1st Ten Major Arcana Wrapup

We pause for a summary overview of the first group of ten major arcana. My “read” of Waite’s reinterpretation of the symbols of tarot skews heavily towards “Christian” concepts. I think the High Priestess and the Lovers are the best examples of his divergent use of symbols. Waite also puts additional meanings in previously used symbols. He takes the very basic archetypes of the rennaissance cards, the kings, queens, marriage, pope, abbess, etc., and adds new symbolic meanings. In doing so, he shows his genius, as well as the genius of the Golden Dawn which overloaded those earlier cards with meanings drawn from, not from Christianity, but from the Qabal and numerology, which is where Waite differed from them.

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The Chariot: Waite’s Symbols

We return to our series of posts regarding the symbols in the Waite Colman Smith tarot deck with the Chariot. Waite seems to be spending quite a bit of energy on distinguishing the Chariot from the High Priestess. The theme of Waite’s Chariot is mastery over this world, and most decidedly not mastery of the spriritual world. Why has he spent so much energy on this argument? My theory is that it’s a further step away from the kabbalah-leaning early interpretations of the Golden Dawn to the his Christian/Celtic re-interpretations. Exhibits “A” and “B” are the Urim and Thummim on the pauldrons (shoulder armor).

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The Empress: Waite’s Symbols

Waite and Colman Smith are emphasizing the physical side of womanliness, particularly that of bearing children and of sexuality. In this, it appears he is portraying her as an opposite of the High Priestess. This is not the focus of his contemporaries and predecessors. In particular, I point out Mathers, who states the Empress is the “symbol of action,” and the Emperor is the “realization.” Where Mathers gives us complementary pairs, Empress and Emperor, High Priestess and Hierophant, Waite and Colman Smith presents us with opposite pairs, High Priestess and Empress, Hierophant and Emperor. I believe it is Waite’s focus on Christian symbolism and a Christian interpretation of the Tarot that motivates this change in focus.

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Link: Is Tarot the Answer to Your Break With Spirituality?

Rewire.org had a good story yesterday on Cat Rocketship, an illustrator who has published the beautiful and interesting Skeleton Tarot Deck. I think it’s important to distinguish between traditional spirituality and modern spirituality to understand both this article, and the tarot. The artist states that tarot is “an invitation to explore whatever that spiritual, metaphorical, looking for patterns or listening-to-your-gut space is. It’s a tool I use to legitimize my intuition.” The article led me to consider Waite and his contemporaries. I think the late 19th century/early 20th century men and women who re-energized tarot were on the cusp of traditional spirituality and modern spirituality. Waite defined himself as a Christian mystic. He and his contemporaries were attempting to remodel the “temple” of the external religion they knew, Christianity, into two parts: external power, which they recognized as the pope, and an internal power, which was “secret,” “esoteric,” and hence something that was uniquely theirs in that they held its knowledge, too.

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The High Priestess: Waite’s Symbolism

We compare the symbols in Colman Smith’s High Priestess illustration to Waite’s instructions documented in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1910). We compare these descriptions to MacGregor Mathers (The Tarot, 1888),and the Book T of the Golden Dawn society. In this case we note Waite most definitely states that she represents the Roman church, specifically “the Secret Church, the House which is of God and man.” Whereas Mathers and Book T lean far more in the direction of assigning science and wisdom to her. There are additional items to note regarding the moon and femininity, but they are minor compared to this.

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