinatory meaning. The character deserts the cups of an enterprise or previous concern; i.e., he came to a fork in the road, and after, no longer travels the original road. The card is full of “dualities”—harvest and planting, death and rebirth, male and female, Sun and Moon, old path and new path—which seem to mimic the dual nature of the divinatory meanings. Thus, the Eight of Cups is a collection of reflected images, none exactly the same as the original. It occurs to me that if we understand the illustration correctly, the proper reading of this card is more than “the decline of a matter” in importance, as Waite put it. It is actually advice to avoid the consequences of whatever the “decline” was. The occurrence may be infrequent but not rare (as suggested by the solar eclipse). And the advice is that the best path to be on during or after that decline is “the road less traveled.”

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The Eight of Wands – A One Page Guide

The Eight of Wands is notable for its differences versus other cards in the minor arcana. The first thing one notices is that there aren’t any people. If you exclude the Aces, only this and the Three of Swords among the minor arcana depict no people. The second thing we note is that Wands don’t normally fly. At least we hope they don’t. But in this case, the Wands fly like arrows because the astrological sign for this card’s decan is Sagittarius, who is the centaur hunter with the bow and arrows. Both the qabalistic and the elemental influences signify movement and action. Hod even represents the feet, though its hermetic interpretation also includes “motion through the immovable,” which may represent a magical movement. Fire additionally conveys “conversion” as a possible meaning (think of the chemical effect of fire), which may tie into Waite’s stress upon the movement approaching a threshold or end of journey. Jupiter, the planetary influence provides the characteristic of having a purpose or goal, related to and extending that same meaning. The Eight of Wands, therefore, is fairly straightforward in taking its divinatory meanings from its astrological/qabalistic/alchemical influences, though there are one or two minor points of variance, which we’ll explain in the main posting.

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